Boardwalk Empire s03.12 ‘Margate Sands’: Missed Opportunities

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Boardwalk Empire Season3.12 ‘Margate Sands’

Written by: Terence Winter and Howard Korder

Directed by: Tim van Patten

Airs Sunday 9.00pm EST on HBO

This was the show when I thought the talking would stop. Boardwalk Empire, always a little dialogue heavy, had moved itself into prime position for an episode where plotting was kept to a minimum and action to a maximum. The culmination of Nucky’s feud with Gyp Rosetti was going to be violent, bloody and spectacular. Or so I thought.

It didn’t really work out that way. There was violence. There was blood. There was a little bit of spectacle. But, like a fireworks show that begins with the biggest display, this episode managed to so confuse the structure that by the end of it the slaying of Rosetti – instead of being the crowning moment, the fulfilment of weeks of tension – became nothing but a damp squib.

The show started in reverse. Capone, now in league with Nucky (in a deal arranged by Eli, the details of which I cannot remember – probably Nucky has to sell Capone his first born or somesuch) embarks on a war of attrition against Rosetti and his backer Masseria. So we get the guns and the blood, only we get them at the beginning rather than the more traditional format, which saves the killings for the end. The point of showing us all this mayhem, intercut with clips of Atlantic City’s beleaguered Mayor attempting to reassure a pack of howling journos, wasn’t immediately clear. What we were interested in wasn’t the sight of countless anonymous gangsters biting the dust. What we were interested in was the big showdown involving Gyp. Later it became clear that Capone was using Nucky’s predicament as an opportunity to square up to Masseria, but that was much furrowing of the viewer’s brow later.

So we started with a bang. And where to from there? Lots of talking, with Nucky on the phone, orchestrating a scheme to secure his victory of such complexity that I needed to take notes. Obviously, the writers needed something else to cut away to in between calls, so we were given an inconsequential bit of business between Chalky White and Capone to keep us happy, a bit the way a bored dog gets thrown treats. Having the yard outside Nucky’s lair descend into fist fighting every time he picks up the phone, forcing him to go out and tell everyone to play nice, was mildly entertaining and might have worked as comedy if it had been played that way. Which it wasn’t. Add to that a segment devoted to Margaret visiting a doctor for a termination and another convoluted plot strand involving Luciano being conned out of his precious heroin, both of which felt like hasty resolutions to situations which should have been left to develop at a slower pace and I was beginning to wonder if I had wandered into season 4 by mistake.

But there were good moments too. After a lengthy scene where Bobby Cannavale played striptease with the ladies in the audience and Gretchen Mol made thousands of fifteen year old boys very happy by appearing in an outfit composed mostly of nothing and both of them exchanged incomprehensible dialogue involving monkeys and a basic lack of understanding about human anatomy, Richard Harrow made a much needed appearance and shot everyone. Except Cannavale/Rosetti who had escaped moments sooner. It was a satisfactory bloodbath, even if it did happen very conveniently just before the arrival of Nucky and Eli, who arrived expecting to take on fifty gangsters while armed with a single gun each. Again, the action seemed back to front – how much better it would have played if Harrow had appeared just as the Thomson twins were about to be overwhelmed…but it was not to be. Nucky and Eli escaped without a scratch, the only damage being to Steve Buscemi’s aplomb as he attemped to work out what the ‘terrible thing’ was that Gillian Darmody claimed Gyp Rosetti had done to her.

As for Rosetti – the well signposted end came at last, delivered et tu Brute style by one of his minions, depriving us of the final confrontation between him and Nucky towards which the whole season seemed to lead. Even so, there was a neat circularity in Rosetti going out where he came in – on the headland – only this time the victim rather than the perpetrator of violence.

And the loose ends were left temptingly unwound, ready for us to follow them into next year. What will become of Van Alden? How will the feud between Capone and Masseria play out? Will Margaret return to Nucky? What will Rothstein do once he figures out how Nucky has played him? I might not have liked the ending to this season, but I’m getting comfort by telling myself it’s actually only the beginning of something better.

1 Comment
  1. Joe Luis Cedillo says

    I really agree with a number of points with this review. Gyp cut such a bloody swath through the season that kharmically his demise was built up to have to be something of biblical proportions. That Gyp and Gillian (nice symmetry to each of their arcs and names) had found each other in the bedroom really juiced it up too. When Gyp escaped there was such a great opportunity for Harrow or Nucky to have it out with Gillian. Instead she regresses and I thought her comments were about what Nucky had done in taking her to the Commodore when she was a kid.

    One of the best threads of this season was the development of Harrow as a character and his heartbreak at saving Jimmy’s kid while walking away from true love. Nice way the uncompromising Father knew exactly what was up and how he quickly took in the kid with no questions asked. That is the power of the narrative that I’ve come to expect of Boardwalk Empire. I thought there was a great thematic thread about the importance of family and the sacrifices various characters have to make to preserve their’s. From Eli’s Easter dinner to Margaret getting ready to hit the road to escape Nucky and Van Alden’s own domestic terrorism while trying to be normal, there was a great panarama and variations on the theme.

    Boardwalk Empire really has been great about raising expectations and payoffs to story points that are poignant and profound. Jimmy’s death by the hand of Nucky is one of the true peaks to the series and really was a masterful stroke. Gyp definitely stirred the pot and moved the story forward in showing that Nucky’s position is vulnerable and brought the king ever so close to being toppled. Hoping that the series continues to advance the threat to his Empire not only from outside forces like Gyp, but the equally brutal and punishing internal factors that Nucky revealed to Margaret in the bathroom when he found the hummingbird ear ring. You feel for the guy who is so in command and so trapped, who never seems able to grasp the things he wants most.

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