TV Review: “Boardwalk Empire” Season 3 – Full Gangster

Written by Jesse Gelinas December 19, 2012

Jack Huston as Richard Harrow on "Boardwalk Empire"

The Tin Man’s come knocking.

“You can’t be half a gangster.”

This is a show that needed time to find its footing. With a first season that set records in ratings for HBO, “Boardwalk Empire” came out with guns blazing, but it soon fizzled a bit and continued to mush on with a rather standard freshman year. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t great; not by HBO standards. Terrance Winter was on to something with his first endeavor since “The Sopranos”. It landed a charismatic leading man in Steve Buscemi, a fantastic set of producers and directors like Martin Scorsese and Tim Van Patten. But it needed something. It needed that special flavour that makes a good show become… just… awesome! This season, it found itself.

For the uninitiated, “Boardwalk Empire” follows the life of Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, Treasurer of Atlantic County, and semi-gangster/bootlegger, in 1920s Atlantic City. Surrounding Nucky’s criminal enterprises, we’re also introduced to several historical characters ranging from President Warren Harding, to fledgling mobster Al Capone. In Season 3, we find Nucky no longer shackled by any official position and free to run Atlantic City like a true crime boss.

“I need a bath, some chow. Then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies.”

This season was leaps and bounds better than its predecessors. Firstly, the actors seem to have finally become comfortable with their settings and surroundings. The premiere season had a very unauthentic vibe to it and a lot of the period-language came off rather forced. Even the great Buscemi suffered (though he garnered a Golden Globe win because, well, it’s Buscemi). The supporting cast this year was fantastic. Jack Huston, Stephen Graham, Shea Wigham, and the newcomer Bobby Cannavale (of “Nurse Jackie” fame) all shine in their mob roles and really raise the quality of everyone and everything around them. A lot of fans were disappointed at the departure of series co-lead, Michael Pitt, but I honestly think the show thrives without him.

Bobby Cannavale as Gyp Rosetti on "Boardwalk Empire"

Full gangsters

As for what the show was seemingly missing, that seems to have been taken care of this year. The producers chose the tagline for the season: “You can’t be half a gangster”, a line from the second episode of the first season. This sets the tone for the entire year and the whole series to be honest. A show that has seemingly struggled with finding the balance between action and drama, law and order, and crime and chaos, has now found its stride. This year promises the viewer that all doubts of sincerity and authenticity are behind us. “Boardwalk Empire” has gone Full-Gangster and is not looking back. The violence is plenty, the blood and bodies pile up, and we see our gangsters cut loose in their natural setting. And pleasantly enough, the drama doesn’t suffer for it.

“Nothing’s personal? What the fuck is life is it’s not personal?”

The final three episodes of this season are the best the show has done by far, and the most satisfying for any fan of crime fiction, and mob TV in particular. “Sopranos” fans should eat it right up. I strongly urge all fans of Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma, Simon, and all other major mob storytellers to take a long hard look at “Boardwalk Empire” for what it is: a new dawn for TV crime drama. It took a little longer to rise than normal, but it’s shining bright and not getting any dimmer.

My Rating: 9.5/10

Steve Buscemi in the poster for "Boardwalk Empire" season 3.

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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