Empire State of Mind: “Margate Sands” (Season 3 Finale)

bill bodkin looks at the finale…

The Low Down: The war between the Joe Masseria-backed Gyp Rossetti and the triumvirate of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) is in full throttle. Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) tries to barter for safe passage for her and Tommy. Meanwhile in the shadows of the Artemis Club Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) is gearing up for battle. Lucky Luciano’s heroin arrest ends up costing him. And somewhere Margaret Thompson (Kelly MacDonald) is out there trying to cope with the loss of her now dead baby-daddy Owen Slater (Charlie Cox).

The Body Count: There were so many deaths, some implied offscreen, were’ guessing around 60 plus.

Favorite Jersey Reference: “We’re just two pineys with a broke down car.” Great little quote from Eli. –BB

Favorite Performance: Steve Buscemi has always been the captain of the show’s ship and tonight he plotted a new course for the series. As Eli said, he’s “the man with all the angles” and he deftly was able to manipulate Rothstein and the US government to get what he wanted. Now all he seems to want is a life less extraordinary…not be recognized, attacked or in anyone’s debt. But most importantly, he wants his family back. Buscemi was excellent as always — stoic, tenacious and ferocious yet emotional, humble and fragile. It’s great that he has a vehicle like this where he can be the headlining star. –BB & KRF

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Gretchen Mol has been awesome this season. Near Shakespearean in her wickedness and deviousness, tonight was Mol’s magnum opus. She ran the gamut of Gillian’s personas with perfection — the prisoners, the mother, the harlot, the madame, the murderess and in the end — the victim. She was able to go toe-to-toe with Gyp, but in the end, she wasn’t able to withstand the pressures of Atlantic City and all that entails. In the end, she comes crawling back to Nucky, stoned out of her mind, rehashing the night she was first introduced to The Commodore and take advantage of as an underage girl. A truly heartbreaking end to a character that showed so much strength this season. –BB

Gretchen Mol has turned in consistently strong performances this season as Gillian’s become the show’s most complex and insidiously vicious villain, but she was particularly good this week as the declawed madam tried to regain control of her business and take down Rosetti on her own. As the episode opens, Gillian’s been rendered almost powerless by Rosetti, needing permission to enter certain rooms and is essentially a prisoner in her own home. However, a lifetime spent dealing with the darker, prurient desires of men enables Gillian to pick up on Rosetti’s self-loathing and sado-masochistic fantasies, which she quickly uses to gain the upper hand by taking on the dominatrix role and the quickly shifting power dynamics between the two were fascinating to watch. Unfortunately, Gillian’s typical over-confidence causes her to squander her chance to take out Rosetti, but I was glad to see she survived her near-fatal heroin dose and will still be around to trouble Nucky and horrify the audience next season. –KRF

The Best Part of The Episode: Harrow’s dazzling massacre at The Artemis Club was one of the best scenes in the show’s history. Wonderfully shot, it was a bullet-riddled and blood-soaked ballet that ended with a terrific climax. “Close your eyes Tommy…” and bam, a perfect shot from a crouched position with one hand. –BB

Not only was Richard Harrow’s killing spree at the Artemis Club thrilling and beautifully shot, but the tension just serves to point out how much the audience cares about Harrow as a character. As one of the characters without a real-life, historical counterpart, the writers have total freedom when it comes to determining Richard’s fate and I was on the edge of my seat during that entire scene, dreading the moment when one of Rosetti’s men would put a bullet through the good half of Harrow’s face. The dichotomy between Harrow’s actual face and his blank, immobile mask has often provided striking visuals and this week was no exception, as the camera focusing on the blood covering the undamaged portion of his face seems to indicate that Richard’s true self is that of the cold, efficient solider and killer seen wrecking havoc in the Artemis Club and that the would-be family man and tender spirit whose been spending so much time with Tommy and Julia is only a mask of his true nature. –KRF

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: We’ve given a pass to Gyp Rosseti’s antics all season, but his childish songs while taking a pee on the beaches of Margate was just absurd. It also takes away from the big finish. –BB

Throughout this season, Bobby Cannavale’s over-the-top Gyp Rosetti has, to paraphrase Waylon Smithers, wavered the fine line between everyday villainy and cartoonish super-villainy, flying into malevolent rages that, for the audience, were often more laughable than terrifying in their ferocity. When Rosetti’s brutishness has been intentionally used a comic device, it’s largely effective (as was the case with his speech to the citizens of Tabor Heights), but at other times, his oafish rage has been impossible to take seriously, even when the script and direction seems to indicating that we’re supposed to be doing so. It’s a shame because in his more subdued moments, Cannavale’s been menacing and riveting, as one need only look to his scenes with Gillian this week for an example of the character at his most effective. Unfortunately, Rosetti’s final scene was a prime example of the character at his worst. From his Buscemi impression to his singing to his laughably exaggerated and drawn-out death, Rosetti bid a clownish adieu and Cannavale’s, manic, scenery-devouring reading really took me out of the moment. –KRF

The Little Thing We Loved: After slaughtering Masseria’s men, Chalky and Capone both commenting “Glad we got that out of our system” and then walking away like two good old boys while dozens of men lay in pools of their own blood. Also the scene where Julia’s dad finally accepts Harrow is wonderful…then heartbreaking. –BB

I loved the final image of Nucky removing his ever-present red carnation from his lapel after being approached by a slightly star-struck stranger on the boardwalk. The lapel carnation was a sartorial trademark of the real-life Nucky Thompson, so while this act may simply be representative of TV Nucky’s expressed intention to avoid the stresses and dangers associated with being in the public eye by adopting a less showy, but equally pivotal behind-the-scenes role, this act may also symbolize the show’s intentions to break with reality a bit more in the future and to play fast and loose with history (ala Tarantino’s Jewish revisionist fantasy in Inglorious Basterds), which opens all kinds of intriguing possibilities for the future of the series. –KRF

Final Thoughts: Of the three season finales in the show’s history — this was the weakest. Let’s qualify this statement — the last two seasons were jawdroppers, especially last season. There was no way this season finale could’ve touched last season’s. With that being said, it still was a very good ending to a very good season. The bloody shootout engineered by Harrow coupled with the opening shootout montage were terrific. Buscemi was pitch perfect as the man with all the angles and that quality truly played itself out with the betrayal of Rothstein, an angle master himself. The heroin angle that has bogged down the season ended with a muddled whimper. Our interest is piqued at what the series will do with the fourth season (which it has been renewed for) and one has to wonder how much the series has left in the tank. We believe that it probably will. It’s a bit sad to see Gyp exit the series as he was truly a colorful character, however with the way this episode ended, they couldn’t have done much more with his storyline without recycling a lot of the plot. It also has to be noted there was a distinct lack of Agent Van Alden these past few episodes and one has to wonder what the deal is there.

All and all — “Margate Sands” ends a third season that was a bit tumultuous, that had its warts and its moments of brilliance. Boardwalk Empire is still one of the top series on television, one just has to hope the next season can break new, brilliant ground. –BB

“Margate Sands” was a fine finishing point to the show’s strong third season, tying together many of the season’s far-flung plot lines for a satisfying and tight conclusion. Other than Harrow’s thrilling brothel rampage, the episode lacked the intensity of last week’s penultimate episode, but that was to be somewhat expected since, going in, we knew things would ultimately work out for Nucky. “Margate Sands” was more interested in showing how those pieces came together and Nucky’s clever, outmaneuvering of both Rothstein and Masseria – thanks in part to his newly-strengthened alliances with Chalky, Capone, and, most significantly, Eli – was more than satisfying. While the episode seemed to set Nucky’s path for next season, it left open possibilities for some of the series’ most compelling characters, including Harrow, an unseen Van Alden, and even Margaret, who may have made a break from Nucky once and for all. –KRF

all photos credit: hbo

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1 COMMENT

  1. Richard Harrow’s one man all guns blazin’ was AWESOME, but Gyp Rosetti is what kept me watching this season. While his character may seem stereotypical and cartoonish, I think he personifies the mindset of many a gangster. With Gyp, however, there’s no bullshit. We saw exactly what we would be dealing with mere minutes into the season premiere, and every scene with him in it had me on edge. I knew that ultimately he had to go, but I was kinda hoping they’d let him linger into the first coupla episodes of season 4. I guess having him die by Gillian Darmody’s hand would’ve been too easy and not necessarily as satisfying since he’s got more enemies than he can count. I was NOT expecting Tonino to be the one to stick a blade in him, but I guess it was poetic justice.

    And speaking of Gillian, the role-playing scenes between her and Gyp were both chilling and hot. She was barely able to conceal her loathing for him, which I think is what ultimately allowed him to turn the tables on her. Did anyone else notice how teary eyed he got when he told her to crush him and make him beg for more?

    I’ll miss Gyp, but this whole ordeal will set a new precedent for season 4. Nucky is not half a gangster anymore, and I think we’ll see how full he can be!

    Bring it!!

    • I agree Lynn. He was awesome this year and I kinda wished they kept him on for another season as the lead villain. I thought having DeNino kill him was fitting, but I wish he had something more important instead of “I’ve got to do this.” Gyp brutally killed DeNino’s cousin on those beaches, it’d have been nice for DeNino to get a little revenge.