Boardwalk Empire‘s third season ended on such a completely different note from both last season’s finale and most of the season; namely, it was intensely satisfying, and almost made one forget the many mistakes and narrative pitfalls that plagued most the episodes leading up to this one. There was plenty that was set up well for another season, but “Margate Sands” could have worked just fine, in many ways, as a series finale (luckily though, it doesn’t have to). In the end Nucky comes out on top — he always does — but at what price? It was a question that has cast an ever-darkening shadow over him and those in his life since the first season, and never has he seemed at such a crossroads as now. Was it all worth it? Hit the jump for why it was worth it — for us at least — sticking around for this final hour.
There were few good surprises with “Margate Sands” that were not only quickly executed but that were also very clearly explained (for once). Some of the driest subplots of the season (the distillery, Andrew Mellon, Lucky and Meyer’s burgeoning heroin trade, Masseria’s monologues of distaste for everyone) ended up being some of the best moments of the finale The double, triple, quadruple cross of Rothstein snatching the dope from Lucky and Meyer to go into business with Masseria was just one part of what turned into a complete coup for Rothstein when Doyle spilled the beans about Nucky’s troubles with the distillery and Masseria.
But wait! There’s more! Nucky double-crossed Rothstein with Mellon who called Esther to arrest him for “illegal activities,” and Nucky was able to get Capone and Chalky to be friends again by allowing them to massacre Masseria’s men as they retreated from Gillian’s Whore House of Rosetti Refuge. Whodda thunk?
Despite these delightful surprises, much of “Margate Sands” was right on the nose of what was expected. Rosetti died, finally, by Nucky’s indirect hand (how he lasted as long as he did anyway is a forever mystery). Richard Harrow entered into a game of “Golden Eye” and massacred the majority of Rosetti’s men, while pulling out a neat trick to kill one of the last ones who was threatening Tommy. Harrow then saves Tommy and delivers him to Julia, whose father is not only sober but understanding! Huzzah and kudos!
Did it make a lot of sense? Not really. It felt a lot like fan service and I really have no problem with it, since so little of the season seemed to know what it was doing or where it was going at all. Boardwalk has done plenty to disappoint us, but keeping Harrow has been one of its best and most necessary choices — he is now one of the only characters still worth rooting for.
“Margate Sands” was a beautiful bloodbath, and while I have lambasted much of the gruesome violence in the past, this week (much like last week) presented it not only in a necessary way (the gangsters are at war, after all) but filmed it in such a perfectly stylized way. It was brutal, but the marriage of a swirling camera and splatter-cinema effects was strangely intoxicating. And the deaths were all foes — our heroes (and what a word that doesn’t fit) saved the day. What could be more satisfying than that?
Yet what of Van Alden? Have we forgotten all about our poor iron-wielding friend? As the minutes counted down to the very end of the episode I found myself increasingly surprised at how we never checked back in with him. While his story will likely have a much bigger part in things next year, it was still odd not to give him a final look since he’s actually connected back into Nucky’s world now.
So what will Nucky do next? This season has all been about stripping Nucky down as a man alone, a man apart. His conversation with Eli was one of the best of the season — they couldn’t leave things well enough alone with they had the chance, and look at what it has cost them. Nucky particularly. Do things continue for him as was? Does he change? Can he? Are we starting to care again?
In hindsight, Boardwalk‘s third season will probably make for a great re-watch. Going through it the first time has shown it to be tangled and, occasionally, both incomprehensible and completely uninteresting. Knowing where things end up might help the appreciation of the character journeys on second look, but where the show has really succeeded is in setting up a potentially fantastic fourth season. For that, perhaps, things have been worth it. Nucky can’t escape Atlantic City, and maybe neither can we.
Episode Rating: A+, Season Rating: B+
— The biggest loser of this season was, like last season, Margaret. She’s lost her lover, her baby, her husband, her money and her home. What’s next for Margaret may be even more interesting than Nucky. Prayer circle …
— Margaret confiding / not confiding in the abortionist’s wife reminded me how isolated she really is. She has no friends, no one to talk to. Owen was her only outlet.
— “We didn’t stop when the going was good” – Nucky
— Eli has quietly been one of the best character arcs of the season. Watching him transform has been fantastic.
— “Pricks like you come and go, but the law remains” – or Rothstein, either one.
— Well Gillian lives. I guess. And I almost felt sorry for her as she re-lived her pubescent rape at the hands of the Commodore as engineered by Nucky. Oh Gillian … you can be smart with your business and interesting to watch sometimes, but I cannot forgive your treatment of Richard and Tommy. And that time you slept with your son.
— Capone and Chalky’s fist fight was hilarious, as was how it was broken up (and then repaired after their killing spree).
— Richard Fucking Harrow, ladies and gentlemen. Thank god for him.
— Micky Doyle: “Am I disturbing you?” Rothstein: “Yes.”
— When did Eli become good lookin’?
— I could have sworn Rosetti was singing about Honey Boo Boo. So glad to be rid of him. So, so glad.
— It’s been a crazy season and I know there’s been a lot of division in the comments about how to take it. I’m right with you in not being completely sure myself. I do truly think that we’re in for some great stuff next year though, no matter where you stood regarding this season overall. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in my dreams …