“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Sunday Best”

* One thing Boardwalk Empire’s detractors miss is its sense of humor. To hear tell, you’d think it was a thing of leaden tough-guy self-seriousness. In reality it’s the kind of show that cold opens on a corrupt-cop ex-con skulking around his yard hiding what you think is evidence or weaponry, then reveals it to be Easter eggs.

* Another thing they miss — and somewhat more understandably, since the show’s undoubtedly too blustery in this regard from time to time — is how focused it is in delineating the violence its violent characters are capable of. This episode was a high water mark for two such portrayals, Richard and Gyp. We’ve learned over the course of the past couple seasons that Richard isn’t quite the dead-behind-the-eyes broken man who once proclaimed that people have no connection to each other. And in this season — this episode — in particular we’ve seen that there’s enough humanity left inside him for him to be genuinely sweet, protective, and even flirtatious, as opposed to a broken man attempting to recreate what that would be like, like Frankenstein’s monster tossing the little girl in the water. But man, when you trigger him, he is ready to go, the most compunctionlessly lethal man on the show. Listen to how he says “He hits you?” when he misinterprets his would-be girlfriend’s line about going at it with her father like prizefighters, or how he says with evident honesty that he’ll kill the guy if he doesn’t let go of Tommy. Richard’s capable of valuing certain individual lives, but that’s a choice he makes on an ad hoc basis. He does not feel that life has any inherent value. I wonder if his lady friend will realize that before it’s too late for her or someone she cares about — that his threat to kill her father wasn’t bluster at all.

* Meanwhile, I feel more and more confident about comparing Gyp to various Sopranos Bad Guys of the Season (I did that, right? I should have), because he’s becoming what dudes like Richie Aprile and Ralph Cifaretto and Phil Leotardo were — comically creepy funhouse-mirror versions of the protagonists’ more nuanced and tortured villainy. So now, on top of his erotic-asphyxiation fetish and wandering through a bloodbath with his dick out and a dog collar around his neck, we get that hilarious mama’s-boy staring match with his mom and the other ladies of the house, and mugging a priest for the poor-box money, and literally screaming at Jesus for not giving him any friends, and learning that his ill-fated attempt to spite Nucky for allegedly snubbing him cost him most of his territory at home, and just completely failing at convincing his boss he’s good for anything but maybe taking down a few of his enemies in a blaze of glory. So this is our answer to how Gyp could possibly have gotten as far as he did: dumb luck, which just ran out.

* Another point in the show’s favor? Its artiness, even when that artiness is self-conscious. Sure, that beautiful shot of the two Mrs. Thompsons as Margaret reveals Nucky’s infidelity, and Eli’s wife’s reaction to that revelation, were heavy-handed, but who cares? It was still a beautiful shot. Unnecessarily so, like the later shot of the flash going off when Richard gets his picture taken on the boardwalk.

* Pretty profoundly anti-war, this show: the patriotic music playing as Tommy discovers the dead son’s toy soldiers, the old man audibly weeping after he shuts himself in his son’s room. Oh jeez, that last bit.

* Remarkably uncomfortable filmmaking, all those lingering and sensual close-ups of Gillian’s hand washing her ersatz Jimmy’s body long after we’ve realized she intends him ill. Injecting him with an overdose of heroin came as a blessed relief compared to the trauma I figured she was about to inflict on that bare flesh.

* I’m glad, by the way, that there was a reason behind this murder, and that she wasn’t simply becoming some kind of Elizabeth Bathory/black widow psychopath.

* How do Richard, and Nucky, handle this obvious bullshit about Jimmy ODing? That’s my big question.

* Another question: In real life, we know that Gyp Rosetti doesn’t kill Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, or Bugsy Siegel. How do they make his quest for vengeance on Masseria’s behalf suspenseful and able to hold its dramatic weight, then? I worry for Margaret’s kids, pretty much. I know I’m supposed to, that this threat has been hinted at for some time this season (giving the dead man’s dog to Margaret, the business with the gypsy man who burned the greenhouse, the son and his knife, the constant references to guards and Margaret asking Nucky whether they’d be in danger, etc.) and could therefore be a misdirect, but I do worry.

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2 Responses to “Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Sunday Best”

  1. Karl Ruben says:

    The easter egg opening and Gyp railing in the church (and so many other things about the episode, really) were particularly prominent examples of why this episode was so intensely gratifying to me as a Boardwalk Empire… fan, I guess? I just felt lucky I’m not one of the people who either rail on the show for being something lesser than the Sopranos: The Prohibition Years thing they want it to be, or who have no truck with its more outre elements. I feel like I’m smack dab in the middle of the Venn diagram of different things/ways to appreciate BE, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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