Episode Title: "Margate Sands"
Writers: Terence Winter and Howard Korder
Director: Tim Van Patten
Previously on "Boardwalk Empire:"
Call it a brilliant coup, a master plan or a stroke of genius, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) somehow managed to come out on top in his war against Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavle) and even take down Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) in the process.
As the season three finale came to a close, we saw the newly restored Nucky walking down the boardwalk and all appeared to be as it should be. Except that Nucky is miserable.
"Margate Sands" wasn't about shocking deaths or major cliffhangers. Instead, this season finale felt more like an end of an era. That being the era of "Nucky Thompson, king of Atlantic City." Right from the start of the hour, Nucky was questioning everything he worked so hard to get. Maybe it was too much, he tells Eli. Why couldn't he stop while he was ahead?
And maybe that's why watching Nucky reclaim his role in AC wasn't very satisfying. He may have the city back, thanks to baiting Arnold Rothstein with Andrew Mellon's massive distillery but Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) couldn't be bought. When Nucky paid her a visit in Brooklyn, he absolved her of all her sins and offered to take her back. But though she's as scared as we've ever seen her, Margaret knew what taking from Nucky means and thus she turned him away. Perhaps another reason why Nucky looked so beaten at the end of the hour.
With much of the focus on the war in Atlantic City, there was little resolution with the supporting characters. I was certain Gillian (Gretchen Mol) was done for as she helped Gyp gets the kinks out by strangling him with a belt. Between Gyp and Richard Harrow, I figured one of them would put Gillian out of her misery.
There was also the possibility she'd end up a causality after Massaria's men left Gyp. However, a surprise visit from Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), who showed up with an arsenal to practice his sharpshooting on Rosetti's men, threw everyone for a loop. With Tommy now in Julia's care, it's unclear what will become of Gillian. As she told Gyp, she only has her grandson and her house. Now that both are likely gone, Gillian's storyline feels like another loose end.
And on that note, you know I'm going to complain about this Van Alden-less finale. It's a credit to the writers and Michael Shannon that this supporting character needs much more screentime. Unfortunately, there was just too much ground to cover here to pay a proper visit to Cicero, Illinois.
By its conclusion, "Margate Sands" felt like a slow, somewhat laborious U-turn for our main man, Nucky. He had a few revelations about what he wants (not as much as he thought), who he is (someone everyone wants to kill) and who he wants to be (anonymous). Really, this finale did more to set things up for next season than put any storylines to bed.
Of course, we finally got to see Gyp get his. The foul-tempered gangster met his end on the beach, after another absurd monologue that made everyone laugh nervously. After getting shanked in the gut by one of his own men, Gyp slowly sank to the sand, as he drew out his agonizing last breath. Totally fitting for this very over-the-top character. Nucky didn't even give poor Gyp the satisfaction of doing it himself.
As I said earlier, "Margate Sands" wasn't a blockbuster finale, but that doesn't mean it wasn't successful in doing what needed to be done. We'll really know for sure after the season four premiere. Is Nucky a changed man? Will we see a major shift in his character?
In the meantime, the season concluded by bringing a few beloved minor characters, like Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham) into the fold. We also spent some time with Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef)and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), who were both burned by an Arnold Rothstein double-cross in their ill-fated heroin trade. It wasn't an especially satisfying or thrilling season-ender but the finale dug deeply into the heart of Nucky Thompson. We'll have to wait until next season to learn where he decides to go from here and more importantly, who he'll take with him.