“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eleven: “Two Imposters”

* “Everything connects, Charlie, whether you know it or not.”

* I’ll tell you all what: I could get used to this show totally leveling up every time it reaches a season’s penultimate episode, that’s for sure. Last year’s nightmarish, flashback-haunted “Under God’s Power, She Flourishes” displayed the show’s most confident and stylish filmmaking since Martin Scorsese’s pilot and, with its revelations about Jimmy, Gillian, and Angela’s past and its final Oedipal confrontation, essentially unveiled, for the first time, what the show was really about, how it saw itself, how it worked best. I don’t think anything quite so dramatic and revelatory went on here, but what we got was in its own way almost as impressive: thread after thread after thread being firmly pulled in the same direction from opposite corners of the room and woven together with furious determination. Just a relentlessly suspenseful and enjoyable episode. When it ended, I laughed and clapped with delight.

* What a great decision to make Nucky’s relationship with his afterthought of an assistant, Eddie, the center of the episode. For starters, well, who doesn’t like Eddie? He’s virtually never been used for anything but mild and effective comic relief, sort of like a Muppet, so no one in the audience is gonna go “Yeah, ice that guy.” Shrewd.

* On a deeper level, maybe we needed to see the only person left who genuinely loves and trusts Nucky come under threat, and see Nucky rise to the occasion and risk everything because it turns out he loves and trusts him back, to keep us invested in Nucky’s plight. If you were uncharitable you could see this as a cheat on the show’s part, a way to make sure we all see that Nucky’s not a villain but an antihero, that he still has a heart of gold deep down in there despite his monstrousness. But it felt truer than that in the moment. Or at least I was willing to cut it some slack.

* Finally, seeing and hearing Eddie, who normally operates at a consistent level of befuddlement, give way to absolute fight-or-flight panic sold the threat like few other things could have, particularly given the number of assassination attempts Nucky has already survived. There were a lot of standout details in that initial attack on Nucky’s suite at the Ritz, from the dead phone to the shootout staged almost entirely through a hole in the door, but Eddie’s desperate cry of “Noocky!” to warn his boss about the gunman behind him will stick with me most of all.

* And how’s this for an increase in scale: Gyp Rosetti conquered Atlantic City. That took my breath away, when I realized that’s what the show was doing. This wasn’t just a hit squad, it was the vanguard of an invading army. They stormed the palace, killed the royal guard, assumed control. When Gyp’s sidekick started talking about meeting with the ward bosses and letting them know it was business as usual it really brought it all home for me. This was one of the clearest demonstrations yet of the show’s belief that crime, like war, is politics by another name.

* Looks like we’re headed for Richard Harrow’s Taxi Driver moment. A few thoughts about that:

** It would seem like my theory about Richard being Nucky’s endgame against Gyp is both wrong and right. There likely won’t be any collusion between the two of them, but Richard will still fulfill that basic role by killing his way through Gyp’s headquarters.

** “Everything connects” indeed: That scene from early in the season when Nucky learns with awe just how deadly Richard is was done to establish this eventuality. And Richard’s relationships with Tommy and with his girlfriend and her father were done to give him motivation. And Gillian’s murder of a false Jimmy was done to sever whatever loyalty he may once have felt to her.

** Does Gillian not realize what kind of person Richard is? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way: Does she not know what he did in the war, or what he did in Jimmy’s employ? Judging from her recent dialogue she appears to think of him in the same condescending terms you’d expect from her about someone who was “feeble-minded” — a gentle, damaged freak she takes pity on but no longer has any use for. Do you all think this is a viewpoint she could reasonably have come to?

** Jack Huston is very, very good in this role. The mask hides that, maybe, and the CGI makeup effects, and the monotone voice. But man, even though he only has one eye and half a mouth to work with, when that switch in Richard goes off, boy oh boy can you see it. It’s terrifying.

** And exciting, let’s be honest. As high-minded as I make myself be about art-violence, it’s thrilling and cathartic to see a practiced killing machine let loose. That overhead shot of Richard assembling his arsenal? I mean, come on, that’s the sort of thing you cheer about. At least I do. I don’t respect myself in the morning, if that helps.

* Lucky getting busted for heroin: another “everything connects” moment? This removes him from the playing field as a potential protector for Gillian, his partner in the brothel. It badly weakens Rothstein and Lansky. Given the expense of his and Lansky’s secret deal with Masseria it throws Masseria’s organization into disarray as well.

* Why not make the undercover cop a fake mute with a gnarly throat scar? Why not stage the buy on a rooftop flapping with laundry?

* Very, very happy to see Nucky interact with my beloved Dunn Purnsley, however briefly. I loved Purnsley’s grin after he and Chalky dispatched the Rosetti thugs who were about to search their truck for Nucky, like, “See? I told you we were loyal, asshole.”

* Laugh out loud line from Chalky: “All due respect, General Custer: This ain’t no spot for a last stand.” All the material involving Chalky hiding Nucky and Eddie was gold. Creatively staged in an interesting set, with easy-to-understand parameters for success and failure, and a crackerjack setpiece in the form of Rosetti’s Italians facing off against Chalky’s African-Americans, all of them bristling with firearms.

* Am I the only one with visions of posters for Boardwalk Empire Season Four featuring a picture of Nucky and Chalky standing back to back or face to face with a tagline like “TWO KINGS”? If things go well for them this Sunday, Chalky becomes the single most important person in Nucky’s organization (if he wasn’t already), and a fixture of the boardwalk, AC’s public face. He could easily be the new opposite pole around which the story revolves. That’d be great, wouldn’t it?

* The ending? Pure fanservice. Fuck it, I’m game. So game that I’m willing to forgive the martial drums and, you know, the very notion of Eli and Purnsley showing up with the calvary in the form of Al goddamn Capone, America’s kindliest young gangster. After all, the beauty of this set-up is that the show is harnessing historical inevitability as a tool in its storytelling arsenal as unequivocally as it ever has. A fight between Al Capone and “Gyp Rosetti” can only end one way. Hahaha!

* A fight between “Richard Harrow” and “Gyp Rosetti,” on the other hand… 🙁

* What’s Capone’s game here? We’ve established that Torrio’s in semi-retirement, content to leave the operation of the Chicago outfit in Capone’s hands, up to and including picking fights with rival gangs. We’ve established that Remus is down for the count and the Midwest needs a reliable supplier, and Nucky’s man Mickey Doyle is running Mellon’s operation. We know he milked Van Alden for information about Dean O’Banion’s operation. We know that Capone — showCapone, anyway — hates bullies.

* Bravo. Onward to victory.

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3 Responses to “Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eleven: “Two Imposters”

  1. Karl Ruben says:

    Delightful reading as always, especially the Richard section. Although a certain sinking feeling set in right then that didn’t make itself known while I was watching the episode: he’s not going to make it out of this season alive, is he? He seems a character with too much to gain by surviving. Unless they decide to kill off his girlfriend or Tommy, how can the show avoid sending Richard the way of Owen Slater – albeit in a blaze of glory, and not a nailed-up crate?

    I mentioned this to you on Twitter as well, but I really loved the end of that first scene between Gillian and Richard, where she stops to smell him in the doorway. It seems a lot of people out there on the internet straight up hate her, but I find it hard to hate someone who comes from where (and what) she comes from, especially when you get such heartbreaking glimpses behind the facade. “You smell of the sea”. Gretchen Mol was pretty amazing this episode, wonderfully portraying Gillian’s low-key desperation in struggling to stay in control while almost all control is taken from her. Even her whacking Gyp’s goon with the broom had this calm, anti-frantic quality to it.

    • I forgot that her tragic origin begins at the Neptune Parade.

      Richard could easily die. But this is also a show I could see allowing him to survive his blaze of glory and ride off with his surrogate family into the sunset, never to be seen again. (Delivering on the Van Alden headfake from the end of Season Two, in other words.)

  2. Excellent, Sean. This episode was pretty flawless, though I think you’re right that Gillian’s been written as too shrewd to see Richard as someone she can boss around and condescend to like this. And for that matter, did she really think Jimmy’s right hand man would be content to be a babysitter? Of course, if he leaves her out of it, Richard will be at least doing her the favor of clearing out the hoods bringing down her business. I see Richard as absolutely surviving this season. Like you suggest, he won’t be directly working for Nucky yet, just serving his interests. As expected, Owen got killed, so that leaves a void for a formidable enforcer for Nucky.

    I liked the bit at the end where Eli was pissed that Nucky put his son in danger, but sensibly filed it away for later.

    As impressive as the takeover of AC was, we really haven’t seen that kind of generalship(?) from Gyp yet. He ain’t so dumb. Also liked that he discovered Nucky’s childhood book, like he’d stolen some piece of him. Was this book ever shown as important before?

    Finally, is there any way for Van Alden to fit into the finale in a significant way? If Capone uses him in this battle and Nucky sees, isn’t he instantly dead?

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