The opening scene of Boardwalk Empire appeared to mimic The Saint Valentine’s Day massacre. But the six men gunned down execution-style was only a prelude to the blood-soaked episode.
HBO had hinted there would be a blood bath, and it delivered – and then some. It was a fitting end to a season that teased us with simmering – and even sometimes downright sobering – subplots. The violent and gory episode made the Valentine’s Day massacre seem like a tea party as Al Capone’s men mow down Joe Masseria’s men.
Of course, at the end, Nucky reclaims his throne as king of Atlantic City, which we all knew would happen. The fun was watching it unfold, with gangland shootings, backstabbing deals and even a botched seduction. We said last week’s episode was the best so far – and it was. Until Sunday. As a bonus, the writers managed to cleverly tie up all the loose ends, except for one: Disgaced former federal agent Nelson Van Alden. I guess we can forgive them that one.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. This episode, titled “Margate Sands,” delivers a montage of chaos. Scenes of an out-and-out gangster war seem to be overtaking the city like a bloody tsunami wave from the Atlantic Ocean. Guys are either getting gunned down or gutted in warehouses, card games and on the Boardwalk. The bullets fly fast and furious and the town is in an uproar.
Newspaper reporters are clamoring for a statement from Atlantic City Mayor Ed Bader, who is portrayed merely as a figurehead. Bader tries to mollify the media that everything is under control, and the city is still a fine place for family fun. But the reporters, who are literally climbing over bodies, know it’s Nucky who’s running the show, and he’s missing. When Bader declares in frustration: “Let’s get something straight – Nucky Thompson doesn’t run this city – I do!” he is met with a cackle of laughter from the newsmen.
You’ll remember from last week that Nucky, Eli, and his people are holed up in a lumberyard with Chalky. New Yorkers Masseria and Gyp Rosetti had taken over Nucky’s town. But who should appear to the rescue but Al Capone, more than anxious to make his way in the gangland world.
Now, Capone and Chalky's forces have banded together to give Nucky the manpower he so desperately needs to reclaim his fiefdom. This does not prove to be easy, as Chalky’s and Capone’s men fight like children in a school yard, while Nucky is trying to make business deals over the telephone.
There were clues all along that the Masseria-Rosetti alliance wouldn’t hold up. And, sure enough, Masseria tells Gyp is not happy at all with the way things are going. When Gyp tries to assure him that they are winning, Masseria tells him ominously, “You no have Nucky Thompson.” It doesn’t help that 12 of the 43 men Masseria sent out are now dead. Arnold Rothstein is quick to offer a deal that will sever the Masseria-Rosetti alliance forever.
Micky Doyle (annoying little creature with that creepy little laugh) betrays Nucky, tipping off Rothstein of Nucky’s plans to take over the Overholt Distillery in Pennsylvania. Doublecross time: Rothstein reaches out to Nucky, offering him a way out of the dire predicament by partnering in the Overholt business. There’s one catch, though. Rothstein, believing Nucky has no choice, demands an insulting 99 percent stake in the business. Nucky agrees. For now. More on that later.
You’ll remember that Lucky Luciano got pinched last week for selling heroin to undercover drug officers. He and partner Meyer Landsky got screwed – almost. The officers let Luciano walk in exchange for his heroin, a whopping 50-pound, $200,000 cache. But wait. There’s another surprise in the offing. Turns out the “officers” are working for Rothstein, who has given the stash to Masseria as a peace offering. When Luciano finds out about the betrayal, he is livid. It is one of the few times we see him lose his cool.
Now let’s turn to Gillian. Sweet-as-a-lemon, cool-as-a-summer-heat-wave Gillian. I had predicted last week that she would take advantage of Gyps penchant for erotic asphyxiation and I was right – almost. At the Artemis Club, Gillian seduces Gyp by saying perhaps she and Tommy should move and, “maybe it’s best we let you conduct your business… without distractions.” Of course she is baiting Gyp, and his happily swallowing the bait, hook, line and sinker.
“I don’t think I want that. I like having you around. If I didn’t know where you were, I might get……. anxious.” That pause speaks volumes. In no time, the pair is heading to bed, with Gillian uttering some erotic phrases, trying to find Gyp’s weak spot. When he takes off his belt, she immediately takes the hint and ties it around his neck. Exactly what he wants. But Gillian has planned ahead. She is about to inject him with heroin from a syringe under her pillow. But Gyp quickly intercepts, and turns the tables on her. It is only toward the end of the episode that we find out she hasn’t overdosed, at least not yet. She is still alive. Great news for next season.
Gyp barely has time to recover from his near-death-experience when he looks out the window to see Masseria’s men abandoning him in droves. Coincidentally, war-ravaged veteran Steven Harrow, who is protective of Gillian’s grandson Tommy, arrives. You’ll remember last week Gillian had banished him from the Artemis Club and Tommy’s life. When we last saw him, he was accumulating an arsenal fit for an army. And now we see why. In a scene that rivals any bloodbath occurrences in the Godfather’s trilogies, Stephen wends his way through the club, shooting any man he sees.
It’s a bloody mess all right. Gyp was last seen cowering under some furniture, and apparently made it out alive. But Steven encounters the last of Masseria’s men. The thug is holding a gun to Tommy’s head, demanding Steven drop the gun. Steven does, but tells Tommy, “Close your eyes.” In a blur, Steven snaps up the gun and blows the guy’s head off. One has to wonder at the shooting talent of a man with only one eye. I believe what he lacks in physical vision he makes up for in emotional vision. He rescues Tommy and takes him to the only place he believes he can be safe – at his girlfriend, Julia’s house.
Nucky and Eli head to the Artemis Club (I’m assuming they were tipped off that Masseria’s men had flown the coup) only to find the entire building littered with blood-soaked bodies. There, they find one of Gyp’s men, Tonino Sandrelli, shaking in a closet. We aren’t privy to the conversation, but we’ll find out later how Tonino saves his skin.
Masseria’s men are on the run, but Nucky, along with Chalky and Capone, are one step ahead of them. They have the road leading into Atlantic City surrounded. Masseria’s men run full force into an automatic machine ambush, from both sides of the road. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many bullets fly in mere minutes. When the dust settles, Chalky and Capone suddenly are comrades, having slain their mutual dragon.
Nucky’s revenge against Masseria and Rothstein isn’t nearly over though. In a brilliant piece of political maneuvering, Nucky gets Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon to call U.S. Assistant Attorney Esther Randolph, instructing her to raid the Overholt distillery and indict the men running it. “Nucky Thompson was the one who brought this illegality to my attention,” he says solemnly. It is a political move only Nucky could pull off.
Margaret, meanwhile, has upped and left Nucky after the unfortunate demise of her lover, Owen Sleator. She’s pregnant with his child, and Nucky is now aware of the affair that had been going on right under his nose. We see Margaret in a Brooklyn doctor’s office, and slowly begin to realize she is considering an abortion. She whispers, “I’m lost. I’m completely lost.” But she goes through with the procedure, only to awaken later that night to find herself bleeding. Is it a botched abortion? We don’t know yet. After she leaves the bathroom, who should she find waiting there for her, but Nucky. This is not a man who takes being betrayed lightly. He cannot afford to look weak or unaware of things going on around him. When he sees the look on Margaret’s face, though, he assures her, he just wants her to come home. “You’re my wife.” Does this mean that Nucky really loves her, even after his passionate love affair with Billie Kent? When Margaret demures, he hands her money, “for the children.” Whether she will return to Nucky or not, we’ll have to wait and see.
Lastly – and in my opinion, most sadly – we see the demise of Gyp Rosetti. Gyp, who has always seemed to be hanging onto his sanity by a mere thread – seems to have broken through. He’s lost his tenuous grip on reality. He, and the remnants of his gang, are on the beach, and Gyp refers to himself as “Barney Google.” As he urinates into the Atlantic Ocean, he bellows the old song, “Barney Google, with the Goo-Goo Googly Eyes.”
Alas, one of his “men,” Tonino Sandrelli, comes up behind him and sticks a knife into Gyp before he can sing the second chorus. Wiping the blood off the knife, Sandrelli walks to a car with Nucky and his brother Eli. “Tonino, if I see you in Atlantic City, I’ll kill you myself,” Nucky says somberly, who is thoroughly sick of New Yorkers and the trouble they’ve caused.
I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to see Gyp go, although I knew it was inevitable. Here’s hoping actor Bobby Cannavale captures an Emmy as a special guest on a TV show. He doesn’t just steal scenes. He devours them.
The show fades out on a mysterious note. We see Nucky walking down the Boardwalk, but not with his usual stride and flair. He is hesitant and seems distrustful of the people walking around him. He makes his way to the guardrail by the beach and lights a cigarette. A man walks by with a lady friend and asks innocently, “Hey, aren’t you Nucky Thompson?” Nucky stares back blankly at the man, who slinks away.
In what might be called the most subtle hint in the history of gangland shows, we see Nucky pluck his trademark red carnation boutonnièrefrom his jacket and drop it on the Boardwalk.
Fade to black.