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With no Jimmy, what's a 'Boardwalk Empire' to do?
Posted 9/12/2012 10:06 PM ET
Boardwalk Empire returns for a third season Sunday on HBO (9 ET/PT) without its main foil, but it adds a host of complications for bootlegger Nucky Thompson.

Empire, nominated for a dozen Emmys including best drama, fast-forwards 18 months from December's fateful finale, in which Nucky (Steve Buscemi) — who previously kept his hands clean — pulls the trigger on his surrogate son, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), after learning Jimmy was behind a conspiracy to unseat him.

"It's fairly unprecedented that you would kill the second lead this early in a series," says creator Terence Winter, though it plays off Jimmy's warning in the pilot episode that "you can't be half a gangster." (Inexplicably, "people keep asking me if he's coming back," Buscemi says.)

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As he moves from politician to philanthropist, Nucky finds a changed climate: It's New Year's Eve 1922-23, and the stockpiled liquor that cushioned the advent of Prohibition has been depleted. "It became much more competitive and violent … in order to keep control of what they had," Winter says. "Things get increasingly complicated and dangerous for Nucky."

He's stepping out with a showgirl as his marriage to Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) falters; she had secretly sold ill-gotten land to fund a hospital, where she now advocates for prenatal instruction at a time when birth control was illegal. Former agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is in Illinois selling irons door-to-door and runs into Al Capone's gang, which faces a new Irish rival.

In Episode 2, Nucky's brother Eli (Shea Whigham) is freed from jail, and a major arc explores "the relationship of Nucky and Eli and how that may or may not repair itself," Winter says. And Jimmy's mother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol), finds a new role running a brothel.

But the major cast addition is Bobby Cannavale as Gyp Rosetti, a hotheaded gangster who quickly becomes a new adversary for Nucky.

HBO programming president Michael Lombardo says the decision to kill off Pitt's character led to "some concern about where the primary (dramatic) tension" in the show would lie. But with Gyp's memorable entrance, "by the end of the first episode, very few people will be missing Jimmy Darmody."

Gyp's "an unpredictable character," Buscemi says, "and that's what makes him dangerous. It's so much fun to have that new energy."

Posted 9/12/2012 10:06 PM ET
'Boardwalk Empire' returns with new problems for Nucky Thompson.
Macall B. Polay, HBO
'Boardwalk Empire' returns with new problems for Nucky Thompson.