“Boardwalk Empire” delivered big tonight, in a complex episode full of high-stakes encounters, power plays, and the ghost of Jimmy Darmody. The “new year with new rules” isn’t sitting well with Nucky Thompson — and he’s dealing with inner turmoil over the actions he took to secure his present position.
In the opening scene’s dream sequence, the operator mentions Jimmy Darmody’s (Michael Pitt) final
words to Nucky, when she says that “the only thing to worry about is
when you run out of company.” The dream, his hallucinations and the flashback of Jimmy all indicate Thompson’s remorse for his murder — and that he misses his protege-turned-adversary (“reminiscing, I guess… the old days”).
Nuck is accustomed to the traditional order of his gangster enterprise
— with an occasional bump in the road — and Gyp Rosetti’s erratic
behavior is a direct affront to business as usual. So while Thompson struggles with his feelings and the emotional consequences of taking a life, even Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) rationalizes that “Jimmy was a soldier… He fought and he lost.” To Nucky, his new challenger is more of a “petulant child.”
The episode’s title, “Bone For Tuna,” references the snarky lesson Thompson lays on Rosetti, “a man who could find an insult in a bouquet of roses.” While Rosetti spends much of the episode warming up under a false expectation that he’ll be getting his way, Nucky artfully hits him in the gut by mocking his Italian heritage and his ultra-sensitive soft spot for pronunciation and grammar with his “bon fortuna” jab. Rosetti is enraged, and takes his fury out on the police chief of Tabor Heights. Because if you tease that man’s vocab skills, somebody’s going to get burned alive.
Village idiot Mickey Doyle’s (Paul Sparks) ego has ballooned in Season 3, and now he’s claiming responsibility for Manny Horvitz’s death. Richard Harrow steps in, which leads to an interesting encounter with Nucky where the truth between murderers is acknowledged (as well as the tidbit that Harrow has killed 63 people. Yowzah!).
Phew. Still with us? Because the “Boardwalk” writers packed in a lot this evening.
Ever the fascinating schemer, Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) is running a brothel in the Commodore’s former home with with Charles “Lucky” Luciano (Vincent Piazza) as her partner. She’s living under the pretense that Jimmy is just “away,” and signing checks in his name — but the way she glares at Nucky says it all. She knows what happened to her son.
Rosetti has his eye on Gillian, which could prove disastrous for either (or both) of them. The long stare between Gillian and her son’s killer is enough to give Gyp another opportunity to trouble Thompson, by driving a wedge between Nucky and Gillian’s business interests. “You lose your own flesh and blood, what do you have?,” he asks her over drinks — to which she replies, “You don’t have anything.”
Luciano, in turn, is delving into the heroin business with Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lanksy. There’s a problem brewing with competing gangsters (including Joe Masseria) in New York. However, history has already told us that Luciano will go on to become one of the most famous and successful mafia bosses in U.S. history — and Luciano and Siegel will be involved in Masseria’s death in 1931 — so it ought to be fascinating to watch that play out.
The Thompson family dynamic is absolutely plunging “Boardwalk Empire” deeper into “Sopranos” territory than ever before. Margaret has adopted a Carmela-esque strategy for dealing with her husband’s sins and other obstacles in her life. Nucky’s psychological woes recall Tony’s issues and nightmares (but don’t expect to see Nuck attending therapy sessions anytime soon).
When Nucky says he’s been having trouble sleeping, Margaret suggests he have some “warm milk, perhaps” (unpasturized, probs). But their “show must go on”: Even in the thick of an unhappy marriage, they keep up appearances with the church ceremony. And hey, Margaret even plays some hardball and gets the Bishop to approve her women’s health clinic. Take that, Dr. Landau!
Out of breath yet? On to Nucky and Billie Kent — whose reunion in her New York apartment at the episode’s end acts as an eerie bookend to Nucky’s dream in the opening scene. (And never has one of Nucky’s rendezvous so closely resembled one of Don Draper’s from “Mad Men” Season 4). Billie’s doom has been strongly foreshadowed, and it seems only a matter of time until Nucky’s happy little affair is severed.
The few times that “Boardwalk” whisks over to Chicago in Episode 3, Van Alden — ahem, George Mueller — continues to languish in his new identity. At the very least, his relationship with his wife seems genuine (he’s even getting some!). But watching him humiliated and forced to compromise on his anti-booze beliefs is like watching a car crash in slow motion. Van Alden narrowly evades arrest, and for now he wouldn’t dare risk exposing himself by erupting in a fit of rage. But we know it’s coming.
What was once a show about Atlantic City has spun out into many moving parts. After last week’s sleeper episode, tonight was intricately written and explosive, and holds its own among “Boardwalk’s” best.
“Boardwalk” History Lesson:
When Gyp’s driver is rambling on about “this fella… skinny, plump back… fingernails like ‘this’….” toward the episode’s end, he’s talking about “Nosferatu,” a German silent horror film from 1922. The scene he’s describing is one in which the vampire Count Orlok kills the crew of a boat he is being transported on.