Enoch Malachi "Nucky" Thompson, Sr., played by Steve Buscemi, is the protagonist of the series Boardwalk Empire. He is loosely based on the real New Jersey crime boss and politician Enoch L. Johnson (1883-1968), who was in control of Atlantic City for two decades, between 1911 and 1931. Guest stars Nolan Lyons and Marc Pickering portray the character in flashbacks to his youth in the late 19th century. For decades, Nucky ruled Atlantic City with an iron fist. He is shown to be one of the most powerful people in the country.
Nucky is a corrupt Republican politician and crime boss. He begins the series as the Treasurer of Atlantic County, New Jersey. His brother, Eli Thompson is the Atlantic County Sheriff. Nucky, following in the steps of his predecessor and mentor, Louis Kaestner, is the boss of a political and criminal organization that controls every business (whether legal or illegal) and aspect of life in Atlantic City. Nevertheless, the shrewd and charming Nucky is as beloved by the people of Atlantic City as he can be, shaking all the right hands, kissing all the right babies, and investing no small part of his money back into those same businesses, parties and charities. His popularity is particularly high among Irish immigrants (he being the eldest son of one) and the African-American community, which he controls through his ally Chalky White. Very little happens in "The World's Playground" that he doesn't know about. In addition, Thompson's political influence extends well beyond his official jurisdiction in Atlantic County, as he managed two successful election campaigns for Walter Edge sending him to the US Senate as well as making sure he was appointed governor, and he is reputed to have the final say among the New Jersey delegation when it is time to nominate a new Republican presidential candidate.
Nucky has had a troubled personal life. His sister Susan Thompson died of tuberculosis when they were children. His father Ethan Thompson was physically abusive during his childhood. He became involved in politics during his teens under the wing of Commodore Louis Kaestner, whom he eventually succeeded when Kaestner was convicted of election fraud in 1912. Nucky's first wife Mabel Thompson killed herself in 1905 after losing their infant son. He has been consumed by his work since but has had superficial relationships with girlfriends. He had a casual relationship with former Ziegfield Follies dancer Lucy Danziger for three years by 1920. He also treated Jimmy Darmody as a surrogate son and protégé when he was growing up, partly out of guilt in his role in exposing his mother Gillian Darmody to being raped by The Commodore when she was only 12, which resulted in Jimmy's conception.
Part corrupt politician, part gangster, part crime boss, and all-greedy, Nucky senses the opportunity to further increase his fortune and power through bootlegging when Prohibition becomes official nationwide on January 16, 1920. His expectations are proven right, but at the same time the new business turns out to be more challenging than expected, and consumes his personal life as the gangs competing for a share of the profit become more and more violent.
Nucky is the first son of Ethan and Elenore Thompson. He has a younger brother, Eli, and a sister, Susan. Susan was a sickly child and died of tuberculosis during Nucky's childhood. He and Eli were jealous of the attention Susan got from Elenore because of her illness. Ethan was alcoholic and abusive, though apparently only to Nucky. When Nucky was a child and his baseball glove was stolen by a group of four older children, his father forced him to challenge them to a fight. They were twice his size and Nucky ended up in the hospital for 11 days. On his ninth birthday, Nucky went to reach for food before his father and his father responded by searing the flesh of Nucky's right palm with a hot poker before reminding him that "Daddy eats first."
Nucky began working in politics in the 1890s under Commodore Louis Kaestner. Like Kaestner, Nucky is nominally a Republican but his politics are dominated by self-interest and maintaining a stable economy for Atlantic City. Kaestner was the boss of the political and criminal organization that controlled protection rackets, informal welfare, and election rigging in the city. He held the post of Atlantic County Treasurer but controlled the Mayor, the City Council, and the Atlantic County Sheriff's Office, and had influence in state and federal government.
Nucky worked to procure women for The Commodore's parties and was responsible for setting The Commodore up with 12-year-old Gillian Darmody after he saw her in a May 1 parade in 1897. Gillian was raped by The Commodore and became pregnant with his child. She named her son Jimmy. Nucky felt responsible for the boy and made an agreement with Gillian to always look out for Jimmy. He was an active figure in Jimmy's childhood taking him on hunting trips and preparing him as an eventual successor to lead the organization.
Nucky spent 1 year at State Normal college in Trenton when Mabel enrolled to become a teacher. Nucky never liked the idea of Mabel being with other men when he wasn't around and therefore decided to become a teacher as well so they could be together. Nucky's time at college was however cut short when the Commodore called upon Nucky to come home and help him run Atlantic City.
Nucky was the Atlantic County Sheriff from 1908 to 1912. During this period he married Mabel Thompson. In 1912, the Atlantic City organization was the target of a campaign of depuration led by the then Democratic Governor of New Jersey Woodrow Wilson; Nucky and The Commodore made a deal under which The Commodore would take the fall and go to jail for a number of years, while Nucky would succeed him as County Treasurer and take control of the organization, ensuring that things continued the same and The Commodore still received a share of the profits.
Shortly after Nucky took over, Mabel gave birth to their first and only child, a son named Enoch Jr., on December 16, 1912. Enoch Jr. was a small and frail child and Nucky was terrified of holding or even looking at him. Being busy with his new appointment, Nucky opted to leave the baby alone with his mother for days. It wasn't until several days later when Nucky returned home and finally decided to hold him. To his horror, he discovered that Enoch Jr. had been dead for days and that Mabel, in complete denial, had continued to dress him, wash him, and act as if he were alive. After Enoch Jr.'s funeral Mabel fell into a severe depression and ultimately committed suicide on January 19, 1913, severing her wrists with Nucky's shaving razor.
Nucky immersed himself in his work and built up the financial ties of the organization to the community, ensuring that all residents and businesses paid their dues. His brother was elected Sheriff after he became Treasurer. In 1916 he paid for Jimmy to attend Princeton University. He was shocked and disappointed when Jimmy dropped out of Princeton and enlisted in the US Army. Jimmy did not discuss his reasons for leaving and Nucky assumed that he was unable to handle the academic pressure. Jimmy's college girlfriend Angela Ianotti moved to Atlantic City and gave birth to their son Tommy in 1917. Nucky helped to support the family while Jimmy was fighting in World War I. Meanwhile, Jimmy was injured by shrapnel from a German grenade near the end of the war and did not return to Atlantic City until January 1920. Nucky hired him as a driver upon his return.
- Main article: Nucky Thompson Season 1
Just as Prohibition begins in January 16, 1920, Nucky makes preparations to enter bootlegging and profit from what he correctly predicts to be an extremely lucrative business. However, his first deal to supply alcohol to New York City crime boss and gambling legend Arnold Rothstein is thwarted by the ambitions of Jimmy Darmody. He and Al Capone steal the alcohol as it passes through Hammonton, New Jersey and sell it to Chicago crime boss Johnny Torrio instead. At the same time they hand over Nucky's distillery operation to the prohibition agents, keeping them busy while they make their move in Hammonton. The hijacking is bloody and ends with four of Rothstein's men killed and one badly wounded, who identifies Jimmy before he dies. The incident results in a feud between Nucky and Rothstein, who blames Nucky for the hijacking, a political scandal that compromises the Republican prospects in the 1920 Atlantic City local election as well as tipping Nucky's hand to the Bureau of Prohibition, attracting the attention of senior prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden. Nucky responds by exiling Jimmy, who takes refuge in Chicago under the protection of Torrio.
The difficulties of the bootlegging business continue when Nucky takes control from Mickey Doyle and gives it over to Chalky White. Nucky doesn't want to be connected to Doyle anymore, following his arrest. In retaliation and in a plan to get back his business, Doyle relays information to his partners, the D'Alessio brothers, about Chalky and they try to have him killed but end up killing his driver. Chalky is furious, but Nucky makes it clear to him that the last thing they need in an election year is a race war. Chalky reluctantly agrees and the task of finding those responsible is handed over to Eli Thompson.
To make matters even worse for Nucky, one of Nucky's Aldermen, George O'Neill, is knocked down by Ignacious D'Alessio and robbed of all the collection money for the day, which angers Nucky. At first he assumes it's Luciano that's behind the theft but Luciano is later released with a warning.
Nucky begins a serious relationship with Margaret Schroeder, a poor Irish immigrant and mother of two, pregnant with her third child. Nucky meets her when she approaches him for help regarding her abusive husband, Hans Schroeder. After Margaret suffers a miscarriage as a result of one of Hans' beatings, Nucky has him murdered and framed for Jimmy's hijacking, momentarily putting a stop to speculation that the current administration of Atlantic City is soft on crime, although Van Alden is not convinced. At first Nucky is not interested in a romance with Margaret seeing that it could cause trouble, but she impresses him with her wit, education, energy, and conviction in the following months, in contrast to his duller current girlfriend, Lucy Danziger.
Margaret moves into a house paid for by Nucky, and he enjoys the chance to play the family man with her and her children. However, she struggles to come to terms with his criminality and they eventually break up following a failed assassination attempt carried out by the D'Alessio brothers on orders from Rothstein, after which Margaret accuses Nucky of murdering her late husband.The D'Alessios also shoot Nucky's brother Eli and rob Lolly Steinman's casino. This threatens Nucky's whole organization and prompts him to recruit Jimmy back as an enforcer. Jimmy also returns from Chicago with disfigured war veteran Richard Harrow, who acts as a bodyguard for Nucky and his family following the attempt on Nucky's life.
Old memories come back to haunt Nucky when he visits his childhood home in which his father is still living. Nucky remembers the abuse he suffered at his father's hand, as well as the fact that his father always favored Nucky's brother, Eli. After a fall and a broken leg cause his father's declining health to take a turn for the worse, Nucky insists his father can no longer live alone, and decides to give the house to his alderman, Damien Fleming, claiming that a decent family could make it livable again. But after receiving one last insult from his father, Nucky decides instead to burn the house to the ground and, by doing so, bury his past.
Nucky also plans to improve road links to Atlantic City in order to facilitate the arrival of tourists and alcohol to the town, and is incensed when Senator Walter Edge does not intend to give him the funding he needs, instead planning to hand it to the mayor of Jersey City Frank Hague, with whom he is a silent partner in a paving company. To counter this, Nucky forges connections with Warren Harding's presidential campaign by delivering the New Jersey delegation at the 1920 Republican National Convention and concealing Harding's mistress in Atlantic City during the election season to avoid any scandals. In return he asks that Edge not be made Vice President and that Congress approve the road funding he wants.
In May, Nucky's ally on the north side of Atlantic City, Chalky White, is visited by a kid posing as a Mr. Louis (in reality Meyer Lansky) who visits Chalky with a proposition to cut Nucky out and offers to buy alcohol from him, though he is only there to get information about Nucky's operations. Chalky dismisses the idea and believes Nucky has sent the kid to test his loyalty to him. Chalky brings this up with Nucky but Nucky doesn't understand what he's talking about. This all becomes clear later when Nucky Thompson is visited by Mickey Doyle, who, after seeing that his business with the D'Alessio brothers and Arnold Rothstein doesn't go as planned, turns back to Nucky and offers to give him all the information he has about his opponents, including the fact that the D'Alessio brothers were behind the lynching of Chalky's man and the robbery of his ward boss. With this new information, Nucky comes up with a plan where Chalky will cut a deal with Meyer Lansky whereby the D'Alessio brothers will attempt to make a huge pickup of alcohol. The plan goes awry when Chalky realizes that it was the D'Alessio brothers that had his driver killed earlier in the year and he only captures Matteo, Lucien and Lansky. The two brothers are killed at Chalky's warehouse but Lansky is released by Nucky so he can tell his boss about what he experienced in Atlantic City.
By the end of the year the wars have reached a stalemate, with Rothstein awaiting trial and the remaining D'Alessio brothers in hiding. However, Johnny Torrio sets up a business meeting between Nucky and Rothstein so they can settle their dispute. Rothstein asks for Nucky's assistance in escaping prosecution over his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. In exchange Nucky demands that Rothstein pay him $1,000,000 and give up his association with the remaining D'Alessio brothers, Rothstein agrees to this when Nucky reveals he is a good friend of Chicago's state attorney Hartley Replogle.
Earlier in the year Nucky met with his mentor Louis Kaestner to discuss the upcoming election. As mayor Bacharach is losing ground and popularity and Eli is alleged by the press to be corrupt, Kaestner instructs Nucky to replace both the mayoral candidate and the sheriff so they can pretend to create change for the community. Nucky offers Edward Bader, a well respected owner of a construction company, a chance to run for Mayor, which he accepts, and gives the sheriff's position to Eli's deputy Raymond Halloran, much to Eli's discontent.
Despite having garnered a lot of support for his candidate following his press conference regarding the D'Alessio brother's role in the Hammonton massacre, Nucky uses a variety of well practiced election rigging techniques to ensure his incumbents retain their positions in the local elections and is pleased when Harding simultaneously takes the White House. He also reinstates his brother as sheriff in Atlantic City, believing this will solve their dispute.
He also reconciles with Margaret after their initial breakup, and they continue their relationship. However, his aloofness and perceived arrogance has alienated The Commodore, his brother Eli, and Jimmy, and the three begin a plot to usurp his position.
- Main article: Nucky Thompson Season 2
In mid-February 1921, The Commodore influences the Ku Klux Klan to attack Nucky's bootlegging connection, Chalky White in order to put him out of business as well as enabling them to steal the alcohol. This incident later becomes a big problem for Nucky when it becomes clear that Chalky White killed one of the clan members while they were fleeing the scene. Playing both the white and black side of the community Nucky makes sure Chalky White is arrested for his own safety and at the same time promises the black community that the men responsible will be brought to justice.
The attack coincides with Nucky investing heavily in cheap farmland in Gloucester County, expecting the land value to skyrocket once the proposed highways begin construction in their place. At the meeting Nucky accepts a bribe from Ernie Moran to be the sole provider of gravel to the roads.
Nucky's rivals turn his local political subordinates against him leading to his arrest for election fraud based on their testimony. He secures bail but becomes even more frustrated when The Commodore uses his connections in the Coast Guard to block his shipments of liquor from Bill McCoy.
Nucky suffers another setback when he in March 1921 is visited by Johnny Torrio's protegé Al Capone. Capone is in town to inform Nucky that Chicago will no longer be buying alcohol from him, instead they will be buying from George Remus.
Nucky responds to his setbacks by forming a partnership with his past nemesis, Arnold Rothstein, and his connection in Philadelphia Waxey Gordon. They use Philadelphia's ports to land Nucky's shipments which is delivered to Atlantic City by Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky to Chalky White who has agreed to get back in business. Nucky also has a meeting set up by Ernie Moran with Sinn Fein fund raiser John Mcgarrigle which ends with Nucky making a donations to maintain the support of his Irish American voting base. During the meeting he is introduced to Owen Slater who will be staying in the states. As an ex-Irish Republican Army soldier Owen soon proves his worth to Nucky and is employed as his driver, bodyguard, and enforcer, replacing Jimmy.
On the legal front, Nucky along with his attourney Isaac Ginsburg and loyal alderman Damien Fleming forms a plot, which involves adding the charge of human trafficking across state lines, to have the charges against him elevate to the federal level and then use his influence in the government to avoid conviction.
Nucky's plans to avoid prosecution are however soon thwarted when Senator Edge puts pressure on the Harding administration, threatening to launch a sub committee to investigate the proposed bureau of veteran’s affairs if his current prosecutor, Charles Thorogood isn't replaced with a new one, someone out of Nucky's reach, this comes in the form of the feared Esther Randolph.
The Commodore is in April incapacitated by a stroke, Jimmy and Eli however continue to act against Nucky. He retaliates by having Owen blow up Mickey Doyle's bootlegging warehouse where Jimmy has all of his liquor stored, destroying their whole supply and causing problems for Jimmy. After the loss of their supply Eli seeing that Jimmy alienates the commodores financial backers, fears that the coup will fail and attempts to betray his co-conspirators but Nucky rejects his overture and the tension multiplies between the brothers. Enraged, Eli responds by pushing for Nucky's assassination and with the backing of Jimmy's trading partners and the eventual order from Jimmy himself another unsuccessful attempt is made on his life, after receiving a bullet to the hand and being only seconds away from being murdered by Jimmy's hired assassin, the hitman is killed by special investigator Clifford Lathrop.
Not long after the attempt on his life, Ethan Thompson dies suddenly and Nucky visits his fathers open coffin. While there Eli also arrives and they start to discuss their current situation and their past. During their conversation Nucky makes it clear to his brother that he's only there for their mother and sister and not to pay respect to his father. In the end however, despite his fathers cruel treatment of Nucky, he bursts out in tears when he's about to tie his fathers shoelace.
After having a meeting with Arnold Rothstein and Johnny Torrio, Rothstein gives Nucky an advice to "do nothing" until the time is right. Needing time to regroup and money to fund retaliation, Nucky visits his opposing faction and explains that he's stepping down as head of his organization leaving it all in their hands. Now free of his position as County Treasurer, Nucky pretends to take his father's body to Ireland for burial in order to trade weapons for whiskey with the IRA which after some setbacks is a succesful plan.
While away to Ireland, Margaret's daughter Emily is paralyzed by polio. This causes the (until then lapsed) Catholic Margaret to fear that she is being punished by God for her relationship with Nucky.
Nucky returning from his trip to Ireland, subsequently floods Atlantic City with cheap but high quality liquor, thwarting Jimmy's fledgling bootlegging efforts. Nucky with the help of Chalky White also triggers a citywide strike by African-American workers that undermines Jimmy's leadership credentials as well as causing a rift between Jimmy and his bootlegging associates.
Nucky meanwhile is desperate to have his case dropped and pushes Isacc Ginsburg to try and work out a deal with the opposing witnesses. Ginsburg however is not as optimistical and don't believe that innocence is an option for Nucky and instead suggest he take the fall and serve his short-term. Nucky is enraged by this and fires Ginsburg immediately. Having no legal adviser, Nucky turns yet again to Arnold Rothstein to have his former attorney Bill Fallon take over his defense, which he does.
Seeing as Nucky has triggered a citywide strike among African-Americans, he hires his shoeshiner, Harlan to work for him as a butler until the strike is over. While discussing his case with Fallon, Harlan lingers and Fallon eventually realizes he wants to tell them something regarding their discussion. It turns out that Harlan was present when Nelson Van Alden drowned Nucky's mole Eric Sebso about a year ago. They take this information to prosecutor Esther Randolph, Nelson manage to escape but the threat of having the head of prohibition enforcement in Atlantic City testify against Nucky is gone. Fallon also makes it clear to Nucky that in case he is convicted he should get his finances in order. This prompts Nucky to place the land he owns in Gloucester County in Margaret's name, for safekeeping.
All of Nucky's succesful moves against the organization, coupled with Jimmy's wife being murdered by a disgruntled bootlegging partner, Manny Horvitz, drives Jimmy to attempt to reconcile with Nucky. Nucky allows Jimmy to end the strike in exchange for Jimmy convincing the key witnesses against him to drop their testimony—and failing that, to murder them. The guilt-striken Margaret is however still seriously considering testifying against him to absolve her of her sins, but Nucky assures her loyalty by convincing her that he loves her and the children and also asks her to marry him so she won't have to testify against him. she accepts his offer and Father Brennan declares them husband and wife.
A mistrial is declared as all witnesses recant or fail to give their testimony. Nevertheless, Nucky still murders Jimmy personally, unable to forgive his 6 months rebellion against him. He also arranges for Eli to plead guilty to the charges in his place so that they cannot be tried again and promises him that he will look after his family.
Realizing that she was conned into marrying him and that his pretense to leave the criminal life was not real, Margaret gives the deed to all of Nucky's land to the Church. Having no idea that his land is not his property anymore, Nucky along with mayor Bader, Damien Fleming, Eddie Kessler and Ernie Moran drives out to "their" land and celebrates the future.
- Main article: Nucky Thompson Season 3
Nucky is succeeded by Damien Fleming as new County Treasurer but he remains in control of the organization, posing now as a philanthropist after he supposedly gave his land away to Saint Finbar's church.
In the mean time Nucky also manages to become one of the biggest bootleggers in the country by paying Harry Daugherty $40,000 a month for blocking any investigation against him and his allies. However, as scandals begin to plague the Harding administration, Daugherty suggests that Nucky keep a lower profile and pay him only through a courier, Gaston Means. Nucky's answer to the first piece of advice is to cancel all his liquor sales except Rothstein's, and he announces it to his buyers during an Ancient Egyptian-themed party in the family home on New Year's Eve 1922. Though many of the attendants are unhappy with the news, none of them take it as bad as Gyp Rosetti, a violent and extremely susceptible New York City gangster who takes everything personally and never forgets an insult.
Meanwhile, the distancing caused by the land deal fiasco has turned Nucky and Margaret's marriage into a farce. While they pretend to be a couple in public, Margaret lives with the children in the house (all while limiting their contact with Nucky as much as she can) and Nucky in his suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Nucky finds consolation in a young vaudeville actress from New York, Billie Kent, and even though she is a well known "free spirit" who does not promise Nucky fidelity or even to talk him about her personal life, he becomes increasingly obsessed with her, using Billie simultaneously as a substitute for Margaret's affection and as a way to shut out his guilt over killing Jimmy. Nucky's infatuation gets to the point where he neglects business to spend time with her and further her career. This has dramatic consequences when Rosetti takes over the strategic small town of Tabor Heights and uses it to block Nucky's liquor shipments to Arnold Rothstein.
A deal is in the following days cut between Rosetti and Nucky in which Nucky will help keep his business intact with a one month-shipment, the deal however goes awry when Rosetti feels insulted by Nucky when he wishes him good luck and he once again settles down in Tabor Heights to continue blocking his shipments as well as starting his own import operation.
Meanwhile Eli also gets out of jail, and while Nucky is reluctant to give him another chance following Eli's betrayal of him, he begins to earn his respect again when he deduces an ambush on a convoy by Gyp Rosetti ahead of time, even though he fails to stop it resulting in several of Nucky's men killed and their cargo stolen. For the deduction he is promoted to co-run the warehouse with Mickey Doyle.
Following Rosetti's reclaiming of Tabor Heights, Nucky makes a deal with a beefed up but reluctant Rothstein to take out Rosetti, who he knows is under the protection of feared NYC mob boss Joe Masseria. The attempt fails to kill Rosetti but temporarily drives him out of Tabor Heights, restoring the liquor trade for the moment.
Daugherty also tries to save his own skin when a sub committee is launched to investigate if the efforts by the Bureau of Prohibition is undermined by the Department of Justice, by using Nucky as a scapegoat and indicting him for bootlegging, Nucky counters by forming an alliance with Gaston Means, Esther Randolph and US Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon to arrest the even bigger bootlegger George Remus instead and by doing so forces the Department of Justice's hand, in return Nucky proposes that he runs the great Overholt distillery for Andrew Mellon, giving him a cut of the profit, which he agrees to. Later When Means informs Nucky that Daugherty's aide Jess Smith might implicate him in the case, he pays Means to murder Smith, which is accomplished when Smith commits suicide.
Rosetti successfully convinces Masseria to back him and provide him muscle in an attempt to wrestle Atlantic City from Nucky's hands. Gyp takes over Tabor Heights again, and this time gets his liquor import started, sending boats out to unload liquor there directly.
Nucky's assistant, Eddie Kessler arrives one day at Nucky's office and tells him that one of the newspapers has noted that "James Darmody has drowned". Since Nucky is the one who murdered Jimmy less than 2 years earlier, Nucky is confused from these news. Nucky therefore decides to pay Gillian Darmody a visit to offer his condolences. While there Gillian explains that he just came back from one of his adventures and that he had begun to use narcotics. The meeting however ends abruptly when Gillian tosses a drink in Nucky's face and accuses Nucky of killing her son. Nucky denies that he ever did something like that and goes on reminding her that without him she couldn't exist in Atlantic City. This meeting will later on have drastic consequences for Nucky, Gillian through Charlie Luciano will learn where and when he, Rothstein and Nucky will have dinner the next day.
Gillian informs Gyp about the planned dinner for the three gentlemen and he has a bomb planted at Babette's that eventually fails to kill either of them, but causes the death of Nucky's mistress Billie Kent. Injured and shaken by the loss, Nucky appeals to Rothstein and other mobsters to back him in a war against Rosetti and Masseria but they all turn him down feeling that business with Nucky is just more trouble than it's worth.
To respond to this, Nucky has agent Sawicki provide him with information about Masseria's whereabouts and assigns Owen Sleater to kill him, he sends Eli to Chicago for reinforcements from Torrio, sends Mickey Doyle to get the Overholt distillery running as well as instructing Bill McCoy to travel to Tabor Heights and cut a deal with Rosetti in order to gain information about his operation and strength.
The hit on Masseria doesn't go as planned , having been tipped off, he has Owen killed and sends his body back in a liquor crate to Nucky's suite at the Ritz. Margaret's heartbroken reaction reveals to Nucky that the two had an affair, and she leaves with the children for Brooklyn at Nucky's behest. Mere minutes later, Gyp goes on a rampage through town beginning at the Ritz, injuring Nucky's butler Eddie and forcing the two to seek refuge with Chalky White on the north side of town. Eli, who was previously sent to Chicago by Nucky to make a deal with Torrio and bring back muscle to fight of Rosetti, ended up cutting a deal with Al Capone instead and brings him and several of his men to Atlantic City.
A gang war sweeps the town for a week, leaving several bodies behind making the press in Atlantic City question the mayor if he really can control the town or not. After a conversation with his brother, Nucky comes up with a plan, and has Mickey Doyle call Rothstein and inform him about his distillery. Rothstein catches the bait and demands a 99% share of the production in exchange for convincing Masseria to withdraw his support from Gyp, which he achieves by offering him a partnership dealing heroin that he has stolen from Luciano and Meyer Lansky. However, Nucky gets revenge on Rothstein twice by denouncing his takeover of the distillery to Mellon, who orders Rothstein's arrest as well as having all of Masseria's men as they are leaving killed, ruining their just-forged alliance. He and Eli then go to Rosetti's base in Gillian Darmody's brothel but find that most of the men have already already killed off by Richard Harrow; Gyp's second in command Tonino has however not escaped and they find him hiding in a closet, and with him they cut a deal, pardoning him in exchange for killing Gyp and leaving Atlantic City forever. Nucky then heads to Brooklyn to forgive Margaret and to offer her to come back to a life with him. Margaret refuses to go back, and Nucky decides to drop his public persona entirely, confessing to his brother that they won't get involved with people they can't trust anymore.
In 1924, Nucky has made good on his promise to Chalky White and have given him the opportunity to open a nightclub on the boardwalk where Babbettes use to be. Nucky however has to quickly settle a conflict between Chalky and Dr. Valentine Narcisse whom because of Chalky's lieutenant, Dunn Purnsley, has caused the death of Narcisse's talent promoter Dickie Pastor. Nucky offers Narcisse 10% of the club and assures Chalky that it's better to settle it than risking going in to a war and to avoid losing acts for the club that Narcisse controls. Nucky also makes peace with his enemies in New York in February, giving up a lot of money to Joe Masseria to stop him from attacking him.
He has also moved out of the limelight in Atlantic City and now resides alone, estranged from Margaret Thompson and her children, in a hotel at the very end of the boardwalk, the Albatross Hotel.
Nucky is also shown to have grown more comfortable around his brother and his family again and now spends a lot of time with them. He particularly grows closer to his oldest nephew William Thompson during the year whom he sees a lot of himself in as well as his former protegé Jimmy Darmody. Willie during the year gets in trouble after he and his roommate, Clayton, accidentally murders a fellow student, Henry Gaines, by means of a prank after he humiliated Willie. Willie calls on his uncle and Nucky with his connections, his advice and schooling on Willie's testimony to the DA gets him out of trouble for the moment, pinning the crime on Clayton instead. This incident later prompts Willie to leave college and after a violent confrontation with his father, Eli Thompson, moves in with Nucky temporary until he decides he wants to start at the bottom of the political ladder and work his way upwards, Nucky agrees and gets him a job at Mayor Edward Bader's office.
Nucky's former bootlegging associate, Bill McCoy has been arrested down in Tampa and is released in early 1924. He then offers Nucky to come down to Tampa and investigate a land-deal that they could use to set up a new bootlegging business down there by sending trucks up to Atlantic City with rum and then return them with whiskey to Tampa, using the land with waters on three sides to unload their alcohol from the Bahamas and Cuba. Nucky at first is reluctant to go in on the deal since he finds out that there are developments coming to the area they're buying as well as finding out that McCoy is really just trying to get Nucky in on this bad deal in order to settle a conflict over money with a local racketeer, August Tucker, Nucky's possible partner in the land-deal. Nucky however have a change of heart about the deal when he connects with a speakeasy owner named Sally Wheet whom Nucky is intrigued by as well as sensing that maybe Tampa could provide new opportunities to him despite not being the ideal deal. Nucky's initial reaction to the deal has however caused Tucker to confront McCoy at his hotelroom to shake him down for the money he owes him, McCoy kills Tucker before Nucky is able to call him informing him that he indeed will go in on the deal. Nucky however doesn't intend to go in to this project alone with a risk looming. He first seeks out Arnold Rothstein to get in on the deal, but after witnessing Rothstein's obsession with winning at a poker game where Rothstein lose a lot of money to Nucky, he withdraws the offer and instead lets Rothstein's protegé Meyer Lansky step up and join him the endeavor along with his partner Charlie Luciano.
A new prohibition officer, Warren Knox arrived in Atlantic City in 1924. Knox is however a man with an ulterior motive for coming there. He early on murders his boss in the city, Agent Sawicki to get closer to dealing directly with the Thompsons. Knox is later shown to actually be named James Tolliver and to be an agent with the newly formed Bureau of Investigation, working under-cover in the Bureau of Prohibition. Tolliver is driving an operation under the wing of J. Edgar Hoover with the idea of a nationwide conspiracy involving criminals from different cities with Nucky Thompson serving as it linchpin. Nucky meets with him along with supervisor Elliot to discuss Knox job new job, making clear to him that they will never meet again and that he'll be addressing Eli Thompson if he happens to have any concerns. Nucky is after the encounter immediately suspicious of Knox and calls Gaston Means to look him up, nothing however is found about him to raise more suspicion.
Eddie Kessler is still in Nucky's service in early 1924 but is growing tired of having the same low-ranking job he's had for 11 years. Eddie threatens to quit his service if he doesn't get treated with more respect and thereby demands a promotion. Nucky agrees to the promotion and makes Eddie in charge of depositing money that comes from Edward Bader's construction projects. Eddie is however taken into custody early by agent Tolliver whom believe Eddie is the weakest link in Nucky's organization. Eddie ends up giving information about a connection Nucky has with Chicago. Unable to cope with this betrayal, Eddie commits suicide. Eddie's death has a big impact on Nucky and because of it reaches out to his wife Margaret, feeling unable to talk to anyone about losing his friend. The encounter with Margaret is however not pleasant and Nucky is not able to honestly talk about Eddie with her. He however gives a gift to her son, Teddy Thompson and Margaret tells him she is sorry for his loss and that no one could care for him like Mr. Kessler.
After this brief and tense reunion with Margaret, Nucky and his partners travels down to Tampa again to work out the details of the operation. Nucky arrives and gets aware of that Tucker has disappeared according McCoy and instead is introduced to a new possible partner, Vincenzo Petrucelli. Nucky decides to take a little time to consider this new partner that unbeknownst to him is Masseria's cousin. This causes Luciano to back out of the deal, afraid of crossing Masseria. Lansky however stays in on the deal with Nucky and Petrucelli whom Nucky accepts as a partner. Nucky also gets closer to Sally during the second visit, talking openly about his conflicted feelings about losing his friend recently, while also engaging in a sexual encounter with each other. Because of the strengthened relationship between the two, Nucky decides to put her in charge of the operation down in Florida which she is later shown to handle well when she watches over the first shipment that is being transported up to Atlantic City and to a surprised Nucky. During her visit they continue to bond with each other and she is also introduced to his nephew.
Mayor Bader approaches Nucky towards the end of May about the upcoming election and where they stand. Nucky believes that they should continue with what they're doing since they're keeping each other happy. Bader however is worried about where Chalky's allegiance lies and that he needs the colored vote to win the election, furthermore explaining to Nucky to have Chalky put his house in order since it would benefit them both. Nucky despite feeling that it's Bader's problem, goes to Chalky telling him to just that. Chalky takes the advice and throws down the gauntlet to Narcisse whom has been up to this point encroaching on Chalky's territory by selling heroin and influencing the community with his preaching.
Agent Tolliver, having lost his link to Nucky's organization in Eddie Kessler, doesn't intend to back away from Nucky and tries to find a new link. He begins by gaining the trust of Eli, by helping them out with getting access to Eddie's bank accounts where he stored money from Bader. Eli however notices that Knox has a handkerchief with initials that doesn't match his name. Eli goes to Nucky with the information and decides to have Means look in to it again, Means is however shown to work with agent Tolliver and therefore feeds Nucky with fake information. Nucky however does not feel comfortable either way, saying that he has a vague feeling of unease, not being able to put his finger on what's wrong.
Tolliver's next move, after having discovered through his agents that Nucky's nephew was freed of a manslaughter charge earlier with obvious help from Nucky that was pinned on the formers roommate, confronts Eli and lets him in on who he really is and whom he works for. Tolliver threatens to arrest his son unless Eli agrees to help them bring Nucky down.
In 1931 Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky began a power struggle to take over organized crime in New York City as well as Philadelphia, and Atlantic City. After a brief war with Nucky's organization, Nucky was forced to to retire from his criminal empire or else they would kill his nephew William who Lucky had previously kidnapped and held as a hostage. Shortly after Tommy Darmody confronts Nucky on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and shoots Nucky twice in the body, and once in the cheek in retaliation for having his grandmother incarcerated as well as the death of his father. Tommy appears he was hauled off by internal revenue agents and was sentenced to a prison for murder most likely, while Nucky lays dead.
- Main article: Thompson family
- Ethan Thompson: Father (deceased)
- Elenore Thompson: Mother (deceased)
- Elias "Eli" Thompson: Younger brother, former Atlantic County Sheriff, traitor, turned bootlegging manager
- Susan Thompson: Sister (deceased)
- Mabel Thompson: First wife (deceased)
- Margaret Schroeder: Second wife
- Enoch Thompson Jr.: Son (deceased)
- Teddy Schroeder: former Stepson
- Emily Schroeder: former Stepdaughter
- Anne Thompson: Niece
- Clarence: Maternal Uncle (deceased)
- Enoch: Maternal Uncle (deceased)
- Lucille "Lucy" Danziger: Former girlfriend
- Annabelle: Former girlfriend
- Ukulele Girl: Former Lover
- Billie Kent: Lover (deceased)
- Sally Wheet: Lover (deceased)
- Commodore Louis Kaestner: Former mentor, rival (deceased)
- Gillian Darmody: Former prostitute, rival
- Chalky White: African American Community Leader and bootlegging partner, Friend (deceased)
- Edward Bader: Atlantic City Mayor (Republican) and construction magnate, ally
- Harry Bacharach: Former Atlantic City Mayor (Republican)
- Damien Fleming: Atlantic City Alderman and Republican Ward Boss, ally, successor as treasurer
- Frank Hague: Jersey City Mayor (Democrat), ally
- Harry Daugherty: Attorney General (Republican), ally, turned enemy
- Jess Smith: Department of Justice aide, ally, turned enemy (deceased)
- Walter Edge: New Jersey State Senator (Republican), enemy
- Edward Edwards: Governor of New Jersey (Democrat), enemy
- George O'Neill: Atlantic City Alderman and Republican Ward Boss, traitor (deceased)
- Jim Neary: Atlantic City Alderman and Republican Ward Boss, traitor (deceased)
- Al Boyd: Atlantic City Alderman and Republican Ward Boss, traitor
- Paddy Ryan: Chief Clerk of Atlantic City's fourth ward, traitor
- John McGarrigle: Sinn Fein fundraiser, ally (deceased)
- Ernie Moran: Order of Ancient Celts, Atlantic City businessman, ally
- George Baxter: Regional cutlery salesman and associate
- Harry Prince: Atlantic City businessman, friend
- Ray Halloran: Former Atlantic County Sheriff, Department of Justice informant, convicted murderer (arrested)
- Main article: Nucky's organization
- Eli Thompson: Brother, Former Underboss
- Bill McCoy: Bootlegging supplier, ally
- Lolly Steinman: Gambling Lieutenant, ally
- Mickey Doyle: Bootlegging Lieutenant, Underboss, former rival (deceased)
- Manny Horvitz: Former Bootlegging Lieutenant and enforcer (deceased)
- Owen Sleater: Former Underboss and enforcer (deceased)
- Tunney: Bodyguard and driver (deceased)
- Arquimedes: Bodyguard and Enforcer (deceased)
- Sean: Enforcer (deceased)
- Johnny Torrio: Chicago crime boss, ally, traitor
- Arnold Rothstein: New York crime boss, ally, former rival (deceased)
- Waxey Gordon: Philadelphia crime boss, bootlegging partner
- Daniel Fitzgerald: Irish whiskey exporter
- Bill Neilan: Irish Republican Army leader, arms dealing customer
- George Remus: Former bootlegging customer and rival (arrested)
- Richard Harrow: Former enforcer, former bootlegging rival (deceased)
- Al Capone: Former bootlegging rival, turned ally
- Lucky Luciano: Former bootlegging customer and rival
- Meyer Lansky: Former bootlegging customer and rival
- Frankie Yale: Former customer (deceased)
- Gyp Rosetti: Former customer and enemy (deceased)
- Joe Masseria: Former boss of New York, enemy (deceased)
- Salvatore Maranzano: Boss of New York, ally (deceased)
- Tonino Sandrelli: Gyp's lieutenant, enemy (deceased)
- Victor Sickles: Corrupt Tabor Heights Sheriff and ally (deceased)
- Edward "Eddie" Kessler: Assistant, bodyguard, driver (deceased)
- Isaac Ginsburg: Ex-attorney
- Bill Fallon: Former attorney
- Prudence: Former housemaid
- Katy: Former housemaid
- Pauleen: Former cook
- Lillian: Former nanny
- Harlan: Shoe care professional, one time butler
- Phillip: Former footman
- Nelson Van Alden: Former prohibition agent, fugitive (deceased)
- Eric Sebso: Prohibition agent, mole (deceased)
- Esther Randolph: Prosecutor on election rigging charges, turned ally
- Charles Kenneth Thorogood: Former prosecutor on election rigging charges, mole
- Solomon Bishop: Former prosecutor on election rigging charges
- Clifford Lathrop: Department of Justice investigator
- Stan Sawicki: Prohibition agent, mole (deceased)
- Hans Schroeder: Ordered death, killed by Eli Thompson and Ray Halloran.
- Billy Winslow: Ordered death, killed by Eric Sebso.
- Pius D'Alessio: Ordered death, killed by Richard Harrow.
- Ignacious D'Alessio: Ordered death, killed by Richard Harrow.
- Leo D'Alessio: Ordered death, killed by Jimmy Darmody.
- Sixtus D'Alessio: Ordered death, killed by Al Capone.
- Jim Neary: Ordered death, killed by Richard Harrow.
- James "Jimmy" Darmody: Murder victim, one time friend and pupil, shot in the face and head for betraying Nucky.
- Nate Honig: Ordered death, killed by Manny Horvitz.
- Rowland Smith: Murder victim, thief, shot in the back of the head for stealing booze from Nucky.
- 3 of Gyp Rosetti's unnamed gunmen, shot during a break-in.
- Random unnamed Rosetti gunman, shot in the back of the head.
- Gyp Rosetti: Ordered death, killed by Tonino Sandrelli.
- "First rule of politics, kiddo: never let the truth get in the way of a good story." ("Boardwalk Empire")
- "In just a few hours liqour will be declared illegal by the distinguished gentlemen of our nation's congress... to those beautiful ignorant bastards!" ("Boardwalk Empire")
- "Do you know who dies for their countries? Fucking rubes." ("Boardwalk Empire")
- "You young fellas... no appreciation for the art of conversation." ("Boardwalk Empire")
- "Did the envelope catch on fire?" (receiving a roll of cash from the fire chief) ("The Ivory Tower")
- "You want to see how I do business? Show your face again in Atlantic City!" ("The Ivory Tower")
- "I used to think you'd own the world one day. You were like that kid in the Alger story, 'Ragged Dick'. You did everything right. And then..."
- "That fucking imbecile is going to be the next President of the United States!" ("Hold Me in Paradise")
- "You know it's a shame you didn't see Hardeen last night. It's an entertaining act, but if he weren't Houdini's brother nobody'd give a fuck!
- "We all have to decide how much sin we can live with." ("A Return to Normalcy")
- "Success breeds enemies, which you'll discover soon enough after women win the vote."
- "You can tell me what ever you want, but don't scream, don't cry and don't throw anything..."
- "I do expect to have everything" ("Anastasia")
- "Seven years ago- almost eight- I'd just become treasurer. I was new to the job. Very busy. My wife had just given birth. We named him "Enoch"- after me. She wanted that. He was tiny, frail, and I was terrified to hold him. A week passed. I had my hands full with some county business or another. An audit... I was busy. Very busy. I came home one night. It was late. She was in the nursery rocking him in her arms. I crossed to them... She looked so calm, so contented. It gave me the courage to finally want to hold him. I pulled back the blanket... ... ... I looked at his face and I could tell right away he had been dead for days. She'd been caring for him nearly a week. Bathing him... changing his diapers, his bedclothes. I took him from her and cradled him in my arms. That was the only time I ever held him. We buried him in the churchyard, but she couldn't accept it. She'd completely broken with reality. Melancholia. I saw it, I knew it. But the doctor said time would heal her. And I was very...very busy. A few weeks later she slashed her wrists with my razor. The times with you and the children in the house... eating breakfast- just that- I've never been happier or more terrified in my life. And now you know more about me than any other person on earth." ("A Return to Normalcy")
- "I keep my promises, James. And I'll make one now. I will ruin you. All of you." ("A Dangerous Maid")
- (to Jimmy about his parents) "He never even asked her name. Just pointed to the one he wanted. The rest was understood." ("A Dangerous Maid")
- (to Eli, after he comes asking for a reconciliation) "Alright... we'll sort it out... But there is something I have to ask of you. I need you to get on your knees... Bend down to the ground... And kiss my fucking shoes, you piece of shit! You come crawling back here because you don't have the balls to finish what you started! [Slaps Eli] Fuck that little cocksucker you call a partner! Fuck his conniving cunt of a mother! Fuck that [slap] old man! I'll see his corpse in a ditch! [Double slap] AND FUCK YOU BROTHER!!" ("Gimcrack & Bunkum")
- "You don't know me, James. You never did. I..am not..seeking..forgiveness." ("To the Lost")
- "If we only elected good men, we'd never have leaders."
- (to Eli) "You think I'm bottomless don't you? You just keep reaching in. And no matter what you do it's alright. No. Matter. What. You sit down with my enemies. You make choices you can't ever take back. And still... still you call yourself 'my brother'. Don't you know how that hurts me?" ("Sunday Best")
- "What's that mean?" (repeated line)
- "Arnold Rothstein, Waxey Gordon, Frankie Yale, Peg Leg Lonergan and "Wild Bill Lovett" they're all coming, they are going to sit down and when the meeting is over Joe Masseria will be a dead man. Gyp Rosetti wont have anyone to protect him and i'll wear that fucking dagos guts like a neck-tie"
- Dr. Narcisse, there is something I've been wanting to ask you for quite some time.. Who the fuck do you think you are?
- If it gets easier, you'll see. (Last Words for Farewell Daddy Blues episode and the Series Finale and an Alternate Ending of Boardwalk Empire)
- Don’t be so dramatic, its only money.
|Season one appearances|
|Boardwalk Empire||The Ivory Tower||Broadway Limited||Anastasia|
|Nights in Ballygran||Family Limitation||Home||Hold Me in Paradise|
|Belle Femme||The Emerald City||Paris Green||A Return to Normalcy|
|Season two appearances|
|21||Ourselves Alone||A Dangerous Maid||What Does the Bee Do?|
|Gimcrack & Bunkum||The Age of Reason||Peg of Old||Two Boats and a Lifeguard|
|Battle of the Century||Georgia Peaches||Under God's Power She Flourishes||To the Lost|
|Season three appearances|
|"Resolution"||"Spaghetti and Coffee"||"Bone for Tuna"||"Blue Bell Boy"|
|"You'd Be Surprised"||"Ging Gang Goolie"||"Sunday Best"||"The Pony"|
|"The Milkmaid's Lot"||"A Man, A Plan..."||"Two Imposters"||"Margate Sands"|
|Season four appearances|
|"New York Sour"||"Resignation"||"Acres of Diamonds"||"All In"|
|"Erlkonig"||"The North Star"||"William Wilson"||"The Old Ship of Zion"|
|"Marriage and Hunting"||"White Horse Pike"||"Havre De Grace"||"Farewell Daddy Blues"|
|Season five appearances|
|Golden Days for Boys and Girls||The Good Listener||What Jesus Said||Cuanto|
|King of Norway||Devil You Know||Friendless Child||Eldorado|