[WARNING: The following story reveals major details about the Season 3 finale of Boardwalk Empire. Read at your own risk.]
"You can't be half a gangster."
Jimmy Darmody's haunting words to Nucky Thompson have loomed large this season on Boardwalk Empire. But on Sunday's finale, Nucky proved he's not doing anything halfway anymore.
Boardwalk Empire: Nucky strikes back!
Did you feel any added pressure with this season finale given how huge last year's was with Jimmy's death?
Terence Winter: I wouldn't say there was pressure to live up to it. There's always pressure to do a good show, but I felt like I moved past that by the time the Season 2 finale aired. Obviously, it was a momentous event in the course of the series, but I wasn't really trying to set out like, "How do we top this?" I want every season finale to be exciting and I really don't compare them. I think the show is equally viable without Jimmy as it was with Jimmy. This is really Nucky's story. Jimmy was a part of it, but that's not what the series was about.
By that same logic, Nucky's war with Gyp Rosetti seemingly could only end the way it did: with Nucky alive and Gyp dead. Or is there a point where we move beyond Nucky's story?
Winter: Certainly Jimmy's death shows that we're not afraid to make bold moves on this show. And Nucky isn't perfect. He really took his eye off the ball in a big way this year, and a guy like Gyp Rosetti starts out to be a tiny problem and becomes the biggest problem Nucky may have ever had. Nucky is not infallible and anything can happen. I wouldn't say that anybody's safe on this show.
Several people had a chance to kill Gyp in the finale. How did you decide that Tonino would be the one to do it?
Winter: When you're Gyp Rosetti, there's probably no shortage of enemies. The interesting thing about the downfall of a guy like Gyp for us was that you can't really rule by fear and intimidation too long before you end up like Mussolini — strung up by your own people. Beating a guy to death with a shovel on the beach was the fatal mistake that Gyp made. He underestimated his lieutenant, and that's the guy who put the knife in his back. That was the moment where Gyp crossed the line on the wrong person, and Tonino lets him have it.
Part of Nucky taking his eye off the ball was his relationship with Billie Kent (Meg Chambers Steedle). Will her death continue to impact Nucky or will she serve as a reminder to not make that mistake again?
Winter: That's probably accurate. I think by the end of the season, Nucky has learned a big lesson about being a gangster. I mean, when you see him at the end and on the boardwalk and the guy says, "Hey, you're Nucky Thompson aren't you?" and he just looks at the guy, that's a different Nucky than we've ever seen. That's not the glad-handing politician who'll stop and shake your hand and make small talk. This is a guy who now knows who he is. There are a lot of things that haunt Nucky and whether or not he completely moves on from any of them remains to be seen.
Nucky let Eli (Shea Whigham) back into his circle, but it seems he'll be keeping a much smaller crew.
Winter: He says to Eli, "I don't want to deal with anybody who we don't already know." By the end, blood is certainly thicker than water and Nucky and Eli are back together. That's definitely a major part of what we wanted to do during the season.
On the other hand, things aren't so chummy between Nucky and Margaret. Is she really out of his life at this point?
Winter: Season 3 was a real journey for Margaret. She started out adrift, living in this loveless marriage. She's wealthy and has everything she wants in the material sense, but her life is very empty and she starts really looking for some purpose. She goes on that journey and does find something worthwhile to do [at the clinic], and, of course, by the season's end the great irony is that she herself is pregnant and has an abortion. There's a major move in her relationship with Nucky. She is living off in Brooklyn alone and doesn't want to take anything from him. She will still be a big part of the show as we move forward, but how she relates to Nucky and what kind of relationship they have I can't really say until you tune in next September.
In the past we've seen Margaret ashamed of her actions because of her faith. Is that still at play here?
Winter: No. I think by the end of Season 2, when she wrote that check and basically gave the church her land, that was her settling her account with God. I think that was her saying, "OK, I'm literally paying my penance." I don't think the religious aspect is something she worries about anymore.
Her fall from grace parallels that of Van Alden (Michael Shannon).
Winter: That's the whole point of Van Alden. He's got all these codes he lives by and the joke is that no one else really takes any of this stuff seriously. The only one who is actually trying to adhere to these impossible mandates fails miserably. So little by little, the guy just comes apart at the seams. He finds it impossible to live that way and succumbs to all these temptations. As things continue, what we find is the thing Van Alden is really good at is actually being bad. He's actually very effective selling alcohol. He's not a good salesman for irons and he can't function in that environment, but he actually can make a little money doing this. I think as the series progresses we'll see a little more of that.