“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Nine: “Marriage and Hunting”

* Sorry for the late report. It was a busy week!

* So, where were we.

* Some nice energetic camera work in this episode. We start with Van Alden shot from below, then the camera tilts around to his missus. Who is a funny, sexy character, although I worry that her seemingly admirable reluctance to accept any of Van Alden’s shit reads more like obliviousness to the depths of his misery and the extent of the danger he’s in, a perpetual problem with women characters on Boardwalk Empire.

* In the first of a great many conversations between Nucky and Chalky on the fate of Doctor Narcisse (I spell out the honorific suffix because that’s what you do for comic-book villains), what emerges is a sense that these guys would like, perhaps, to be closer friends than they are, and that societal constraints against that are in large part the cause of the tension between them that so often bubbles over into antipathy. Nucky goes from condescendingly chiding Chalky for his interest in Daughter Maitland to reproaching him for his unfaithfulness with what seems like genuine concern. Chalky appears to be genuinely angry that all the aid he gave Nucky during the war with Rosetti isn’t being repaid in kind.

* I love the interplay between the O’Banion Brothers’ criminal racket and their apparently mostly honestly pursued dayjob of selling flowers. “I’ve got a rush job on this wreath!”

* Uh-oh, it’s the return of the Iron Man.

* Another bold bit of camera movement: An overhead shot of the boardwalk leading to Gillian on the beach, clean at last, and Phillips’s hand’s shadow on her face. “The sun is all I need right now.”

*”He ravaged me that night. It was six weeks before my 13th birthday….I want you to know. Nine months later I gave birth. I named the baby James. The last pure thing I could remember. He and I…I don’t know how I could say it. We lived for each other. A child and a child. He enlisted. Fought in France, very bravely….He came back. He struggled to find his place. He overdosed on heroin in my bathtub. I think I will take that eskimo pie after all.” Phillips understands now, to an extent. To the extent she’s allowed him in.

* Narcisse on the spear decorating his office: “It is ceremonial as far as I know, but there is a first time for everything, Mr. Madden.”

* So, Narcisse and Masseria will partner up. I wonder about the casting of Masseria, honest I do. I mean, it’s fine, but ever since I saw that actor play a dancing World Cup referee in some smartphone commercial or other that’s all I can think about when I see him. Right now he’s too much of a cartoon to move the needle.

* “Hit me again, you’ll regret it.” “Mueller” has had it with being pushed around by the Capones, but he believes his way out is to prove his worth rather than to betray them. “O’Banion thinks I’m a coward.” He’ll prove he isn’t.

* Oof, I love that Wellesian staging for the White family out on Chalky’s front porch. Everyone set around the table at a different distance, facing a different direction.

* “Dunn Purnsley is off the guest list” is the new “Dick Laurent is dead.”

* Losing is not a good look for Arnold Rothstein. Kudos to Michael Stuhlbarg, who’s made Rothstein such a figure of malevolent placidity that when the facade crumbles it’s truly startling.

* “I’m not saying there isn’t a bond, but I’m not bringing him my problems.” Except when you hid in Chalky’s side of town while Rosetti hunted you down, Nucky. Sheesh, the obliviousness.

* Eli’s trying too hard to wheedle info out of Nucky, seems to me.

* “Is this true?” “Nope, this is sarcasm.” Nelson Van Kramden.

* Richard at the courthouse. I love how he’s now as much a figure of comfort as he is of menace. They’re really making the most out of the symbolic resonance of that half-mask.

* Still worried about Phillips’s money swinging the case toward Gillian. She’s not using Leander as a lawyer anymore, please note.

* Jesus I’m nervous about Van Alden, sick feeling in — oh, wow. Now that’s a cautionary tale, isn’t it? Hire a guy to work at your door-to-door iron sales business. Tease him too much. Get physically disfigured by him in a fit of rage. Track him down and attempt to beat him to death. Get shot by him instead. Life is short and life is shit and soon it will be over.

* Hahaha, Rothstein wants Mickey Doyle dead to collect the insurance. I wouldn’t have remembered that plot point if it hadn’t been shown in the “previously on” segment, and I have to wonder how many people out there would have. But that whole conversation is delightful, a series of increasingly mean-spirited jokes at the expense of my beloved, ridiculous Mickey. “I was under the impression that Mr. Doyle was…integral to your operation.” “Not $500,000 integral.”

* Tensions run high in the White house. “I’m sure you cleaned thoroughly,” deadpans Mrs. White. All the kids run for the door. “What the hell’s going on?” “I don’t know.” “I’m not sure that I wanna know.” “I do!”

* Is Richard’s girlfriend the only prominent woman on this show we haven’t seen naked for next to no reason? Chalky’s daughter too, I suppose.

* “You’re very bad at hiding things.” “I thought I was pretty good at it.” Oh, Richard.

* She just popped the question to Richard! Aaaaaaaah! “I’m saying yes!” Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!! My reaction to this scene is indistinguishable from the reaction one is supposed to have to a very successful romantic comedy.

* “You listen, he talks, the night wears on.” Narcisse is a vain, hypocritical blowhard whose pretensions make Meyer Lansky look like Al Capone, but the guy has a way with words. Which makes good character sense.

* Narcisse bisected by the doorframe, then he and Daughter shot from the corner of the ceiling. They like to make you feel the space.

* “You would protect me always.” “And that you would be free. Free to lie down with any man. But your heart. Your heart…” “Was yours. Always yours.” “Your rug. Glass shard still in the carpet there. Mr. White is alive. And you, you have crushed me utterly.” Pow. I saw Emily Nussbaum from The New Yorker mock the show as pompous, to which my only reply is “Yes, and?” It’s examining the gulf between the pomposity and the brutality, and it’s doing it with seriousness and style. I’m down.

* Van Alden swearing he’ll murder a gangster by midnight is pretty marvelous.

* LOL I clapped for Chalky’s kid’s piano recital, like I was sitting there with his family.

* “You keep these good people entertained, son.”

* Richard Harrow in his finery LOL again. The future Mrs. Harrow is a pistol, btw: “This is going straight into the complaint box.” That big orb chandelier hanging next to them, an implicit doubling. “Are you sure about this?” “It’s just a hunting license, isn’t it?”

* Jesus, Narcisse beat the living shit out of Daughter. “Doctor done this to you?” “It was the right hand of the Lord.” “The Doctor and Miss Daughter got their ways.” That was quite creepy. Actually the piano player/minder is a good, sad, creepy character overall. That hangdog expression never seems to leave his face.

* Doctor Narcisse just Sonny Corleoned you, Chalky.

* My first thought when Chalky showed up to the club: He’s gonna murder this shithead in front of Nucky.

* Narcisse isn’t allowed to sit in the club, yet here he comes. Playing our sympathy for him as a victim of repulsive racism against our antipathy for him as a grade-A scumbag who wants one of our favorite characters dead was bold, bold, bold. “Your friend — his days are numbered.” “Is that a threat?” “It is merely a fact.” Two black men fighting, one of them screaming epithets, in a club he owns and which the other man finances, where black people perform for white people, where no black audience members are allowed, where black women dance in a pastiche of their culture’s alleged savagery. That was some meaty fucking shit.

* “My name isn’t Mueller. I’m not legally married to my wife. I used to believe in God, but now i don’t believe in anything at all.”

* Den O’Banion is dead. Dead bodies everywhere. Nelson Van Alden, lord of the flies.

* Richard Harrow materializing from the fog, holy shit. Glad to see the show still has a handle on how Richard reads to the audience.

* “What do you want?” “I came to see you.” “Why?” “I got married today.” “Congratulations.” “Thank you.” “You came to tell me that?” “No. I need a job.” This bodes well.

* “Who built this house?” “You do.” “Who pays the bills?” “You do.” “Who’s holding one thousand dollars in his hand?” “You are.” “Who am I?” “You are my huband.” My name is Nelson Van Alden.” MAKE IT RAIN, VAN ALDEN “Take off your nightgown” hahahahaha magnificent

* Phillips on the phone: “I know. Me too. It won’t be much longer.” He’s lying about something…

* “The decision will be made for you, Gillian, you need to prepare.” That’s actually good, bracing advice. Livingston’s performance is engaging and yet canny.

* “I think you and me must have gone a different church.” Chucky deadpans in pure Nucky style when reacting to Daughter’s Narcisse-based messianism.

* Jesus, the lighting of Nucky on the phone in the final scene, pure white light on his profile in the darkness, wow. Gorgeous show.

* Nucky just calling because he’s sweet on Wheat, awwww

* “Don’t get lost in the fog now.”

2 Responses to “Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Nine: “Marriage and Hunting”

  1. Tim O'Neil says:

    I think the reason Narcisse is such an effective villain is that he crosses the show’s unspoken rule that the most dangerous criminals are dangerous because they’re almost reptilian in their avarice and unpredictability and capacity for violence. Narcisse’s intellectual pedigree is something new for the show – he’s a master criminal, almost a super-villain, surrounded by thugs and numbers-men, even the most intelligent of whom have not a drop of poetry in their souls. (Not that Narcisse’s poetry is any good, but I just read Alain Locke’s THE NEW NEGRO recently and I am continually surprised by how well they’ve managed to nail down Narcisse’s “type” – the post-Marcus Garvey erudite black national, complete with stunningly didactic tastes.) I hope he dies well, if you know what I mean.

    It took I while, I feel, for this season to come together, but the fact that this episode put both van Alden and Richard back on the board as real players makes me quite enthusiastic – two proverbial “fuck yeah” moments to spin the season into its final third.

  2. Jesse Irmler says:

    Good stuff