Beware, potential spoilers of past seasons ahead.
Among the many things that 'Boardwalk Empire' does well, creating emotional attachments to its varied array of characters is at the top of the list. The last two episodes of the second season ended up being a who's-who bloodbath, with the Darmody family feeling the full effects. That final episode was nerve-wracking as Jimmy (Michael Pitt) walked out of his house without saying goodbye to his mother and son. You knew it was coming. On some level you knew he deserved it, but when Nucky (Steve Buscemi) finally put that bullet in his head, you couldn't help feel sorry for him and the kid he left behind.
While Jimmy's death was certainly the most influential aspect of season two, it was full of all sorts of plot twists, power struggles, and near misses. Nucky escaped assassination, dodged murder charges, and somehow convinced Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) to marry him. Dealing with her own demons, chiefly the polio infection of her tiny daughter, Margaret seemed to have been turning a blind eye to what she knew Nucky was doing. Then in one last-ditch effort to get right with God, she signed a vast expanse of valuable land over to the church instead of to her new husband.
Season three begins Jimmy-less (yes, we're all saddened) and Nucky firmly planted atop the tower of organized crime. There are, however, new faces to worry about. Capone (Stephen Graham) is beginning to become the tough guy history remembers him as. Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) find out that running heroine might be a little easier and more lucrative than the alcohol business. Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) is a hot-tempered Italian who doesn't take too kindly to being rebuffed by Nucky in the first episode. Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) is out for blood, silently wreaking havoc on those he deems responsible for the death of his best friend. Just when we thought Jimmy's death was the show reaching a boil, season three shows that, if anything, the heat has been turned up even higher.
There's something about 'Boardwalk Empire' that distances it from so many other serialized dramas out there. It's the way that almost every line of dialogue has a double meaning. The way that every single character harbors extreme distrust for everyone else, but still finds a way to get along with them until it no longer makes good business sense. The way that characters hurtle toward some great black gangster oblivion. More, more, more, is the motto. Yet, Nucky and everyone else involved is never satisfied. In the first episode of the season Nucky throws a New Year's party for the elites. Two men dressed as ancient Egyptians trot in carrying a hokey looking treasure chest. Nucky describes the boxes contents as "New Year's Eve bobbles, for everyone." The chest is opened and the guests start picking through the bracelets, necklaces, and broaches. Then one of them realizes, "These are real diamonds!" Pandemonium. Nucky sits back and watches and we can only wonder what he's thinking. On some level he's probably disgusted by how small these people are acting, and on another level he's ecstatic that the rich and powerful of Atlantic City can be easily distracted (or bought) with a few glimmering trinkets.
And so it goes for Nucky Thompson a man of no discernible brawn, who has built an empire by outwitting everyone else. It seems that any time someone tries to outsmart Nucky he always comes out the other side, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.
Season three is every bit as exciting and engrossing as the first two (even though the body count may indeed be much higher). While I'll miss Jimmy's surly presence, watching Nucky navigate the world of American gangsterism is simply too fun to miss.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The third season of 'Boardwalk Empire' comes in a 7-disc set (five 50GB Blu-rays and two double-sided DVDs). Along with the Blu-rays, season three comes complete with a DVD copy of the entire season, along with UltraViolet and iTunes Digital Copies. The DVDs are housed in a flimsy cardboard holder.
The set's seven Blu-rays are housed in a snazzy cardboard foldout that resembles past releases. Each disc has its own hub, each section has some great artwork and set stills, with each end containing episode lists with brief synopses, episode titles, and writing and directing credits. The release is region free.
There's no stopping the demo-quality video when it comes to 'Boardwalk Empire' on Blu-ray. Of any show on TV it certainly looks the most cinematic. Even with its digitally filmed picture, the show still takes on a depth and dimension that is rivaled only by 'Game of Thrones.' It's a gorgeous show, with outstanding set construction, and costume dressing. High definition simply gives the show's wealth of detail a way to shine.
The third season picks up where two and one left off. Detail is crisp and defined. Silken flapper dresses simmer while woolen gangster suits provide extremely lifelike texture. HBO has never been one to cram a ton of episodes onto one disc. Instead they spread them out, providing enough room for each to breathe. This way we're never subject to unsightly compression issues. Aliasing, banding, and blocking are nowhere to be found. What tiny bit of crushing exists is negligible at worst.
Color is sumptuous. The opulent lifestyle of the show's gangsters overflow with blood red and rich gold. Suits come in all sorts of colors from browns, to grays, to navy, and every shade in between. Each color is easily discernible on screen. One can even spot delicate pinstripes in mid-range shots. Let's not spend any more time gushing about this presentation. Just know that it's top-notch in every conceivable way.
Ditto for the audio! Oh, I have to write more than that? Well, here it goes.
'Boardwalk Empire' has always possessed one of the most varied, most exhilarating audio mixes on television. From the patented music of the Roaring '20s to the oddly modern music of the show's opening credits, the show's sound design has always been attention-grabbing. This season is no different.
Yes, the show's music, of which there is a ton, is always nicely pipe through all channels. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix throws its full weight behind each and every musical number on the soundtrack. LFE is alive and well. It accompanies the show's music, and also provides heft for gunshots, hand-to-hand fights, and the occasional explosion.
Dialogue is full of life and always intelligible. Yes, even Michael Shannon's litany of gruffly whispered lines are easily heard. Never do the show's variety of sound effects get in the way of hearing the spoken word. Prioritization is superb. Directionality too. Rear channels feature a wonderful assortment of ambiance, especially during parties. Just like the video presentation, the audio is as good as it gets in the world of television on Blu-ray.
At some point 'Boardwalk Empire' has got to end, but I don't want it too. Even with 'Game of Thrones' and 'Breaking Bad' taking a lot of the publicity, 'Boardwalk Empire has continued to crank out quality television that can stand up against any of the fan favorites today. The way it intricately weaves characters together is some of the best storytelling out there. It's methodical yet reserved. It's a show unlike any other really. With demo-quality audio and video, the third season is highly recommended for anyone who loves great television.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.