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We Have a New Leader for the Title of the Most Gut-Punching TV Death of 2012

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | November 19, 2012 | Comments ()


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It's been a banner year for shocking deaths in television drama. I won't spoil any of the shows you may have not caught up on this year (except for the one being discussed here, "Boardwalk Empire"), but the cable dramas are really ratcheting up the killings of favorite characters. Season five of "Sons of Anarchy" has a trail of dead half a mile long, while "Game of Thrones," "Breaking Bad," and "The Walking Dead" -- among others -- continued to do their thing in 2012. It's remarkable, too, how these television deaths are so much more devastating than movie deaths because we spend more time with the characters, get more invested in their outcomes.

With the exception of a death in "Sons of Anarchy" and a couple in "The Walking Dead," however, I don't recall any drama taking away from us a character so beloved, and with such surprise as the death from last night's "Boardwalk" (and I'm not talking about the guy who got his head bashed in with a shovel by Gyp Rosetti).

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I'm talking about Charlie Cox's Owen Sleater, and not just the way it was done, but the remarkably stunning way with which they pulled it off. Did anyone see the coming? Anyone? Earlier in the episode, when Owen was making plans with Margaret to escape, I was wondering how he would die, but I didn't think it would come until the finale or, more likely, next season, after he and Margaret were on the run. My thought was that he was such a dignified, strong character, any way with which they chose to kill him wouldn't seem fitting because, even if it was only for a second, a man facing death is bound to look weak. Owen Sleater doesn't have it in him to look weak or vulnerable.

They solved that issue by smartly killing Owen off-screen, presumably by Masseria. I thought for a moment that it was Nucky, who perhaps had learned of his affair with Margaret and had him killed. But the shock on Nucky's face at not only the death of Owen, but the reaction of Margaret ruled that out. It plays well, too, because it basically exhausts Margaret's purpose in Boardwalk, and if her character is killed off in the finale, it won't come as a surprise (perhaps a relief, for Kelly MacDonald is another great actress wasted in a distracting role).

I admit, too, that I was barely paying attention to the scene because I wasn't expecting any huge twists to arrive, which is probably part of why the scene was so effectively shocking. To see Owen's head, in a box, was devastating. To witness Margaret react to her lover's head, in a box, was downright debilitating. I didn't get to "Boardwalk Empire" until around 1:30 last night, and I still had a hell of a time sleeping afterward.

It was a crushing image.

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Of course, after I got over the illness in the pit of my stomach, my first thought was this:

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It was that thought that allowed me to process my grief.

R.I.P. Owen Sleater. I hope there is a place for you in HBO heaven next to Jimmy Darmody and Eddard Stark.

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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Rocabarra

    Sadly I saw the headline of this article on Pajiba before I got to the episode today, and as soon as I saw it was Owen entering the bath house, I knew. You couldn't expect the Masseria problem to be taken care of so quickly, so it was a death knell for whoever walked through those bath house doors.
    Farewell, Owen, and well played Boardwalk Empire. Well played.

  • Danar the Barbarian

    Am I the only one that was predicting an "Eastern Promises"-style jackknife and penis fight between Masseria and Owen in the bath house? Yes?

  • Judge Holdenmynuts

    I was taken aback by Owen's death, him being the charming Irish rogue and all, but it makes perfect sense. Nucky's been playing some really shitty chess - asking Rothstein and the rest to help him go to war with Masseria and not taking into account that not only might they tell him "No thanks, and good luck" but also that one of them would go to Masseria and spill the beans.
    Owen was just a pawn, albeit a well-developed pawn and as soon as he walked into that steam bath I knew it was over for him.
    Meanwhile, Bobby Cannavale deserves an Emmy,if for no other reason than I want to throw things at the TV when he's onscreen.
    Also, there really needs to be a weekly review of BE here on Pajiba....
    can we get right on that?

  • janeite1900

    I take issue with Margaret being a wasted character. I thought the scene in an earlier episode where she watches the female-piloted plane fly overhead to be heavy handed. Her efforts to educate women on the way their lady parts works often rings with anachronistic diction. BUT, there is so much to like about her. She loves her kids, but she is burdened by them. She wanted to be with Nucky, but she knew she was compromising by being kept by him. She wanted to be with Owen, but he was also just a convenient escape. Her reaction to his depth seemed also to combine authentic grief and compassion with selfish disappointment that her plans were destroyed. She annoys me sometimes, but she's a good character.

  • AngelenoEwok

    Exactly. She is one of the few women on the show who feels like a real, complicated person. Pearl, Angela, and Billie all seemed to exist only to become Lost Lenores. With Lucy and Gillian, the train-wreck factor eventually went way too over the top. Which leaves us with several wives and girlfriends who could win gold medals in the Denial Olympics, and... Esther Randolph.

  • DarthCorleone

    I wasn't surprised at all, but I still found it dramatically satisfying. I'm sorry to see Owen go. Perhaps he wasn't fully fleshed out, but his character had a characteristic manner that made him stand out in this web of gangsters. He was much less cold pragmatism than the rest.

    The question is now: who is going to save Nucky with all the chips stacked against him? I'm betting on Eli, and he might die in the process. Then next season Nucky would inherit a whole house full of rugrats. Perhaps Nucky will also try to recruit Richard Harrow, as he is in need of extra muscle, although it would be difficult to extricate him given that he is still closely tied to Jimmy's kid and Gillian.

    As for Margaret, I'm guessing Nucky lets bygones be bygones and he tries to repair their relationship. I think we've come too far with her character to kill her off this season. As far as historic and cultural framing go, all along she has provided a good alternate non-gangster perspective into the world of the show.

  • DarthCorleone

    Also, it seems natural that Nucky will have to grant Chalky his request in return for helping out with his security. More Michael K. Williams!

  • Falstaff

    Chandelabras!

  • AR

    How could you possibly have been shocked? Joe Masseria lived until 1931. There was plenty of expository dialogue telling us Owen would be going at this alone, and he was Masseria was tipped off. Add to that the "happy" things going on: his choice of more than one woman to run away with and his relative contentment. As you obviously watch Boardwalk Empire it should be obvious that those things mean YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE.

    See also, Manny and his hat.

  • annoyingmouse

    I saw it coming a mile away, but I was really really hoping I was wrong because I loved the character so much. I don't think they got to flesh the character out enough, but it's been a banner year for serious character deaths. RIP Owen.

  • Amanda Cotylo

    WHY ARE THEY KILLING OFF ALL THE HOT?! After they killed off Jimmy, he was the only eye candy left!

  • SO STE--ERR--NUCKY DOESN'T HAVE ANY COMPETITION.

  • Wednesday

    We knew either Owen, Margaret or both of them were going to die. That storyline had to end. And it was time for Owen's tactics to fail him. So it wasn't too shocking.

    But I still find Gyp's violence pretty goddamn unsettling. It's like playing Russian Roulette, watching him. You know he's going to go off, you just don't know exactly when. And then when he does, it's very physical and always extreme and...just crazy. He's all barely-contained rage, with no break from wondering what irrational explosion is coming next. I have a very hard time watching his scenes.

  • AngelenoEwok

    I disagree with pretty much all of this post. I figured since last week (when they agreed to run away together) that he was doomed, and doomed within a week or two at most. Being killed by Masseria was a slight surprise, but as soon as they showed him entering the bath house and then cut away to a different scene I knew what was up.

    I didn't find it very emotionally resonant either, because I've think Owen is one of the more under-developed characters in the show. He's Irish, he's "strong and dignified" and he's having an affair with his boss' wife. That's it, that's pretty much all we know about the dude.

    I found it to be frustratingly obvious that Owen/Margaret were headed for disaster since week one of this season, likewise for Nucky/Billie. My reaction was not so much one of "oh how shocking!" but more, "thank goodness they're getting the too-cute-to-live-love-interests out of the way." Perhaps this show, BB, TWD, and GoT have warped me into a cold and unfeeling person.

    "It plays well, too, because it basically exhausts Margaret’s purpose in Boardwalk, and if her character is killed off in the finale, it won’t come as a surprise (perhaps a relief, for Kelly MacDonald is another great actress wasted in a distracting role)."

    Wait, what? If anything, I'm stoked because Margaret is my favorite character, and I'm hoping Owen's death will put her story for this season on a more interesting trajectory. I suppose she might die abortin' her wee Irish pregnancy, but gosh, that seems so by the numbers.

  • AngelenoEwok

    That should obviously be "I think" not "I've think." Jesus. Where's the coffee.

  • elviscostelegram

    I definitely saw it coming. It might be because I know Masseria's fate, but it seemed fairly obvious to me. Still incredibly upsetting. I haven't yet managed to shake the image of his battered, lifeless face.

  • jollies

    It was a complete shock, I agree. But it was also Owen's entire body, not just his head, in that box.

  • jollies

    Clarifying: I was shocked that Owen was in the box. I figured he was a dead man, but I also figured that his (and perhaps Margaret's) death would be part of the season finale and that Nucky would be the one to do the deed ...

  • ed newman

    The timing was mildly surprising but after Margaret agreed to run away with him he was dead man walking. And it may just be me, but I was far more devastated by the Breaking Bad death than I was by this one, even though that one was just as inevitable.

  • BWeaves

    ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!

    (Stardust reference)

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