By TNW Staff
Did your Sunday evening feel empty without a fresh hour of Boardwalk Empire in your life? Fear not, TNW is here with a better-late-than-never (we hope) Season 3 roundtable wrap.
1. In 10 words or less, how did you feel about Boardwalk Empire Season 3.
CW: Quietly reliable, each episode better than the last.
MR: Sometimes disappointing. More often enthralling. Still not Season 2!
RB: Finally consistent. Finally connected. Action and characters all added up.
2. Which character and/or storyline was most compelling?
MR: Richard’s. What a badass. What a softie. What a great friggin character. Richard has long been Boardwalk’s most underutilized gem, but with Jimmy gone (if not quite forgotten) Richard finally got his own storyline in Season 3. He made every moment impactful. His scenes with Tommy and Julia were consistently touching; his scenes with Gillian consistently terrifying; his killing spree in the finale an epic bloodbath for the ages. Seeing him walk away from Tommy and Julia at the end, knowing what he was giving up — or at least what he felt he had to give up — was one of the season’s most heartbreaking moments. Nucky, can you recruit this guy already?!?
RB: Of course, Richard is an obvious choice (and one that should be validated). After all, just watching a man with that mask hook up is scintillating to say the least. Yet, if I move past the deadly assassin, I actually have to pick none other than Enoch Thompson. Even more obvious and predictable? Perhaps. But for me, this was the first season I think we really got to see Nucky be Nucky. It’s the first time we got to see if Nucky really was playing 3D chess while the rest of his gangster counterparts were stuck with 2D checkers. It’s the first time we see Nucky be a straight thug. Yes, it’s a stretch that he would have won the amount of physical fights that he did, but I can get past that and so should you. We saw depth and range with Nucky’s character — from jealousy with his mistress, to the vicious killing of a kid, to revenge (both physical and mental) — like we’ve never seen before. For that, I salute him. Hell, I’d even let him invite me to stay over at the Ritz for a night…
CW: It’s hard to argue with MR, Richard’s storyline was awesome. But you had to love the action in Chicago, too. Al Capone’s rise to power in Johnny Torrio’s absence was phenomenal to track. Capone grew from an immature thug into a calculative gangster over the last two seasons, and it all really came together in Season 3. As Torrio grew more disengaged, Al stepped up to run the Chicago show. His Atlantic City escapades in the finale rivaled Richard’s spree, even if they weren’t portrayed in quite as much detail. Capone is now well established as a top boss, and I definitely look forward to his increased involvement in Season 4. Couple that with George Mueller flirting — and eventually giving in to — the sweet temptations of the other side of the law, and Chicago made for one of the better plotlines of the season.
3. Least compelling?
CW: Gillian Darmody and her business struggles. (To be clear, I’m separating her story from Richard’s, even if there’s overlap.) I just couldn’t care less about her relations with Luciano and her efforts to run a profitable business (I guess Lucky and I have something in common). Her scenes with faux-Jimmy were downright uncomfortable. Even if that was intentional — and I’m sure it was — the real Jimmy deserved better. I must admit, though, I’m a little intrigued about what will become of her in Season 4. Part of me wanted Richard to add her to his killing spree so we could move on from that ugliness.
RB: Margaret Thompson and her silly medical adventures. Now, I’m certainly not advocating against women’s health and access to information. I wish the mission of Margaret Sanger came right after Eve. The earlier this all could have come out, the better. That said, it just never materialized and it was distracting from what we all wanted to see: Margaret and Mr. Sleater! I genuinely love Margaret as a character and I hope we still see her in seasons to come. She has a great storyline and one heck of a spine when she wants to use it. Please, just let her use it for things better connected to the show’s major storylines.
PS: I would have agreed with CW, but then I remembered the business Gillian ran.
MR: The whole Nucky/Billie Kent arc. She was bizarre and annoying from the start, and I found almost all of her scenes grating and off-putting. Plus, I spent every second she appeared on screen waiting for her to die. Granted, I thought Nucky might be the one to kill her in a fit of jealous rage, but the larger point holds: I never cared about their relationship, so for me the entire storyline boiled down to waiting for her to bite it. And when she did … meh. I guess we’re supposed to credit her demise for awakening something deep within Nucky, but did it? The bombing stirred up a newfound sense of mortality and vulnerability and a fierce desire to snuff out the threat — but that was about self-preservation, not love.
4. What irked you the most?
CW: Owen’s death. He was steadily rising as one of the best characters in the show, and his death was brushed aside in the name of dramatic effect. I’ll admit the “What’s in the box?!” scene carried major weight, but we were never enlightened as to how it all went down. Lucky tipped off Masseria, but who tipped off Lucky? Is the agent in Nucky’s pocket really a double-agent on the Lucky/Rothstein payroll? Did Lucky know the full plan, or just that something was in the works? Did Owen walk into a trap in the bathhouse, or did something go wrong along the way? Owen had proven to be quite handy in rough situations, so did he take a few guys down with him? I have a love/hate with how this played out. On the one hand, I’m glad HBO didn’t go overboard with a sappy, ‘Tell my family I love them’ dying-in-Margaret’s-arms kind of scene. But they could have given us something.
MR: How confusing and rushed the finale was. I love that the Boardwalk creators feel obligated to wrap up almost every plotline in the season finales, but this time they sacrificed the pacing and cohesion of the episode in order to fill the answer quota. Nucky and Gyp are fighting a war, but we only see the highlight reel. Rothstein tricks Luciano and Meyer out of their heroin stash, but we’re not privy to the plan. Capone and Chalky gun down Masseria’s men after the truce, but we’re not told if that’s miscommunication or a message. Nucky gives his distillery to Rothstein, then sells Rothstein to Andrew Mellon, but we’re not really sure if that’s a master plan coming to fruition or a last resort. After a season full of satisfying slow burns, the finale was just … too much, too fast.
RB: Have to agree with CW and call out Owen’s death. At first, I was angry. I was sad. I was shocked. One could argue those are all fantastic emotions to feel while watching any TV show, and in a way it’s a credit to the show’s production for making me feel that way. (For those who don’t know me, I cry during the end of Mr. Holland’s Opus, so feeling emotion may not be such a lofty accomplishment after all.) And, although I am truly disappointed I won’t be able to see Owen’s character and storyline develop, that isn’t what irks me to this day. IT’S THAT I DIDN’T GET TO SEE HIM DIE. I can even understand wanting the surprise of Owen showing up in the box. Well done, even as I literally dropped my cheese-covered triscuit all over a white rug (which I then had to scrub for fear that my “roommate” would give me the same fate as Owen). But still, show me how it happened. They had the perfect opportunity when they flashed back to Owen’s and Margaret’s earlier conversation; if flashbacks are in play, USE THEM! The what’s-in-the-box delivery (don’t try that game at home) would have still worked and many of CW’s questions could have been answered.
5. Best scene of the season?
CW: Well MR already touched on Richard’s killing spree above, which has to be the best. How about Nucky and a wounded Eddie hiding out on Chalky’s side of the tracks? This sequence was compelling for so many reasons. Nucky’s epiphone about how little he knows about the man who’s been closest to him over the years is a major moment for his character. Plus, the standoff between Chalky and Gyp right outside Nucky’s new hideout was up there as one of the most tense moments of the season.
MR: From a sheer entertainment standpoint, it was Richard’s killing spree in the finale. That was well acted, beautifully shot and about as satisfying as mass murder can be. Owen’s death certainly warrants consideration, but I’ll talk about that more in the next question. So I’m going to violate a TNW rule and double up on CW’s answer. I’ve always had a soft spot for Eddie, so it was really fun to see him star in an episode — even if he had to get shot in the gut to do so. I’m picking the exchange between Eddie and Nucky on Eddie’s recovery bed for two reasons: In the moment, it was a poignant portrait of loyalty, introspection and the quest for understanding. In the future, it’ll prove to be a turning point for Nucky’s character. In the finale, Nucky tells Eli not to let anyone near them who they don’t know. Credit the bedside conversation with Eddie for teaching Nucky the value of comfort, familiarity and trust.
RB: If I’m looking for an unexpected scene, the answer lies at a bar and the conflict is between Al Capone and Joe Miller. Looking beyond the great — awful in real life — physical aspects of Capone beating Miller to death, we really got a chance to see a softer side of Capone in this episode. It’s odd to equate physically ending someone’s life to channeling one’s internal Sheryl Crow, but there is a point here, I swear. Capone committed this act because he learned Miller assaulted someone inferior to him (Guzik). Body odor and being hearing impaired are certainly not the same, but in a way, Capone did what he did to stick up for his son. He showed that he is loyal and that he will stick up for what he believes to be right. I’m not advocating for what he did or saying I agree with his perspective on the world, but loyalty is loyalty and I respect that.
6. Which death was most impactful?
RB: In case you didn’t hear me gasping for air as I dropped my triscuit on the floor upon Owen’s death, I will confirm now that his death really rattled me. The nature of how we learned of his death was obviously startling in that moment. But beyond all of the greatness of that scene and failures of not showing how he actually died, it’s important to note that his absence next year will have a major impact on this show. It’s weird, because in a way the impact is what we won’t see. Owen’s character was only building and the potential for his role on the show was monumental. Even without him ravaging Mrs. T and planning their future ravage sessions, he was a tremendous asset to the show. In his absence, the wrtiers will need to develop other characters to fill what will be a noticeable void.
CW: The obvious choice here is Owen, but RB and MR will speak to that. I thought Gyp’s death in the finale was completely underwhelming, but he certainly set the tone in the premiere when he torched the sheriff in the middle of the street. It established our villain as a ruthless neanderthal, and made his eventual demise all the more satisfying.
MR: Owen’s. I really need to have a chat with creator Terence Winter, because he keeps killing off the hottest guys on the show. Seriously though: Owen was one of my favorite characters, so it would have been hard to see him go regardless of how or when it happened. But the way it went down was just so … gut-wrenching. I actually don’t like that we didn’t get to see Owen die, because it felt like a cheat used to set up the reveal at the end of the episode. But I have to concede, it worked. It wasn’t shocking — the TNW crew had long been dreading Owen’s seemingly inevitable demise, and from the moment Luciano tipped off Masseria it seemed bound to happen during that episode — but it was still stunning. Margaret’s reaction to seeing Owen’s bloody corpse coupled with the flashback to the culmination of their earlier conversation was beautiful and haunting and just plain sad. They were going to have a baby. They were going to run away together. They were going to escape the madness and find joy. Instead he said goodbye, and she never saw him again.
7. Overall, how did Season 3 stack up against the first two?
CW: I miss Jimmy. He was a character who was both villain and hero, one you could root for even as he plotted against Nucky. Without him, Season 3 was slow to identify other main characters the viewers could really get behind. But in that flaw came success. The season got better from one episode to the next. The once slightly fringe characters took on more compelling roles, from George Mueller and Al Capone to Owen and Richard. Three of the last four episodes were some of the best the show has produced. And even though I thought the finale was a slight letdown, Season 3 pushed me all in on Boardwalk Empire.
MR: The three-episode stretch leading up to the conclusion was Boardwalk’s best yet, but the finale really let me down and left me wanting. Season 3 was way better than Season 1, which never really grabbed me, but when I think back to how transcendent the final hours of Season 2 were, it’s clear Season 3 didn’t quite hit that mark. Season 2 changed the game: no more Jimmy, no more half-measures (or half-gangsters). Season 3 featured some incredible performances and compelling storylines, but it didn’t advance the overall plot to the same extent as the sophomore campaign, and in popping back and forth between so many competing subplots, it lacked the focus and fine-tuned execution of Season 2. On the other hand: I was really concerned about how Boardwalk would hold up without Jimmy, who in my opinion was far and away the best character on the show. So if Season 3 taught us anything, it’s that Boardwalk is bigger (and better) than any one character. Like CW, I’m now all in — but I reserve the right to say that Season 2 was a cut above!
RB: For me, best season by far. I am a big supporter of this show and presumably always will be. Yet, there were times when I was disengaged in previous seasons and, dare I say, bored. The incredible scenery and tremendous acting weren’t always enough to make Boardwalk a priority for my Sunday viewing. There were timeswhen I waited days, even a week, to catch up with the show on my DVR. This season, as with some of the other great shows in my life, I watched almost every episode within 24 hours of its initial availability, if not before Sunday was over. It was the first time in all three seasons when I thought the characters in all of the different cities were properly connected. The show managed to keep the same thought-provoking, beautiful nature, while giving us the best action we’ve seen yet. I hope they found a groove that will continue well into Season 4 and beyond.
8. Early predictions for Season 4?
MR: Margaret will still be around, if for no other reason than that Kelly Macdonald is an Emmy-nominated actress who’s still under contract. Al Capone and the Chicago contingent will get way more screen time, which means more George Mueller! Chalky will get his club, Eddie will heal up and rejoin Nucky’s services and Eli will once again emerge as Nucky’s right-hand man. The Brothers Thompson will investigate the carnage they stumbled upon at Gillian’s brothel, and recruit Richard once they realize he pulled off that massacre single-handed. Gillian will recover from being dosed, and she won’t be happy when she realizes Tommy’s gone. Lucky and Meyer will look to distance themselves from Rothstein and build their own enterprise. And probably a bunch of other stuff that we could look up in the history books, but hey, where’s the fun in that?
RB: Not sure what else to say after MR’s elaborate and correct view on Season 4. Capone’s role will undoubtedly grow and I for one am looking forward to that. I think it will be interesting how the writers handle a larger Chicago presence while still keeping Atlantic City at the center. Nucky will return to his throne on the boardwalk and we’ll see the strongest version of him yet — both politically and physically. As far as whom he will be sleeping with (beyond the random mistress), I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Margaret and Nucky Thompson. Prohibition will also to continue to play a major role, both as an underlying premise of the show and also in a heated and more contentious battle between the U.S. government and our favorite violators of the Volstead Act. (Side note: Man, what I wouldn’t give to feel like it was illegal just to drink. Would be like being in high school all over again…)
CW: Yeah, it’s really all covered above. Nucky, Eli and Richard will all team up and much bad-assedness will ensue. Capone will hire Mueller in some capacity or another, and his refreshingly candid wife will continue to crack one-liners. The competing factions in New York will heat up while Nucky consolidates his power on the east coast.
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