At the start of “Friendless Child,” the penultimate episode of Boardwalk Empire, the war between Nucky (Steve Buschemi) and Luciano (Vincent Piazza) has escalated. Nineteen men are dead, trucks are being fire bombed, and Nucky is ready to hit back harder. Despite Maranzano’s counsel of patience, Nucky, feeling “impetuous,” moves on his own, kidnapping Bugsy Seigel (Michael Zegan). When Luciano responds by grabbing Will Thompson (Ben Rosenfield) off the street, the stage is set for the showdown we’ve been expecting all season.
Given the strong fatalistic streak running through Nucky this season, I was prepared for the worst once the two gangs squared off on a deserted highway in the middle of the night in order to exchange hostages. So was Luciano. After a botched handoff gives Luciano the upper hand, not even Nucky’s full concession of Atlantic City and Bacardi can persuade Luciano not to kill him. It’s only after Nucky throws in the sweetener of killing Maranzano that Lansky, realizing the value of Nucky’s offering, steps in to spare his life.