Boardwalk Empire season 3 finale review: Margate Sands

Boardwalk Empire's third season draws to an inevitably violent conclusion. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.12 Margate Sands

Remember this? “It’s life, ain’t it? How can it not be personal?” Gyp Rosetti’s reductionist logic became something of a motif for the season that has just reached its inevitably violent conclusion. The show may have been trailed with Nucky’s doubts on being half a gangster, but this is not merely Nucky’s show any more, and the question of who a person really is has been explored through so many more avenues. If there has been an overarching theme to this multi-stranded season, it was the collision between public and personal lives. 

The more savvy characters learned to balance both. Chalky and Capone have established a personal dislike, but they can keep a lid on their differences when the job requires, and even find some common ground in the letting off of steam. Their ability to navigate the public and the private (Chalky’s use of his son in law, Capone’s new-found skill at holding his temper when faced with personal insults –for a while) is the key to their success. Incidentally, I love Capone’s new, near-permanent cigar, a nice nod to the general impression we have of the man. I’m really looking forward to seeing where he goes in season four. 

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Perhaps the biggest fusion of public and private was in the brutal collision of Richard Harrow’s concern for Tommy Darmody with Rosetti’s occupation of the Artemis Club. Seeing him stalk the bedrooms and corridors like a tin-faced Terminator was a gruesome thrill, and one of the single best scenes that the show has yet delivered. The dichotomy of Harrow’s cold, dispassionate demeanour in the service of a highly personal mission made it all the more tragic, especially in its aftermath, when he handed Tommy to Julia and her father but refusing to stay himself. It’s a cruel shame for him to be denied happiness. I hope he finds himself a mission in life, one that can make the best use of his unique set of skills.   Surely Nucky has some use for him? 

As Margaret’s storyline came to its sad conclusion, we saw how a public life can have a very private dimension. What a fall she’s had. From the beginning of the season, when she got to play the philanthropic donor, looking concerned at a woman’s miscarriage, to the end, holed up in a seedy boarding house, her own blood on her fingers. Her public concern for the plight of women has been transferred to a private dread of her own. It was rather separate from the rest of the episode’s business but worth it, especially for Kelly MacDonald’s incredible performance. The fear on her face was palpable as she entered the room in which her abortion was to be performed, still remembering to keep the euphemistic niceties.   

Still, this was what will come to be remembered as the ‘Gyp Rosetti season’. The chief arc was his, from arriviste to cadaver in twelve episodes. He had to go, no question about it, but the manner of his departing was acutely appropriate for him and the season as a whole. His killer, Tonino, acted through two motivations, revenge for his murdered cousin and the more immediate issue of Nucky’s ‘persuasiveness’. I’m not sad to see him go. He’s given us some great moments and has proven himself a fearsome adversary for Nucky, but he was cartoonish at times and with his hair-trigger temper, bedroom proclivities and tendency to misunderstand nuance, he has been a little bit villain-by-numbers. His demise clears the decks for fresh threats next year. 

Of Nucky, I will say it’s good to have him back on top of his game, and even more so because it took Eli to push him there. This episode worked very well with the one that preceded it, particularly in the reversal of fortunes between Nucky and Rosetti. Nucky’s A-game was a sight to behold employing his skills as both politician and gangster, deftly manipulating Masseria, Rothstein, and even Andrew Mellon while having the stomach for the wet work (even if the wettest work of all was carried out by someone else). He can’t be half a gangster, but he doesn’t have to be half a politician either. He’ll need both attributes to succeed. And succeed he will. 

It’s been a great season, all in all. I found that there wasn’t always room for all the wonderful characters, Chalky made up for his absence in the past couple of episodes, but Van Alden couldn’t squeeze in a final appearance, presumably he’ll be back next season, I would hope that Capone gives him plenty to do. 

The season ends rather similarly to the second season. Nucky’s chief antagonist has been defeated and the man himself is riding high, albeit somewhat chastened by his experiences. It hasn’t been an easy journey; he’s had to come to terms with himself, and with the losses of Billie and Margaret. His relationship with his brother is stronger than ever, but it has had to bear some serious strain along the way. For now though, he has some options in life. We leave him a more careful man, discarding his distinctive red carnation and deliberately blending into the boardwalk’s crowd, an anonymous, impersonal figure. 

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‘Say, you’re Nucky Thompson, aren’t ya?’ 

Nucky of course is silent, but yes. After all this, yes he is.

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Two Imposters, here.

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