Boardwalk Empire Shuns the Hollywood Ending

NON-SPOILER ALERT: All of the information contained herein should no longer qualify as a “spoiler,” because the season finale of Boardwalk Empire aired on November 23 and has been discussed endlessly ever since. And the rest of the information, well, to say that it’s common knowledge would be an understatement.  Happy Reading!

What’s with Boardwalk Empire, anyway? Why kill off a great character like Richard Harrow (played by Jack Huston)? In Season 1, we first encountered Harrow – a WWI veteran with extraordinary skills as a marksman, who wears a mask because of a heavily-disfigured face (half of it, including one eye, was shot off during the War). Harrow was befriended by Jimmy Darmody, who brought him back to “the Boardwalk” (Atlantic City) and involved him in various criminal operations.

Despite having killed more people than any other character on the show (quite a feat, considering that includes a cast of real-life characters Al Capone and Lucky Luciano), Harrow is a likable sort. An anti-hero, one with a strong sense of loyalty and justice, who struggles to separate himself from his marketability to gangsters.

In the Season 4 finale, though, the show’s top brass decided to kill him off, fessing that there was nowhere else for his character to go; they had done all they could with him.  Nowhere except Wisconsin, that is, to join his wife, adopted son, and father-in-law who had gone ahead to join Harrow’s sister, while he had one last job to finish. During that job, a hit on this season’s main villain Dr. Valentin Narcisse, Harrow’s trigger finger was ambivalent and he managed to kill the innocent daughter of Narcisse nemesis and Harrow friend Chalky White. Narcisse’s henchmen then shot Harrow, who staggered off with a wound to the midsection and, apparently, bled to death under the boardwalk.

If they had run out of clever things for Harrow to do, why not just let him go off to Wisconsin and never mention him again? At least that way if they ever came up with a new adventure for him, he could show up with guns blazing. Is it too much to ask for a happy Hollywood ending?  Television is supposed to be entertaining, isn’t it?

It’s bad enough that free (non-cable) TV is filled with commercials about medicine, constantly reminding us of our aches, pains and mortality. Is it too much let a popular character ride off into the sunset? What harm would it have done?

What is the morbid fascination with needing to make us grieve? Must our cinematic heroes be tragic figures?

Perhaps it is because Boardwalk Empire is filled with actual historical persons, whose life stories are well-known, that the show’s creators and writers feel the need to overcompensate by presenting surprises at every other turn.

Fine and dandy. But they didn’t have to do that with Harrow. We’ll miss you, Richard.




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