Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire kicked off last night with a bang. It was a brilliant, fantastic episode that neatly laid out each character’s current predicament, and set the stage for what is in store for the rest of the season.
The entirety of the season premiere takes place on New Year’s Eve, 1922, roughly a year or so chronologically after the Season 2 finale. Creator Terence Winter chose to start here because, as he puts it, “since Season 3 was a new beginning in a lot of ways, why not just literally just start on New Year’s Eve?” This is in reference to Nucky killing his former protégé Jimmy at the end of last season, in addition to Nucky marrying Margaret, and disgraced ex-FBI agent Nelson Van Alden building a new life for himself in Illinois.
The first two season premieres of Boardwalk Empire started off with acts of shocking, brutal violence somewhere within the first five minutes. This season is no different. The episode begins on a seaside road about 60 miles from Atlantic City, where we get our first taste of the brutality and the hotheaded new character and antagonist Gyp Rossetti. Rossetti and his posse are stranded on the road and having car trouble when a helpful stranger with his dog come upon the scene. The stranger fixes Rossetti’s car for him, but Rossetti is insulted by an offhanded remark by the stranger that meant no harm or ill will. Walking back to his own car, the stranger is brutally beaten to death by Rossetti and he takes the dog with him.
We then cut to Nucky, who we see has not lost his newfound penchant for violence by ordering the death of a petty burglar who stole some booze from a warehouse of one of Nucky’s subordinates, Mickey Doyle. Despite this, Nucky sees himself as a philanthropist, as evidenced by his and Margaret’s donation to the pediatric ward of a local hospital. However, real-life politician Harry Dougherty calls him out on this claim, saying, “You’re a gangster. Plain and simple.”
Out in Chicago, the up and coming Al Capone runs into a turf conflict with Irish gangster Dean O’Banion, which is an actual historical event. Van Alden is a traveling salesman, struggling to care for his newborn child and au pair, who unwittingly draws himself into the Capone- O’Banion clash when he walks into O’Banion’s floral shop where Capone is about to start a fight. O’Banion pretends that Van Alden is one of his guys, and Van Alden, picking up quickly what is happening, pretends he has a gun. Capone, sensing that he is on the losing end, leaves the shop. O’Banion offers a job to Van Alden, a job that he seems ready to take after his boss denies him the New Year’s bonus that he deserved. It is hard, from the events of the past two seasons, to have any sort of pity for Van Alden and his predicament. However, we do see a human side to Van Alden, which cannot be said for Gyp Rossetti.
Gillian Darmody is running a brothel out of her dead husband’s mansion while allowing Richard Harrow to live there. Harrow sees that it is his responsibility to raise Jimmy’s son, Tommy, but is disturbed to learn that Tommy does not remember his mother, Angela, and that Gillian has him calling her his mother. We see Harrow commit a murder that was purely self-motivated, a first for him, when he kills the man responsible for Angela’s death, Manny Horvitz, who happens to be a subordinate in Nucky’s bootlegging operation. The continued evolution of a complex character like Harrow, with his pure kindness and loyalty combined with a killer instinct that developed in World War I, is fascinating and a joy to watch.
At Nucky’s New Year’s Eve party, we begin to see considerable tension between Margaret and Nucky. Nucky is upset over the fact that Margaret donated some recently bought land that Nucky purchased to the church, and Nucky is beginning to become uncomfortable with Margaret’s increasing outspokenness. In addition, to the disgust of Gyp Rossetti, Nucky announces plans to streamline his bootlegging operation in a way that would make Arnold Rothstein his only buyer. Rossetti leaves the party after a tirade insulting Rothstein, Nucky, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky, among others, but not before giving Margaret the dog he had stolen.
The only thing I was mildly surprised about was the notable absence of Chalky White from the episode. However, he figures to play more of a role later on.
Tune in next week at 9 PM on HBO for the next episode.