Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “Margate Sands” (S3E12)

“Now You Know What Time It Is”

After last week’s episode, I read an article about Boardwalk Empire by some hipster douchebag who claimed that he was finally being rewarded for sticking with BE through two “confusing” seasons. The hipster douchebag went on to say that Season 3 finally helped him process the things that happened previously. He decided, in typical hipster douchebag fashion, to go back and watch Seasons 1 and 2 now that he “understood” how to watch the show.

This told me two things:

1. They’re called “hipster douchebags” for a reason.

2. The ratings for BE are lower than they should because this generation of spoon-fed, soccer trophy-getting, chest-shaving, Dave Matthews-listening dimwits are too ADD to follow anything that doesn’t resolve itself completely within 60 minutes.

“It’s too hard to follow all these characters.” Wah-wah.

“I don’t know who is real and who is made up.” Boo-hoo.

“I can’t remember more than one plot line.” Sniffle.

The writers, directors and producers of BE are classic storytellers who aren’t afraid to let one plot line dangle for a couple of weeks only weave it back into the fabric of the main story when the time is right. Why is this so challenging for people? Are you so over-stimulated that you can’t bear to have something that engages you for longer than the average status update? Time to put down the tablet and pick up a book, people. Maybe the next generation will be a little more thoughtful.

And thus concludes today’s Old Guy Rant. Now back to the show.

There is always some measure of satisfaction in season finales. You can argue that it’s not enough from time to time, but you must admit that there’s always some.

As Mitch and I have been saying throughout the season, Gillian had to die. Her death, like her life, was just another in a series of unfortunate events. Yes, she had to be killed to free Tommy. Yes, it was fitting that she got a taste of her own needle at the end. Yes, it made sense that a pair of self-destructive people like Gillian and Gyp had to enter the Thunderdome as two and leave as one. But, was it satisfying? Ultimately, yes. Although in that satisfaction there was also a little bit of sadness. As a heroin-addled Gillian admits to Nucky in her dying breath, “Those men did some very bad things to me.” And, implicitly, “It was all your fault, Nucky.”

Both are sad and both are true. As a result, Gillian fought for something she never had even up until her death. Control of her own life.

As Gyp said, “Somebody’s always gotta lose.” And that somebody was always Gillian.

The season finale also gave us the long-awaited meeting between two of the show’s most dynamic and ruthless characters. Al Capone and Chalky White are constantly eclipsing everyone else who appears on the screen with them. So, it was only fitting that every interaction between the two of them became a pissing match.

Side Note: Speaking of pissing matches, there was a preponderance of people whipping out their dicks to pee all over something in this episode. Were these symbolic gestures as in “It’s time to lay our cards and our junk on the table?” Or was it more of a “I’ll show you whose boss in a canine, alpha male sort of way?” Either way, I think I’ll be careful where I step the next time I’m in Atlantic City.

Chalky and Capone and their respective armies are at constantly each other’s throats throughout the siege. And they were supposed to be on the same side. There’s so much tension that Nucky releases them against Masseria’s retreating motorcade. There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to this as Masseria’s men were no longer a threat and were merely on their way back to New York. It may have been a show of strength, but I think it was Nucky’s way of giving Chalky and Al somebody to kill besides each other. In fact, they part ways in grudging admiration of each other. Yeah, a little too pat for me.

Margaret’s denouement this season is almost as sad as Gillian’s. Her lover dead (and boxed), she heads to one of those secret doctors in New York a la Dr. Larch in The Cider House Rules to terminate her illegitimate pregnancy. Well-done by the writers to make it seem as though she were inquiring about a room to rent. That piece of misdirection made the scene far less maudlin than it could have been. I have been the most critical of Margaret’s character throughout the season, but it was moving to see her stand in the middle of the abortion clinic and admit “I’m lost.”

The internal struggle between her faith, her relationship with Nucky, her love affair with Owen and the well-being of her children as well as her position as the show’s moral compass have torn poor Margaret apart this season. So, I’ll admit to cheering a little when she turned down Nucky’s money at the end. It didn’t forgive everything she’s done, but it did make her a stronger player going forward.

Richard’s mission to spring Tommy was something that everyone saw coming. Yet, the actual act was so breathtaking that it still felt surprising. We know Richard is an expert marksman and we’ve seen him kill before, but he went full Rambo on the occupants of The Artemis Club. He killed them from near and far, from sneak attack to hand-to-hand combat. He plowed through that house like a howitzer. His coup-de-grace, the killing of the guy who had taken Tommy hostage, reminded me of that great scene in The Untouchables when Andy Garcia’s character catches the baby carriage at the bottom of the stairs and then kills the guy at the top of the stairs with one bullet. The shot of Richard and Tommy embracing through the splash of blood on the windowpane will, no doubt be studied by film students for years to come.

After handing Tommy off to Julia, Richard’s conversation with her father is touching. Mr. Sigorsky wants to help Richard work it out with Julia, but Richard knows that it’s over.

“He’s safe,” he says of Tommy. “That’s all that matters.”

As he walks down the Sigorsky’s front walk, Richard is exactly where he was when he met Jimmy two years ago.

Alone.

Damn.

Back in New York, Masseria and Rothstein’s little double cross on Lucky and Meyer leads to a circumstance where AR can bail out Nucky. I’m not sure what to think about AR playing Charlie like that. On the one hand, it shows Charlie that he can’t get around Rothstein. Ever. “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…” and all that. But, taking the heroin out of Lucky’s hands and putting it in Masseria’s seems like a zero sum game.

I’m pretty sure Masseria was already pulling away from Gyp after their little tete-a-tete at The Artemis. Joe “The Boss” knows that Gyp is does not have the control he believes he has. When Gyp can’t articulate his plans despite the loss of twelve of Masseria’s men, Joe checks his pocket watch and then adjusts the hands on the clock in Gyp’s office.

“Now you know what time it is,” smiles Joe.

And with that, Rosetti is effectively on his own. The fact that Nucky cuts a deal with AR to get Masseria’s men out of Atlantic City seems superfluous. In my opinion, they were already gone. What it does do is give Nucky the opportunity to stick Rothstein with the Overholt Distillery, which is about to come crashing down courtesy of Andrew Mellon, Gaston Means and the lovely Esther Randolph. For a guy who plays “a shot to nothing” in billiards and admonishes against rushing into any deal, Rothstein sure jumped all over the information that “Giggles” Doyle gave him. I find it a tad hard to believe that AR didn’t see some sort of trap there. But, it was a convenient way to close the loop on the Mellon-Jess Smith-George Remus-Harry Dougherty circle. Though I have a hunch that if Rothstein can beat the rap on fixing the World Series, he can squirm out of a connection to a distillery in the sticks of Pennsylvania.

And so we come to Gyp and Nucky. One of them has to die and we’re all pretty sure it won’t be Nucky. But, again, Nucky gets lucky. Just as Richard took out all of Nucky’s would-be assassins at The Artemis, he manages to leave one would-be hit man alive in the basement. Magically, this man appears as Gyp is about to deliver his soliloquy on the beach. Just as he gets to the second verse of “Barney Google,” the happy hit man turns him into shish kabob.

As far as mafia deaths go, it ain’t no assassination at the toll both and it sure ain’t no guns blazing, nose full of coke last stand at the top of a double staircase. As charismatic as Gyp was, that was a real punk ass way to go…with your dick in your hand pissing onto the Margate sands.

But, it does answer one question for us. Is Nucky still half a gangster? My answer is yes. If you want to run the show, you have to do more than give tourists withering looks on the boardwalk. You have to get your hands dirty. Nucky did that when he killed Jimmy. Using a surrogate to kill Rosetti was a pencil pusher’s way out.

So, what kind of power will Nucky have when we next meet him? And what of Van Alden and Capone and Chalky and Margaret and all the others who have passed through our lives for the past twelve weeks?

I am content to let their fates simmer until next season.

I just hope the hipster douchebags can stand the wait.

- C.J. Kaplan

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Once again, Boardwalk Empire concludes a season by weaving a masterful tapestry out of seemingly unrelated threads. In many ways this is the show’s core strength: juggling multiple characters, locations and plot lines and somehow getting them to intersect in an organic way for the conclusion.

This season we watched as Nucky’s ennui resulted in the loss of both his relationship to Margaret and the success of his business. Like CJ, I think it’s incredibly significant that the season concluded with Nucky ordering someone else to make the hit on Gyp Rosetti, as opposed to his decision to kill Jimmy with his own hands at the end of season 2. With Jimmy, it was personal and he needed to pull the trigger to prove that he was capable of being a killer. Of being a gangster. This season he learned the lesson that AR has been trying to teach all along – that it’s never personal, it’s always business.

Of course, it wasn’t hard to convince Tonino to stab Gyp in the back – he did have a strong personal motivation – revenge for his cousin’s death on the beach. Tim Van Patten did a wonderful job directing that scene, having Gyp gasping for breath, deliberately evoking his erotic asphyxiation scenes. Gyp died like he lived – greedily grasping and gasping.

On the other hand, I don’t think that Gillian is dead quite yet. Sure, she succumbed to quite a lot of lovely heroin, but the drug was meant to disable, not kill. Her scene in the hallway with Nucky was genius. Just like they successfully humanized that dummy Jimmy before his death, they reminded us that the evil black widow is just an abused little girl at heart. In one short scene we felt sympathy for a monster and were reminded of Nucky’s culpability in her sad state.

I suspect that Gillian will be back next season to look for her beloved Tommy. The tragic arc of Richard Harrow continues as once again he chooses virtue over personal happiness, rescuing the boy but sacrificing his last chance for humanity. How perfect was it that Mr. Sagorsky instantly recognized that Richard the soldier saved the boy, accomplishing what he couldn’t do for his own son. He invited Richard to come home, but understand why he couldn’t. Beautiful.

Richard’s massacre was perfectly shot – the best of the three violent set pieces (the war montage during the open and the Masseria massacre at the end were also well played) – and showed the interplay between violence (gangsterism) and persuasion (politicism). Nucky thought that he had to choose between being a politician or a gangster, but that was always a false dichotomy. Some of the big bosses win by the sword (Capone) and others will win by the pen (Rothstein). In the future Nucky will pave a third way – wielding both influence and violence, but exposing his hand in neither. That is the meaning of the final boardwalk scene and the abandonment of the carnation. Nucky the glad handler is dead, but so is Nucky the trigger-man.

But there’s still plenty of questions for next season: Gillian’s fate, Richard’s next move, Van Alden’s role in Capone’s organization, Daugherty’s political life, Margaret’s probable return, and the eventual show-down between Rothstein and Nucky.

Thus concludes another excellent season of a truly great show. And while I might not fully qualify as a hipster douchebag, I might re-watch these three seasons not because I have to, but because I want to.

Thanks for reading.

- Mitch Blum

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