September 17, 2012




WHERE WE WERE:  Mourning an unexpected death.  In the Season 2 finale of Boardwalk Empire, anti-hero bootlegger Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) murdered his one-time protege, later rival Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a startling plot development, and even more so in the context of Empire as a TV series.  Jimmy was the show’s second lead and had seemingly been set up as Nucky’s antagonist throughout the course of the series; killing him off in Season 2 opened the door wide as to where the show was planning to go.  In other major developments, Nucky’s wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald), in an effort to expiate her sins, signed over a hugely valuable parcel of Nucky’s land to the Catholic church, and the extremely disturbed former Fed Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), about to be nabbed for his own crimes, went on the lam with daughter Abigail and her nurse Sigrid (Christiane Seidel).

WHERE WE ARE:   Counting bodies.  The Season 3 premiere, written by series creator Terence Winter and directed by executive producer Tim Van Patten, kicked off with two successive scenes of murder.  First we were introduced to Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), a hot-headed Sicilian who made it clear that he doesn’t appreciate being made to feel foolish, even if the person who caused it was acting unintentionally.  Then Nucky coldbloodedly ordered the killing of a schlub who had robbed one of his liquor warehouses, a shooting carried out by Nucky’s recent ally Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe).

Hurtling pace has never been a hallmark of Empire, and after that bang-bang start, the show settled down to its usual measured, detailed style.  It turned out that we’d skipped forward around 18 months from the end of Season 2, to New Year’s Eve 1923, and most of the action centered in and around the huge party Nucky and Margaret were giving.  He chose the evening to reveal to his customers (including Rosetti) that for security reasons, he’ll no longer sell to them direct–instead, he’ll sell only to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), who will subdistribute to the rest of them (at an inflated mark-up).  None of them, but particularly Rosetti, is happy about this, so the latter will no doubt take action against Nucky in the course of the season.

We also discovered that Nucky has never forgiven Margaret for giving away that land, and although they maintain a public face as joint philanthropists, in private they argue, and Nucky is having an affair with a Broadway star.  Margaret, for her part, is developing a social conscience, much to the annoyance of the hospital where she and Nucky are major contributors.  Meanwhile, in Chicago, Van Alden has been living a desultory life under an assumed name as a failed door-to-door salesman (now married to, or at least with a child by, Sigrid), but he’s about to get his big break into the other side of the law, although apparently on behalf of Al Capone’s rival, probably not a good long-term move.  There were brief appearances by Jimmy’s semi-crazy mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol), now a madam who’s trying to make Jimmy’s son forget his real mother ever existed, and by the masked Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), taking revenge on behalf of the dead Angela and attempting to keep her memory alive.  Sadly, Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks) and his incredibly annoying giggle are also still around.

There’s little indication in the premiere that Empire is planning to change course from the past 2 seasons.  Whatever the reason was for eliminating Jimmy as a character (and/or Pitt as an actor), it seems as though the Rosetti character will step in as the organizer of violent opposition to Nucky, and Nucky will continue to become less of a politician and more of an overt gangster.  Cannavale, who’s been playing comedy more often than not in recent years, seems very strong as Rosetti, although his character won’t have the depth of back-story with Nucky that Jimmy did.

Boardwalk Empire has always been a first-tier show visually, with sumptuous production values that series like Copper and Hell On Wheels can only dream about, and with a massive and talented cast headed by Buscemi and MacDonald.  As a drama, though, it’s tended to be more interesting than thrilling, with few twists on the order of Jimmy’s death, and a very methodical approach to its storytelling.  It’s been a solid success for HBO, with ratings regularly in the low 1s and plenty of Emmy nominations, but it’ll be interesting to see in a couple of weeks how it fares against Dexter, which will be returning off its biggest cliffhanger to date. Barring some sharp reversal of fortune, though, it should continue to be part of the HBO line-up for quite a while.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."