Television Revision: Boardwalk Empire – Season 3

Boardwalk Empire S3

By Andrew Williams
October 16, 2013 

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation). 

Now, this is a story all about how… The latest threat to the empire of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is blunt instrument Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), a man prone to violent outbursts at the merest hint of an insult.

Boardwalk Empire S3

Happy days: Television critics and fans often talk about shows taking ‘The Leap’: that moment where a series goes from good to excellent; inconsistent to consistent; amusing to hilarious. Boardwalk Empire’s third season marks the moment the much-admired but little-loved series goes from mildly diverting to often entrancing. It’s taken ‘the leap.’

There’s a variety of reasons for Boardwalk’s substantial improvement: Cannavale’s brutal, blistering (and recently Emmy winning) turn adds another energy level to proceedings; the writers (led by Terence Winter) have a firmer handle on the show’s novelistic approach; and the supporting performances grow in stature with each passing episode. Mostly, though, it’s the simple asset of time: a show that started with a glut of characters simply needed more hours than most to make the majority of them compelling.

There are still problems, mostly revolving around any character with the last name ‘Thompson.’ Buscemi’s muted performance is becoming more problematic as the supporting cast grows ever more colourful. Margaret Thompson’s (Kelly Macdonald) hospital subplot is the season’s dreariest element, and even Nucky’s brother Eli (Shea Whigham) doesn’t make much of an impression with what should be plenty of good material. It’s disappointing that a show with such a compelling periphery persists with a simply serviceable centre.

The final frontier: The many talents involved with Boardwalk Empire finally coalesce into a truly worthwhile show.

Boardwalk Empire S3

Top three episodes: 11) Two Imposters. Boardwalk Empire specialises in bloody, sudden violence, but the season’s penultimate episode proves the creative team have just a good a handle on nail-biting tension. 12) Margate Sands. A superb action set-piece punctuates a spectacular climax in what ranks amongst the very best scenes of TV in 2012. 5) You’d Be Surprised. Director Tim Van Patten stages yet another atmospheric, breathtaking sequence in a season full of them.

Worst episode: 1) Resolution. We get off to a slow start, mostly due to a focus on the Thompson’s marriage (a story thread the rest of the season mostly avoids).

Season MVP: Introduced in the seventh episode of Season One, disfigured war veteran Richard Harrow becomes the show’s richest and most fascinating character by the end of the third season. Jack Huston does more with half his face than most actors do with the whole lot, and he and the writers imbue a man of few words with the depth only long-form television is able to provide. Plus, he’s the feature of the season’s most thrilling, memorable action sequence.

4.5/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: Boardwalk Empire – Season 1

Television Revision: Boardwalk Empire – Season 2

Boardwalk Empire is available on Quickflix.

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