Boardwalk Empire - The Complete Third Season

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 20, 2013

Season Four of HBO's Prohibition Era-set drama "Boardwalk Empire" is set to debut on Sep. 8, which gives us just enough time to re-watch (or catch up on) the events of Season Three, now available in a DVD / Blu-ray Combo Pack.

If you haven't yet upgraded to Blu-ray, this set might just tip you over the edge: The DVD discs are two-sided and bereft of any special features. It's the Blu-ray discs where the extras action lies, and this set runneth over with bonus material.

Season Three has been accused of being a little plodding and aimless by critics, and not without some justification; plot-wise, Season Three lapses, on occasion, into the recursive, and from the season's opening moments there's a feeling that the show's producers and directors, many of whom worked on "The Sopranos," are channeling the ghost of that great show into this early 1920s setting.

An unmistakable whiff of "The Sopranos" blows into Atlantic City with the introduction of a new heavy, the psychopathic Gyp Rosetti (played with twisted bravura glee by Bobby Cannavale), who takes on the mantle of Nucky's nemesis right away and proceeds to nearly squeeze the life out of our anti-hero (played this year with greater depth and a harder edge by series star Steve Buscemi). The dramatic beats thud out episode by episode, with mayhem and bodies mounting, until the final endgame plays out between the two. It's a fulfilling chapter in many ways, except for a feeling of artificiality; it's almost as if "Boardwalk Empire," having killed off Michael Pitt's character (almost a son to Nucky, though a wayward son) has sacrificed its strongest dramatic thread, finding itself stranded on a creative reef that calls for a Villain of the Season. It's convenient, in terms of structuring the year, and feels that way; it also feels like a holding pattern.

Fortunately, the season's other narrative threads are more satisfactory, and even the rivalry between Gyp and Nucky reaches heights that can only be called operatic.

This fever pitch of tommy guns and strategic maneuvering is, of course, deliberate, and executive producer Martin Scorsese gets a special feature all his own to talk about how the series drew on old gangster movies for inspiration. In another featurette, the season's core stable of directors chat about their episodes and the challenges of bringing them to cinematic life. (Make no mistake, this series is nothing short of cinematic.)

The "Distilling Season Two" recap, contained on the first Blu-ray disc, handily refreshes the viewer's memory of where we are and how we got there for the start of Season Three; in-episode enhancement, including six commentary tracks, "Boardwalk Chronicle" and "American Empires" text features, and two vintage newsreels per episode (24 newsreels in all) help us keep track of all the players and the complicated geographical and political terrain on which they operate. (Many of the series' characters are based on real historical figures.) The other featurettes are all included on the fifth and last Blu-ray disc.

Fans of the show will swoon over this wealth of material, which brings the show's historical context to life and adds new layers of resonance to the season's twelve episodes. Casual viewers might check out this set to see Michael Shannon's character moving closer to what seems to be a looming criminal career (if not downright madness) or enjoy Buscemi sinking his teeth into the character... even as his character sinks his teeth, which are sharper than ever, into friend, foe, and flapper.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.