Nucky Thompson walks the boards for another year, and he is embracing his role as the villain with gusto.
When we left the magnificent Boardwalk Empire at the end of the second season, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) had finally become the villain that his former protégée and eventual rival Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) had long warned him that he would have to embrace. Giving up the pretense of his elected office, and putting up a front of a self-styled philanthropist. Of course, when he is arguing with his wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald) over his philanthropy, he flat-out states he is only doing it because she signed over his land deeds to the church. This greatly changed Nucky is torturing liquor thieves, ordering hits and taking lovers. As the corrupt Attorney-General (Chris McDonald) tells him, “You’re a gangster, plain and simple.”
Set on New Year’s Eve, with the group about to embark on the historic 1923 year of bootlegging and other illicit trafficking, Resolution is about change and the promise of it. The trick with New Year’s resolutions is keeping them, especially when you lead the lives of these characters. As Nucky and Margaret lead a life of city benefactors, a signal for future tension is given when Margaret questions hospital authorities over the pre-natal treatment of women. Another prophet of impending darkness is the new character of Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), a violence Sicilian gangster that instantly comes into conflict with anybody who crosses him, and it seems he already has a reason to begrudge Nucky, who has decided to only sell liquor to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Boardwalk Empire is dark at the best of times, but this first episode for the season is positively inky with anticipation. Loose ends from the previous season are rapidly tied up in short order, further signalling that all bets are off in the third year of a show that has constantly kept us on our toes. Part of Jimmy’s anti-hero persona is shifted onto his tragic right-hand man Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), who also conclusively wraps up the tale of Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe). It will be intriguing to see how his relationship with Jimmy’s mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) plays out, now that she effectively has control of the Commodore’s fortune, and appears to be brainwashing Jimmy’s son into believing she is his mother. Yet it’s the powerful presence of Michael Shannon as the pious Nelson Van Alden that might be the one to watch this season, now stripped of his position and on the run with his baby and her nanny. A chance encounter with florist and gangster Dean O’Banion (Arron Shiver), a Chicago rival of Al Capone (Stephen Graham), may lead Van Alden even further down the wrong side of the law. It’s twists like these that give everybody a starring role, no matter how small it may be.
Boardwalk Empire remains one of the most impeccably designed and dressed series of the last few years, not simply populating the set with characters, but creating an entire world for them to inhabit. The Egyptian-themed New Year’s Eve party at Nucky’s place is a microcosm of this, with a brief but memorable appearance from new face Billie Kent (Meg Chambers Steedle). We sincerely hope that the simplification of Nucky’s character doesn’t turn this into a run-of-the-mill gangster piece, as it has maintained a terrific presence showcasing the broader effects of prohibition and the crime that it created. It’s only going to be a roller-coaster from here. Welcome back, Nucky.