As far as ballsy moves go, Boardwalk Empire’s killing off of Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) in the Season 2 finale is right up there with trekking to Atlantic City and betting your life savings on a spin of the roulette wheel. Despite its alluring depiction of Prohibition Era bootlegging and iconic gangsters famous enough to have their own Wikipedia entries, Boardwalk Empire found its primary draw in the mentor / apprentice dynamic between duplicitous kingpin Nucky Thompson and Jimmy. From the moment the explosive pilot episode ended two years ago, many viewers found themselves identifying with and rooting for Jimmy, an ambitious family man who just wanted to earn his place in the world.
But Jimmy’s dead now, which means the show continues full steam ahead with the anti-hero burden resting solely on Nucky’s once frail shoulders. “Resolution,” the impressive first episode of the third season, proved that there is a future without Jimmy, one where everyone has seemingly moved on with their lives except for his sidekick Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), who does his best to keep the memories of Darmody (and his wife Angela) alive.
Chronologically speaking, this future is sixteen months after Jimmy’s death, on the eve of 1923. As you could imagine, that’s a lot of time for things to change in Atlantic City; Nucky has gotten all his power back and the bootlegging hustle has gotten more competitive.
‘New year, new rules’ he tells a room full of enterprising and deadly gangsters, a slogan that Boardwalk Empire is forced to abide by with Jimmy gone.
The first two scenes of the premiere go to great lengths to show two new absolutes: the almost comical ruthlessness of new villain Gyp Rossetti (Bobby Cannavale) and Nucky’s new resolve of being more than ‘half of a gangster.’ The opening introduces us to Rossetti in dramatic fashion as he beats a Good Samaritan to death for just the slightest, unintentional sign of disrespect (and takes the guy’s dog to boot – that’s stone cold). From there, we move to Nucky, who wordsmiths a warehouse thief into giving up his accomplice right before ordering a bullet into his brain.
Overly dramatic or not, both scenes succeed in setting the stage for all the badassery that’s inevitably coming down the pipe this season.
Especially since Nucky’s decision to only sell to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) serves the dual purpose of simplifying his own operation and complicating things for just about every gangster he coexists with on the East Coast. It’s no surprise that Rosetti takes the most offense to this new paradigm. After flipping a round of insults at everyone (yesterday’s sausage, anyone?), he storms off, leaving in his wake the certainty that guns and violence will be the only way to resolve his newfound beef with Nucky. For you bloodthirsty crime story fans, read this as good news.
‘Resolution’ also presents an evolved Margaret (Kelly Macdonald), whose desire to be something more than just Nucky’s submissive wife makes her dream of spreading her wings (just like the Amelia Earhart-like aviatrix Carrie Duncan that she’s grown fond of). The two are on bad terms and have not worked out that certain issue of her donating his expensive parcel of land to the church. When they argue after disposing of guests at Nucky’s New Year’s Eve bash, you get the sense that their relationship is at the breaking point and that this camel of an arranged marriage is but one straw away from having its back broken. Oh, and there’s the issues of her still looking at Nucky’s new muscle Owen (Charlie Cox) with ‘sex eyes’ and Nucky returning to his philandering ways, this time with performer Willie Kent (who doesn’t look too far off from Lucy Danziger).
Editor’s pick: 11 Focus Points in the Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Premiere
Across town, Jimmy’s absence has disastrous results for his son Tommy; his demented mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) takes it upon herself to raise him, her way (hopefully without seducing him down the line, yuk). But get this; she’s doing so at the site of her budding new business, a brothel named The Artemis Group. Snazzy name or not, this is just lipstick on a pig and Gillian finds nothing wrong with her grandson’s presence here. To add, instead of preserving the memory of her beloved son, she decides that it’s best for Tommy to not know about him at all (despite the fact that she still writes checks in his name).
Conversely, his ace Richard is hell bent on protecting not only Jimmy’s memory, but also that of Angela Darmody (Aleksa Palladino) as well (with whom he was obviously obsessed with). This, of course, conflicts with Gillian’s approach. It’s sickening to watch Gillian scold Richard about telling Tommy of his mom and dad, knocking down his “stories about the past” as if Jimmy and Angela were made up characters. Gillian has moved on and the twisted reality that she’s created in her head cannot coexist with anything that Richard wants to pass on to Tommy.
In a way, this is awesome, because there’s no messing with Richard Harrow. Dream scenario: Gillian attempts to seduce Richard and he responds by blowing her head off with a shotgun and raising Tommy himself. OK, that’s a bit dark, but not far from what Harrow did to Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe), who, of course, killed Angela back in season 2. It’s Gillian’s desire to erase Tommy’s memory of his real mother that finally pushed Richard to exact revenge on Horvitz. While I’m sad to see Manny go (Forsythe fans rest easy, he stars in the new Fox drama, The Mob Doctor), it’s damn near awesome to see Richard come alive again, making himself this season’s defacto wildcard.
The converse of this is the fact that killing a guy like Horvitz will come with repercussions. Nucky isn’t bound to take this too lightly, especially as Horvitz was planning to kill the other warehouse thief that stole his liquor.
Overall, the premiere was packed (a little too much) with an array of new plotlines that made it clear Jimmy’s void will be filled with more gangster activity and explosive violence. At the surface though, we’re set up for battle between evil and slightly less evil; Nucky will roll up his sleeves and get dirty more, Rosetti will be a formidable foe to hate and root against and Al Capone will go to war with Dean O’Banion over Chicago. However, we’ll have to wait and see if it all coalesces the way the way it did in the first two seasons.
I’m betting on yes.
- Harrow’s motto is not YOLO, it’s ‘an eye for an eye.’
- Great introduction of Van Alden’s new identity, showing him knocking on the door of a self-bootlegging man, only to reveal that he is now a Chicago salesman for an iron company.
- Speaking of Chicago, the introduction of real-life gangster Dean O’Banion is sure to produce some fireworks like the real Torrio/Capone vs. O’Banion war, but one has to wonder if this will tie in to what’s going on in New Jersey at all.
- Mickey Doyle hasn’t lost his hilarious giggle
- Has anyone ever cursed out a room of gangsters like Gyp and live to tell about it like Gyp did?
- The premiere seemingly featured just about every gangster except for Chalky White.
- Funniest insult: “A breadstick in a bowtie”
Unlikeliest harbinger of death “3-in-one. What else could it be?”
Best use of the third person: George Remus