While Boardwalk Empire arrived with more pedigree than a Chum dog-food convention, not everyone had the patience to stick with it through season one. Clearly having taken stock, showrunner Terence Winter and his writers returned with an improved second year, which finished with the shocking murder of a key character who explained to Nucky that you can’t be “half a gangster”.
Accordingly, Nucky’s decision to fully embrace his criminal side provides the focus for season three. Typified by a few great scenes (see him clinically offing a cheeky kid who the writers dangle as a Jimmy replacement), the Machiavellian bootlegger’s move away from the political limelight anchors the usual multitude of plot threads and character arcs. Not all of these are equally as involving (see Kelly Macdonald’s righteous Margaret organising prenatal care at a local hospital – yawn), but the gangster-y power-plays remain the reason to watch. There’s also a welcome increase in brutal action, with a sequence where Jack Huston’s haunting hitman Richard Harrow storms the Artemis brothel among the highlights.
Given that Michael Shannon’s career is taking off elsewhere, his Nelson Val Alden is disappointingly underused, though. That being true, his disgraced former agent still proves utterly compelling while nabbing a few of the series’ most memorable scenes (such as him ‘ironing out’ a problem with a co-worker or having a fork-faced run-in with Stephen Graham’s Al Capone). Moreover, there’s a fine new addition in the shape of Bobby Cannavale’s Sicilian gangster Gyp Rosetti, a volatile, Goodfellas type who could, as Nucky puts it, “find an insult in a bouquet of roses”.