Nucky Thompson

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Nucky Thompson
Boardwalk Empire character
Nucky Thompson.jpg
Nucky in the series premiere.
First appearance "Boardwalk Empire"
Last appearance "Eldorado"
Created by Terence Winter
Portrayed by Steve Buscemi,
Marc Pickering (1897),
Nolan Lyons (1884)
Information
Nickname(s) Nucky, Nuck, Gus
Occupation Treasurer of Atlantic County
Family Ethan Thompson (father/deceased)
Elias "Eli" Thompson (brother)
Susan Thompson (sister/deceased)
Spouse(s) Mabel Thompson (wife/deceased)
Margaret Thompson (wife/separated)
Children Enoch Jr. (deceased)
Teddy Thompson (stepson)
Emily Thompson (stepdaughter)

Enoch Malachi[1] "Nucky" Thompson is a fictional character and the protagonist of the HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire. Nucky is loosely based on former Atlantic City political figure Enoch Lewis "Nucky" Johnson.[2] Nucky is employed as treasurer of Atlantic County, New Jersey, but in effect controls the region as a political boss. Nucky is a corrupt and powerful Republican politician who leads a double life as a gangster, and continuously struggles to meet his interests on both fronts. Charming and intelligent, he is adored by the people of Atlantic City, especially its poor and immigrant inhabitants, for his numerous acts of charity. However, in private he has a tight grip on the politics and vice of Atlantic City. Throughout the series he is portrayed as a Machiavellian politician who makes his henchmen do the dirty work, while showing a more humane side to his friends and family. However, by the end of season 2 he is shown becoming more ruthless in order to compete in the violent bootlegging business.[2]

Nucky is portrayed by Steve Buscemi, who won Best Actor in Dramatic Series at the 68th Golden Globe Awards for his performance. In flashbacks throughout the fifth season, he is played by Nolan Lyons as a child and Marc Pickering as a young man.

Fictional biography[edit]

Nucky was born and raised in New Jersey, the eldest child of a poor Irish Catholic family. He had a troubled childhood: His father, Ethan Thompson (Tom Aldredge, Ian Hart as a young man), abused him, at one point scarring Nucky's hand with a fireplace poker, and his sister Susan died of tuberculosis.[3] As a child, Nucky began working for Atlantic City political boss Commodore Louis Kaestner (Dabney Coleman), who became his mentor in politics. For a time, Nucky attended New Jersey State Normal School in Trenton and planned on becoming a teacher. However, he left college and returned to Atlantic City when the Commodore needed him.[4] As a young man, he worked his way up the ladder to become deputy sheriff. He became sheriff after he arranged for the Commodore to have sex with Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol), who was only 13 at the time.[5] Fifteen years before the series' timeline, Nucky lost his infant son, Enoch Jr., to pneumonia, a tragedy that drove his wife, Mabel, to commit suicide.[6]

Nucky helped raise Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), the Commodore's son with Gillian, providing the boy with the guidance he lacked from his indifferent father and pulling strings to get him into Princeton University. Nucky was disappointed when Jimmy drops out of college to enlist in World War I, but still gave him a job as his personal driver after the war ends. When Jimmy finds out that Nucky helped the Commodore rape Gillian,[7] it creates a rift between them that sets the stage for a major conflict in season two.

Season one[edit]

In the series' first episode, set the day before Prohibition is to take effect, Nucky — despite publicly supporting the ban of alcohol — conspires with other local politicians to profit from a bootlegging scheme. Nucky is assisted by his younger brother, Atlantic County Sheriff Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham).[8]

At the beginning of the season, Nucky makes a deal with mobsters Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) to let them purchase his seaborne liquor shipments exclusively. However, Jimmy conspires with Torrio's driver, Al Capone (Stephen Graham), to rob Nucky's shipment to Rothstein after the New York mobster takes Nucky's casino for over $90,000. The heist ends in bloodshed as Jimmy and Capone kill Rothstein's men. Nucky gets Jimmy out of trouble, while privately reproaching him and banishing him from Atlantic City.[4] He later recruits Jimmy back from Chicago when Rothstein seeks revenge for the hijacking.

Nucky is being investigated by Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), a federal Prohibition agent who suspects Nucky knows more about the hijacking than he admits. Meanwhile, Nucky is forced to demote Eli when he is seen at an illegal casino. He eventually reinstates his brother, but their relationship is badly strained.

Nucky also meets Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), a pregnant member of the Women's Temperance League who comes to Nucky seeking work for her abusive husband, Hans (Joseph Sikora). Nucky is immediately taken with her and gives her some money. He has Hans killed after he beats her so badly that she miscarries the child,[9] and gets her a job at a boutique after she gets out of the hospital.[4] Nucky and Margaret soon become lovers,[10] and by the end of the season he informally adopts her children, Teddy and Emily. This creates tension between him and his former mistress, Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta).

Margaret eventually learns the extent of Nucky's corruption, including his order to have her husband killed.[11] She leaves him after they have a heated argument.[7] When she finds out that Nucky had lost a child, however, she meets with him to express her sympathy, and he tells her that the time he spent with her and her children was the happiest of his life. Moved by his sincerity — and realizing that she and her children would likely starve without his support — Margaret renews their relationship.[6]

At the end of the season, Nucky and Rothstein come to a truce: all will be forgiven and Nucky will use his political connections to help Rothstein dodge a federal indictment for fixing the 1919 World Series in exchange for $1 million. As Nucky rings in the new year with Margaret at his side, Jimmy, Eli and the Commodore conspire to overthrow him and take over Atlantic City.[6]

Season two[edit]

A few months later, Nucky is arrested for voter fraud for his behind-the-scenes role in the election of Edward Bader (Kevin O'Rourke), with corruption and murder charges soon to follow.[12] Nucky suspects that the Commodore, Jimmy and Eli are plotting against him, a suspicion confirmed when his cronies defect to Jimmy's side. After the Commodore suffers a debilitating stroke, Eli panics and goes to Nucky for help, but Nucky gets into a violent argument with his brother and disowns him. [13] Shortly afterward, one of Jimmy's men makes an attempt on his life.[14] Following his father's death, Nucky resigns as treasurer and tells Jimmy and the Commodore that they have won.[15] It is a ruse, however; soon afterward, he sets in motion a plan to drive Jimmy and his partners out of business. He bombs the warehouse containing Jimmy's alcohol, and persuades his associate Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) to instigate a strike among the city's black service workers, leaving speakeasies and restaurants too understaffed to serve alcohol. He then travels to Ireland to sell Thompson machine guns to the Irish Republican Army in exchange for Irish whiskey.[16] Jimmy is left with an inferior product and no customers, while Nucky becomes the most powerful bootlegger in Atlantic City.[17]

By this time, the U.S. Attorney's Office has found damning evidence of Nucky's crimes. Nucky has a brief streak of luck after learning that Van Alden murdered his former partner, thus forcing Van Alden to flee the state,[18] but the case against Nucky is still strong. He gives Margaret temporary guardianship of a valuable piece of real estate so that she and the children will be taken care of should he go to prison. His problems worsen when Emily contracts polio, which Margaret believes is divine retribution for their sins.[16] She considers cleansing her soul by testifying against Nucky, which would send him to the electric chair.[18] Nucky tells her that he wants to marry her and become a better man, while admitting that marrying her would make her unable to take the stand against him. The next day, Margaret sees him teaching Emily to walk in her leg braces, and realizes that he truly loves her and her children. They then get married at Margaret's church.[19]

Jimmy meets with Nucky, apologizes for his treason, and offers to help Nucky in his court case. At Nucky's instruction, Jimmy and his accomplice Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) kill Alderman James Neary (Robert Clohessy), the prosecution's main witness. The U.S. Attorney's Office is forced to drop the charges. Nucky then visits Eli and makes him a deal: Eli will plead guilty to the election rigging case and be sentenced to two years in prison, thus protecting Nucky from being charged again. That night, Nucky calls Jimmy and tells him that he has kidnapped Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe), the man who killed Jimmy's wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino). It turns out to be a trap, however; when Jimmy arrives, Nucky's men hold him at gunpoint, and Nucky shoots him twice in the head, killing him.[19]

The next day, Nucky lies to Margaret about reconciling with Jimmy, a lie she immediately sees through. To punish him, Margaret signs over the deed to his real estate — which he had planned to use in a lucrative road construction deal — to her church.[19]

Season three[edit]

In season three, set in 1923, Nucky faces trouble from Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), a New York gangster who works for Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi). Due to political turmoil involving United States Attorney General Harry Daugherty (Christopher McDonald), whom Nucky pays $40,000 a month to protect from any criminal investigations, Nucky agrees to simplify his operation and sell exclusively to Rothstein. Infuriated, Rosetti leaves Atlantic City and takes over Tabor Heights, a small town between Atlantic City and New York. He then blockades any of Nucky's alcohol deliveries from going through.[20] This escalates with Rosetti killing 11 of Nucky's men.[21] Rothstein sends Benjamin Siegel (Michael Zegen) to kill Rosetti, but the hit is unsuccessful. However, it does force Rosetti to flee Tabor Heights and go back to New York City.

Back home, Nucky's marriage to Margaret is now no more than a public show, and Nucky spends much of his time in Manhattan with his mistress Billie Kent (Meg Chambers Steedle). When Eli is released from prison, Nucky gives him a job in a liquor warehouse, but wants nothing to do with him personally. This changes when Eli is able to anticipate Rosetti's ambush, even though he is unable to stop it.[21] After an Easter Sunday dinner with the family, Nucky reconciles with Eli and they go back to working together.[22]

In Washington, D. C., Daugherty has Nucky indicted for bootlegging to make him a scapegoat for the corruption charges the Harding administration is facing. Nucky goes to Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon (James Cromwell) and convinces him to have George Remus (Glenn Fleshler) arrested in exchange for Nucky illegally running Mellon's distillery in West Overton, Pennsylvania. Remus has direct ties to Daugherty's accomplice Jess Smith (Ed Jewett), causing further problems for Daugherty and leaving Nucky in the clear.[23]

In New York Rosetti convinces Masseria to provide him with extra men to go back to New Jersey and take over Atlantic City. Rosetti bombs Nucky's favorite restaurant in order to kill Nucky, Rothstein and Luciano. All three survive the explosion, but Billie is killed.[23] Nucky organizes a meeting with many of the powerful crime bosses on the east coast to seek support for killing both Rosetti and Masseria. Everyone at the meeting declines, however, and the job is left to Nucky's right-hand man Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox), who decides a covert assassination would work best. [24] However, Luciano and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) alert Masseria to Nucky's attempt to kill him in exchange for Masseria financing their heroin operation. As Owen enters a Turkish bathhouse to kill Masseria, Masseria's men kill Owen and have his body shipped back to Nucky in a crate. From Margaret's grief-stricken reaction to Owen's death, Nucky deduces that the two had been having an affair.[25]

In "Margate Sands", the final episode of the third season, Nucky narrowly escapes being killed by Masseria's men and recruits White and Capone to provide men to fight back against Rosetti. An all-out gang war ensues with men being killed on both sides. Rothstein offers to convince Masseria to end his support for Rosetti in exchange for Nucky giving up 99% of the profits from Mellon's distillery. The agreement is a trap, however; as part of his deal with Nucky, Mellon has Rothstein arrested.

Chalky and Capone send their men to ambush Rosetti, resulting in a bloodbath. Rosetti and two of his men are able to escape, but his second in command, Tonino (Chris Caldovino), kills Rosetti so Nucky will spare him. Nucky tries to reconcile with Margaret, who has left him and taken the children. Margaret rebuffs him, however, and refuses to accept money from him.

Season four[edit]

In season four, set in 1924, Nucky has made peace with Masseria and Rothstein, and is a silent partner in White's nightclub on the Boardwalk. He travels to Tampa, Florida to look into investing in a distillery run by Bill McCoy (Pearce Bunting), but rejects the deal, believing the location is too high-profile. He changes his mind and becomes part owner, unaware that McCoy has killed one of his investors.[26] He also takes on Luciano and Lansky as partners in the distillery.[27] While in Florida, he begins an affair with speakeasy owner Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette). [28]

Nucky sends his butler, Eddie Kessler (Anthony Laciura), to Penn Station to deliver money to Ralph Capone (Domenick Lombardozzi) from Chicago. Unbeknownst to him, FBI agent James Tolliver (Brian Geraghty), who is intent on bringing down Nucky's empire, detains Eddie and blackmails him into revealing Nucky's arrangement with the Capones. Eddie returns to Nucky's house and commits suicide.[29] Days later, Nucky has an uneasy reunion with Margaret and tells her of Eddie's death.[30]

Eli's son Willie (Ben Rosenfield) calls Nucky from jail and asks for his help; he had caused the death of a Temple University classmate during a prank gone wrong, and is facing murder charges. Nucky gets Willie out of trouble by bribing the Philadelphia D.A. and framing Willie's roommate, Clayton. A guilt-ridden Willie drops out of school,[31] but Nucky solves the problem by getting him a job in the mayor's office. Tolliver finds out the truth, however, and tells Eli he will put Willie in prison unless he informs on Nucky. Eli becomes Tolliver's spy,[32] and arranges for Nucky to attend a meeting with Masseria in which both will be arrested.[33]

White comes to Nucky and asks for his backing in a war with heroin kingpin Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright). Nucky refuses to get involved, but White becomes more insistent after Narcisse tries to kill him and brutalizes his mistress, Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham). Nucky learns that Lansky is smuggling Narcisse's heroin on Masseria's orders and meets with Masseria and Narcisse in order to get his cut of the profits. Nucky orders Bader to have two sheriff's deputies drive White to Philadelphia. However, Bader is now supporting Narcisse and orders the deputies to kill White. They fail, however, and White shows up Nucky's door demanding answers.[32] To make amends, Nucky orders Harrow to kill Narcisse, and in return pulls strings to have Gillian convicted of murder so Harrow can take custody of her grandson Tommy. [34] The hit goes awry, however, and Harrow and White's daughter are killed. [34]

Nucky begins to suspect that Eli is informing on him,[33] and cancels the meeting with Masseria. He arranges to go with Sally to Cuba, but first confronts Eli. Nucky pulls a gun on his brother, but after Willie walks in, Nucky cannot bring himself to pull the trigger.[35] When Eli kills Tolliver, Nucky sends him to Chicago under Capone's protection and goes to Cuba with Sally.[34]

Season five[edit]

Season five opens in 1931, with Nucky traveling between Cuba and New Jersey, planning to go into the legal liquor business in anticipation of the end of Prohibition.[36] He tries to start a partnership with Mayflower Grain Inc. executive Joseph Kennedy (Matt Letscher), but Kennedy turns him down.[37] He also befriends a young bellboy named Joe Harper (Travis Tope), who reminds him of himself at that age, and causes him to reflect upon his past.[37]

Margaret visits him for the first time in years to ask for help; Rothstein's widow has blackmailed her, and she needs him to pay her off. He gives her the money in return for her help in driving down the price of Mayflower's stock. His life is thrown into disarray, however, when Sally is murdered by the Havana police and he is drawn into a feud between Luciano and Capone.[37]

When Luciano and Lansky make an attempt on his life - with his old friend Torrio's backing - Nucky declares war on them.[38] He has Siegel kidnapped to force a meeting with Luciano and Lansky, who in retaliation kidnap Willie. At the meeting, Luciano threatens to kill Willie. Desperate to save his nephew, Nucky offers Luciano control of his empire in Atlantic City, and arranges to have Luciano's boss Salvatore Maranzano (Giampiero Judica) killed. That night, he receives a letter from Gillian, who is now in an insane asylum, begging him for help.[39]

In the series finale, "Eldorado", Nucky short-sells Mayflower's stock with Margaret's help, and he makes a huge profit. He plans to leave Atlantic City forever, and says his goodbyes to Margaret and Eli. He also sets up a trust for Gillian, but refuses to help her get out of the asylum. On Nucky's last night in Atlantic City, he is confronted by Harper, who turns out to be Gillian's grandson, Tommy Darmody, who accuses him of betraying Gillian and guns him down. Nucky dies as IRS agents, who had followed him the entire evening, identify themselves and Tommy is arrested. The arrival of the IRS agents is a reference to the eventual fate of the real Enoch Johnson, who was imprisoned in 1941 on tax evasion charges.[5]

Casting[edit]

In casting the role of Nucky Thompson (based upon real-life Atlantic City political boss Enoch L. Johnson), Winter wanted to stray from the real life of Johnson as much as possible. "If we were going to cast accurately what the real Nucky looked like, we'd have cast Jim Gandolfini."[8] The idea of casting Steve Buscemi in the lead role came about when Scorsese mentioned wanting to work with the actor, whom Winter knew well having worked with him on The Sopranos. Winter sent the script out to Buscemi, who responded very enthusiastically. "I just thought, 'Wow. I'm almost sorry I've read this, because if I don't get it, I'm going to be so sad.' My response was 'Terry, I know you're looking at other actors'... and he said, 'No, no, Steve, I said we want you.'"[40] Explained Scorsese, "I love the range he has, his dramatic sense, but also his sense of humor."[40]

Reception[edit]

Buscemi has won and been nominated for several awards for his portrayal of Nucky Thompson. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Award at the 63rd and 64th Primetime Emmy Awards. In addition, Buscemi won Best Actor in Dramatic Series at the 68th Golden Globe Awards, while also getting nominated at the 69th and 70th Awards. The cast won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the 17th and 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards while being nominated at the 19th and 20th. Buscemi won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series two years in a row from 2011 to 2012, while also being nominated in 2013 and 2014.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Season 3, Episode 3. "Bone for Tuna"
  2. ^ a b Sepinwall, Alan. Interview: 'Boardwalk Empire' creator Terence Winter hitflix.com. September 9, 2010.
  3. ^ Season 1, Episode 7, "Home"
  4. ^ a b c Season 1, Episode 2, "The Ivory Tower"
  5. ^ a b Season 5, Episode 8, "Eldorado"
  6. ^ a b c Season 1, Episode 12, "A Return to Normalcy"
  7. ^ a b Season 1, Episode 11, "Paris Green"
  8. ^ a b Lowry, Brian. "Review: 'Boardwalk Empire'" Variety. September 12, 2010.
  9. ^ Season 1, Episode 1, "Pilot"
  10. ^ Season 1, Episode 6, "Nights in Ballygran"
  11. ^ Season 1, Episode 8, "Hold Me In Paradise"
  12. ^ Season 2, Episode 1, "21"
  13. ^ Season 2, Episode 5, "Gimcrack & Bunkum"
  14. ^ Season 2, episode 7, "Peg of Old"
  15. ^ Season 2, Episode 9, "Two Boats and a Lifeguard"
  16. ^ a b Season 2, Episode 9, "Battle of the Century"
  17. ^ Season 2, Episode 10, "Georgia Peaches"
  18. ^ a b Season 2, Episode 11, "Under God's Power, She Flourishes"
  19. ^ a b c Season 2, Episode 12, "To the Lost"
  20. ^ Season 3, Episode 1, "Resolution"
  21. ^ a b Season 3, Episode 4, "Blue Bell Boy"
  22. ^ Season 3, Episode 7, "Sunday Best"
  23. ^ a b Season 3, Episode 8, "The Pony"
  24. ^ Season 3, Episode 9, "The Milkmaid's Lot"
  25. ^ Season 3, Episode 10, "A Man, A Plan..."
  26. ^ Season 4, Episode 1, "New York Sour"
  27. ^ Season 4, Episode 2, "All In"
  28. ^ Season 4, Episode 3, "Acres of Diamonds"
  29. ^ Season 4, Episode 5, "Erlkönig"
  30. ^ Season 4, Episode 6, "North Star"
  31. ^ Season 4, Episode 7, "William Wilson"
  32. ^ a b Season 4, Episode 10, "White Horse Pike"
  33. ^ a b Season 4, Episode 11, "Havre de Grace"
  34. ^ a b c Season 4, Episode 12, "Farewell Daddy Blues"
  35. ^ http://tvline.com/2013/11/24/boardwalk-empire-season-5-spoilers-cast-returning/
  36. ^ Season 5, Episode 1, "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"
  37. ^ a b c Season 5, Episode 4, "Cuanto"
  38. ^ Season 5, Episode 5, "The King of Norway"
  39. ^ Season 5, Episode 7, "Friendless Child"
  40. ^ a b Sepinwall, Alan (August 7, 2010). "Press Tour: HBO's Boardwalk Empire brings Martin Scorsese to television". Hit Fix. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 

External links[edit]