SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet watched the third-season finale of “Boardwalk Empire” that aired on HBO Sunday night, then we suggest you don’t read on. Instead, scroll quickly down to the middle of this post and you’ll have an opportunity to watch the episode, if you’re a Comcast subscriber. If you saw the episode, and wish to read our summary and analysis, then here it is:
Nucky Thompson came out on top.
In a nutshell, that’s how Season Three of “Boardwalk Empire” ended Sunday night on HBO. In a way, that end result wasn’t too surprising, since Nucky Thompson is this show’s main character, and the man who plays him, Steve Buscemi, is the series’ star. What was surprising, perhaps, was the incredible way Nucky marshalled his remaining resources to vanquish all of his enemies.
It wasn’t easy, nor was it predictable. In fact, despite all of Nucky’s planning and strategizing, even he couldn’t foresee the timely help he would get from an unknown source — not an ally, but a man even more prone to violence than Nucky, and whose actions in this, the 12th and final episode of the season, were undertaken for a reason entirely unrelated to Nucky’s own motivations.
We speak, of course, about this show’s most intriguing character, the World War I vet Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the man in the prosthetic mask who managed to retain the sharp-shooting abilities he picked up as an Army sniper in the Great War, despite the fact that he retains the use of only one good eye. Harrow was the star of Sunday night’s most explosive sequence, No. 1 in our list of highlights:
1) Harrow goes “Taxi Driver”: A week earlier, when Harrow was seen conducting an inventory of his personal arsenal of rifles and handguns, we wondered if he would morph into a 1920s Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), who, you might recall, mounted a one-man assault on a brothel in “Taxi Driver” to rescue a child hooker (Jodie Foster). In “Boardwalk Empire,” Harrow strode into the Artemis Club, this show’s “high-class” house of ill-fame, and calmly took out just about every hood in the place. His goal: To rescue the little boy Tommy and take him away from the place’s psychotic madam who also happens to be the boy’s grandmother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol).
2) Bloodbath: Harrow’s assault was just one of many scenes of violence in Sunday’s season finale that were so numerous that we lost the ability to do an accurate body count. The episode opened with a gang war montage in which dozens were killed as Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) and his New York mobsters battled Nucky and his allies, Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams). Then there was the massacre carried out by Harrow. And after that, Capone and Chalky’s men ambushed the New York mobsters on a back road and killed them all.
3) Nucky’s winning strategy: Basically, Thompson’s strategy was this: Kill as many New York mobsters as possible and run them out of town. But behind-the-scenes, wily Nucky also manipulated the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the powerful Andrew Mellon (James Cromwell), into issuing an arrest request for the duplicitous Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), an arrest we hope to see in Season Four. And most importantly, Nucky persuaded the one surviving member of Harrow’s Artemis Club massacre to kill Gyp, in return for sparing the man’s life. The man — Tonino Sandrelli (Chris Caldovino) — then knifed Gyp to death on a Margate beach. And that was that. Bobby Cannavale won’t be back next season.