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'Boardwalk Empire' season finale review

In this publicity image released by HBO, Michael

In this publicity image released by HBO, Michael Pitt, left, and Steve Buscemi are shown in a scene from the HBO original series, "Boardwalk Empire." Credit: AP

THE SHOW "Boardwalk Empire"

WHEN | WHERE Season finale Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Eli (Shea Whigham) have arrived to reinforce Chalky White's (Michael Kenneth Williams) outgunned crew, launching a full-frontal war with Masseria (Ivo Nandi) and Gyp Rosetti's (Bobby Cannavale) muscle. With the control of Atlantic City at stake, Nucky (Steve Buscemi) has to think fast while dodging ordnance. Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) all offer their services -- unwittingly.

MY SAY Sunday night's episode ("Margate Sands") begins with a bang -- many bangs, in fact -- and the banging doesn't stop until the final credits roll. Sure, there are pauses here and there, when the crickets sing in the summer night, but those interludes quickly pass. And with the arrival of Capone and his Chicago cavalry, what else would you expect? More crickets?

But the finale also stunningly caps a season that began brilliantly, sagged in the middle and charged breathlessly to the finish line the last three episodes. "Boardwalk's" third season occasionally was caught up between competing stories -- like that romantic aside between Margaret Thompson (Kelly Macdonald) and Nucky's muscle Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) -- whose dramatic meaning (or relevance) never became fully clear until these past few weeks. But in the meantime, some of those stories felt more like padding than real meat. The third season also was positioned as an amend to fans angered by the end of the second -- though in hindsight, Jimmy Darmody's (Michael Pitt) death also served as a rite of passage for Buscemi's Thompson (and Buscemi), as well as the series itself.

Until then, "Boardwalk" was almost reluctantly, hesitantly, a gangster yarn. Any such reticence had to be shed this season with the arrival of Cannavale's Rosetti, who strode this stage with all the brutal swagger you'd want (and expect) from Nucky's wiseguy nemesis. Meanwhile, Sunday's violent convulsion will pretty much leave you with only one question -- how the hell to top all this?

BOTTOM LINE There will be blood.



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