BOARDWALK EMPIRE Season Finale Recap: “Margate Sands”

     December 2, 2012


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.

boardwalk-empire-steve-buscemi-season-3There 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.

boardwalk-empire-steve-buscemi“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+ 

boardwalk-empire-margate-sandsMusings and Miscellanea:

– 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 …


  • Darden

    Richard Fucking Harrow. A one note character who’s outstayed his welcome by surviving this season. Sure he had the element of surprise but unless he’s the most preternaturally skilled killer since Xena- which I doubt because vet doesn’t mean superhero which this show seems to habitually forget- there’s no way he goes in there causes all that ruckus and comes out without so much as a nick. But the show gave Jimmy super strength last season so comparatively… still unrealistic. Gillian- most interesting character on the show. Easily. It’s not about “forgiving” her. It’s about the complexity. No one seems to get that. Eli’s never been ugly. Gyp, a stereotype? Sure. But a lot of them were like that. Another thing people complaining haven’t really understood, and we were bound to get a character like that sooner or later. When he affects that voice at the end I was vaguely reminded of Christopher Lloyd in Who framed Roger Rabbit. Where does Margaret go from here? Don’t know. But her vascillating between being Catholically guilty while basking in the spoils of her husband’s iniquity and being Catholically guilty while… not has lost any charm it had. Is she the relatively strong character of season 1. Is she Lady Macbeth of the first third of season 2. Is she a philanthropist and soapbox sadie? Does she marginalize a once hard ass character (Owen Sleater) and then, thematically, get him killed? Or does she just stare off into the distance clearly conflicted? Better question are any of these interesting. What’s next for Nucky? Don’t know. I’d imagine more gangster stuff, another fictional enemy. Which is why they should’ve made sure in the first season to really make it clear that the show could function as something of a political intrigue procederual, interspersed with violence. Because now all they have is “Nucky getting pulled further into the gangster world”. People have come to expect the body count. Reason why it was a big mistake killing the Commodore last season. The real man apparently didn’t always see eye to eye with Nucky and the second season coup could’ve been used as the first in a couple of attempts to wrest control of the city back from Thompson.

    • Allison Keene

      Veeeeeeery interesting, Darden … I agree with a lot of what you’re saying!

      • Darden

        No you don’t. LOL

    • Tim

      Another guy who thinks he’s got it all figured it out. You make it sound like everything is black and white. Oh, and if you expected this to be completely based on the actual events you’re a little naive.

      • Darden

        Lol. You can tell who thinks they’ve got it down cuz they always claim it’s the other guy. I never said I thought I had it down pat. Everyone’s got their opinions I was expressing mine. It’s other people who see it black and white especially with their perceptions of characters like Richard and Gillian. I was challenging that. Nothing in my comment was black and white. No I don’t expect it to sync up completely and totally to reality, but little dovetails to history would be nice. In the first season Nucky uses the actual way that man’s wife died as a cover for the way she really died- that’s a good example of what I’m talking about Tim.

  • Mavro

    This show has never disappointed me. That finale was SO satisfying and I agree, it could’ve served as a series finale. Although I also kind of thought that about last season, too.

    • Allison Keene

      that would have been a bleak finale! (last season).

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  • Day zee

    Great season! But whatever happened to Baby Bugsy? He disappeared after the hit on Gyp. Hope he comes back…

  • Junierizzle

    I give this season a C. Lets be honest, they had no clue what to do after they killed off Jimmy. Gyp was not a good enough villain to merit a season long arc. That teen that Nucky killed was more interesting than Gyp. But I loved what they did with the season finale. They basically blew everything up. Now they can start from scratch all over again. Two things I hope dont come back: Margaret and Van Alden. I think Van Alden gets a pass because we all love Michael Shannon but that character has run its course. So has Margaret.

    I loved these reviews by the way!

    • Allison Keene

      I was thinking about going with a C but there were some really great moments here and there. And these last two episodes NEARLY made up for the other mess. I agree about Margaret and Van Alden. They’ve written themselves into a corner with those two (particularly Margaret), I have no idea where they’ll go next!

      and thanks for the kind words!

  • dexter

    He’s Bugsy friggin Siegel. He’ll be back.

  • Steve

    Really enjoyed the season and the series as a whole, sure it was slow paced at times but finished on a high, sad to see Owen killed off, and how Mickey just keeps living is amusing aswell as frustrating, was anyone else as tense as me when Richard was doing his rambo thing? i was half expecting one of the gangsters to get a lucky shot off and mortally wound him but thankfully he lives, i also was expecting closet gangster(Tuninho? Torino?) to shoot Eli when he went to investigate, would of been typical as he and Nucky just started to bond again and would of left Nucky even more alone, i agree it was a bit odd not to see Van Alden atleast once in the finale hopefully they give him more air time next season when hes finished telling everyone to “Kneel before Zod” in the new superman. Margaret grates on my nerves alot, i like her character and Kelly Mcdonald does such a great job but she should think of her Childrens futures specially seeing as Emily is disabled, can see that being the reason she goes back to Nucky for support in the next series.

    Ive only been following your recaps since the beginning of this season, but they have been very enjoyable and i will be continuing to follow them if (hopefully) you continue to write them :)

    • Allison Keene

      Thank you Steve! laughing out loud at “kneel before zod” — and agree with all your points!

  • Keli

    I commend the writers for having the guts to kill Jimmy and now Rosetti. I would’ve liked to have seen Gillian O.D., but I guess there needs to be some kind of trouble for Richard come next season. A lot of the negotiations going on in the finale confused me and I felt like I asked my coworkers at DISH, who also follow the show, tons of questions trying to figure out who schemed who. I literally watched this episode three times from my DISH Hopper, so I’m happy that I was able to organize a folder specifically for BE on my DVR that’s easy to go through. I’m just a little bummed that I have to wait a whole year until we get any new episodes.

  • Keli

    I commend the writers for having the guts to kill Jimmy and now Rosetti. I would’ve liked to have seen Gillian O.D., but I guess there needs to be some kind of trouble for Richard come next season. A lot of the negotiations going on in the finale confused me and I felt like I asked my coworkers at DISH, who also follow the show, tons of questions trying to figure out who schemed who. I literally watched this episode three times from my DISH Hopper, so I’m happy that I was able to organize a folder specifically for BE on my DVR that’s easy to go through. I’m just a little bummed that I have to wait a whole year until we get any new episodes.

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