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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Board­walk Em­pire, The So­pra­nos Box Set,

per­sons of es­tab­lished wealth and power. Board­walk presents At­lantic City as a kind of fron­tier so­ci­ety in which vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions are part of the or­di­nary course of life and Nucky John­son re­ally is the hard-boiled hero — if more lachry­mose than most — for whom vi­o­lence is a test of hon­our and in­tegrity.

By the end of its sec­ond sea­son I was ex­cited again. The se­ries was al­ways a qual­ity pro­duc­tion, su­perbly acted, and the re-cre­ation of At­lantic City breath­tak­ingly re­alised, but I had fi­nally be­come at­tached to the peo­ple who walked those streets, haunted by their lives on the other side of the law. And then in the fi­nal episode of the sea­son, Win­ter and his writ­ers raised the stakes and it be­came im­pos­si­ble to be lethar­gic about Board­walk Em­pire.

Sea­son two ended dra­mat­i­cally in a way sel­dom seen in TV his­tory, when Nucky Thomp­son killed Jimmy Dar­mody (Michael Pitt), the drama’s other cen­tral char­ac­ter, who in many ways was like his son. (Ac­tu­ally, it’s the sec­ond time re­cently an ac­claimed HBO drama has killed off a main char­ac­ter, af­ter Game of Thrones shocked the fans with Ned Stark’s be­head­ing in its first sea­son.)

Win­ter was able to wrap up many sto­ry­lines set up from way back in the pi­lot episode. Then Jimmy told Nucky, ‘‘ The world is chang­ing with Pro­hi­bi­tion and you can’t be a half­gang­ster any more.’’ In one mo­ment of vi­o­lence we saw him evolve into the full gang­ster af­ter that long, and at times fa­tigu­ing, story arc. It’s one of TV’s great scenes, staged in the drench­ing rain. ‘‘ This is the only way we could have ended it, isn’t it?’’ Jimmy tells Nucky be­fore the lat­ter pulls the trig­ger of his re­volver. As the rain pours over Jimmy, the ag­i­tated Nucky has the last word, be­fore fir­ing one more bul­let. ‘‘ You don’t know me, James,’’ he hisses. ‘‘ You never did. I am not seek­ing for­give­ness.’’

As the first episode of this third sea­son un­folds, his ag­i­ta­tion is only just con­cealed be­neath that poker face. His mar­riage to Mar­garet (Kelly Macdon­ald) is in­creas­ingly a sham as she looks to con­trol the Thomp­son en­dow­ment at St Theresa’s Hospi­tal — to his dis­plea­sure. And Nucky is fac­ing un­ex­pected com­pe­ti­tion from a psy­cho­pathic killer called Gyp Rosetti (new cast mem­ber Bobby Can­navale) — the sea­son starts with him bru­tally mur­der­ing a mo­torist who stops to help his men change a tire on a lonely coastal road. In New York, the com­pelling, deeply up­set­ting Al Capone (Stephen Gra­ham), ran­kled by Ir­ish mob­ster Dean O’Ban­ion (Ar­ron Shiver), is look­ing for some kind of retri­bu­tion for slights about his deaf son.

And this week the touchy Rosetti looks to build a new strate­gic bulk­head in the town called Ta­bor Heights, half­way be­tween New York and At­lantic City, in a brazen ef­fort to siphon off Nucky’s booze busi­ness.

Once seem­ingly in­vul­ner­a­ble, Nucky now seems to be gripped by an in­ten­si­fy­ing para­noia. It’s not that kind of clin­i­cal para­noia where you think ‘‘ they’’ are out to get you; rather the whole of what so­ci­ol­o­gists call ‘‘ the sur­round’’ oozes men­ace for Nucky John­son.

As the third sea­son con­tin­ues this week, you are left un­com­fort­ably un­cer­tain of what you feel, and with whom you sym­pa­thise. We are in for a dark and ex­cit­ing ex­plo­ration of guilt and con­se­quence in a world where guilt and in­no­cence are prob­lem­atic. There’s no doubt Scors­ese and Win­ter will present us with un­lim­ited com­bi­na­tions, per­mu­ta­tions and trans­for­ma­tions. This has be­come a great piece of TV crime fic­tion with echoes not only of Scors­ese but also Poe, Dick­ens and Dos­to­evsky. SPEAK­ING of cult shows, you need to check out The Bridge, the lat­est Scan­di­na­vian crime se­ries fol­low­ing The Killing, a grip­ping 10-part drama also from Den­mark. It’s the third episode this week but you’ll pick up the back story quickly: a neat graphic sum­mary ap­pears be­fore each episode gets un­der way. It be­gan with a body dis­cov­ered on the ex­act bor­der be­tween Den­mark and Swe­den. What at first looked like one murder turned out to be two, the bod­ies bru­tally sev­ered at the waist and ex­pertly joined to­gether. The up­per torso of a high-pro­file Swedish politi­cian was cou­pled with the lower body of a Dan­ish pros­ti­tute.

En­ter two po­lice of­fi­cers, one from each coun­try: the scruffy, world-weary Dan­ish in­spec­tor Martin Ro­hde (Kim Bod­nia) and the young, in­trigu­ing, emo­tion­ally re­moved icy blonde, Swedish in­spec­tor Saga Noren (Sofia Helin).

Last week the mur­derer, dubbed the ‘‘ bridge killer’’, made his pres­ence known and dis­closed the pur­pose be­hind the dis­mem­ber­ments. The bod­ies on the bridge were just the be­gin­ning, their pur­pose to draw at­ten­tion to five prob­lems in so­ci­ety.

In this week’s episode he draws at­ten­tion to the grow­ing num­ber of des­ti­tute peo­ple fall­ing through so­ci­ety’s cracks. A home­less man is kid­napped and the only thing stop­ping the mur­derer from killing him is a large sum of money from four land­lords.

Such a great plot and the style of pro­duc­tion, al­ready dubbed ‘‘ Nordic su­per-noir’’, cre­ates a se­ries that’s aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing to watch, even if the crimes are heinous.

As you watch, too, you can’t help but think about how it is that the rad­i­cal­ism of the pol­i­tics be­hind Scan­di­na­vian fic­tion has found such a huge in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence. Henning Mankell, who re­ally started this so-called ‘‘ Scan­di­na­vian in­va­sion’’ with the hugely pop­u­lar In­spec­tor Wal­lan­der nov­els, orig­i­nally subti­tled the se­ries ‘‘ Nov­els about Swedish Anx­i­ety’’. Now that un­easi­ness with the world is as pop­u­lar as flat­pack fur­ni­ture. DAVID Chase’s great gang­ster saga The So­pra­nos has re­turned, de­liv­ered in what new pay-TV chan­nel SoHo is call­ing a ‘‘ box set’’ pre­sen­ta­tion, with episodes of the HBO se­ries run­ning from its be­gin­nings in early 1999 right through to the fa­mous last episode, which aired on June 10, 2007, in the US. SoHo is broad­cast­ing the se­ries on Sun­day nights in groups of five episodes, this week be­ing num­bers eight to 12.

Any­body who in­vested em­pa­thy in this dark, dra­matic and of­ten mys­ti­fy­ing show knows it rep­re­sents the turn­ing point when TV shows be­came bet­ter than classy main­stream movies. For me, the ex­pe­ri­ence was like read­ing a great novel about the hu­man con­di­tion, a novel that be­comes more in­ti­mate and com­pelling with ev­ery page, even if oc­ca­sional chap­ters are miss­ing be­cause you have missed episodes.

In some ways it’s richer the sec­ond time around. I love its byzan­tine plot­ting, psy­cho­log­i­cal in­tri­ca­cies and the way Chase takes risks, ask­ing ques­tions in­stead of pro­vid­ing an­swers. And I es­pe­cially love the bad jokes, the ret­ro­grade hu­mour, the prat­falls, the way Chase is brave enough some­times to go for the gags rather than the story. When the show was screened at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York, its cre­ator chose to screen it with a Lau­rel and Hardy movie, Saps at Sea.

While there are mo­ments of hor­ri­ble vi­o­lence, the em­pha­sis is on the pe­ri­ods be­fore and af­ter, when per­son­al­ity is tested and re­vealed, what John Stein­beck called ‘‘ the lit­tle era of rest when time stops to ex­am­ine it­self’’. There’s no bet­ter way to spend a Satur­day night, in my book.

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