Last week we saw Nucky Thompson at the lowest and perhaps most likable he’s ever been. Battered and beaten, hiding in the lumberyard with one of his only remaining friends, Nucky declared he wasn’t giving up—a brave (and sympathetic) declaration considering the bleakness of his situation. But then Al Capone, who we happen to know is only at the beginning of power, arrived and elicited viewer whoops everywhere (or at least in my living room).
But the optimism of last week’s pretty badass conclusion was quickly tampered by the opening of “Margate Sands.” War in Atlantic City is ugly and Nucky, we quickly learn, is singing a different tune from last week. The people may think he’s the Nucky Thompson he’s always been—as demonstrated by the reporters’ round of laughter at the mayor’s cry, “Nucky Thompson doesn’t run this city, I do!”—but what they don’t know is that he’s fighting a war from a lumberyard. Nucky, recognizing how low he’s come, has all but accepted the end of his reign, whether he takes out Gyp or not. “It’s over here,” he tells his little brother over the hood of a broken car. But then Eli, whose sunny disposition is reasonable considering how far he’s come since Mickey picked him up from prison earlier this season, plants a seed: “You just got to offer them something they want.” And with those words, the Overton distillery and Mickey Doyle have realized their purpose in this war.
Doyle then performs his last duty of the season and it’s not long before Rothstein calls with an offer: he’ll remove Masseria in exchange for 99 percent of the distillery. Rothstein then uses the payoff from his own set-up (or Luciano’s fake arrest) to make a deal. During the Masseria “peace offering” Luciano, naturally, flips out (a nice performance from Vincent Plaza here) and in response Rothstein, teacup in hand, just shakes his head and feigns, “There’s only so much you can teach a person, until you reach the limits of his capabilities,” before twisting the knife and offering Lansky a job in his newly acquired heroin business (if he wants it). It’s hard not to feel bad for Luciano, a self-made man, and thus derive some satisfaction later on when Rothstein’s name is delivered to the Feds, by way of Gaston Means. I always forget about Washington on this show, and we’re reminded that Nucky’s connections here aren’t for naught.
With the Masseria deal made, Nucky only needs to finish off a now-vulnerable Gyp Rosetti. We knew from the beginning of the season it would end this way, but first, two other parties have to take a stab at it—in Gillian’s case, quite literally.
With his ego soaring to new heights, Gyp tells Gillian, or “Red,” he will make her his “queen” and she sees her opening to save Tommy and her house. Later, Gillian visits Gyp’s bedroom at The Artemis and uses his S&M fetish to her advantage, growing more confident the more he begs to be hurt. Harnessing Gyp by his belt strap and retrieving the heroin needle from her pillow, for a moment it seems like she will be the one to take him out. But she pauses long enough for Gyp to realize what’s happening and she gets a (possibly) lethal dose of heroin instead.
Next up, Harrow. Arriving with what appears to be his entire arsenal, he takes out Gyp’s remaining men one by one, until he finds Tommy, held hostage at gunpoint. A blood-splattered Harrow kneels and tells Tommy to close his eyes. For a split second it appears like he’s going to sacrifice himself, a fitting end to the romantic bloodbath, but then he shoots the boy’s captor and he falls. Exeunt Harrow and Tommy. Yet, Gyp is still alive, and equally important, so is his right-hand man, Tonino.
Meanwhile, Capone and Chalky massacre Masseria’s fleeing men. “Well I got that out of my system,” says Capone and the two share a good laugh, whatever issues they had earlier, now gone. Exit Capone.
The next morning we arrive at a spot that conjures the first time we met Gyp, stranded with a flat tire, the beautiful ocean backdrop a harsh juxtaposition to the violence of the scene. On the beach with his last few men, Gyp appears to have gone slightly mad, imitating Nucky Thompson—the first sign this guy’s a goner. And then he starts talking about going West, and it becomes certain he’s not leaving alive, which I would venture to guess he knows too, on some level. Gyp was a monster, yes, but like every person on this show, I still empathized with him, for all his insecurities and self-loathing. And so I didn’t mind him getting a pseudo-peaceful death: pissing on a beautiful sunny beach singing the innocuous tune of “Barney Google.”
After Tonino finishes the job he retreats to Nucky’s car and receives his final instructions: bring Gyp to Masseria and never enter Atlantic City again. Nucky appears to have ended the war and also, his old life. “I don’t want anyone coming near us we don’t already trust,“ he tells Eli after Tonino walks away. And so it’s not entirely surprising he goes to Margaret; she’s his family, and that seems to be one of the only things he is willing to put faith in right now. But at the same time Nucky hasn’t changed, all but commanding his wife to return home and chiding her for trying to “prove some point that doesn’t matter to anyone.” He ends his speech with familiar negotiating tactics, i.e. a wad of cash. He urges her to take the money because, “it doesn’t mean anything.” And Margaret, finally, tells him, “Yes it does.”
She has gone through with the abortion and chosen independence, and now Nucky is forced to reckon with his. He was prepared to face a more solitary life, but with a family by his side. As he walks the boardwalk that night, facing the possibility of really being alone, he brushes off a passerby who recognizes him and tosses his red carnation, a sign that he’s officially leaving everything behind. But can Nucky Thompson really stand to live alone and in relative anonymity? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
-Harrow made it to another season, but is this the end of him and Julia? Say it ain’t so!
-No sign of Van Alden the past few episodes, so I guess we’ll be seeing him and that pistol Sigrid next year in Chicago.
-Gyp isn’t sure how old his daughters are. Can’t say I’m surprised.
-An interview with Terence Winter at Entertainment Weekly confirms that Gillian and Eddie, are in fact alive.
-If you’re in NYC this holiday season, I have two Boardwalk-related recommendations: 1.) See Grace on Broadway starring Michael Shannon or 2) Check out Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks (the Babette’s house band) at either the Edison Hotel or Dizzy’s, and throw in your favorite vintage cocktail (or two) to make a real night out of it.
-Here’s signing off on another great Boardwalk season! Looking forward to 1924!