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