You must be careful what you wish for on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”. After killing off Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), at the close of the second season, it became pretty clear that, unless you were Steve Buscemi, you could pretty much go at any time. Also, it would be essentially guaranteed that, if you were to go, it would be in a rather violent departure at that.
The third season of “Boardwalk Empire” wastes no time in reminding you that it is one of the most brutal and unforgiving shows on television today. Gyp Rosetti (played by Bobby Canavale in the role of his career to date) has a flat tire and is stranded with his men on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, en route to Nucky Thompson’s (Buscemi) 1923 New Year’s Eve party. A passerby offers some assistance and makes a casual remark that does not sit well with Gyp. So after the man changes his tire, Gyp rushes him from behind and bludgeons him to death and steals his dog. At first, I was a little taken aback by this act, but before too long I was craving more. It may be startling and unsettling but “Boardwalk Empire” rarely goes there without good reason.
Given how severe his reaction was to the flat tire scenario, you can imagine how irked Gyp was when Nucky announces to him, and a slew of others, at his party, that he will no longer be supplying them with booze. His deal would now exclusively be with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) in New York City. This decision, one Nucky does not see as anything other than strictly business despite the fact that he’s basically told all the other heavy hitters in the vicinity that he doesn’t need them anymore, sets off a vendetta that shapes the third season and brings this series to new and unexpected heights, with plenty of moments that will have your mouth gaping and your mind blown before it’s done.
I’ve enjoyed “Boardwalk Empire” since it began but this third season may be its best yet. In fact, I cannot think of one wrong move made all season. Despite the fact that we are still dealing with Nucky’s constant struggle to remain the man running Atlantic City and the premier bootlegger in the North East, the writers and directors still manage to keep this journey feeling vibrant and relevant and, perhaps more importantly, they also manage to make it consistently surprising too. Considering how much destruction Nucky and his cohorts bring upon themselves and the people around them, you would think the whole affair would feel somewhat godless, but what no one ever sees coming in “Boardwalk Empire” is how it still manages to sneak in instances of peace and happiness for its shaken brood. They’re just not moments anyone with any intelligence would get too used to if they wanted to live see another one.
The fourth season of “Boardwalk Empire” premieres on Sunday, September 8.