“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven: “William Wilson”

* Oooh, nice: We open with a widening aperture, just like the pilot! I’ve often missed that old-timey flair that Scorsese brought to the first episode, neither he nor it ever to return.

* It also occurs to me that you don’t see a lot of cops on this show anymore. Not uniformed police officers, anyway. They’re such a marvelous signpost for the era in their uniforms and with their ruddy Irish faces, too. One of the show’s pleasures is what a period-y period piece it is, so when I realized how long it’d been before we’d had a good look at a beat cop, that surprised me.

* And Capone just straight-up executes him in broad daylight. That’s our Al! Thinking about him during this episode, I compared and contrasted him with Gyp Rosetti, another mad dog. Ever since the death of Jimmy Darmody, Terence Winter has said that one of the things the show’s about is comparing people who can hack it in this world with people who can’t. Why was Rosetti doomed while Capone will (however briefly, extremely famously) flourish? Is it Capone’s ability to take and make a joke?

* As I suspected, Eli’s got it figured w/r/t Knox. And with Patricia Arquette, as it turns out.

* “Cherry blossom season.” I don’t know why, but Knox’s explanation for why he was sneezing in his meeting with Hoover, Randolph, and Remus is one of my favorite moments of the episode. Humanizing, perhaps? I mean, not that it turns him into a sympathetic figure — god no, I’ve almost never wanted a character to lose more than him — but that even ice-cold undercover agents have seasonal allergies.

* Remus is back. Remus is a breakfast fan. Remus should get together with Walter White Jr. Remus would call him Flynn if he asked.

* God, I love how fucking thick Hoover is.

* Ms. Randolph is back! That character and that performance is a lot of fun, and, in a rarity of the show, something of a mold-breaker — she manages to be tough and competent and able to survive the politics of her work situation without being a ballbuster or a shrew or frigid or any other stereotype/archetype. She got a sex scene and everything! It served enough of a purpose that you can almost forgive how it was the most gratuitous nudity in the history of the show, which as we’ve seen in the rest of this episode is saying something.

* “Agent Tolliver.” okay.

* Capone goes to Torrio all coked up. Again, what does he have that Rosetti didn’t?

* Capone wants to remind people you bleed before you die. Torrio says “We’re not startin’ a war.” That’s a philosophical conflict is what that is.

* Hahahahaha, Margaret’s thing about her husband is all some gross sexist routine she cooked up with her boss to bilk rubes. It’s both uplifting and depressing to see what she’s gotten up to on her own. Making a dishonest living!

* I’m curious to see how Luciano setting up a heroin route for Masseria and Frankie Yale will square with Nucky, McCoy, and Lansky’s rum-running operation.

* College Girl to College Boy on Leopold and Loeb: “They thought they were supermen who could get away with murder.” Falls like a thud, like almost everything else about this storyline. On the other hand, College Girl turns out to be the cutest gratuitously nude lady on this show in a while. And the way the camera lingered on her after Willie left makes me wonder if the show’s gonna give her some kind of interior life we can recognize rather than constantly relegating her to “thing that makes obliviously ironic statements for Willie Thompson to react to.” Honestly I’m kind of rooting for Doris to put this annoying creep away.

* So Gillian’s kicking with Piggly Wiggly’s help. That’s what I like to do on third dates. Seriously though, I love her in that giant room, all the way in the corner, dwarfed by it. When we revisit them later, as she reclines on her fainting couch, the camera moves us in through the door, locating the action in the physical space. There’s way, way more house than there is Gillian.

* “Daughter Maitland” is a good character name.

* Yay, Gaston Means is back! But the fixer’s been fixed. Well, that explains it — previously I’d just assumed that Hoover’s FBI was just a new animal that Means hadn’t seen before.

* “You ever wake up, have a vague feeling of unease? Like you know something’s wrong, you just can’t put your finger on it yet.” “When I do, I usually just go back to sleep.” Knowing what we now know about Means, that’s an awfully revealing statement.

* Aw, Chalky smiling because he’s in love. How often do you get to see that?

* Arnold Rothstein appears at the real estate shark’s office and demonstrates what a real shark looks like. Jesus, what a smile!

* It didn’t occur to me until a couple hours after I finished the episode that Rothstein was buying into the lousy real estate package because he knew it wasn’t lousy anymore — it contains the Florida swampland that Nucky’s buying up.

* Chalky still turns to Dunn for advice when Narcisse proposes opening his political group in AC. Interesting, and of course not smart. But I really did think that relationship had come to an end, in terms of any kind of advisory role.

* “The murder of Wilson’s doppelganger is also what? His own suicide!” Between this, and Eli’s upset over Eddie’s suicide despite having sons, and the similarity between Willie telling Nucky he’d live up to his expectations and similar previous scenes between Nucky and Jimmy, I’m not optimistic about Willie’s future.

* “Mrs. Thompson, this is Arnold Rothstein calling. Did you receive my gift?” Margaret eyes the alligator.

* “Ambition at the expense of family, of love….Without people you care about, it’s all…”

* Haha, nice subtle cut from Gillian and Phillips getting it on to O’Banion’s bottle opening and fizzing all over the place.

* “Warm though, like your people drink it.” “Like it’s meant to be drank.”

* Raid! Not a great deal of respect for Torrio’s intelligence on O’Banion’s part.

* Purnsley is not handling his business well. The deacon has turned on him. I mean, that becomes obvious later on, but you could see there’d be trouble from the way Purnsley eyed him at the end of the scene.

* The big question about Narcisse’s racket: How do you both dirty the community and clean it up? Nucky basically walked the same tightrope for quite some time, but he kept the dirt in little pens, basically. There’s not really much of a way to contain a heroin epidemic, it seems to me. How long before more people than the deacon catch on to Narcisse’s hypocrisy?

* “The true scourge, however, is not disguised at all.” Damn, he’s gunning for Chalky right in public. I guess the deacon was the only person there considered a risk in terms of relaying this information to Chalky himself.

* Wow, Eli’s daughter had no idea Eli was even in jail. Did we know that the kids had gotten a bullshit explanation?

* More gratuitous nudity! And people give Game of Thrones a hard time.

* Dr. Narcisse found Daughter after her pro mom was murdered. Chalky’s really sad about it.

* “You and him ever–” “No. He’s a decent man.” “So what that make me?” “That makes you my man.”

* Nucky’s a solid partner, according to Chalky’s pillow talk, yet Daughter reads unhappiness with the relationship into this. I’m not sure I follow.

* I don’t know about you, but “integrity, zeal, and sense of morality” are certainly the first words that spring to mind when I hear the name John Edgar Hoover.

* Huh, he’s on board with the nationwide criminal conspiracy, taking credit for Knox’s idea. Perhaps we’ve found the weak link in Hoover’s organization?

* Here’s the thing about Knox/Tolliver working Means: Can’t Means tell Nucky and get Knox killed, thus removing the threat? Or do more people in the Bureau know about this deal to keep Means out of jail, so that it’d fall apart if Knox were killed?

* Huh, Ron Livingston’s more naked than Gretchen Mol!

* “Your best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” Gaston Means, you swiped that from Dr. Phil!

* “Nothin’ ever came from you. Mabel died tryin’ to give you a son.” Was her cause of death news? I can’t remember.

* “My family, Nucky. My goddamn family!” Getting alarmingly close to It’s About Family territory, but Eli is an interesting character and an interesting performance, a kind of neither here nor there figure in this world, so we’ll see where he takes it.

* “Actually, there is one thing I’d like you to do. Kill that Irish fuck.” What is it about we Irish Americans that we get so much enjoyment out of hatred for us in period pieces?

* Purnsley’s going after the deacon. Huh. Ha, I thought the Lord’s Prayer was a little much, but then he undercut it with “C’mon, how’d it go?”, and all is well.

* Actually this is quite a fine scene both because it’s a callback to Rosetti assaulting the priest for the offering money, and because it’s a direct illustration of the toll Narcisse’s hypocrisy is going to take on more genuine public service in that neighborhood.

* The connection to Rosetti is particularly welcome once we discover that Narcisse was the man who killed Daughter’s mother. (!!!!!!!!) In other words, he’s a Rosettiesque supercreep, a cartoon villain. Believe me, that’s no insult, not on this show. You need to provide the likes of, well, everyone else with people who are even worse.

4 Responses to “Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven: “William Wilson”

  1. As one of the few other critics I feel understands this darkly beautiful show, I invite you to please check out my reviews for Influxmagazine.com I just started last week, so only eps 6 and 7 are mine.

  2. With regards to what Capone had that Gyp didn’t, one answer could be given by Jake Guzick. If Capone liked you, he was capable of truly staggering loyalty and generosity. He sent henchmen who got hooked on junk to the ’20s equivalent of rehab, and when associate Gus Winler was in deep trouble on a bank robbery beef, he paid something like$ 200,000 to help make it go away. Creepy Karpis said that unlike his successor Frank Nitti, he always let independent operators lay low in Cicero despite the heat some of them drew. In other words, he was a likable guy, as well as being a mad-dog psychopath.

    Gaston Means was actually an FBI agent before Hoover came in, believe it or not–one of the reasons he was so useful to Nucky in season 3. Hoover hated him, needless to say.

  3. Ales Kot says:

    “Remus is back. Remus is a breakfast fan. Remus should get together with Walter White Jr. Remus would call him Flynn if he asked.”

    Thank you for this, Sean. Still cackling.

  4. Adam says:

    Re: Mabel’s death — at the end of season 1, Nucky explains to Margaret how their son died a few days after birth, which caused Mabel to go batty and eventually kill herself.

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