Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I think I’ve neglected to mention it for a while now, but my comrade Stefan Sasse and I have resumed episodes of our podcast on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. You can find the new episodes here — the one that went up today discusses Martin’s new novella set 200 years before A Game of Thrones, “The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens.” Enjoy!
A limited number of copies of Flash Forward, my new minicomic with Jonny Negron, are available via Jonny’s bigcartel store. If you’d like one you can buy one for $4.
Michael Hawkins and I have completed BIEBERCOMIC, our comic about Justin Bieber. You can read the whole thing on one page at the link. We hope you enjoy it.
I reviewed last night’s episode of Homeland for Rolling Stone. Juuuuust about had it with this thing.
Fantagraphics is the greatest comics publisher of all time. No company, in any field, has made products that mean more to me than Fantagraphics’. Their co-publisher Kim Thompson died too young and took a lot of counted-on revenue with him, so they launched a Kickstarter that’s in its final hours right now. The rewards are almost parodically plentiful, varied, and worthwhile; I’ll be getting a customized pair of Chuck Taylors, naturally. I urge you to give if you haven’t already — it’s basically shopping, not giving, but either way, the company that basically created alternative comics could use your help.
PictureBox is the greatest comics publisher of the 21st century. Any one of several projects published or edited by publisher Dan Nadel would make him and PBox a publisher for the ages: the work of Japanese experimentalist Yuichi Yokoyama or prescient Providence art-comics collective Paper Rad, editing the canon-disrupting classic-comics collection Art Out of Time or the paradigm-shifting magazine of alt/genre comics criticism Comics Comics. PBox also did a huge service for alt/art comics by situating them in the larger context of visual culture — in publishing collections by everyone from Richard Kern to Hipgnosis to the Hairy Who to Destroy All Monsters in addition to the best-ever books by, say, Brian Chippendale and Renee French, Nadel was making a case for commonalities that might otherwise have gone un-remarked upon. Now Dan’s closing up shop to take a more stable full-time job in the book world, so PictureBox is having an inventory-liquidating 50% off sale on everything it sells. I put together a quick list of some of the publisher’s more narratively straightforward works for a friend who was looking for recommendations along those lines.
POWR MASTRS: I suspect this seminal CF series is destined to be forever unfinished, at least in terms of its original conception as an eight-volume epic or something, but it’s basically an NC-17 Adventure Time.
COLD HEAT: Another Unfinished Symphony, though much less dramatically so; in fact you’re better off skipping the final double issue, which makes this weird huge tonal shift away from the rest of it, the rest of it being “What if someone transformed Loveless by My Bloody Valentine into a young-adult fantasy?” Co-creators Frank Santoro and Ben Jones were tentpole PictureBox franchises.
KRAMERS ERGOT 8: In some ways this is the least innovative of the super-duper-influential Kramers anthologies edited by Sammy Harkham, even the least successful, but it’s the most straightforward in terms of the emphasis on nice lengthy narratives from the contributors, and the most thought-provoking in terms of trying to suss out what was included and why, and the coolest-looking in terms of that far-out ’70s science-textbook look.
NEGRON: A great little showcase of the comics and pin-ups of the postmillennial Vaughn Bode.
EVERYTHING TOGETHER: This is a collection of all the short stories by Sammy Harkham, an alternative cartoonist in the grand Fanta/D&Q tradition.
GARDEN: There’s no story here, per se — it’s just a bunch of people in strange costumes navigating an enormous manmade amusement-park-like garden complex and discussing what they see. But Yuichi Yokoyama’s art is just super super appealing to me — he makes every movement seem as dynamic as a Jack Kirby spread, and the overall effect is like going on a strange guided tour of a depopulated Super Mario Galaxy.
It’s worth contemplating how the death of Kim Thompson forced Fantagraphics to crowdfund its continued existence, and how a life change on Dan Nadel’s part shuttered PictureBox entirely. The alt/art comics infrastructure depends on the heroic efforts of individuals; lose them and the loss can rarely be weathered, with the recent shift of the Brooklyn convention currently called CAB to an exclusively Gabe Fowler-run enterprise from one he shared with Nadel and Bill Kartalopoulos being a rare counterexample.
That said, altcomix is very good at rising from the ashes. Tom Devlin’s Highwater Books, the most direct aesthetic antecedent for PictureBox in terms of their books’ high-end design flourishes and signal-boosting of the Fort Thunder/Providence scene, spawned any number of publishers after it folded: Secret Acres and Bodega Books were both founded by former Highwater employees, Devlin himself went on to partially Highwaterify Drawn & Quarterly, and so on. Dan keeping the doors open at PBox long enough to place as many of his artists and projects with other publishers as possible tells you an awful lot about the quality of his character as well. So, we shop, and we hope.
I reviewed last night’s Homeland for Rolling Stone. The dictionary definition of “mixed bag.”
* I think there’s long been a sense that Chalky White, and Michael K. Williams, and by extension African Americans, have been underused on this show. From what I gather from post-finale interviews with Terence Winter, he realized this was true at some point, and this season was conceived in part as a corrective. From an in-world perspective one solid way to demonstrate the vitality of this character is to have him sneak back into town with a small handful of strangers and quietly level the entire defense force surrounding Nucky Thompson’s beachfront redoubt. Like, by rights this episode should feel elegiac regarding Chalky, and to an extent it does — it’s his last best failed attempt to retake the throne. But he remains formidable until the moment Richard Harrow pulls the trigger.
* “So he your nigger now….So you HIS nigger now.” Chalky’s spite is righteous, even if misdirected.
* “Wearing another man’s clothes,” he spits, complaining of his situation. No, this isn’t a guy who’d take well to usurpation.
* THE NEXT DAY in big block letters was my thought when we cut from the standoff between Nucky and Chalky to Knox’s meeting with Hoover in DC the following morning. It let us know that the two of them lived through the night, no matter what else its purpose was. A curious choice, but that’s kind of how the show works.
* I love the audible sneer quotes Hoover places around “organized crime.” I’m actually quite excited to see if Hoover becomes a major character, since in the end he’s easily the most dangerous and destructive person historical figure we’ve encountered so far. (I suppose you could make a case for Lansky & Luciano, but that would require extending a lot more kindness to Hoover than I’m inclined to impart.)
* Are we to take it that the state used a prosecuting attorney with a facial deformity in part to normalize star witness Richard Harrow? Or is the purpose more extradiegetic, a reminder that there are a lot of Richards out there in one sense or another?
* “They keep my face on.” Gasps from the crowd. Richard must be miserable being the center of attention like that. Even as a sniper he operated from a remove from the target audience.
* “I was in love! I was tricked! How can that be right? I’m not allowed to speak. I’m not allowed to live. Why does a man get to do anything he wants!” Cheering! Gillian Darmody, proto-Solanis.
* “You have a brother, Knox? Whatever fuck your name is. Family?” “That’s none of your business.” “Fuck you. You too, you smug son of a bitch.” There’s really no better Eli than end-of-his-rope Eli. Remember when he beat that ward boss to death in his garage when the guy started wimping out of the anti-Nucky conspiracy?
* “Weiss. With Bugs Moran and Schemer Drucci. Sure, after that O’Banion thing? Who else could it be?” One thing I really enjoyed about this episode is that by the time the smoke clears, it’s no clearer who was responsible for the various assassination attempts on Capone and Torrio than it was at the start — to us or to them. I mean, you can read that final scene in the hospital as Torrio and Capone basically acknowledging they’d each tried and failed to have the other killed, they feel bad about it, and Torrio’s bowing out gracefully. I mean, as best we can tell from history that’s not in fact what happened — the North Side mob really did try to hit them both. But look at this as a more effective version of the sleight-of-hand the show pulled last season with Luciano and Lansky trying to strike out on their own as heroin suppliers and Masseria and Rothstein colluding with corrupt cops to teach them a lesson. You can color within the lines of history but still use an unexpected palette.
* This just occurred to me: ex-lawmen Nelson Van Alden and Eli Thompson are going to be two of the gunmen who dress up as cops to perpetrate the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on Al Capone’s orders, aren’t they.
* Sign #1 that Nucky was wise to Eli: Eli knew nothing about Nucky’s trouble with Chalky the previous night.
* LOL at Mickey Doyle giving Richard the hairy eyeball.
* If somehow an anonymous source were to disclose to the authorities the whereabouts of Jimmy’s body, what would you do for that anonymous source.” “I would do whatever you asked.” I’ll tell you what, the awe in which all these seasoned killers hold Richard Harrow’s ability to kill strikes some very deep chords in me. That is such a menacing, magnetic dynamic.
* “If that’s Darmody, then who’s the other one?” I love when Boardwalk does the anonymous-reporter-voice-in-a-crowd thing. And Christ, that overhead shot of the burial site, the path worn through the field. Our final glimpse of Jimmy Darmody is one of people feeding off him.
* “I’m the mayor.” “I’ll change that if it’s the last thing I do.” Poor Mayor Ed. Backed the wrong horse, guy.
* “Endings have been attempted, have they not, on all sides.” I was just about to say “I’m gonna miss Narcisse,” but I’m not, am I? He’ll be back.
* “I don’t have friends. I have partners.” Nucky sums himself up. And yet…
* “I don’t ever want to worry about that spook coming at me in the dark again. Do we understand each other?” “We do. At long last.” We know this isn’t a legit sellout of Chalky because Nucky doesn’t talk that way.
* “That singer. He says he knows where she is.” That’s the kicker.
* “What are we, paupers? I want artichokes for Christ’s sake.” Been there, Johnny! And then another nice Godfather-style hit, just to scratch as many of your itches as this show can. Fuckin’ Boardwalk Empire works really hard for your ungrateful ass.
* Knox is nervous with the bug in the room. He’s getting bugsy, if you will.
* “Pop! Pop, it’s Uncle Nucky!” “We should walk in together. Present a united front.” The saw-playing. Willie eyes the phone. Marvelous stew of sights and sounds in that one little plot-advancing phone call from Nucky to Eli.
* Richard has a brother-in-law now, lol. I guess the sister settled!
* “Tommy. I love you.” Oh no.
* “I will see you in three days.” Messiah!
* Eli walking up to the camera and past it to go to Nucky’s house.
* “Hello? Nuck?”
* “I’m leaving town. Heading to Cuba with Sally. As soon as I finish what I need to do. I intended to tell you now. There is no meeting. I saw to that. There are names on a hotel register with three empty rooms, and you, and me.” Eli, you really do suck at this and always have.
* “Nucky, I–” “‘Nucky I’ what. ‘Nucky, I’m sorry?’” “What’s it matter what I say?” “You have a lot to lose.” “Me? I don’t have anything. Sooner or later you wind up taking it all. Can’t help it. I’m ready. Are you?” Re-reading that dialogue…you know, I wasn’t sure another Nucky/Eli confrontation, or another season-finale facedown between Nucky and someone he once loved and vice versa, was going to hit all that hard. But it does, doesn’t it? There’s a weariness to it that we in the audience can feel along with the brothers precisely because we have been here before.
* I do wonder what would have happened had Willie not burst in. I wonder what would have become of all three of them.
* “Nothing will fill that hole you got inside. Don’t you know that yet?” And maybe here we see what separates Nucky from, let’s see here, Tony Soprano, or Walter White, or Don Draper, or Jaime Lannister: He’s not tortured inside. He’s unhappy, but his response is to try to make himself happy, not to wallow. And that’s how Eli gets his number here.
* Hahahahahahahahaha NO MEETING FOR YOU, KNOX, NO MEETING FOR YOU, YA PRICK! “You’ve been duped, Jim. Let’s face it.”
* “How you feelin’?” “I’m okay.” “Never heard you say that before.” Aw, Al and Johnny, you lovable mugs ya.
* “This is a young man’s game. I’m not gonna fight. It’s yours, Al. Take it.” “Take what?” “The whole operation.” “You win, kid. I’m outta your way. It’s Europe for me.” Al kisses the ring. What I’m curious about is whether we see Johnny again. The show aged him up considerably — though he was indeed Capone’s boss and mentor, he wasn’t yet 40 years old when prohibition started. But eventually, in real life, he took on an elder-statesman role and helped broker the alliance that eventually became the Commission, working closely with Luciano in the process. I hope he sticks around for that, which is what I kind of assume the whole show is building to.
* Here, in their entirety, are my notes about the fight between Eli and Knox:
My partner Agent Selby. He thinks I’m crazy. Do you think I’m crazy, Eli?
Playing the saw,
MY SON MY FUCKING SON
DADDY PLEASE DADDY PLEASE
Sort of the show’s Dan Dority vs. Captain Turner, wasn’t it. Breathtaking.
* “Stay rightchea and don’t raise no fuss.” “Don’t like it.” “Not meant to be liked.” Chalky has a lot of confidence in the plan.
* “A daughter for a Daughter.” “I understand I rocked her right. That was some sweet jelly.” “Behold the noble savage.” “That me. Bankroll in one pocket and pistol in the other. And all the rest? I never did give a fuck.” “A nod from me and she’s gone. I’d say that makes us even.” These right here are two men who haaaaaaaaate each other. Narcisse is to Chalky what Gyp Rosetti was to Nucky: a force of nature our hero had the misfortune to attract and aggravate. The only difference is…well, it’s Richard, isn’t it?
* My notes on the sniper sequence, in their entirety:
DO IT RICHARD
Even if he were to survive, Richard would not survive this. Chalky, a man who couldn’t stand wearing another man’s clothes, likely couldn’t weather this either. And Maybelle White, a character I was just two weeks ago saying could have been fascinating, is lost to us. This was an ugly scene.
* Narcisse arrested. Everyone’s getting rolled up because Eli killed Knox — and Hoover’s using it to come at Marcus Garvey, not any of the world-historical criminals tangentially involved in the murder.
* “Truth is what those in power wish it to be.” Lord Valentin of House Narcisse, ladies and gentlemen.
* “I am a businessman and a follower of Christ.” Beneath Narcisse’s narcissism is a deep-rooted need for these things to be true, of course.
* “Yes…sir.” Now that’s a comeuppance.
* “Your father is safe with friends out west….He’s your father. My brother. And I’m not the person you think I am.” Or that I thought he was, for that matter. Once Eli popped up in the next scene I knew where he’d be and who’d be picking him up, but until he popped up I figured he was dead. Nucky surprised me.
* Eli and Van Alden, together again. Gillian’s nicked. Rothstein shows Margaret to her lush new apartment hahahahaha. Sally stood up. Chalky out to pasture. Daughter singing in some shithole. And Richard’s on the train, thank christ
Took me about 17 hours from when it aired, but I cried my fucking eyes out over the death of Richard Harrow. Thank you for bringing this magnificent character, responsible for my all-time favorite line of dialogue and my all-time favorite TV action sequence which ended with a shot that made me instantly cry harder than anything I’ve ever seen in a show or film, into my life, Jack Huston, Howard Korder, Terence Winter, Boardwalk Empire.
* This is a very, very, very, very, very good show. See you next year.
* Owls. The moon. Poetic for no reason at all, poetic just because it’s nice to be poetic.
* Bold choice, I thought, to introduce the concept of Chalky’s mentor, stunt-cast him, introduce him, and kill him off in the space of a single episode.
* “There’s a skunk in your cellar.” Boardwalk Empire‘s answer to “Bonponsiero…he’s wired for sound.”
* I’m not convinced Gaston Means understands how bargaining works. As your position worsens, you ask for less money. But Means must believe his possession of greatest value is Gaston Means, and the prospect of losing it drives up its price.
* Not that I blame him. A man who responds to getting busted by asking “Who has sent you grim-visaged thugees?” is a pearl beyond price.
* “Ain’t that water lucky?” Ha, you know, fine, I can see how this show could read as pompous and hamfisted. A honeyvoiced Southern lady drawling that kind of line plaintively? Yeah, that could be a real embarrassment. But it’s not because the show goes there all the time, with no fear. An owl, a moon.
* I laughed hard at the big intro line for Chalky’s mentor: “I know what you thinkin’. ‘Fuck happened to him?’” Lou Gossett Jr.!
* He had Daughter’s number, too, although he dialed it maybe a bit too emphatically. “Had me a blue-tick coon once, and didn’t call him ‘Hound.’”
* Oscar, the blind and aged one-time crimelord, lives in a weathered old plantation house with the paint peeling off everything. Just in case you thought Boardwalk Empire was gonna go subtle on you!
* Note I regret writing but will post here just to keep myself honest: “Don’t trust the nephew, Chalky!”
* Leander’s back! “Well, maybe I’ve changed.” “That rarely occurs.” In retrospect the venom in his voice makes sense, as does the fatalism. And man what a fabulous line for anyone to say, for any reason.
* “He talks about peace — he doesn’t mean it. He never has.” Eli’s not wrong about Nucky and grudges, and that of course is the problem for him, as Knox points out. “Whatever your excuse, you and I are down this road together. Explain that to a man who never forgets.” The irony is that Nucky has given Eli a pass for turning on him, to the point where later in the episode he talks about passing him the empire. I mean, that forgiveness is legit. So both Eli and Knox seized on something that Eli’s continued existence belies, at least in part.
* Tommy Darmody remembers his mommy and daddy. Between this scene and the frequent mentions of the Commodore, there were quite a few ghosts haunting this episode.
* It’s good to see Richard and Gillian together again if only as a reminder of how much Richard must hate her. And he’s not a character who hates.
* It was also good in that it gave Gillian a chance to accuse Richard of planning the whole thing and thus shows how hard it is for Gillian to think of anyone’s actions as anything but a scheme — which in turn indicates what a tremendous force of effort it must have taken her to trust Roy Phillips so entirely. Sigh.
* Gillian gives Tommy Jimmy’s dog tags. I hope that has meaning somewhere down the line; I hope Tommy’s a character at some point.
* “You’ll both take good care of him.” Whoa — she’s giving up. Didn’t see that coming at all.
* Note I don’t mind having written: “The strange angles, the fade, the sounds…I don’t like Gillian’s odds.”
* “Lovely day for the beach” says Mrs. Eli Thompson, surrounded by gunmen. LOL
* Chalky will get no help from Oscar because he has none to give.
* Gillian to Phillips: “I’m free. I’m finally free.” Of H? of the house? of Tommy? All of it, it seems she truly believed.
* “We squeaked by last time. You ready for that again?” Yeah, you know, Eli raises an important point: Is the show ready to revisit a seat-of-your-pants all-out gang war for control of Atlantic City one season after the last one? I doubt it.
* “He’ll be better off. He will be. It hurts to say it but I know it’s true.” Whoa, Gillian, turning over a new fucking leaf. “You made the right decision. I’m happy for ya.” Phillips backing her up also surprised me, though it winds up making perfect sense obviously.
* “I hate when things end.” Ugh.
* “Have you been lying to me?” “About what.” “Your wife.” “I didn’t lie about that.” Ugh.
* “I’m not saying goodbye. I do have to leave. I want you to come with me. I want you to marry me. Really marry me.” Another regret among the notes: “Oh please do it, Gillian, do it!” Ugh ugh.
* “What’s stopping you from asking?” “Hell, I thought I just did!” I chuckled at that. Now it seems like he just kind of forgot his lines. Ugh ugh ugh.
* Eli’s wife brings up the insurance salesman and he loses his shit. “Just shut your goddamn trap for once, okay? Just shut it.” Oh Eli. You really do suck at this. Remember how bad he was at bullying his underling in the police department into silence, how the attempt just ensured the guy would talk? He coulda just let it slide and Nucky would have thought nothing of it, most likely.
* “Got me’s a rendez-vous in Ballmer.” Really happy to be hearing Maryland accents in close proximity to Michael Williams again.
* Another note, and I stand by this one: “These guys can be his new crew. Maybe. Or not. Who knows. WTF.” The show did a super-solid job of making it difficult to read how Oscar’s underlings were going to react to Chalky’s presence.
* Jesus fuck, what gorgeous lighting on Chalky and Daughter as evening falls. Preposterously good, varying according to whether we’re looking toward or away from the setting sun, alternately golden and blue. Good Lord.
* Parking lot notes: “What is going to happen here oh my god oh my god are they going to blow him up what is happening what is happening
Oh shit. The drunk.
In retrospect, the plothammered, stagey way in which this incident took place was, of course, a reflection of, well, the plothammered, stagey way in which it took place. It was a ruse, a performance. But I would have eventually been willing to swallow it for the same reason Gillian did: It just seemed like the kind of thing that happens to and around Gillian.
* “It’s always been pretty easy to get your father’s goat.” You can say that again, Nucky!
* Willie HAD seen Eli’s “babyfaced insurance guy.” I never realized that before. But he musta been at the warehouse when Willie picked up the liquor from Mickey Doyle, right?
* “The day come everybody gonna run out of road.”
*Oscar’s not a fan of his nephew, nor of Daughter. What I like about his advice to Chalky to ditch Daughter, as well as his advice about not trusting Nucky or white people generally, is that it’s both valid, even sound, and also something where you could take the opposite side and have that be valid and sound as well. You so rarely are presented with that kind of thing in drama, unless it’s a Sophie’s choice someone has to ostentatiously wrestle with.
* Nucky reciting the poem Eli wrote to his middle-school crush. Eli getting a kick out of it. Genuinely adorable.
* Alright, so Nucky wants to do the big meeting NY/AC/FL meeting and have Eli put it together. “I think it’s the best way out of this,” says Eli, and for certain definitions of “this” he’s even telling the truth.
* But Willie managed to signal to Nucky to beware, if Nucky’s got his receivers out to pick that signal up, and that’s a big question about the finale, one that the closing exchange with Sally about wanting out only makes tougher to answer.
* Now that we know what we know, we also know that Ron Livingston was given a very specific and very weird role to play during what I can only assume will be his sole season on this show, one during which he was billed in the opening credits. But I’m a big fan of the work he did here, a hugely endearing riff on Jimmy Stewart’s dramatic roles. Get a load of his line readings during his supposed struggle with his conscience, of where he places the emphasis: “I don’t know what he was GONNA do. It wasn’t a gun. I killed a MAN. I took his life. How do you do this?…*I* saw me. GOD saw me.” The words he leans on tell the story he wants to tell.
* Here’s another magnificent thing about this extraordinarily strange storyline: When Gillian confessed to him, I wrote the words “GILLIAN JESUS CHRIST” just like that because it seemed like she was so besotted with this guy that she was oblivious to how her murderousness would play to him. And watching him react, it at first seemed like I was right, that it was a terrible idea, that he was going to reject her, maybe even strike her. Then he asked “Who was he?” as if he was teasing out more information in order to come to grips with it, and I thought “Wow, he’s going for it.” Then he said “You get that?” and I immediately wrote “He’s a fucking PINKERTON!”
* Leander sold her out! “I owed Louis something. I’m sure you can understand that.”
* Notes: “Careening camera. overhead shot. Madness. Sickening. Holding her down. Christ, jesus christ. jesus christ. crying. wow. wow. wow.
The fall of the house of Darmody.”
That was the toughest scene to watch in the history of this show. Fitting that it came as the closing curtain on the storyline most explicitly about artifice on a show that, ever since those luminous CGI boardwalk shots and Scorsese throwback aperture opening and closings in the pilot, has itself been about artifice.
* So Daughter runs, Oscar dies, and the nephew and the hat guy come through on Chalky’s behalf. He’s got his strike force if he wants it.
* “I want out.”
* The Capones and Van Alden and Torrio. Rothstein and Anaconda Realty and Margaret. Rothstein and Mickey Doyle. I think those are all the storylines that need to get wrapped up in the finale in addition to the ones this episode explicitly set up, i.e. Nucky and Eli, Nucky and Sally, Chalky and Nucky, Chalky and Narcisse, the meeting of all the crimelords, Eli and Knox. The finale’s title, by the way? “Farewell Daddy Blues.”
I reviewed yesterday’s pretty darn entertaining Homeland episode for Rolling Stone. I really didn’t expect to cheer for this show, let alone over what I cheered for, but hey, neat.
* We open on cream in the coffee. If this were Breaking Bad in its final episodes that would have some kind of plot significance. Here it’s just a visual throughline. I like this better.
* Eli’s looking worse for wear. “You’re a good father,” says Knox when Eli remembers his dad’s Navy career, something I hadn’t put together. So that’s a point in Knox’s favor, I suppose.
* “You missed me? Awww, shucks.” “And Sally, I owe you one.” “Don’t think I don’t know it, sport.” Sally’s growing on me, and not because of sleeping-with-a-shotgun shit, but because she has fun with language, the sign of any great Boardwalk Empire character.
* Knox comes to Eli’s house. Always a big mistake to pull shit like that. Just ask Gloria Trillo.
* “He knows that in an instant, tragedy can strike, and everything a man’s worked for, everything he loves, everything he holds dear can be gone.” Why lord it over him, you creep? Like I said before, Knox really only has one mode: bullying. Like a lot of Boardwalk‘s gangsters, he’s just a reasonably sharp thug.
* The shot of him sitting mute and menacing at the head of Eli’s table? A+
* Spilling coffee. Hm. Coffee as a throughline. This was the first moment I thought “Eli is not going to live through the season.”
* Swoop in on Margaret’s phone, cute.
* Rothstein’s back, back again. Rothstein’s back, tell a friend. “Have you any milk?” Love his hat.
* “Clothing, sundries and what have you.”
* “May i offer you some free advice?” “Is there anything more expensive in the world?” Honestly? I think this is the best-written show since The Wire and Deadwood in terms of the quality of the prose, as it were.
* One thing that’s not entirely clear to me is whether or not Rothstein knew he was buying into a swindle and was just gonna out-swindle them, or if he really got took. I’d thought Anaconda Realty had something to do with the land Nucky, Lansky, and Petrocelli were going in on down in Florida, and Rothstein used his insider info from Lansky to make a killing. Now it’s not clear, not if pulling off the scheme depends on the dumb luck of Margaret working there.
* I am fully in favor of Chalky White sticking up for Richard Harrow.
* “Bring Knox,” Nucky says to Eli regarding the raid on the heroin-laden booze convoy. Sigh. I really think Eli handled this poorly.
* Haha, Van Alden’s a comer in Capone’s outfit! And Torrio’s nervous. “It’s good you’re thinkin’ ahead.” At that moment I thought it was possible he was even being sincere. Again, this is a situation where some foreknowledge of the actual people involved in the storyline is a bit of a dampener.
* Chalky’s hit on Narcisse was awfully no-nonsense. Just walking right up to his window and opening fire. It speaks more to Chalky’s anger than any particularly well-placed confidence in the move’s success, I’d say.
* Narcisse, missed, growling. Elegant with a gun. Both those elements are revealing, as revealing in their way as Rosetti’s nude blood-soaked rampage.
* Knox is a Poe fan. I see his story ending differently than the Dupin ones, however.
* “Really this doesn’t have to be so bad.” He truly is clueless about how bad he looks to other people. Ruthlessly executing a hooch wheelman doesn’t help in that regard, and once again speaks to his barely concealed brutality. He’s got a lot in common with Van Alden in that regard, if you can still remember early Van Alden. And yes, this is an attempt to good cop, to use honey as well as vinegar, but look how unconvincing it is compared to the intimidation and violence.
* Nucky to Narcisse: “Who the fuck do you think you are?” He is an awfully arrogant man, whatever else he is. His legitimate persecution and marginalization has led him to believe he’s a real special snowflake.
* “When i run him through, watch the light go out, i hope he knows what a friend he has in you.”
* Chalky in red white and blue bunting. Fuck subtlety. And tended to by Richard Harrow.
* Margaret’s tired of living in a slum. It’s the abuse upstairs that triggers it.
* Lansky survives his almost-execution only when he becomes the most Lanskyish. “There’s a fortune to be made in heroin. Millions and millions of dollars….What would you have done if you were me?” Yep. That trumps “the boy-scout routine” and, as far as it goes as a characterization of Nucky, happens to be true.
* Can we please have more shots of Kelly MacDonald biting her lip?
* “Thought you didn’t want a war.” “I don’t want the trots, either, but when I get them I deal with it.”
* The mayor and Narcisse together, and Willie’s looking. That doesn’t bode well.
* The interesting thing about the whole Masseria-Narcisse alliance, and Narcisse’s demand for Chalky white’s head on a platter being treated as non-negotiable, is that it seems safe to assume Masseria’s doing this mostly to force Nucky to be accommodating, not out of any sense of loyalty to Narcisse whatsoever. Should things go the way one assumes they will, with Narcisse dead and Chalky alive, Nucky could present this to Masseria as Narcisse losing a fight he picked; even if Masseria suspects Nucky reneged on the deal in order to help Chalky, what would he care? As long as Nucky and Chalky are equivalent partners in terms of the services provided by the then-deceased Narcisse, what’s it to Masseria? Narcisse’s skin color makes him as expendable to Masseria as Mickey Doyle’s obnoxiousness makes him to Nucky, I’d assume. That’s if the show does the thing I hope it does and has Chalky win. I mean, I’m not 100% convinced.
* Saving Chalky via the mayor and the police department was a schoolboy error, however.
* Nice machine gun attack on Capone’s brothel. Lotta that going around! I particularly liked the reveal coming in the form of sun glare from the windows across the street. That’s a very Coppola touch.
* Al’s first thought is for Ralph. Genuine anguish and terror in his voice. I think Tim O’Neil is right to say that Boardwalk is distinguished by refusing to portray its gangsters as complex, tortured antiheroes, but that doesn’t mean Al Capone didn’t genuinely love his brothers and fear for their safety in this dangerous line of work, and that’s material to be mined.
* “Lucky for Johnny he left when he did.” Now, is he being more or less sincere than Torrio was earlier in the ep when he praised Al’s forward thinking?
* “A rent-free apartment, guaranteed for five years, a safe neighborhood, with rooms for the children.” Now we’re just haggling over the price, Mrs. Thompson. “I earned this.” Okay!
* “I’ve never done business with a woman before.” “Well, how did you like it?” “Quite the treat.” I love this exchange. Margaret’s response put Rothstein on his toes more than an expected “We’re quite capable blah blah blah” would have, and Rothstein’s response, in its focus on the pleasure of the exchange, speaks more to the equality of the relationship than stating such outright.
* Yeah, okay, so, Willie tips Nucky off as expected.
* GODDAMMIT I hope Chalky doesn’t think Nukcy sold him out.
* Jesus this episode is good.
* Knox still getting nowhere with Hoover.
* Chalky’s daughter could be a cool character. A Margaret figure, but seemingly smarter and with a much better head on her shoulders, her primary disadvantage in life being the color of her skin. She just seems both fearless and together in a way few women on this show are — usually you can be one or the other.
* “At times, it seems all there is is us and our unhappiness.” “Dangerous, for people like us” to be something we’re not supposed to be. To be what we are, where we are, and dare to stand free. What could be more lonely?” These are sort of mission statements for Narcisse a la “what the fuck is LIFE if it’s not personal?” for Gyp Rosetti.
* I got scared as hell when Narcisse popped up on Chalky’s daughter, but ah, of course, why kill her? He thinks he’s won. No sense in killing someone in Chalky’s family if Chalky’s not there to see it.
* “This is the life you want?” “Pop, isn’t it what we do?” “Alright, let’s get it sorted out.” Super, super menacing final line. What I wonder is whether Willie’s entrance into the life changes anything for Eli. Does it make it imperative on him to keep playing ball with Knox, or to stop?
* 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.”
I reviewed this week’s Homeland for Rolling Stone. It continues to feel weird to like Homeland more than most of the critics I read, but it’s a good weird.
I will be attending tomorrow’s Comic Arts Brooklyn festival at Brooklyn’s Mt. Carmel Church. There I’ll be debuting two books that I wrote: Flash Forward, drawn by Jonny Negron, and In Pace Requiescat, drawn by Julia Gfrörer and inspired by “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. I don’t have a table per se, but I imagine I will spend some time selling In Pace Requiescat at table D18 and selling Flash Forward at (I think?) tables U8/U9 or wherever else Jonny winds up. You will likely also find me loitering with my Destructor compatriot Matt Wiegle at table D34 as well. If you’re looking for me, I look like this, so please say hello!
Last week, Frank Santoro interviewed me about the state of comics criticism for his column in The Comics Journal. Frank and I were concerned about the seemingly dwindling pool of people writing substantial reviews of alternative/art comics and all the attendant problems — the still smaller number of women writing about them despite the huge number of women making and reading them, the lack of critical evaluation provided to the newest generation of artcomix makers, the outsize influence of the foibles of those of us who are left, and so on. The interview sparked responses from Ng Suat Tong, Heidi MacDonald, and Frank himself that are worth reading, as are the comment threads attached to all those posts (particularly this comment by Peggy Burns); I also got a lot out of the twitter exchange I had with Sarah Horrocks.
Don’t call it a comeback! Stefan Sasse & Sean T. Collins return with our first BLAH since June, and we’re bringing our chum Amin Javadi of the mighty A Podcast of Ice and Fire along for the ride. It’s basically two episodes in one: For the first half hour or so, we discuss Stefan’s essay “Savoring the Taste?: On the Role of Revenge in A Song of Ice and Fire” from the expanded Collector’s Edition of Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows — TotH‘s excellent collection of essays by various luminaries in the ASoIaF community. Stefan argues that quests for revenge, no matter how horrendous the crime being avenged, are self-perpetuating engines of violence that have had awful consequences for these characters and their culture. Please note that the Collector’s Edition — a print book, no less — is only on sale through the end of this Friday, November 1st, after which it will disappear forever. Buy it now and let’s talk!
In the back half of the ep, we get exquisitely nerdy and discuss various what-if scenarios, predicated on major events and decisions going a different way than they had before. I had an absolute blast teasing out the consequences of each of these divergences and hope you’ll enjoy it too. It’s good to be back!
Julia Gfrörer and I will be debuting a new comic at CAB. This is a preview image for it.