‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 3 Finale Review – A Face In the Crowd

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Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire Margate Sands Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Finale Review – A Face In the Crowd

With all of this season’s talk of interlopers, impostors and (briefly) shape-shifting rabbit-gypsies, season 3 of Boardwalk Empire has been possibly the most thematically rich offering of a series that, more often than not, excels at a kind of precision storytelling. As such, there is a real feeling of follow through in regards to how the death of Jimmy Darmody, and the betrayal that led to it, made Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) a more solitary figure than he’d ever been before.

By the end of ‘Margate Sands,’ things haven’t really improved in that regard. Nucky’s not just looking to give up more of the limelight, he’s looking to vanish altogether into a kind of isolated state that will fortify his endeavors, and help to make him virtually untouchable. But at what cost will this vanishing act come? As he says to Eli (Shea Whigham) after the fireworks have ended, he doesn’t want anyone to know who he is, and no one will get close that they don’t already trust. That’s a rather bold statement coming from a man who has already been lonely and isolated in a different sense all season long.

Season 3 has been a deconstruction of Nucky Thompson, who thought he was alone in his life (before and after Billie Kent), alone in his business and alone when his world literally came crashing down upon him. While Nucky was busy becoming a full gangster, he learns there’s little value in letting the world in on the display. In a way, Nucky proved he was the interloper and the impostor by realizing the gangster game is changing and that, in a way, notoriety and the need for others to make a name for themselves played a major role in the violent events that brought the season’s conflict to a close.

Stephen Graham in Boardwalk Empire Margate Sands Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Finale Review – A Face In the Crowd

The finale opens up with a line of men being mowed down in a hail of bullets. It’s the kind of violence we had been expecting to boil over from last week’s intense episode, but at first we’re unsure which side the casualties are on. The episode then moves to a montage of gunfire and stabbings, while the press hounds the mayor for answers to all the bloodshed. Instead of calming them, or providing concrete answers, Bader is laughed out of his own press conference for daring to suggest Nucky Thompson doesn’t control Atlantic City. And with that, ‘Margate Sands’ opens up a wave of aggression that reaches nearly all corners of the Boardwalk Empire universe.

Nucky and Eli are holed up in a lumberyard, reminiscing over a straight razor and a car in need of a good mechanic. As Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) see tensions between their two sides increase, Nucky begins to wonder why he didn’t just get out while the getting was good. Why did he have to grab more when he already had so much? He and his brother went from having Atlantic City in their hands to being on the run from a psychotic interloper convinced he was owed everything that belonged to the man who ran the boardwalk. But as close to ruin as the Thompson’s came, it was clear in Eli’s tone that making it through the war with Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) would be the hard part; building a new domain would come easy to his older brother.

And so, Nucky plays on the one thing all gangsters have in common: greed. The thread with Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) being busted for selling heroin may have seemed a tad stray, but it coincided perfectly with the way gangsters see the world as money, profit and percentages just waiting to happen. Luciano takes a swing at fortune and empire and misses; he winds up losing his best bet to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi). But not Nucky; he plays the long game, too, and winds up on top by first dangling the derelict distillery belonging to Andrew Mellon (James Cromwell) in front of Rothstein’s face. Then, in exchange for 99 a percent stake in the distillery, Rothstein gets Masseria to abandon Gyp Rosetti. After that’s all said and done, Nucky turns around and has Mellon instruct Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson) to shutter Overholt, and arrest those in charge – namely, Rothstein. It’s a great bit of maneuvering that displays just how well Nucky can play the game, and how the larger the problem, the more expansive the solution will be when he turns the issue into his advantage.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire Margate Sands Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Finale Review – A Face In the Crowd

But Nucky doesn’t do all the heavy lifting. By sheer coincidence (and the fact that everyone hates Gyp) Rosetti and his men flee the Artemis Club after Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) storms the place in search of Tommy Darmody. It’s a brutal scene that sees the masked man reveal the extent of his violent side. And while he manages to secure Tommy, Richard knows that such violence will follow him his whole life – whether he ever unpacks his guns again or not. With his nature in mind, Richard walks away from a potential happy ending with Julia Sagorsky (Wrenn Schmidt) and her boozy father, who, shares a rare moment of sobriety and tenderness with a man literally and figuratively scarred by violence.

The massacre at the Artemis Club shows how quickly the walls were closing in on Gyp, and how inevitable his end was. Gillian narrowly missed giving the Sicilian “rather a lot” of heroin – and instead finds herself on the receiving end of a potentially fatal high. Though her ultimate fate isn’t revealed, Gyp’s is already written in betrayal. Knowing he’s doomed, Rosetti and his few remaining men gather on the beach to discuss where they’ll regroup and rebuild their short-lived empire. Unlike Nucky, however, those in Gyp’s employ decide it’s best to leave things in ruin and Tonino Sandrelli (Chris Caldovino) ends his boss’ life before Nucky revokes Tonino’s Atlantic City privileges. Ultimately, Rosetti wasn’t really interested in building an empire; he was, at best, capable only of destruction, and of making meager gains through brutal conquest. Those kind of men don’t last, and they certainly don’t make a name for themselves.

So by the end of it all, alone on the boardwalk, Nucky Thompson finds himself approached by a man who at one time would have meant something to the persona he’d constructed. Nucky opts to ignore such recognition, and instead vanishes amongst the people who are out and about, becoming just another face in the crowd.

Bobby Cannavale in Boardwalk Empire Margate Sands Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Finale Review – A Face In the Crowd

Various other items:

  • Rothstein: “Mr. Doyle? Doyle: “Am I disturbing you? Rothstein: “Yes.”
  • Rosetti offers up a few more gems before checking out. Roughly approximating the ages of his two daughters (16 and 14), and then complementing Gillian’s parenting skills made for a nice one-two comedic punch.
  • Nucky may want to become anonymous, but that doesn’t mean he’s changed on the inside. After finding Margaret (Kelly Mcdonald), Nucky forgives her for the affair with Owen (Charlie Cox), but offers no apology of his own. Instead, he proposes a life where the two no longer have to pretend with one another. She closes the door on him, but one wonders if that’s truly the end of their relationship.
  • Boardwalk Empire shines in its ability to make unfunny people incredibly hilarious. Andrew Mellon’s “Why would I claim otherwise?” to Esther Randolph is proof of that. He and the conspicuously absent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) should be in a room together.
  • After all the animosity, all it took was a nighttime ambush of Masseria’s men to bring Al Capone and Chalky White together.


Boardwalk Empire will be back with season 4 in the fall of 2013 on HBO.

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  1. Outstanding season finale for an outstanding show. Can’t wait for next season!

  2. Quite magnificant. Okay, whilst it pretty much panned out with any major surprise (although Nucky’s checkmate towards Rothstein via Andrew Mellon was quite brilliant), it was just joyful to watch something so confident, so structured and so perfectly resolved with just enough lingering over to make a person count the days until season 4. Anyways, I spent all week bouncing up and down (on the inside) waiting to see the glorious Richard Harrow go mental in that club and he duly didn’t disappoint. Much love to Jack Huston for his performance. He does more with half a facial expression than most actors do with a ten page dialogue scene.

    So long, General Gyp. You were not one for a long life in this world, almost hoping someone would take you out as some form of penance for the person you were. Missed, gone, but never forgotten.

    • I was hoping it would end with nucky say to rothstein ” I never forget”. But perhaps that will wait for next season. Lol

  3. Richard Harrow shootout scene was the greatest moment in Boardwalk Empire, action wise. Seriously, such emotion and intensity is rare in action films.

    • Yeah I have a deep respect for the character Harrow. And yes, it is a great scene.

      Does Harrow know the truth about Jimmy’s death? I really thought that Nucky was going to get his head blasted off, when he and Eli entered the brothel.

      As for the show? Love it! Love it! Love it!

      It’s such a relief listening to a poetic and nuanced English language, without the “dumbified”; You know, it’s like, i mean… crap we are subjected to everyday.

      • Yeah, remember he tells Nucky that he killed Manny for Angela and that Jimmy was a soldier and that he respected Nucky.

  4. The episode was great. The Richard Harrow scene was just outstanding. This season though was just “eh”, okay. They waited too long for this war to develop. Although the Richard Harrow scene was outstanding I was hoping for a little more to it. I hope next season he has a bigger role. This whole Nucky thing is getting pretty old right now. I hope they move on to Capone taking over and maybe Harrow playing a role into next season as well. I also hope the pace picks up a little next season. All in all a great finale to an okay season.

    • I disagree. The whole season was fantastic. It wasn’t as great as Season 1, but it was definitely better than Season 2. Though, I don’t think Boardwalk Empire ever had such an outstanding finale, as Season 1′s finale was very disappointing as there was only one good moment, and season 2′s finale episode wasn’t too compelling until Jimmy’s encounter with Nucky and his gang.

      • I think Season 1 was great with a great Season 2 finale. I love the show but what gets it on my “DVR to see later” list instead of watching it right when it airs is the pace of the show. I found myself fast forwarding through a lot of the scenes this season especially with the Margaret/Owen scenes. Those felt wasted to me. Owen could have played a bigger role with his background. Capone wasn’t utilized that much this season which IMHO was a wasted opportunity. Seeing how Season 2 ended I expected more of Harrow this season but they waited until the end to show his best work. This season felt more like the Nucky whinefest rather than anything else. Gyp was really the highlight this season for me because he kept me entertained. At least for me in Season 1 & 2 the Nucky/Jimmy conflict was interesting. Margaret was boring but was not as bad as this season and I still had some hope for Owen with his IRA background. This was still a good season but would I say it’s an overall perfect epic season? No

  5. I agree with everyone that loved seeing Richard exact his own justice on everyone in his way. So much so that I hope this is the last we see of him. I hate saying that because he’s one of my favorite characters on any show but I rather see him go out this way rather than seeing him with a storyline like Van Alden had this season.
    I also hope but I doubt this will be the last we see of Margret.
    Overall I give this season an A- grade. The minus because there were a couple of episodes that I thought were pretty flat and I thought the show was returning to a slower season 1 pace but after all was rolling I enjoyed the rest of the season…

    • It wouldn’t surprise me if the writers had intended Richard to have the happy ending we all wanted him to have but were swayed by the simple fact Mr Harrow is the ultimate fan favourite every TV show cries out for. I understand completely. I wanted him to actually kill everybody, pick up the boy, have a final scene with Gillian (but not kill her) and walk out of the show for good. Would’ve been beautiful. I suspect next season he will become a major player for Nucky simply because we’ve done the ‘tortured’ act for quite a while now.

  6. Great episode! I would have liked to see Van Alden suffering his miserable existence and Rothstein after his arrest, though. Hopefully Margaret’s borefest will be gone from next season; HBO confirmed that she is getting a spinoff show: Menstruation Empire. Tagline: P^^^y has never been so boring. Did anyone else sense a Scorsese homage to Taxi Driver in Harrow’s carnage?

    Good write-up of the episode.

    • HAAHA

  7. A really important point has been missed here. The reason Tonino is the one who executes Rosetti is partly retribution for Rosetti’s decapitation of his brother’s head while he was buried in the sand (even after Tonino begs that his brother be spared). The utter lack of mercy on Gyp’s part is what he ultimately also gets to experience on the beach.

  8. Watching Boardwalk Empire is like seeing an Academy award motion picture every Sunday evening. This season was truly fantastic. I had my doubts it could surpass season two but it did. The finale was perfect, really no unanswered questions except for maybe Van Alden. Can’t wait for season four. And if you have not seen an episode of BE, may I suggest you rent or buy season one and two, then get an HBO subscription so you can see season three on demand. Boardwalk Empire is truly great television.

  9. Although the emotion in the Harrow scene was great it was just a blip in the blah/over political season that this was. But maybe they are buidling to have him be something more in season 4.
    (I compared this season to season 2 of walking dead personally)
    Instead of building up to what could have been an amazing 2 episode war and the feeling of being backed into a corner even more it felt rushed with a quick 5 minute montage of killings with flashes of capone and rosetti and chalky randomly.
    This episode felt like the writers wrote up what could have been great then created a cop out.
    All I know is I would love for them to get to the Valentines Day massacre already!

    • I agree completely. I felt like this season was a set up for next season. It felt like the majority of the season was at a standstill and the really compelling stories/action wasn’t revealed until the last 4-5 episodes(Like Season 2 of the Walking Dead). When they got to the end some of the stories felt rushed like the downfall of Gyp, the details of Capone’s part in all of this other than he helped Nucky, among other parts. Still I have the same hopes with this series like I did with the Walking Dead Season 2 in which they will hopefully pick up the pace. Thankfully The Walking Dead has heard about the complaints about the pace and picked it up(even though it may be a little too fast but still it’s a lot more entertaining than last season).

      • Well what I really like this season is that they introduced O’Banion with the flower shop. So hopefully they will get to the point of the Valentines day massacre.
        Walking Dead is awesome this season if you take it for what it is. Youre right though it is very rushed. But it feels like they cant get the right touch on the speed. too slow or too fast, damned if you do, damned if you dont.

        Richard Harrow on Boardwalk Empire = Daryl on Walking Dead.

  10. Love the slow development of Nucky, it is his show at the end of the day. The way that everything tied together in the finale was nothing short of excellence. I cant really rate which season is better and why, I just see each season as a chapter to a novel. I must admit though the a scene of the aftermath of Harrows shootout was flawless, looked just like a real life crime scene.

  11. Bobby Cannavale (Gyp) showed what a damn good actor he was and I hope we se more of him in the future. Other that being a bat crap crazy character as Gyp I really think in some otheer setting he’d make a great Lucky Luciano. The way he holds himself really seemed more like the Lucky I’ve read about. More of that natural leader. The guy they have playing the younger Luciano just seems like a common street thug. Not a future leader of the over all council for all the Mafia.

  12. @Tundrabeast : He cant come back unless he’s a zombie or Jesus. he git wacked did yo not noticed ? lol

  13. I’m going to miss gyp.

    Richard is so bad ass. It was great watching him methodically do what he does best. It was hilarious when one of gyp’s goes: “who the f*** was the guy in the mask??”

  14. Richard brought it home for his boy! That was glorious to behold. I hope Gillian doesn’t come after Tommy. That child deserves a break. Hopefully “rather a lot” of heroin with alter her, since we know it didn’t completely take her out. Her conversation with Nuccky in the hall really brought their storyline full circle… seeing her vunerable like that reallyy brings home the fact that she is a creature who was created, not just a bad seed.
    I actually enjoyed the play all reason between Owen and Margaret. I am going to miss seein gCharlie Cox every week! I think Kelly delived up her best performance yet… and a not so small part of me hopes that abortion didn’t take. I would love to see Nucky strolling Owen’s baby around the Boardwalk. I think he would do it head held high too, now that they are doing away with any illusions that were between them.
    Can’t get enough Chalky. I hope his son in law saved Eddie. Love the irony of Gyp taking it in the back with his pants down on the very beach where he played shovel croquet with the cousin. Can not WAIT for the next season.

  15. A more solitary figure than he’d ever been before.

  16. What an awesome finale. Unlike. This show manages to tie things up but leave us with just enough to be waiting for next season. AMC writers should take a cue from this-that was what pretty much led to the downfall of The Killing. Anyway, Richard going nuts at the end was great to watch. He finally embraces who is. I’m glad it was him who ultimately took out Rosetti’s men.

    It was also good to see Rosetti get what he deserved. It was fitting to see Tonino kill him, after Gyp buries his nephew up to his neck in the sand andhen bashed his brains in with a shovel, all because the nephew pointed out a fact about ocean travel and what causes a rogue wave. I thought Bobby Cannavale did an amazing job showing Gyp’s downward spiral into pure depravity this season.

    Margaret will be back after taking some time to realize why she married Nucky in the first place (I mean, please-it wasn’t because he’s a good Catholic. She knew that from the very beginning. You’re telling me that he wasn’t happy when her husband gets killed in season 1?)

    Wonder what’s going to happen with Van Alden next season, and what AR and Masseria’s reactions will be to getting betrayed by Nucky. Also, the rise (and fall) of Al Capne should be interesting to watch, as well as what kind of plot Lansky and Luciano will come up with against AR.

  17. Why would Andrew Mellon be so willing to have those who are running his distillery arrested at Nucky’s request? Nucky is supposed to have it running, but he has Mellon have the operators arrested. Makes no sense. It also makes no sense that he is going to have an entire distillery operating when Prohibition is in effect. Isn’t that why it was shut down? Isn’t that why bootlegging occurs? It goes underground. It also is confusing when Charlie and Meyer talk about the fifty pounds of heroin costing $100k one time, then $300k another time. And why did AR steal their heroin anyway? And now he is partnering with Masseria. Lots of occurrences that don’t make sense and make things confusing. How many people really care how the writers came up with the episode titles. Very clever, yes, but not my main focus.

  18. Why does evryone hate on Margaret? even though she and her storyline may be incredibly boring at times, she is the most human out of all the cahracters on this show. Margaret is a standard mother who got tied up with an abusive hubby, then with Nucky, then is pregnant with another man’s child, who just happened to be dead in a box. she has bad luck. that is way different than boring.

  19. It seems that for three years we have been waiting for Boardwalk Empire to reach the heights of true greatness and to finally become the gangster epic that it’s concept so promised when it first began. There have scenes at times and indeed some powerful storylines. But things were always slowed down by Nicky’s political agendas and basically whatever Margaret does. Of course the show doesn’t want to descend into mindless shootouts every week and there is a bigger, more grandiose story to tell. It’s just that the pace felt a little bit slow at times focusing on characters or storylines that were pivotal to main events.

    However that has changed this season and the finale truly delivered in every possible way.

    I did fear that after the great set up of Two Impostors – that Margate Sands would be a let down where everything is talked through and sorted quiet without any explosive climax (a la Sorpranos) but thankfully this wasn’t the case.

    The episode hit the ground imeediately. The shot of the line of men getting shot with Cpaone emerging , cigarette full in mouth was such a great start. It set the pace all the way through.

    Loved how Nucky set up Rothstein, which was the only event you didn’t see coming, as in previous seasons Nucky and Rothstein have always come to some arrangement to help each other out.

    Gyp and Gillian’s scene was fantastic. Full of tension and weirdness, you just didnt know if one would kill the other or not. I agree with many that Bobby Carnivale has been superb giving the show a real adversary full of intent.

    Just watching Capone with a really huge machine gun was awesome. Both him and Chalky are the coolest characters on the show and I hope to see more involvement from both next year.

    Of course the highlight was Harrow’s reckoning. His all out assault was simply one of the best scenes of television this year. It was such a skillfully staged sequence seeing Harrow kill everyone from all angles in such a ruthless manner. I agree it would’ve been great to see him and Julia happy. He realises that he doesn’t want her or Tommy drawn into violent life. To be honest his departure wasn’t too played out and Julia can always find him again. I’m pretty sure we’ll see Harrow back in season four.

    All in all an incredible finale and great season for a show that 3 years in has finally embraced it’s concept and become an essential piece of television.

    I only hope that Game Of Thrones can do the same next year.

  20. Boardwalk Empire > Game Of Crap!