Steve Buscemi in "Boardwalk Empire" season 5, episode 1.

Steve Buscemi in "Boardwalk Empire" season 5, episode 1. Credit: HBO / Macall B. Polay

THE SHOW "Boardwalk Empire"

WHEN|WHERE Final season begins Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Great Depression apparently means opportunity for only one person -- Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), who has headed to Cuba with Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette), along with a fun-loving senator, to explore supply options after the Volstead Act is eventually repealed. Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) has been working in a Wall Street securities firm that had a predictable turn in fortunes. Meanwhile, Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) has new ambitions, while Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) tries to temper his own.

MY SAY Sunday night is about beginnings and endings, but devoted fans will have trouble shaking the sense this particular end has come way too fast.

Empires rise, empires fall, so why shouldn't shows? Still, five seasons (including a shortened fifth) seem far too abbreviated, particularly for a series that so meticulously, often with genuine beauty, re-created a lost world of boardwalks, booze and the nearly forgotten crook who once tried to commandeer both.

As a result, there is a "tempus fugit" quality to Sunday night. Time is flying, and there's not much of it left to tell this story. So what does "Empire" go and do? Blow the story up: There are a number of flashbacks (to Atlantic City, 1884) and some parallel narratives. But there are no scenes set in Atlantic City of 1931.

The world has moved on, deep into the Great Depression, and so -- perhaps quite logically -- have the characters. Nevertheless, it seems like a counterintuitive move because suddenly there are a lot of new stories to service -- until you actually see how Sunday's opener services them.

In fact, it all works. Missing from the first four seasons was a deeper dive into what makes Nucky Nucky; you'll get that Sunday. You'll also get the sense that producer Terry Winter knows exactly how he wants to end this ride -- but best of all, a vivid sense of what made "Boardwalk Empire" so special in the first place.

BOTTOM LINE The end begins -- evocatively, dramatically.


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