That’s a wrap, folks! Last night was the season finale of Boardwalk Empire, and it was a goody. Most of the pieces of the various plotlines came together like a puzzle, and by the end of the episode, entitled “Margate Sands,” it was clear as to what direction the show will take in Season 4.
We begin with a montage of the gangster war in Atlantic City juxtaposed with reporters constantly questioning the Mayor on whether or not he has lost control of the city. Once that ends, we cut to Nucky at the lumberyard talking on the phone with Mickey Doyle, who is at the Treasury Secretary’s distillery in Pennsylvania. However, Nucky has to cut the call short, because some of Capone’s guys and Chalky’s men are brawling because they’re bored. There are obvious racial tensions afoot, and it is only because Nucky is friends with both Capone and Chalky that the situation is defused and the peace is kept for the time being.
At Gillian’s whorehouse, Gyp’s men are smoking, drinking and having a general good time. Gyp is hosting Joe Masseria, who is not happy that Nucky still hasn’t been killed yet. He threatens to pull his men from Atlantic City, which would seal Gyp’s fate. Meanwhile, Gillian tries to give Tommy lunch, but to no avail: the boy is upset that Harrow left. Gillian then goes to see Gyp to ask for his permission for her and Tommy to leave, but he refuses and makes sexual advances on Gillian.
Back at the lumberyard, Nucky helps Eli fix a car, and the two discuss the future. Nucky thinks that his name is mud and that he is over. Eli helps Nucky keep his focus on the here and now, and promises to help Nucky regain the town when all is said and done.
Mickey calls Arnold Rothstein and presents him with a golden opportunity: to bail Nucky out by buying a stake in the distillery. Rothstein then calls Nucky with an offer to buy a 99 percent stake in the distillery in return for having Joe Masseria pulling his men back to New York. Nucky accepts.
In New York, Lucky is roughed up by the two cops that arrested him, but is let go. After he is released, Masseria calls him into a meeting, where the heroin is on his desk, and Rothstein appears. Lucky knows that he was set up because he went against Rothstein’s advice. To add insult to injury, the two cops were on Rothstein’s payroll and show up as well. Lucky lunges at Rothstein, but is held back by Meyer Lansky. This was a masterstroke for Rothstein, who as part of the deal he made with Nucky, gives the heroin to Masseria. However, Lucky has for the most part alienated himself from Rothstein.
That night at the lumberyard, the tensions between Chalky’s crew and Capone’s men practically boil over when Capone challenges Chalky to a fight. Eli shoots a shotgun in the air to stop the brawl, and Nucky announces that he just cut a deal with Rothstein, and calls Capone and Chalky into his office to discuss the plan of attack.
At the brothel, Gillian seduces Gyp. Gyp suggests that he wants to be choked by his belt, which Gillian obliges. However, Gillian attempts to inject Gyp with a potentially fatal dose of heroin, which Gyp sees just in time and he injects Gillian with it instead. At this, Gyp hears commotion outside and sees that Masseria’s men are leaving. Enraged, Gyp runs downstairs, but not before Harrow comes in and starts killing his men.
Gyp hides behind the bar and escapes, but in the best action sequence of the entire show, Harrow calmly walks up the stairs, killing Gyp’s remaining men, and in a tense but touching scene, rescues Tommy and takes him to Julia’s. While Julia is upset that Harrow has blood all over his face and correctly guesses that he has just killed many people, Julia’s father, surprisingly, urges Harrow to wash up and stay. Harrow declines, but here we see a major plotline develop for next season.
As Masseria’s men are driving in their cars through the woods, Capone and Chalky stage an ambush, killing everyone in the convoy. When the ambush is completed, Capone and Chalky approach each other with respect and admiration, and Capone heads back with his men to Chicago. As Michael Kenneth Williams, the actor who plays Chalky, puts it best, “When you see the men coming together for Nucky, the color line got blurred…you see that it became more about relationships more than race…and to see these two iconic gangsters…to see the two side by side fighting for the same cause I thought was epic.”
When Nucky and Eli go into the brothel, they come across a slew of dead bodies and a babbling Gillian, who alludes to when Nucky introduced her to the Commodore, who got her pregnant with Jimmy at 13 years old. They then hear a noise coming from the closet, where Tonino is hiding. For the time being, it is left ambiguous as to what happens.
In Washington, D.C., Esther Randolph gets a phone call from the Treasury Secretary, who orders her to shut down the distillery and arrest Arnold Rothstein for taking it over, strongly hinting that Nucky just set up Rothstein. A major plotline next season will surely revolve around the relationship between Nucky and Rothstein.
The following morning, Gyp and the few men he has left gather on the beach. Tonino then arrives, giving the illusion that he escaped. Gyp goes insane and delusional, pretending that he is “Barney Google” and takes a leak singing a song. At this moment Tonino stabs him in the back, killing him as payback for killing his cousin. Tonino then walks away to Nucky and Eli down the road, confirming that the deed was done.
Nucky heads up to Brooklyn to see Margaret, who fled there and got an abortion of Owen’s unborn child. She rebuffs his offers of taking her back and refuses his money, saying that money does in fact mean something.
At the end of the episode we see Nucky walking the boardwalk, shying away from ordinary passersby who want to say hello. He drops his red carnation on the boardwalk, fulfilling Jimmy’s prophecy that “you can’t be half a gangster.” The episode, and this season, fade to black as Nucky walks away and blends in with the crowd.
So there you have it. A great episode to cap off a great season. Sure, there were a couple of bumps in the road, like Billie Kent’s existence and the increasing whining of Margaret. But the evolution of Al Capone to become a main character, Nucky finally shedding his “half-a-gangster” label, Eli coming back into the fold, and of course, the rapid rise and fall of the hotheaded Gyp Rossetti made the show this season.
For Season 4, I expect further tension between Nucky and Arnold Rothstein, the two smartest characters on the show, as a result of Esther Randolph’s investigation into the distillery. I also expect to see what Nucky, Eli and Chalky do for Capone in return for his help in eliminating Rossetti. So a trip to Chicago should be in the cards, most likely to deal with Dean O’Banion. Speaking of Chicago, Van Alden conspicuously did not appear in the finale, and it will be interesting to see what he does, or more likely, what happens to him next season.