A fitting caption for our protagonist, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), whose actions in the first two seasons of Terrance Winter’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ reflect that of a man seemingly devoid of conscience and morality, yet desperate for a sense of righteousness and normalcy. And though we, the audience, sit and watch with judgment and discrimination all the lies, the whoring, the sneak-thievery, the political back-handing, the manipulation and the murders, we ultimately come to an unforeseen conclusion – we love Nucky Thompson. It’s not to say that we personally condone his brutal business methods (as baller as they may be), no, we empathize because we’ve grown to know him – his behaviors, his knowledge, his past, his thoughts – all through careful observation of his actions throughout the last two seasons. As we follow our protagonist even deeper into the spine of the story we begin to realize his overwhelming influence on everyone and everything around him – his friends and enemies as well as his society, through a twisted fusion of politics and organized violence. Season 3 begins Sunday, 9/16, I hope your ready. I know I am.
The most redeeming quality of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ is it’s depth; the quality of writing and storytelling and the richness of every character to hit the screen. And when I say every character, I mean every character. From our main protagonists like Nucky Thompson, Jimmy Darmody and Margaret Schroeder, to others like Richard Harrow, Nelson Van Alden and Eli Thompson, even further with Al Capone, Chalky White and Arnold Rothstein, I could go on and on, but the point is that each character captivates the audience with such prowess and conviction that our attention and interest is immediately hooked. We want to hear, to listen, to understand what each character brings to the story because each has their own unique story, their own personal agenda, their own motives. With such an arsenal of compelling characters, you’d think ‘Boardwalk Empire’ would eventually plateau, even out, settle, but no, season 2 introduces a host of new characters that light up the screen like Owen Slater and Manny Horvitz. And now, with season 3 rapidly approaching, we can expect an even greater depth of casting and conflict.
The climactic ending of season 2 is a gut wrenching reminder of the pessimistic world of illegal bootlegging, and, at times, the unsentimental reality of story. We were fond of Jimmy Darmody because we observed his thoughts and actions throughout the 23 previous episodes – from the first moment he hit the screen as a struggling WWI veteran in a one-bedroom apartment, through his time amongst the Italian mafia in Chicago, to his eventual rise to power in Atlantic City, and his eventual demise at the hands of his surrogate father, Nucky Thompson. Jimmy’s life is nothing short of a tragedy, showcasing the deadly consequences of ambition and how it affects those closest to you. As selfishly indulgent as he may have been, Jimmy had always made an effort to provide for those he loved, an effort that consequently brought about more suffering than pleasure – a suicidal Chicago mistress, his lonesome and murdered wife, his parentless son, his power-hungry mother and his vengeful, slain father. Thus returning to my point – the unsentimental reality of story lies in a knowledge and understanding that we know to be true, but is somehow elusive to the thoughts of characters like Jimmy – actions have consequences.
Consequence. Regret. Shame. All of these fall under the umbrella of Nucky Thompson, yet he endures. Why? Is it his intelligence? His fortitude? His brutality? What is it? Nucky operates under the same story telling principles as Jimmy and any other character whose been punished for they’re sins, and still he thrives as the unquestioned bootlegging kingpin of Atlantic City. In my opinion – its order. Not necessarily in the disciplinarian sense of the word, but in a way that exhumes a sense of normalcy. Nucky’s played the gangster role since he was a young man, men like him don’t get in the position he’s in without getting they’re hands dirty, and even now he’s burdened with the consequences of past decisions – sending Jimmy’s father, the Commodore – Louis Kaestner, to prison in order to ensure his political rise – bringing Jimmy’s mother, Gillian Dormady, at the age of 13, to the Commodore for his own sexual pleasure. Nucky’s rise to the top wasn’t honest or clean or noble, he worked relentlessly to obtain his status, and he’d be damned to let anyone get in the way of his well earned comfort. How much further is Nucky willing to go? Will season 3 call on him to answer for his past sins? Or, through his sharp whits and merciless tactics, will he endure? Only time will tell.
In the end, Jimmy’s death was due to his inability to lead, his inescapable failure to make decisions for himself. So many times he went against his better judgment, constantly staggering under the pressure of his court – a soldier, merely following orders. Nucky Thompson is fully aware of his influence over Atlantic City, furthermore, he understands and appreciates the invaluable nature of order.
But alas, season 3 is upon us, and once again, Nucky Thompson must withstand the tests of conflict and consequence – the internal struggles of his withering conscience, and the notorious threat of dangerous newcomer, Gyp Rosetti. In my opinion, I believe this season will mark the end of our beloved protagonist, I believe enough is enough, I believe justice is coming, like the great Ned Stark before him, I believe season 3 will end with the death of Nucky Thompson. Blasphemous, I know, but is it really all that surprising? It’s only a matter of time until prodigious gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano ascend to their historical, though infamous, seats of power, and it’s no secret that HBO has a reputation for killing off key characters. But if we’re to take anything from these past two seasons, it’s this – Nucky Thompson is a survivor, a man of conviction and principle, of fear and respect. And thus reemerges the caption that’s become an unmistakable reflection of season 3, and perhaps a final warning to our protagonist.