Boardwalk Empire: Season 3 created by Terence Winter (Home Box Office, Leverage Management, Closest to the Hole Productions)
Starring Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Wigham, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Graham, Vincent Piazza, Michael K. Williams, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston, Bobby Cannavale.
*Spoiler Alert for Previous Seasons in Effect*
Breaking Bad… So to Say
It was always coming to this. An anti-hero caught in between upstanding citizenry and the power and prestige of the underworld. Because of the Volstead Act, the 1920s represent an intriguing illustration in legislating morality and forcing morally ambiguous characters off the deep end.
How far would you go to protect those you love? To make sure your life is secure? It’s a question phrased in many ways. How often have you heard it asked, “How much would it take for you to [insert unethical and/or unpleasant act here].
When one settles on the dollar figure, the rest of the equation is settled. You might try for a while to teeter on the balance beam. But, someday a decision must be made and you’ll see your true colors.
Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire functions as an excellent example of this phenomenon. The first two seasons found Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), its principle character, walking the tight rope between upstanding political leader and ruthless gangster. Well, Season 3 refused to permit Nucky the opportunity to live in both worlds.
External Façades, Internal Turmoil
Season 3 finds Nucky Thompson ever influential, despite his run-ins with the law and lost political stature. Case in point during the first episode, Nucky and his new wife, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) host a New Years’ Egyptian-themed party and everyone of any import is invited.
Despite the external façade, the new marital relationship is on the rocks due to Margaret’s decision to gift much of Nucky’s property to the Catholic Church.
Even more, Nucky’s business affairs are in turmoil after he decides to streamline his liquor business and sell exclusively to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). In particular, up and coming gangster Gyp Rosetti (played by Emmy award winner, Bobby Cannavale) takes specific offense. Affiliated with Brooklyn mobster Joe Masseria, Gyp could find affront with a bouquet of roses and his violent tendencies mean any offense might be payable with death.
Gyp decides to take matters into his own hands, cutting off supply routes between Atlantic City and New York, hoping to force his way into the liquor stash.
Gyp’s maneuvering ultimately leads to a tense existence between Atlantic City and New York with a mob war on the horizon and an inevitable high death count.
Gyp’s actions not only irrupt Nucky’s business agreements, they also force him into uneasy spaces. Too often, Nucky let the foot soldiers do the dirty work, remaining far enough away for plausible deniability. Gyp’s aggressive behavior, however, requires an active stance—one for which Nucky would rather avoid.
Doing the Dirty Work
And thus arises the central question of Season 3. When power, money, and relationships become threatened, is it more important to keep your hands clean, or do you need to do the dirty work?
Well, everyone has a price.
Season 3 is another sterling example of television. Boardwalk Empire executes its plots brilliantly, the acting feels genuine, and the setting believable. For me, Boardwalk Empire is a better, more gruesome version of Downton Abbey. The viewer gets to live in a past century for one hour a week, the main difference between the two shows being: Boardwalk Empire leaves the viewer in a more unpleasant, contemplative place. But that’s ok right? Boardwalk Empire forces the viewer to sit in Nucky’s shoes and to juggle the idea of transforming into a full-time gangster.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5