Boardwalk Empire Season 3: Full Recap & S4 Speculation

By David Pergolini on Dec 10, 2012 to Boardwalk Empire

Season 3 was one of the most exciting seasons on the ‘Boardwalk’ but is it enough to compete with Jimmy Darmody in seasons 1 and 2? We were introduced to an ensemble of new characters and story lines while others were suddenly stripped away. Many HBO fans that stray away from ‘Boardwalk’ do so because they feel that the show moves at too slow a pace. It’s hard to argue with that, but people need to look at the bigger picture. The very essence of story is the constant buildup of tension and conflict which ‘Boardwalk Empire’ accomplishes in a masterful way. All we can do now is sit back and wait until the premiere of season 4. But in the meantime, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on where our characters stand at the end of this epic season.

Nelson Van Alden got lost in the mix this year. After saving Dean O’Banion from Capone in episode one we got the feeling he would become a factor in the bootlegging trade in Chicago. We waited and waited for Nelson to play a more intricate role. After killing a disgruntled prohibition agent Van Alden goes to O’Banion for help. That’s it, he’s in. Right? Sort of. He plays a minuscule role distilling whisky in his kitchen. Sigrid finds new clientele in the Norwegian factions. Unbeknownst to Van Alden, that territory is under the control of Al Capone. The last time we see Nelson, Capone has a fork stuck in his face. It was very satisfying to see him lose his shit and burn a (former) coworkers face with a hot iron, but that was the pinnacle of Van Alden’s reduced screen time. His storyline never integrated into the main plot. As a result he disappeared in the last 2 episodes. I may be speaking too soon but something tells me Van Alden will play a big role next season.

Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky in New York remain the portrait of young ambition on the ‘Boardwalk.’ After Rothstein denies their heroin proposal, the two venture off to find a new buyer – Joe Masseria. But Rothstein is on to their plan, using corrupt police connections to commandeer the 50lb stash. Luciano’s time under Rothstein is over but Lansky’s is just beginning. Charlie is at rock bottom, he’s lost everything on this failed investment. It will be interesting to see how he uses this situation to ascend to his now infamous place in history.

Arnold Rothstein’s political problems were left behind in season 1 thanks to the saving graces of Nucky Thompson and his political connections. But as season 3 continued to unravel so too did their relationship. After refusing to assist Nucky in the wake of his failed assassination, Rothstein sees an opportunity to line his pockets through the recently  acquired Overholt distillery. The master gambler has fallen into Nucky’s trap. He clearly underestimated Mr. Thompson’s political connections. Now he’ll find himself in the midst of a large scale Federal indictment courtesy of Esther Randolph, Gaston Means and Andrew Mellon. It looks as if Rothstein will serve as the main antagonist of season 4, reminding us of the rivalry from season 1.

Nucky’s political problems have yet to be resolved but he certainly made some friends along the way. Newcomer Gaston Means lit up the screen this season. The unorthodox agent is a master of espionage with a host of powerful political allies. He serves as Nucky’s eyes in Harry Daugherty’s office as well as a middle man between he and Andrew Mellon, the US Treasurer. The assassination/suicide of Jess Smith seemed to benefit everyone but we never learn what will come of Harry Daugherty. Despite limited screen time, these men in the Beltway remain some of the most fascinating characters on the ‘Boardwalk.’ With the huge political stakes now surrounding season 4, hopefully they will have an increased role.

Margaret Thompson was all over the map this season. Her disintegrating relationship with Nucky was clearly her calling card but much of her screen time was dedicated to the Women’s Health Clinic alongside Dr. Mason. However, the heart of her story lies between Nucky and Owen. Margaret and Owen’s relationship reached new heights this season. The two make the bold choice to run away with one another. The stakes are raised even higher after Margaret discovers she’s pregnant with his child. Sadly, their plans are foiled when Owen returns to Atlantic City in a box. Margaret and the children flee to Brooklyn where she hopes to begin anew. She denies Nucky’s monetary incentive and returns to her room alone, symbolizing the end of their short lived marriage. Who knows, perhaps she’ll return to him next season. What do you think? I’ve given up trying to pinpoint what Margaret will be up to next. Her relationship with the Women’s Health Clinic along with Dr. Mason abruptly ended, making the entire ordeal seem like some sort of distraction. Likewise, her relationship with Owen was severed after his brutal murder. I can see Margaret reuniting with her family in New York but in the end she’ll return to Nucky. I can feel it.

Owen Slater was on of my favorite characters on the show. It’s a shame that he met his end in such a brutal fashion, but in the end his death was inevitable. His love affair with Margaret doomed him from the start, theres no way this relationship could have worked. Sure, they could run. But they never got the chance. Owen discovered that he was going to be a father on the eve of his assassination. He was distracted, plain and simple. He failed to recognize the intricate details. You’ll be missed, Owen. It’s a shame, a damned shame, but inevitable nonetheless.

In Chicago, Johnny Torrio’s time on top is coming to an end whereas Al Capone’s is just beginning. There’s never a dull moment with Capone on screen. His fiery disposition and short temper keeps the audience constantly on their toes. You never know what he’s going to do next. Capone kept himself busy throughout the season with a personal vendetta against Dean O’Banion along with the war in Atlantic City. His beef with O’Banion never amounted to much but it did give us a brief introduction between he and Van Alden, who was caught red-handed selling booze on Capone’s turf. Capone turned the tide in Atlantic City and now Nucky is in his debt. I can see Capone reemerging in season 4 as a HUGE problem for our protagonist. But that remains to be seen.

Little screen time was granted to Chalky White. He either played an integral part in the main plot or he was left on the cutting room floor. We all had a feeling that Nucky would one day come to Chalky for muscle and sure enough, he did. It was very satisfying to see Chalky and his men close out the season with guns blazing. He seems willing to sacrifice anything to get his club up and running. The victory in Atlantic City pretty much seals that deal. I’m sure his ground-breaking club will be at the center of some controversy come season 4.


Eli Thompson began season 3 behind bars. His time in the joint seemed to have had a humbling effect on the once ambitious sheriff. Much of his screen time was dedicated to rebuilding his fractured relationship with Nucky.  His older brother is obviously skeptical, the man tried to have him killed! But Eli proves his worth, gathering Capone’s forces in Chicago to tip the scales in Atlantic City. Now, ironically, Eli is Nucky’s closest associate. Has Eli’s ambition been quelled? Or does he still possess a lingering resentment for his elder brother? Is it something which could lead to a power-struggle between the pair?

Gillian Darmody emerged as one of the most dangerous players on the ‘Boardwalk.’ Her already dubious nature grew darker and darker as the season progressed. First, there was the murder of Roger, then the attempted assassination of Gyp Rosetti. I didn’t expect Gillian to survive this season but sure enough, she did. With Tommy safely in Julia and Paul’s care, I can see Gillian taking her malice to the next level. Perhaps next season Richard will be forced to finish the job.

Richard Harrow is one of, if not the most fascinating character on the ‘Boardwalk.’ He opened the season with a bang, literally – blasting Manny Horvitz in the face in episode one. He laid low for most of the season, focusing mainly on his personal relationships with Tommy, Gillian, and his new love interest, Julia. There were certainly flashes of his violent nature but nothing compared to his epic shootout in the Artemis Club in the season finale. What a performance! Whenever I think of season 3, thats the battle I’ll remember. But now it’s time for Richard to lay low once again. Is his time over in Atlantic City? Perhaps. But Tommy is safe and, “Thats all that matters.” What role will Richard play next season? Will he join Nucky? Or will he make new friends? I find it hard to believe that he’ll avoid Julia for very long. Sadly, we’ll have to wait and see.

Gyp Rosetti proved to be no match for Nucky Thompson but he certainly left his mark on Atlantic City. Gyp captured our attention from the second he stepped on screen in the first scene of season 3. His uncontainable lust for power concerned even the highest ranking members of the bootlegging world. He even unnerved his employer, Joe Masseria. Rosetti absolutely shined on screen, I can’t remember a more ferocious character. His quick temper left little to the imagination. Even the slightest whiff of an insult could lead to a gruesome death. No matter the situation, he always felt like he had the upper hand. My favorite Rosetti moments weren’t necessarily his merciless tactics but came more from the brief glimpses of his private life. Unfortunately for him, he’s merely a middle man, a go-between. His actions reflect ambition for the highest levels of success. Rosetti met his end at the hands of his most trusted accomplice but his all-out assault on Atlantic City taught our protagonist a valuable lesson – trust no one.

Nucky Thompson began season 3 in all-out gangster mode. All notions of compassion and mercy had seemingly been tossed to the wind. His relationship with Margaret had taken a back seat to his new love affair with actress Billie Kent. Nucky’s infatuation with Billie brought about some of the darkest moments in Nucky’s life. His addiction seemed to subdue the memory of Jimmy and set the stage for more than a couple dark new memories. Billie met her end at the hands of Gyp Rosetti in the climactic explosion on the ‘Boardwalk.’ Things would only grow worse. His closest associate, Owen, was returned in a box, Eddie Kesslar takes a bullet to the gut and Nucky finds himself on the run in the back of an old cargo truck. But this is his town, his home. There is no way is he going to flee while Rosetti enjoys the spoils of war. Nucky uses Chalky’s muscle along with reinforcements from Chicago to drive out the invading New Yorkers. Once again, against the toughest of odds, Nucky comes out on top. But now he’s rekindled past rivalries. The season ended with him baiting Arnold Rothstein into the acquisition of the Overholt distillery, formerly run by Andrew Mellon. Nucky’s true prowess is derived from his political background. He’s always a step ahead of the competition. But now he’s taken on a more subtle role, abandoning the flashy nature of most bootlegging kingpins and leaving his trademark carnation behind. Paranoia is a common trait amongst those in power. Nucky is no exception.

Still with me? Good.

What a season! Many times when shows or films take on a more epic feel they often fall into the deadly pitfall of melodrama. Not ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ The show sticks to it’s roots – quality writing culminates with dramatic character revelation and realistic scenarios. ‘Boardwalk Empire’ continues to showcase the deadly price of ambition along with the brutal realities of what happens when you break your promises. But how does this season compare to the others? There were many instances that led me to believe that the show lacked consistency. The ghost of Jimmy, Margaret and the hospital, even the relationship between Nucky and Gyp seemed rather shallow and impersonal. Because, after all, “What the f*** is life if it’s not personal!” I would have loved to see one final confrontation between the two. Rather than Rosetti meeting his end at the hands of Tanino, I think we all would have enjoyed seeing Nucky finish the job personally. Hell, I wouldn’t mind having Gyp around for another season. Jimmy’s death in season 2 certainly left a void that’s difficult to fill. In many respects, Winter and the writing staff did a swell job of covering up the glitches. No matter how well we think we know our characters, like us, they’re always adapting and changing.

What problems await our protagonist next season? Did he come out a better man in the end? It’s interesting that our empathy towards Nucky grows with each episode. Despite all of his flaws and misgivings, we can’t help but love our troubled protagonist. I’ve given up doubting Nucky Thompson. Admittedly, I didn’t think he would survive this season. Boy was I wrong. But now we’re off to new adventures. HBO has an awesome lineup to keep us preoccupied until our next visit to Atlantic City. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop delving into the minds of our characters. What attracted you this season? What did you like? Dislike? Share your opinions here on HBOWatch. Want to write an article on your favorite characters? Go for it! Send in your articles and always remember – “You can’t be half a gangster.”

  • honoriaglossop

    Right up to the end of season 3 of Boardwalk Empire, I was led to believe
    that we could expect both great and terrible things from two leading
    female characters, Billie Kent and Gillian Darmody, respectively.

    There is no question that Billie Kent had to die. But I feel like her death
    was cheap, wasted. She needed to die at the hands of Gyp Rosseti and
    it should have been personal. This is for two reasons. First, the
    nature of her relationship with Nucky, and second, the major
    personality hang-ups of Gyp.

    After Billie was introduced in Season 3, it quickly became apparent that
    this was not a typical Nucky Thompson relationship. Even beyond sex,
    sweet and intimate moments abounded that you did not see with any of
    his past relationships. Nucky cooked for Billie and helped her deal
    with her faulty radiator. Her tiny apartment and their suite at the
    Ritz had become the safe places for Nucky once Margaret had made his
    own home unlivable.

    Nucky ended up missing Billie’s debut because he’d managed to get
    arrested. Her response was not a tantrum, like Lucy would have
    thrown. It was not a stony silence and cold shoulder that Margaret
    would have pulled. No. She voiced a slight disappointment that she
    wished he’d been there and then laid down beside him where he took
    her in his arms and held her. He’d made a mistake and she was not
    cruel about it. That is a red-letter moment in the romantic career of
    Nucky Thompson.

    But perhaps one of the most important Billie-centric moments in the show
    is her actions when it looks like Nucky might kill her actor guest.
    She got between them, pulled Nucky off of the other man, yelling that
    this needed to stop. She told Nucky that she didn’t like it when he
    acted this way, that she didn’t need him to scare her or keep her
    beholden with gifts to keep her in his life. When she said, “I want
    you to be my gangster” it was basically saying, I know who you are,
    I know what you are. I love you and I want to be with you. Everything
    she did from breaking up the fight to what she told him she wanted
    was a long, unbroken act of love.

    Nucky still didn’t get this and attempted to give her money to apologize,
    even after Billie considered them made-up after they had sex.

    Two things were established about Gyp Rosseti as a character. He was in a
    terrible and unhappy marriage and he hated it when people had
    anything he didn’t, aka power, money and love. Love may have been
    the most important of these. Billie should have been set up as the
    final straw for Gyp. Nucky had power and money. And now he has love?
    Not that pale, barely faked substitute that Margaret could muster but
    real love? That would be Gyp Rosetti’s breaking point.

    Here’s how I think the end of season 3 should have played out:
    On the way to the restaurant, I think Billie should have gone the other way, to say hello to some friends. She escaped the blast altogether. Nucky was
    still injured in the explosion. He moved his family into the suite at
    the Ritz that he and Billie shared. Interesting that he instinctively
    felt safer at the Ritz than his own home. Margaret can only watch in
    humiliation as the upstart mistress nurses her husband with a
    tenderness and devotion she’d never come close to feeling.

    Eventually, perhaps through Owen, this got back to Gillian and she knew just the man to plunge Nucky back into useful and for her, enjoyable misery.
    She told Gyp that his attempts to destroy Nucky Thompson would come
    to nothing as long as he’s got a wonderful woman like Billie Kent
    at his side.

    Gyp sprung into action. He got Billie alone and beat her with his belt,
    drawing blood, tearing her clothes. She fought him all the way. Then
    he tossed her the bloodstained belt and demanded that she choke him.

    She refused, “If you’re going to rape me, then do it. But damned if
    I’m helping, you half-man ape.” He snapped her neck, killing her
    instantly. The whole incident served to unhinge Gyp the rest of the
    way. He became a liability. Gillian Darmody killed him.

    There was no reason not to have Gillian kill Gyp. It’s not like he’s
    kept around for any major plot points afterwards. Gillian had already
    been established as desperate and dangerous after seducing and
    killing that facisimile of her son. The death of Gyp should have been
    her unquestionable establishment as a match for the most ruthless men
    of the Boardwalk and beyond. Instead she regressed to helpless,
    drug-addled teenager. There was no reason to do this other than the
    writers shying away from making a woman into an effective villain.

  • Kimberley Luoto

    Not to take anything away from Steve Buschemi’s abilities but I think he soaked up alot of James Gandolfini’s character methods from their time together on “The Sopranos”. The character of Nucky Thompson seems similar to Tony Soprano at times……like a layered onion.

  • anna

    I love me some Nucky!

  • hfhfgh


  • arggg

    You can’t ignore the fact that the actors have real faces, real teeth, real noses, real breasts, and real lips. That goes a long way in making them believable (not just their superb acting skills).

  • Anita

    Thanks for the great recap. However, your English grammer needs a little polishing. Pronouns after a preposition (such as “between”), always take the objective case. So it’s “between HIM and Van Alden,” not “between HE and Van Alden.” And, although many people get this wrong, it’s “between you and ME,” not “you and I.”

    • Arggg

      You’re right, and it’s “lie low”, not “lay low”.

    • Poppy

      It’s Grammar not Grammer

  • Tony Hemphill

    With Boardwalk and Game of Thrones HBO is putting some of the best TV shows ever onto our screens.Really looking forward to season 4 of both,these are shows that people will still be talking about in years to come,great characters who you really care about,fantastic plots and great writing gives me hope for TV which i had stopped watching on a regular basis years ago.And anyone who says “its to slow, nothing happens, there’s not enough action!” are completely missing the point

  • kc798y

    Anybody saying the show is too slow dnt realize theres nothing better on tv or at the movies that hold my attention like boardwalk

  • Alexandra

    It’s true you can’t help but want Nucky to come out on top in the end! He’s a charming and complex character. I’m wondering how his business will continue in the upcoming seasons. Margaret will have to be with Nucky in the end. I for one, would not be happy otherwise. They somehow need each other. They bring doubt to their own values and beliefs and it makes them grow! They are fascinating when brought together and I’m always on the edge of my seat when they are confronting one another! If Margaret wasn’t in the series, the show would simply not have been as good. I’m also wondering how many seasons will be made, considering how long prohibition lasted…we’re still in 1924…

  • Richard Parker

    Great article. I think of the 36 episodes of Boardwalk that have been made so far, episode 311 “Two Imposters” is the best paced episode to date. I don’t know if it’s the best episode overall in the entire series so far, since we’ve had so many, but man, was it a joy to watch this hour of television unfold. If you saw the promo going into 311, I’m sure you were expecting a bang, but for those who didn’t, this episode started off literally with a bang. Masseria’s men storming the building was so intense, it made me feel feelings of being cornered, and having no place to go, which is what I’m sure Nucky and Eddie were feeling. Then from that whole sequence we launch into another great scene, followed by more and more.

  • Eleonora Iafano

    “You’re a pistol, Red,” says Gyp Rosetti. “Then why don’t you pull my trigger and see what comes out?” asks Gillian Darmody. OMG. I don’t know about anyone else, but that particular scene had me on edge. The next riveting scene was Richard walking in, packing heat and basically getting rid of Rosetti’s crew, skillfully, one by one. They never stood a chance. The only one with some smarts in that crew was Tonino. I was wondering when he would get his revenge on his boss. After all, Gyp killed his cousin. I also have to hand it to Masseria, because they way he spoke to Gyp, it was very clear to me that Gyp was going to die. Masseria likes people to keep their promises. In the end, someone had to take the dive! AR….requiring 99% of Overholt is going to get him 110% into trouble!

  • Riki Bugg

    Outstanding the best thing on TV congratz Teraince Winter great writing.

  • Squiggy

    The first 2 seasons were more uneven (there were more slow episodes that went nowhere). Sure there was Jimmy but S3 was possibly the best written season of any show I have ever seen. Everything tied to together at the end, Like how carousing with Billy and a disinterest in running his day to day business led to a split with New York which will probably be a war in S4. Or the way Overholt came into play.

    I also preferred the “rogues gallery” from season 3, and basically everyone is now against Nucky going forward (although they were all at odds in season 1 too).

  • Gabriel Ramirez

    I think Richard Harrow will come out on top as Knucky’s right hand man. After all the man is a professional sniper.

    • Yeah I think he’s going to have to reluctantly become a gangster to make end’s meet. He’s not just going to sail off into the sunset as the new guardian of Jimmy’s son. He’s got a potential family to protect now!

  • It’s a real shame that Gyp was only around for one season. I really thought they could have taken that character a step further. But I guess thats what happens when you mess with Nucky – ask Jimmy.

    • Richard Parker


  • Jef Dinsmore

    Pretty in-depth piece, young man. I think next season is pretty open as far as plot directions go. I’m interested in what people speculate about it. Bring It On Boardwalk fans.

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