Previously on Boardwalk Empire: Gyp brought the war to Atlantic City and Nucky, aided by Al and Chalky, decided it was time to stop running and throw down, big time.
We open on a bunch of men with their hands in the air being machine gunned down, mercilessly. Al comes out of the darkness and delivers one final, killing bullet.
Mayor Bader, meanwhile, is taking some heat from the press about all this recent violence. He reassures them that he’s totally in control and the AC police force has the matter in hand. Oh, so there is still a police force in Atlantic City. Good to know. Of course, as he’s saying this, we get shots of drive-by shootings and violence all over the place, so maybe it’s not quite time to applaud the boys in blue. Chalky and Dunn are even getting in on the action, in broad daylight, no less. Bodies, bodies everywhere, and nobody knows what to think. Bader’s had to call a press conference on the steps of city hall. Did they actually used to do that? Somehow, I almost feel like I’m watching Chicago here or something, they’re hitting the 1920s tropes so hard. Machine guns! Men in fedoras! A microphone in front of city hall! The reporters want to know where Nucky is and Bader swaggers a step to far and tells them that Nucky doesn’t run the city, Bader does. Beat, and then they all burst out laughing. Poor Bader. Once a stooge, always a stooge.
Nucky’s chosen the lumberyard where Eli’s kid works as his base of operations, and he’s on the phone with Mickey Doyle, who’s still in PA, wondering what the hell is going on. Nucky asks for a report on Overholt, Mellon’s distillery. Mickey says the place is fabulous and once they get it running, it’ll be a hell of a moneymaker. Nucky looks out the window and spots a brawl getting underway. He hangs up and he and Eli go out to break it up. Seems Chalky’s guys and Al’s aren’t getting along. Nucky tells Al they need Chalky and his men, so Al threatens to go home. Nucky calls his bluff and Al backs down and offers to go to Margate and see if they can get Gyp to poke his head out.
At the House of T&A, Gyp’s men are getting restless. The girls have been sent away (to where? I’m amazed Gyp allowed that) and they’ve been told to lay off the booze, so they have nothing to do, all cooped up. Masseria shows up and tells Gyp he’s getting a lot of guys killed for nothing. Gyp claims it’s not for nothing, because he has the town, the casino, and the warehouse, but Masseria says he doesn’t have the big prizes: Rothstein and Nucky themselves. He reminds Gyp that Nucky’s playing on his home turf, which can give one a hell of an advantage. Gyp, being completely mindless, doesn’t seem to understand that. I honestly don’t know why Masseria doesn’t just pull his guys now and let Gyp deal with his own mess.
Gillian, looking tense, has to ask for permission from a goon to go into Tommy’s room with milk and cookies. The guy eyes her really creepily, so I can see why she’s anxious. He lets her in and she calls Tommy out of the teepee he has set up in the room to have his lunch, but he refuses to emerge. This poor child’s going to be sooo messed up. He’s, what, four? Five? Think of all he’s seen and gone through so far. Gillian offers to come in and join him, but he won’t have that either, so she backs down, sad, but understanding.
Nucky spots Eli out in the yard working on a car that’s having problems, so he goes out to help and they reminisce for a bit before Nucky asks if Eli sent his family somewhere safe. Eli did, and he asks after Margaret and the kids. Nucky’s able to evade the subject by hurting himself on a part, so they take a break and share a cigarette. Nucky observes that they could have stopped when they were ahead, but he just had to keep grabbing for more. Eli tells him not to worry about it until after this Gyp business is taken care of. After that, they’ll pick back up again. Nucky tells him that’s doubtful, because no matter how this plays out, nobody’s going to want to work with him again. Eli has faith, because he knows what the title of this show is, and tells Nucky he just has to offer everybody something they want. Nucky looks thoughtful, like this hadn’t occurred to him at all.
Mickey soon gets on the phone with Rothstein, who’s not happy to hear from him but manages not to hang up the phone. Mickey tells him he’s taken over Overholt and that Nucky’s willing to hand it over to Rothstein. Rothstein’s attention: caught.
Remember how Lucky got not-so-lucky last episode? Time for him to be questioned. Physically. He gets knocked around a bit and is asked who his partner and suppliers are. Lucky clams up, so the guys tell him he could easily disappear if he doesn’t play nice. Lucky finally offers to tell them where they can find 50 pounds of heroin.
Gillian is show in to Gyp’s office, where he’s buffing his fingernails. She tries to forge a parenthood bond with him and brings up Tommy, whom she’s worried about. Gyp tells her she’s doing a great job, and he’s got plenty of company at the house, which is great for kids! She suggests she and Tommy go somewhere else to stay for a while, but Gyp’s not pleased with that idea, because for some reason he wants them around—as hostages, I guess? But to use as leverage against whom? He sweetens the deal by telling her they can work together and he’ll set her up on a pedestal, with him crawling around amongst her toes. Gillian, professional that she is, immediately twigs to his sexual proclivities and suggests a little get-together.
The phone rings at the lumberyard and Eli picks up. It’s Rothstein, asking to speak with Nucky. He has an offer for him: he’ll get Masseria to pull his support out of AC in return for a stake in Overholt. A 99% stake. Woah. Nucky does not seem shocked by the number at all and agrees to the deal. “Big bait catches big rat,” he tells Eli.
Hey, Margaret! She’s visiting with a couple named the Hollises, whom she doesn’t seem to know very well. She’s hanging out in Brooklyn, and after some pleasantries, Mrs. H shows Margaret ‘the room’ so she can make her decision, as Mr. H (or maybe Dr. H) suggests. Mrs. H briskly explains that her husband sees all sorts of patients. Margaret tells the woman she needs to have an abortion, and it’s clearly not the first time the woman’s heard that. She reassures Margaret that her husband does that, and that he’s careful and thorough. Keep in mind, abortions were illegal in the United States at this time, so I’m quite amazed that Margaret was actually able to ferret someone out who would do one. Margaret admits that she’s completely lost and the woman softens a bit and says she’d never tell anyone what to do. Margaret looks around, and then seems to come to a decision.
Lucky meets with Meyer and tells him that he got pinched, but it’s ok, he worked out an angle so he won’t have to do time. Like that’ll make him all that popular and useful in the criminal underworld. He thinks they can just pick up where they left off and he’ll cover the financial hit. Meyer seems to doubt that but says nothing, until Lucky prompts him and Meyer snaps that this is worth $100K. Yeah, Lucky’s going to be paying that off for a while.
Turns out the boys are waiting to see Masseria, and when they’re ushered in, they see their 50 pounds of heroin stacked up on his desk. Ooooh, burn! Masseria genially says he’s glad to see Lucky’s ok. He shakes both their hands, and then Rothstein comes in. Oh, wait, looks like they were originally supposed to meet with Rothstein, this is his office. Sorry about that. Rothstein tells them that he and Masseria have come to an agreement. The ‘arrest’ was no such thing—the two guys were in Rothstein’s pocket, and so Rothstein has the heroin now. I’m honestly not quite clear how Masseria figures into all this or what he gets out of it. The long and short is, Rothstein set Lucky up, and he’s seriously pissed off about that. Meyer holds him back and tells him to shut up already, or they’ll both be dead. Lucky starts to calm down and Meyer smooths the waters with Rothstein and Masseria. Rothstein says he thought he was having a civilizing effect on Lucky, but there’s only so much one can teach a person. He knows that Meyer gets it, though. Next, Rothstein turns his attention to Masseria and asks if he’s interested in joining Arnold in the heroin business. Ahh, I guess this is what Masseria gets out of this. Masseria asks what he’ll have to give in exchange.
Al and some of his guys return to the lumberyard and find Dunn pissing on one of their cars. Al pulls out his gun, but Dunn’s completely blasé. Chalky observes that Al’s pretty jumpy with the pistol and asks what he’s so scared of. Al chuckles that it’s nothing he’s looking at now. Chalky calmly removes his hat and offers to see what Al’s made of. He’s made of fighting dirty, but Chalky recovers and is ready for him. But before things can really get started, Eli discharges a couple of shotgun shells into the air to get everyone’s attention and Nucky announces that Gyp’s losing his support, which he doesn’t know yet, and is at Gillian’s. He calls Al and Chalky in for a private meeting.
Gillian and Gyp are having their date—she in some sexy lingerie, naturally. Things start to get hot and heavy, but he stills her hand when she starts to remove his jacket, because only he removes the suit. While he gets undressed, she asks him what he intends to do to her. He tells her he wants to break her in half, until she begs him to stop, which he won’t do. Sexy. She looks a little sickened, but keeps playing her role, even when he calls her a worthless piece of shit who looks in the mirror and knows she deserves everything she gets. She plays along, calling herself an ugly little ape. He asks if she’s laughing at him and she smirks and says that everybody does. He takes off his belt and she asks if he wants her to whip him. He doesn’t respond, but he flexes his muscles and arches his neck back ever so slightly. She takes the hint and slips the belt around his neck, pulling him to the bed, where she has a needle full of heroin ready. But when she goes to jab it into his neck, he catches her hand, wrestles the needle free, and pushes it into her arm instead. He hears something outside and rushes to the window, where he sees Masseria’s guys packing up and taking off. Leaving Gillian (dead, presumably) on the bed, he runs downstairs and demands to know what’s going on. One of the remaining goons just says the other guys have left, and then Two Face walks in, armed to the teeth, and starts firing away, a one-man killing machine. He’s so scary some of the remaining guys pack up and flee, while Two face continues to shoot his way through the house until he gets to Tommy’s room, where he finds the last goon (the creepster) standing holding a gun to the poor child’s head. Goon tells TF to put the gun down. After a while, TF complies, telling Tommy to close his eyes. Tommy does, and at the last possible second, TF shoots the goon in the head.
On the road out of AC, Masseria’s guys run right into an Al-and-Chalky-organised trap. With much machine-gunning, they’re slaughtered and Al kinda makes friends with Chalky before heading back to Chicago with his boys.
Nucky and Eli arrive at the House of T&A and are amazed by the slaughter. How lucky that TF picked this very night to go on his rampage. Nucky finds Gillian in the hallway, not dead but pretty out of it on heroin. He asks her where Gyp is, but all she can seem to talk about is the Commodore. She’s having flashbacks of Nucky sending her up to him back when she was a child. Nucky has a moment to look appalled before he takes off.
TF carries a sleeping Tommy to Julia’s house. Luckily she comes to the door and not her father. She asks what happened and if he’s all right, and then she catches sight of his bloodied face. He reassures her that it’s not their blood, as her father shows up, apparently sober for once, and tells her to take the boy and go upstairs, put him in her brother’s room. Wow, this is a hell of a turnaround. He also tells her to turn the light off. Once she’s gone, he sternly but kindly tells TF he can’t be coming home like this. He starts to say he’ll have a talk with Julia, but TF tells him not to bother. All he cares about is Tommy’s safety. He turns and slowly walks away. Please, God, don’t send yet another character on this show on the road.
Esther Randolph’s phone rings and she finds Andrew Mellon on the other end. He tells her that a certain business of his has been taken over by a criminal enterprise. He wants her to shutter the place and arrest anyone involved in it. She’s a bit confused that he wants her to arrest Nucky, but apparently it was Nucky who brought this to his attention. He wants her to arrest Rothstein, a name he only remembers with some prompting from Means. Well, now! This is indeed a dangerous game Nucky’s playing these days.
A car pulls up by a beach somewhere where Gyp and two guys are hanging out. Out of the car comes a third goon—I think it’s the one whose cousin Gyp beat to death a few episodes back. He explains he hid in a closet and asks what the hell happened. He adds that they’re not going to be able to go to New York. Laying low in the woods might be a better idea. Gyp…for some reason starts talking like a cartoon character and goes full-on crazy, saying he’ll only sell hooch every other Thursday, because he’s an important person with important socks. I half expect this to turn into the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit here, what with the crazy Cartoon Judge Doom voice and the general weirdness. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if suddenly his eyes comically bugged out or his arms stretched or something like that. He dials it down a notch and says he’ll just start over, head west, find some hick town where they can open a few speakeasies. He stupidly goes to take a piss, and while he’s exposed in every possible way, Goon 3 stabs him right in the back while the other two watch. See? I figured eventually these guys would decide he was more of a liability than he was worth. It’s amazing it took this long. Goon drops the worst villain this show’s ever had into the sand and reports to Eli and Nucky that it’s been done. Nucky tells him to take Gyp to Masseria and tell him this could either be the beginning or the end of their problems with each other. He adds that if the goon ever returns to AC, Nucky will kill him himself.
After the man goes, Nucky tells Eli that they need to set up some serious firewalls in the future and make sure the only people who ever come near them are people they trust. Eli agrees.
Late at night, Margaret wakes in the bed she’s sharing with the kids and finds blood on her fingers, presumably from the abortion. She goes to the bathroom and, after she comes out, is shocked to find Nucky there, once again nattily dressed with his usual red carnation in the buttonhole. He tells her he just wants to talk, and that he won’t hurt her. He agrees to forgive her for whatever she’s done in the past (which is rich, considering Billie and all) and urges her to come home. He looks around at her humble surroundings and tells her to stop trying to submit herself to such penury to prove a point that doesn’t even matter. Because this is Nucky we’re talking about, he holds out a wad of cash and tells her to take it for the kids or herself, because it’s only money, it doesn’t mean anything. She tells him it does and moves past him, going back to bed.
Nucky returns to AC and walks down the busy Boardwalk. The door to the Ritz is held open for him, but he ignores it and goes to the railing to look out at the ocean. A random passerby recognizes him, but Nucky scares him off with a stink eye before pulling the carnation out of his buttonhole, dropping it to the ground, contemplatively smoking a cigarette for a bit, and heading off to wherever.
He’s back, folks.
So, that was season three. I had some misgivings going in, and I’m sorry to say they all seemed to come to pass. First off, I was worried that, with the loss of Jimmy as a foil for Nucky, the show would lose momentum, and man was I right about that. The whole Jimmy/Commodore deal last season had some issues, and I wasn’t terribly sorry to see Jimmy go, but his alliance against Nucky did at least bring some interesting dimensions and dilemmas to the story, considering their close ties. Going from that to Gyp was like falling down a hole—just dark, endless, and painful. Gyp was a failure as a character and as a villain. He was completely one-note, just completely insane, doing insane things for no real reason at all, other than to just be crazy. And don’t get me wrong, I know there are some truly crazy people out there who’ll parade around in tricorn hats given the opportunity, but they don’t make interesting characters on a TV show. Nor do they usually manage to lead others, even for a little while (though there are some historical exceptions). How did this guy ever make it up the ranks in Masseria’s organization? Why would anyone ever follow him? Why did anyone continue to trust him? He was nothing but a liability, all wrapped up in a stereotype (oh, look, a henpecked Italian tough guy!) with some random weirdness thrown in. Note to writers: bizarre behavior does not make a character more interesting.
There’s also the issue of the show starting to spread itself too thin. Show of hands: does anyone care about the Further Adventures of Nelson Van Alden? Anyone? I sure don’t. His whole plotline went nowhere, and honestly, I feel like his time on the show has long passed. He’s just not necessary. We spent all this time following him and Al in Chicago, and all the boys in New York, and while there were some threads there that led back to AC, they were few and far between, and I feel like we’re starting to lose the whole idea of what this show’s supposed to be about. It’s called Boardwalk Empire, folks, not The Rise and Fall of Al Capone or Arnold Rothstein or any of these other guys we can just look up on Wikipedia (yes, yes, I know, we can look up Nucky Johnson too). This is supposed to be Nucky’s show, and Atlantic City’s show. These other guys are famous; we already know their stories. Focusing on them seemed like a distraction, though Nucky’s relative uselessness throughout most of the series (he only really picked up every now and then until about episode 9) didn’t make for very compelling television either.
So, there were some problems. The cast really needs to be thinned out and the story refocused. All the actors are fantastic, but give them spinoffs if you must.
Don’t mistake me, there were things to like about this season. It was nice to see Margaret get pretty badass and even better seeing Two Face enjoy some semblance of a normal life (for a while, at least). And his relationships with Julia and Tommy were sweet and wonderful to see. I hope they continue to use him going forward, because he’s an intriguing character played by a fantastic actor who really deserves more accolades than he’s getting. I don’t know why he hasn’t been nominated for any awards yet. Speaking of sweet things, it was also nice to see a whole other side of Eli. I don’t think we’ve ever really seen him with his family, and his tenderness towards his wife and his rather humbled behavior with his brother were interesting and started to make him a more complex character. About time, too. I’ll be interested to see where this relationship between the brothers Thompson goes next season, and what the fallout will be from Nucky pulling the rug out from under Rothstein with Mellon’s distillery. You know that’s not going to go over well.
Thanks for tuning in, folks. Until next year!