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”Where has it gotten us?”
The first word that comes to mind when thinking about last night's season finale of Boardwalk Empire is skilled. On the one hand, the descriptor obviously implies that the third season closer, “Margate Sands,” was well conceived, written and executed but, on the other, it also connotes a level of cold calculation. While a lot of the episode was extremely gratifying (at least on an intellectual level) it didn't reach the same heights of suspense as ”Two Impostors” or the emotional devastation at the end of "A Man, A Plan..." two weeks ago. The season finale, however, did display the series' structural brilliance with almost all the disparate characters and threads seamlessly coming together in “Margate Sands." And the stacks of bodies that continued to pile up surely kept those hoping for a blood soaked finish to Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire more than satisfied.
”Now you know what time it is.”
Before we get to the blood, and it is spilled almost instantly, it's worth mentioning that I can't remember the last time I recapped the events of a Boardwalk episode in chronological order, once again reinforcing how tight and focused the series spun the finale. "Margate Sands" opens with an energetic montage that cross-cuts between the gang violence and Mayor Bader addressing the wave of murders with a string of reporters, none of whom seem to take the man very seriously. They only want to know one thing: where is Nucky? And they aren't the only ones. Nuck, with Eli at his side, is waging his war from the lumber yard and his first scene not only brings Mickey and Overholt into play - reminding us of his newest major asset - but also introduces the conflict between Chalky and Capone (and by extension their men). Back on the Boardwalk, Gyp has control of the Artemis Club but without any broads or booze it's not exactly the most hospital joint and the meeting with Masseria is laced with tension.
”I don't know. You're the man with all the angles.”
It's quite clever how they have used Gyp, himself a fantastic villain, in order to introduce the even greater threat of Masseria as a possible main adversary for Nuck going forward. Poor Gyp. Poor crazy Gyp. Sorry. Ahead of myself. With Gyp running his business out of the club, Gillian's power has been reduced to, well, less than nothing. Essentially a prisoner in her own home, she now has to ask permission (and dodge sexual assaulters) just to bring her grandson some food. They did their best to make Gillain sympathetic this week, even bringing up the night she got sent to the Commodore, but it's hard to care about that monster anymore and I was proud of Tommy for blocking entry to his tepee. Even though their flimsy familial bond is basically broken, Nuck and Eli continue to rekindle their relationship, this time while fixing up a junky automobile. It's a pretty pivotal scene, with Nuck coming clean about some regrets and perhaps his plans to play it differently in the future. Eli, however, shares his unwavering optimism that his big brother will figure it all out. And, to be fair, his angle is pretty brilliant.
”Best you can do here is not lose.”
The first part of the plan is keeping us in the dark so that the real first part of the plan, Mickey calling up Mr. Rothstein and offering some insider information - in a hilarious exchange - could simply be the weasel once again scheming against his boss. We don't know whose side Doyle is on until later (how the fuck is he still alive?) and, as for Rothstein, he's always got a few tricks up his sleeve. One of said tricks started last week with Lucky being hauled in by the police while trying to unload a bunch of the herion that they went into debt with Masseria to acquire. Lucky holds his own in the interrogation room but eventually decides that he's willing to part with some product in order to avoid jail time. Of course, we find out that Rothstein engineered the whole thing in order to get his hands on the drugs as well as use the new found leverage/good will with Masseria to strike up a deal with the 'vulnerable' Nucky. But who is playing whom? Hm?
”He's safe. That's all that matters.”
And something tells me that pissing Lucky and Meyer off isn't necessarily the smartest thing to do, even if you are one of the most powerful men in NYC. Everyone has enemies. But before we learn that Rothstein acquiring most of Overholt in exchange for help with Masseria was all part of Nucky's plan, things continue to get weird for Gillain and the interloper. She tries to extricate her and Tommy from the situation altogether but Gyp doesn't want his 'Red' to leave and for a moment it's unclear whether Gillian is entertaining the idea of being the 'Queen' to his king of the Atlantic City. The real queen of AC, Mrs. Thompson, is busy hiding out in Brooklyn and her storyline seems rather abrupt. Perhaps that was the point, throwing us right into her state of mind during the lost moment at the 'doctors.' All these sequences might have carried more weight had she turned to Dr. Mason in her time of need. Oh well. Her reverse Godfather moment at the end of the episode was still pretty powerful. Elsewhere in NYC, Nucky's plan is working with Rothstein recruiting Masseria but he still has to keep Capone and Chalkly's men from killing each other in order to pull everything off.
”... this could be the end of the problems between us or the beginning. I'll oblige him either way. Is that clear?”
Actually, even with Nucky's best laid plan, he also gets a lot of help from a few unexpected players: Gillian does her best to stick it to Gyp and Richard, well, cleans house. I'm still unsure whether Gillian pulled through in the end, I was too distracted by Richard's rampage. He's like Omar from The Wire (yes, I know Michael K. Williams, aka Chalky, played Omar), a one man wrecking crew with a heart. I teared up a little when Tommy ran to hug him after he blew that dude's face off. The scene when he dropped him off at the Sagorski's was also pretty emotional, not just because of the rift created between Richard and Julia but also the way Paul has warmed and even allows Tommy to sleep in his dead son's room. I also wasn't expecting Capone and Chalky's part of the plan to be waiting in the bushes and mowing down Masseria's men as they were returning to New York. It was a nice holy shit moment and the following bit of banter between the previously feuding Capone and Chalky was a welcome bit of levity.
”This is only money. It doesn't mean anything”
While those two gangs took care of that nasty bit of business, Nucky and Eli went to the Artemis to see to Gyp personally but instead found the trail of bodies Richard left behind as well as the drugged out Gillian talking about the past. Again, does she live? I guess so? We also see that Richard missed one of the Italian gangsters, as Tonino is still alive and hiding in the closet. Before Tonino arrives at the beach with his tale of escape and a switch blade, there's still one other aspect of Nucky's plan that comes to light. The real reason he was willing to part with the Overholt distillery is so Mellon and Randolph could go after Rothstein and take out another one of his major competitors. Remember Remus. After the dust settles, we return to Margaret slumming it in Brooklyn where she listens to Nucky's proposition before rejecting him with the aforementioned reverse Godfather. By that, I simply mean her shutting the door in his face and him out of her life. The season ends with Nucky on the Boardwalk, clearly unhappy with being recognized or the idea of returning to the Ritz, perhaps finally understanding why he can't be half a gangster. Expect an even more insulated Nucky next season.