‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 3 Premiere Review

Published 3 years ago by

Steve Buscemi Boardwalk Empire Season 3 HBO Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Premiere Review

Is HBO’s prohibition-era gangster drama Boardwalk Empire simply a luscious spectacle about bootlegged liquor and the underhanded individuals destined to make a mint by selling said hooch to parched individuals across the country – or does former Sopranos writer Terence Winter have something more meaningful lurking beneath the perfect recreations of 1920s Atlantic City?

At the start, the series was inarguably one of the most visually splendid programs on television – complete with all the pay-cable accoutrement one could want – but in many respects it felt as though it had been treating its main characters with too much of what might be called kid gloves. Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) was successfully leading a double life as county treasurer, happily ingratiating himself with the people (like women’s suffrage groups) and criminal folk alike, living in a hotel suite and having a meaningless romance with the uninhibited and squinty-eyed Lucy Danziger (the departed Paz de la Huerta). All in all, Nucky’s life revolved around the temporary. Since then, things have become more legitimate in one department, while exceedingly sordid in the other.

As of late, Boardwalk Empire has attempted to strike a balance between characters pushed to engage in unlawful activities and those purposefully steering themselves directly into any form of moneymaking malfeasance they can find. Despite a honest-to-goodness family (sure, unlike his many fine tailored suits, the family came off the rack, but it is a family nonetheless), Nucky’s transition has become one of a man more wholly embracing his criminality; gone is the charming, but transparent façade of a representative of the people. Initially, Nucky was, for all intents and purposes, where the buck stopped with matters pertaining to illegal activity in Atlantic City. But with that came a notoriety and celebrity that made his criminal endeavors more difficult to maintain, and ultimately came within a hair’s breadth of doing him in.

On the flipside was Michael Pitt’s Jimmy Darmody – the character so much of the audience bought into as the series’ true protagonist. Jimmy was the anti-hero, the guy compelled to break the law, slit some throats and bootleg liquor because the war – and certainly the Oedipal tryst with his mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) beforehand – ruined Jimmy’s mind, spirit and body. In a shocking move, Winter and his writers took a chance at redefining their intended lead by having Nucky personally do away with what may have been Boardwalks‘ most significant character in the young Mr. Darmody. The result? A Nucky (and now season) defined by the dying words of a son slain by his surrogate father. So what did Jimmy know that Nucky was reluctant to recognize? “You can’t be half a gangster,” of course.

And in doing so, the series is now on the verge of presenting Nucky Thompson to an audience that may harbor some ill will towards the man, but is a great deal more likely to stand up and pay attention the next time Enoch saunters into the room. As the song suggests when the season premiere kicks off, “There’ll be some changes made.When we first see Nucky in season 3, he’s dealing with a warehouse thief, while a giggling Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks) gleefully munches on his breakfast, despite being recognized as the only true idiot in the room. (Though, to his credit, Doyle manages to steer clear of Nucky’s wrath, unlike the poor sap who was “only doing his job.”)

Charlie Cox Steve Buscemi Glen Fleshler Boardwalk Empire HBO Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Premiere Review

The scene is at once an indication that Nucky is indeed no longer fooling around and why Steve Buscemi’s demeanor – wallowing in disbelief at how inept everyone else around him is – makes him the perfect choice to embody this sort of anti-Mafioso criminal entrepreneur. Nucky toys with the thief, instilling a false sense of hope that he may get off with a terse, but well deserved reprimand. After all, as Buscemi plays it, he’s not mad, just disappointed – then, of course, he has the thief shot.

The well-educated, disciplined and dapper Thompson is at once strikingly dissimilar to the season’s newest addition of Gyp Rosetti (played by wonderful character actor Bobby Cannavale). Like Nucky, the Sicilian gangster has a taste for the finer things, and his dealings sometimes end in someone else’s death, but the road leading there is quite different. For example: when faced with a perceived insult to his intelligence – even by the most innocuous of responses, as the good intentions of one man results in a disastrous turn of phrase – Rosetti can only turn to brutal violence in order to get his point across. So desperate for validation amongst his criminal peers is the gangster that he’d sooner explode with indignation and insults than attempt to negotiate himself a better deal, now that Nucky’s only selling booze to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). As he stomps off into the New Year’s night, Rosetti clearly poses an interesting problem for Nucky: a consummate gangster with his sights set on the man who chose to become one simply to get ahead.

For all of Rosetti’s hotheadedness, he can, at least, be shown the door. But Nucky’s patented expression of pure exasperation seems due a workout as Margaret (Kelly Macdonald), infused with her own brand of righteousness, takes it upon herself to look into the failings of prenatal care at St. Theresa’s hospital – newly renovated thanks to the astounding donation she made in Nucky’s name at the end of season 2. Margaret’s arc this season seems intrinsically tied to the cross-country flight of fictional aviatrix Carrie Duncan (something of an Amelia Earhart analog), whose journey serves as inspiration for Margaret to explore new, possibly dangerous avenues, as her relationship with Nucky grows colder.

Perhaps most affected by the fallout of last season are the disgraced former government agent, Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), and the ghastly visage of the quietly introspective Richard Harrow (Jack Huston). Both characters have been featured in the series’ single-episode high points, but now Van Alden finds himself on the cusp of working for a competitor of Al Capone (Stephen Graham), after a rigged sales competition leaves him without the bonus he needs to buy a house for the counterfeit family that came with his alias. Richard, meanwhile, has been taken in by Gillian, working in her new Artemis Club, but he’s mostly trying to keep the memory of Jimmy and his wife Angela alive.

Gretchen Mol Jack Huston Boardwalk Empire Resolution HBO Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Premiere Review

And, to Richard, nothing says fondness for a fallen comrade than an act of belated vengeance. He rings in the New Year by paying a visit to Manny Horvitz, and with a single shotgun blast explains to viewers why they’ll be seeing William Forsythe on the Mob Doctor instead of the remainder of Boardwalk Empire season 3. If anything, Richard is indicative of Boardwalk Empire’s growth. Though he’s been tragically placed in an environment that doesn’t know exactly what to do with him, it’s that placement which helps Richard’s story echo the loss of Jimmy across the entire series – proving it to have been more than an outrageous play by the writers.

So far, in season 3, Boardwalk Empire shows signs of moving beyond the glitz of its presentation. In attempting to move the central conceit past merely being of a distinct period in time, the audience’s modern sensibilities are better filtered through a particular and different, but not entirely unfamiliar milieu. The execution of the series during each season has been largely impeccable; the stories are engaging and increasingly more personal, which has been to the benefit of characters like Jimmy, Richard and Nelson, but now, hopefully, they will include a deeper look into Nucky.

Boardwalk Empire has grown into a series interested in the rippling effect that competition, greed and duplicity can have on an individual and the choices he or she makes. So far, as season 3 segues into a new year, there’ve certainly been some changes made; some of them successful, while others we’ll have to wait and see. Like its flawless recreation of a bygone era, the series is looking to find poignancy in what came before to bolster the stories that lie ahead.

Boardwalk Empire continues next week with ‘Spaghetti and Coffee’ @9pm on HBO.

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  1. What a season opener! This season will be awesome… once again THE best show on television!

  2. It’s unfortunate Manny was killed off….I am excited with Gyp Rosetti as the new addition primary antagonist. I like how they made Nucky’s character into such a badass I wonder if he will be off with Owen heads seeing as they hinted another fling with Margaret. Van Halden a soon to be gangster nice! I get a feeling Richard will be desposing off Gillian this season.

    • I am mourning the loss of Michael Pitt. Good old Jimmy is going to be missed. What a great actor. The show stinks without him. They will be sorry he is gone. Good luck on future projects.

      • Jimmy dying was planned since season 1 episode 1 so no they will not be sorry he’s gone. The writers know exactly what they’re doing.

        • That’s what Winter says but it is highly questionable. The show could have went anywhere and according to inside sources Pitt was causing problems on the set so that would def be a reason to off him.

        • I did not get that; how was his dying planned since season 1?

  3. Season 3 is boring without Michael Pitt as Jimmy D. Too bad. He is a great actor. Their loss.

  4. Fantastic start to the season…
    I’m still rattled after last seasons finale. Even after thinking about it for 9 months or so the decision to kill Jimmy is IMO one of the boldest decisions in TV history.
    So admittedly I was a bit tepid going into last nights episode, especially with a time jump involved but Winter and company didn’t disappoint. So everybody who’s saying they won’t watch anymore because they killed Jimmy off or that the show will be terrible is making a mistake because based off last nights episode we know see that Jimmy may be gone but he’s never going to be forgotten. Especially if Gillian and Richard get their way. That’s why as I see these other characters and villains come into focus as trouble for Nucky I think when all is said and done however many seasons done the road it is Nucky will be answering to one of those two.

  5. I have to admit that I didn’t think Jimmy’s departure would affect the show but in a way it does. I felt like the season premiere was alright but nothing spectacular. I think the only thing that is keeping me interested in the show is hoping Richard Harrow will have a bigger role this season. If his role is the same as last season where he was present but not a big figure than I see myself and others probably ditching the show. Rothstein doesn’t really interest me as I see him as a whinny wimp and I just don’t see it with Cannavale. The Rosetti character just seems like a knock off of Jimmy’s character. Margaret’s character is okay but nothing really interesting about her except that she donated the land that Nucky was going to use for the highway. Nelson is pretty cool. His character keeps me guess as to what could happen next. All in all, I hope this show picks it up this season. I do agree now with other people that the loss of Jimmy might in the long run really hurt that show. The lost of Michael Pitt’s acting power is huge and really made the show the first 2 seasons, IMO.

  6. I thought it was a fine premiere. But strangely unsatisfying. The plot line of Van Alden going into bootlegging with Capone (he didn’t recognize him? Yes, I know he wasn’t the famous Capone yet, but he hung out with Nucky and his associates quite a bit) seems just a little too easy for the writers. I mean, what are the odds that he moves to Cicero? Too small of a world. The glimpse into Nucky and Margaret’s non-marriage was unsatisfying. We were strung out on the last scene of last season for six months and I was waiting for the fury over the donation. It seemed muted and anti-climactic on Nucky’s part. Margaret annoys me still, which I was hoping would change, and as much as she wants to soar, it was souless. That’s just my take though. Sad to see Manny go – that was a character for the ages. Rosetti – I thought was a bit heavy handed, and the writers used a dog. The biggest manipulation in the book. Oh well, it worked and at least he didn’t kill the dog, which would have made me not want to watch the show. Rosetti seems too out of control and I would think that he wouldn’t last too long this season – but they’ve got him for the whole season. What I miss is the crooked erudition of Nucky. Yes, I get it, he’s sunk into gangland – but executing a common thief? C’mon. That’s peanuts. Why would Nucky take the time for that – he’s heading a liquid corporation with huge money flow. I also find Eddie Cantor too campy for the whole show. These are just my own takes on things and I’m sure people absolutely loved the premiere. But for me personally, I was slightly underwhelmed. Even the brutal opening didn’t satisfy me. It was too senseless for me to comprehend. I guess I prefer my villains to be ruthless, yes, but also intelligent, disciplined and cold. But for all I wrote – this is still the best produced show on the tube. And I will always reserve Sunday nights for it. I just hope the writers don’t disappoint. And I’m not sad that Darmody is gone. He needed to go. He wasn’t the brightest bulb of the bunch, bless his soul. His mother, though…

  7. Always a smile on my face when Boardwalk Empire or Game of Thrones comes on TV.

    Great episode last night.

  8. I found the story very hard to follow because of the dark lighting of so many scenes. On over half the scenes, it was very difficult to make out either the characters (much less their facial expressions) or what was happening in it. In the last one of a woman watching a plane overhead, I could not see the facials features of Margaret clearly enough to know who she was — had to read a review to know.

    This is an aspect of the series that makes it very difficult to enjoy, a very annoying feature of it.

    • I think that’s a problem with your television/computer.

      I saw everything fine, and it was no where near dark enough to not see the character’s clearly

    • you may need glasses

  9. I used to like the show now its blah to me without jimmy.

    To Winters: In response to killing jimmy off last season.

    “I know it was you, Fredo — you broke my heart — you broke my heart!”

  10. Wow! That was a good review! I feel flushed.