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

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

Just eight episodes long and two episodes in, “Boardwalk Empire” has already made a compelling case for another Best Drama nod for this, its fifth and final season. Sunday's third episode — “What Jesus Said” — continues to make the case, only less slightly. All in all, this remains a particularly fine season so far. 

Quickly, an overview without spoilers: Chalky (Michael K. Williams) and Buck make a pit stop...Nucky (Steve Buscemi) gets a little friendlier with one Joseph Kennedy of Boston, Massachusetts (played memorably, flawlessly, by Matt Letscher)...Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) gets squeezed over her former associate’s activities...and Nucky, as a boy, kisses a horse...

Is that spoiler-free enough?

What I liked initially about this season, and continue to like very much, is the effortless and ongoing pushing of the reset button — without creating an entirely different series in the process. “Empire” needed to deepen Nucky, and redeem Nucky in some respects — that mission continues, successfully. It needed to more fully explore the racial component of this series, with Chalky more the counterpart to Nucky than Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), who also makes his first appearance of the season Sunday.

The show has moved seven years forward this season, and everything is, of course, seven years older — even the booze. There's something ripe or ripening — even autumnal — about this season. (Reminds me for some reason of Galadriel's famous quote from “Lord of the Rings..."The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost...") A sense of the end approaches. A beautiful aura of doom is settling over “Empire.”

Of note Sunday: Matt Letscher's turn as Joe Kennedy, as a glib huckster with a chip on his shoulder. Unclear where and how this role proceeds beyond “What Jesus Said,” but Letscher and “Empire” have certainly created another rich vein to explore here. Here's hoping the exploration continues. 

Bottom line: Another memorable outing, if not quite as memorable as the first two episodes of the fifth and final.

Grade: B+

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