While wise men will tell you that it is the journey, not the destination that matters, the ending of a story casts an outsized shadow over the whole. A strong one can redeem a lot of rough spots on the way there, while a weak one pretty much kills the potential for it to be better than “pretty good”. The idea is that I’ll do a look back at a season of a show I’ve been following but we haven’t been covering week-to-week the week before the finale. I’ll give a brief(ish) take on how it’s been so far, and then engage in some speculation on what the finale will do or what it needs to do to salvage the season. Then I’ll check in the following week with a look at how the finale met, exceeded or subverted my expectations. Next up: The third season finale to HBO’s Prohibition gangster epic Boardwalk Empire.
RIIIIIIICHARD OH HELLLLL YEEEAAHHH BOOM SHAKA-
Ahem. I’m going to try to offer a mature and thoughtful look at Boardwalk Empire‘s third season finale, but if I occasionally flash back into the amazing sequence of Richard returning to the Artemis Club like Travis Bickle’s wildest, most masturbatory fantasy of himself, and just start raving again, please bear with me.
But anyhow, last week I made some predictions/wishes for what “Margate Sands” would deliver, so let’s see how my expectations fared:
1) Gyp Rosetti is murdered in especially brutal fashion.
Okay, so I started with a bit of a gimme. The Sopranos might have sometimes kept its volatile gangster antagonists around for longer than a season, but Boardwalk is a much more conventionally-plotted show. Which isn’t saying a whole hell of a lot; The Sopranos was perversely structured in just about every possible way, and the upside is that while there is more predictability to the story arcs, at least when Boardwalk promises you a mob war, you goddamn well get a mob war.
But Gyp got off fairly easy in the end, considering how inventive he was in dispatching those that rubbed him wrong throughout the year. Literally stabbed in the back by his no. 2 on the same stretch of beach where he beat a motorist to death in the premiere – this all seems appropriate enough (and gorgeously shot), but it’s still going to be disappointing to some that Nucky and Capone didn’t get their hands on him personally. Personally, it’s enough for me that Nucky orchestrated his death.
2) Stephen Root’s Gaston Bullock Means will continue scheming through next year.
Also a safe bet, as I understand that the real life Means has quite the colorful story (though I avoid looking up details on anyone appearing on the show). He only appears briefly in the episode to whisper into Mellon’s ear, but that alone indicates that he is slithering ever higher even as his former employer and clients are increasingly besieged. Nucky seems to have taken his arms-length approach to corruption as an object lesson, given his comments to Eli about not dealing with anyone they don’t already trust directly anymore (also very reminiscent of The Sopranos).
3) Capone leaving a pile of dead bodies behind, and going home having cemented a tighter bond with Atlantic City.
Capone wasted no time delivering on the first part, as the episode opens with the most polished and extensive execution montage yet. For those of us who haven’t been shaken off by the show’s tendency to take things slow and stretch itself too thin throughout the early/middle parts of its seasons, this delivers precisely what we all expected from a Scorsese-produced Prohibition drama on HBO: pinstripes and tommy guns and lushly rendered bloodshed galore. I’m pretty sure this single episode surpassed the body count of the entire series up to this point, with Masseria and Gyp losing around 50 men, plus a few on the home team’s end.
On the second part, the most surprising twist is that Capone seems to have the same level of mild scorn for the Thompsons as ever, but has struck up a (by the extremely relative standards of this era and show) sweet little bromance with Chalky. I hope this is something that they return to next year. I’m sure Nucky, for all the eye-opening he experienced in “Two Impostors”, will be back to undervaluing Chalky in no time, and if Capone were to say become a partner in the new jazz club, that would accomplish what I wanted from this storyline (keeping the AC and Chicago portions of the show more connected), while also allowing the most famous figure in the cast to play outside the historical lines a bit. Sure, this could have just been time-filler and easily forgotten, but I’ll consider it a missed opportunity if neither of these two asks the other for a favor at some point next year.
OH YEAH IMAGINE WHAT MY MAN COULD DO WITH A WHOLE FACE BOOYA!!!!
4) Eli will have moved fully into Owen’s position as number 2/chief enforcer.
This was pretty much a done deal as of last week, but nonetheless the mending of the relationship between the two brothers was one of my favorite parts of the season. I suppose I could award myself a bonus point for calling it back in the review I did of episode 2 (Eli’s first appearance), but really, I don’t see how they could have done anything else with the character, having declined to deadify him during his campaign against his brother last year.
5) Richard will put some of those guns to use on Rosetti’s men.
He didn’t just put the guns to use, he warped the show into a late-game Grand Theft Auto mission for 3 glorious minutes, complete with a stupid thug with hostage to headshot at the end. What’s weird about this is that Boardwalk Empire is generally the most grounded crime show this side of The Wire in terms of realism, and yet still I buy this. Such is the awesomeness of Richard Harrow – he warps the reality of the show to the point that this one man army shit that would pull me right out of even a more cartoonish series like Sons Of Anarchy seem natural. And totally awesome.
I also previously speculated that Richard would go to work for Nucky, leading Julia to witness the violence he was capable of and run for the hills. That sort of happened, but not quite. Richard is still not working for Nucky, but I still think that he’ll end up there in fairly short order next year, as he is now out of a job and home. And while she did get a glimpse of his bloody side, he seems to be doing the estranging part himself. She was certainly unnerved by him showing up on her steps covered in blood, (even someone else’s) at 3 in the morning, but that seems reasonable. She seemed to be bothered by the hour more than the blood, though once she reads in the paper about a full dozen bodies being found at his former place of business she may reevaluate the motivation for her mortification. I hope not, though, as she’s been a swell gal and I’d like for Richard to have at least a little bit of happiness in his life.
Also, “Mortification Motivation” would be a good title for a punk album.
I don’t know whether he intends to kill Gillian as well, and am actually somewhat indifferent. I could see one, both or neither surviving the finale depending on how Richard, one of the most intriguingly inscrutable characters on TV, decides to play it.
Well, Gyp did the dirty work, so we don’t really learn what Richard’s intentions for Gillian were. Her fetishistic head games with Gyp made for the tensest scene in the episode, made more so by both of the characters being original creations who seemed to have exhausted their obvious uses to the show. Had she had a similar scene in one of her trysts with Luciano, for example, it would not have had the same kick to it. If this was her send off, it was a good one, going out via the same dope she used to murder fake Jimmy and twisting the knife on Nucky one last time by reminding him that he birthed a lot of her psychoses by pimping her out as a child.
But she’s probably not dead. Yeah, she got shot up with a dose that was supposed to fell Gyp the Great Shitty Ape, but they probably got her to a hospital and this is TV after all. There was no lingering shot of the light leaving her eyes followed by Nucky hanging his head, so I assume they want to bring her back. Man, if we thought Gillian was crazy before, imagine if next year she is out of business and hooked on heroin? Yikes.
Sidebar: Between last week’s Sons of Anarchy and this, both of the first two Finale Alleys feature a woman being forcibly shot up with heroin. This…was not one of my predictions.
6) Margaret (will) still be the lead next year, but don’t expect anything substantial from her in the finale. I’d say there’s a decent chance she doesn’t even appear.
She did appear, for a grand total of two scenes, but they are of course significant if only because she is the lead. Her getting an abortion is, in retrospect, the obvious culmination of her women’s health work, but I did not see it coming. More because her entire storyline got lost in the shuffle than because I was shocked they would go there or anything, but I wrong is wrong. It’s a shame that they haven’t found better material for Margaret, because I really like Kelly MacDonald and especially the way she plays the devious side of the character that only peaks out very occasionally. Having her end two straight seasons by rejecting Nucky doesn’t feel like progress of any definable sort.
Still, I liked her scoffing at Nucky’s assertion that it was “just money” and “doesn’t mean anything”. Of course it does. Money is our collective expression of value. It’s entire existence is premised on the idea that it means something greater than the paper its printed on. And what we do with it and what we’re willing to do for it says a great deal about who we are. Even if Nucky would rather it didn’t.
7) Chalky will get his jazz club and some money, but really what I’m hoping for is that he personally kills a goon or two his own self. With a double barreled shotgun. And if he wants to lightly hum “The Farmer In The Dell” to himself while he does it, I’m cool with that too.
He took out a few goons, and whatever criticisms I might have of the season’s climax, the body count was definitely high enough. I’m not sure if I completely buy that Chalky was such a huge part of the war and took such risks to help Nucky without even feeling out what Gyp might have offered him, though. I mean, we can be pretty damn sure that he wouldn’t allow a black club on the Boardwalk, but Chalky doesn’t have our firsthand experience with him and he didn’t seem very pleased with Nucky at any point this year. I’m sure some of it was hometown pride and not wanting to roll over for an interloper, but we got more of that perspective from Masseria than Chalky, who only made an oblique comment about being too old to make new friends. It’s not even to really drag me out of the show, but it does seem a bit out of character for the guy who spent all of last year dealing with the fallout of deaths of a couple of his men to so eagerly throw his whole community into a war between an Irishman and an Italian.
8) Eddie will live.
No sign of him. But no news is good news as far as TV bullet wounds go, so I’m counting that as correct, if also a bit of a gimme.
One person I didn’t really speculate on was Nucky himself, as I am just now noticing. I guess this is because it just seems like a foregone conclusion; of course he’s going to end up back on top. He’s the Caesar of the titular empire, and with another season already picked up it’s not like the opening credits are just going to role one week with Eli standing in the surf. So it was just a question of how, and whether it was satisfying.
For me, it very much was, although I’m sure many will be annoyed that he didn’t get to confront Gyp face-to-face. I actually found it much more edifying that Nucky used his head and politicked his way to victory rather than shooting his way there (not that there weren’t plenty of bullets used in his campaign). We knew from the start that Gyp’s coup was not made to last, and that Capone’s cavalry would do their job and that the deal with the distillery would remove Masseria’s backing. But the show still managed to surprise me with the extent to which Nucky was able to fuck over both his nominal ally and enemy in the process of reestablishing himself. The mechanics of this were a bit complicated, but basically Nucky and Rothstein shuffled around the assets secured from Mellon and Luciano to the benefit of Masseria (who got the latter’s heroin) and Rothstein (who got the former’s distillery). Which would be a savvy enough move, and effective in ending his Rosetti problem.
That might be good enough for half a gangster. But we’re way past that, so Nucky goes ahead and slaughters Masseria’s men once their backs are turned, as a parting “fuck you” that has to rate at least three and a half Vitos on the Standardized Gangster Index. That’s a bold move even before he gets around to horse-trading the Overholt distillery to Rothstein and then immediately turning around and ratting him out to Mellon, who can’t be happy with the development, but essentially has his hand forced and has to have the criminals who have taken over his enterprise arrested or risk scandal. That’s two very powerful gangsters that are going to be furious with Nucky when next season begins, but it remains to be seen if he’s put them back on their heels enough that he will be prepared when they strike back.
That’s next year, though. This season finale was a great wrap up of a year that roamed very far afield particularly in its first half, and one that is going to make it much easier to look back on Boardwalk Empire’s third season as much more cohesive and consistent than it really was on a week to week basis. That’s what a great season finale does – not just move and excite while it plays, but brings the big picture together in a way that we feel like the previous 12 hours were worth our time in order to get us here. And in case it is not clear where I land on that issue, let me remind you that RICHARD SHOTGUNNED, WRESTLED, AND HEADSHOTTED OVER TEN MEAN TO DEATH ALL BY HIMSELF AND CAPPED IT OFF WITH A FROM-THE-HIP SNIPER RIFLE SHOT THROUGH A THUG’S EYE.
Prediction Tally: 7 for 8, though I played it pretty safe and the historical aspects make this show very easy to predict in the broad strokes, so bragging rights are pretty minimal on this one.