This week, “Boardwalk Empire” explored Owen Sleater’s relationship with Nucky Thompson, and got us wondering — will Owen survive 1923?
In many ways, Sleater (Charlie Cox) has been repositioned in Season 3 to fill the Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) void — Nucky’s young and handsome right hand man. But whereas Jimmy was also a sort of protege, Nucky doesn’t seem to be grooming Owen for any eventual leadership. Nuck treats Sleater as hired muscle and spends much of the episode reminding him of his inferiority — from the opening scene’s demanding phone call to the moment he puts a bullet in Roland Smith’s head.
HBO just renewed “Boardwalk Empire” for a fourth season, so a slew of characters will be back for another year in the roaring ’20s. But will Owen Sleater return? The series has a reputation for shocking character kill-offs, but as the show develops, its creative team faces an interesting problem due to BE’s even mix of factual and fictional characters. It’s obvious that Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Philip Rothstein and several other regular characters will be back in Season 4 — history tells us so. Others, such as Gyp Rosetti, and Owen Sleater are amalgamated characters without historically sealed fates. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the writers will craft their destinies.
Sleater is a loner who lives by the sword (er — gun. Or choke chain). He’s fair game for the writers, should they choose to kill him off.
The plausibility of his death this season is also magnified by the ever-increasing amount of blood on Nucky’s hands. Tonight’s episode illustrates that Thompson doesn’t think very highly of Slater, and the audience knows that falling out of Nucky’s favor is not a promising position.
Sleater says Nucky is “in a bad humor, again,” in the opening scene, but by the end, he’s quite aware of Nucky’s hostility and the danger in “second-guessing” his boss. Thompson asserts his dominance over Owen during a frank conversation in which he asks his henchman why he’s loyal, to which Sleater replies “you made a place for me,” and “you pay me.”
The episode culminates with Thompson murdering Roland Smith after Slater cautiously warms up to him — and Nucky keeps his gun aimed at (the stunned) Owen just a little too long for comfort. “As long as you understand now,” Nucky says to Slater. Translation: “I don’t mind killing the people I don’t trust.”
Another (potential) nail in Sleater’s coffin? That time he had sex with Margaret. It was a brief affair, but if Nucky were ever to discover the truth, the results of that betrayal would certainly be explosive.
However, fear not, Owen-philes: Of course these observations don’t totally spell out Sleater’s doom. Beyond the transgression with Nucky’s wife, he’s an allegiant member of Nucky’s team. He always addresses him as “Mr. Thompson,” and in tonight’s episode he tells Nuck “I know who’s in charge.” Indeed, Owen lacks the sort of ambition and impulsiveness (see: Jimmy Darmody, Roland Smith) that would pose a threat to Nucky. And while Slater still has a soft spot for Margaret, his relationship with Katy (Heather Lind) the maid keeps him busy.
After Nucky’s visions of Jimmy Darmody last week and tonight’s closing scene, it’s clear that he desires a “buddy” (whom he thought he had found years ago in Jimmy). But Sleater isn’t that person — and to Nucky, he’s disposable. We don’t want to see “Mr. Poofles” go, but it’s possible that his days in Atlantic City are numbered.
What do you think? Will Owen Sleater be the latest “Boardwalk” favorite to get taken out? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.