bill bodkin closes the case on boardwalk empire season three…
It’s been one week since Enoch “Nucky” Thompson took off his trademark red carnation off his label, tossed it aside and walked into the sea of people galavanting on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
And even with seven days to mull over the Prohibition-era crime drama’s third season, we’re still left with our brows furrowed in deep thought pondering this one question — What do we really feel about Season 3?
Boardwalk Empire’s third season had a lot going against it when it debuted in early September in terms of the narrative of the show and its external competition.
From a narrative standpoint, the show had to figure a way out how to cope with the loss of one of the show’s most prominent and dominant figures, Michael Pitt’s Jimmy Darmody. It was a shocking turn of events when Nucky emptied his revolver into Jimmy. If you saw that coming, then you are a genius and should be hired to be a part of the show’s writing team and that’s said in the most serious and sincerest ways possible. Jimmy’s death coupled with the brutal slayings of The Commodore (Dabney Coleman) and Angela Darmody (Aleska Palladino), two other major players in the series, left a massive void for the show’s writers to fill. These moves also caused a huge backlash amongst the BE fanbase. Many said the series was doomed, that it had jumped the shark, that the writers committed creative suicide. So, with an angry fanbase and a dearth of major characters, the writers had an uphill battle going into Season 3. And sometimes this really showed. Storylines like Nucky’s hallucinations were started and stopped way too quickly while other subplots like the dull and plodding Luciano/Lansky heroin deal or the agonizingly vague yet complex political battle between Nucky and The Attorney General (Christopher MacDonald) were allowed to play out. And the fact Billie Kent kept calling Nucky “Gus” was just downright annoying.
And can we talk the underuse of characters? Three of the show’s most interesting characters — Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon), Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham) were absurdly underused, especially Van Alden. He was the main cog of the first two seasons and this season he was treated like a complete afterthought. We honestly don’t even know what’s going on with him — last we saw he was being threatened by Capone and then…nothing.
All these negative elements of the third season made Boardwalk Empire loose some ground in terms of its competition. Dexter, which runs opposite Boardwalk Empire, had a big creative resurgence after last year’s universally panned season. Homeland, Showtime’s critical and commercial darling, continually knocked it out of the park creatively this season. And of course, The Walking Dead, not only delivered its best season to date, it also has brought in its greatest ratings. These three shows really benefitted from a Boardwalk Empire that was trying to find itself creatively. With these shows firing on all cylinders, the chinks in Boardwalk’s armor seemed more like gaping wounds
After reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Man he did not like this season at all.”
This is the furthest thing from the truth — Boardwalk Empire is still one of the best shows on television and has been a personal favorite for the past two seasons. And is it because of this unbridled love for the HBO series, that the magnifying glass of criticism is moved closer to this show than others. We’ve set the bar so high for this show that we see the flaws in it where others might not. We’re all in on this show and not just for the mere fact we’re from New Jersey. No, this show is a masterfully produced, acted and written series.
The highlight of season three is without a doubt the Richard Harrow storyline. Harrow has been one of the compelling characters on the show and during his first two season on the show he’s been using in select spots. However his scenes have been mostly “harrowing” experiences — of murder, attempted suicide, loss. This season we were able to see the more human side — his love for Jimmy’s son and we even saw him find a new lady friend. His storyline went from harrowing to heartwarming…until the finale. In the finale when he went absolutely berserk and systematically eliminated every one of Gyp Rossetti’s men who were occupying The Artemis Club. It was one the finest moment in the show’s, let alone the season’s, run.
And then there was Steve Buscemi. One of the best character actors of the past three decades, Buscemi has finally gotten his time to shine as the lead actor in Boardwalk Empire. However, this season called for Buscemi to pull out every trick in his acting hat. Sorrow, remorse, ruthlessness, desperation, brutality, homicidal rage, psychosis, delusionality (yes I know its not a word) and yet, despite all these negative emotions, he also showed Nucky’s paternal instincts, his loyalty and his humanity. Buscemi was the heart and soul of this entire season, the one one constant throughout the narrative turbulence. And it’s Buscemi’s performance that will ultimate bring viewers back for Season 4.
In the end Boardwalk Empire Season 3 was as turbulent and tumultuous as the Atlantic Ocean. It had its moments of frustration, its moments of futility and its moments of pure genius and artistry. This season is definitely a must-watch for those Boardwalk Empire fans who might’ve missed the season and are looking to catch it on DVD. However, if you’re a complete newbie to the series, start from the glorious beginnings of Season 1.
all images credit: hbo