Posts Tagged ‘Boardwalk Empire’

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Two: “The Good Listener”

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Elsewhere, Gretchen Mol demonstrates why she may be Boardwalk‘s MVP as Gillian Darmody. This has always been a show that’s had a hard time with its women, even more so than many of its macho peers. Margaret has often felt tangential to the action (remember that sex-ed subplot?). Angela Darmody’s entire story depended on her not being able to do anything she actually wanted to do. Nucky’s string of showgirl girlfriends (beginning with the delightfully batshit Paz De La Huerta) had little to do but be frivolous and naked. The two women around whom Chalky’s storyline centered last season, his daughter Maitland and singer Maybelle White, were both fascinating — and were each gone by the finale.

Gillian is different. As a character, she’s required to get naked on command as much as anyone — it used to be her job as a showgirl, and her route to continued influence over the Commodore; now, in an insane asylum following her unwitting confession to a murder last season, it’s a condition of her imprisonment. But her nudity has a terrible energy to it, informed by her rape when she was a girl, and her subsequent determination to turn that victimization to her advantage. Here, that energy is reflected in the freakish image of a room full of mental patients erupting out of strait-jacketed bathtubs like aliens from chest cavities. When Gillian herself finally emerges, slowly and deliberately instead of in a panicked fit, her naked body is both a come-hither and a middle finger all at once. That’s part of what made the shaggy-dog-joke nature of her caged-heat storyline in this episode so satisfying. No, her female warden isn’t the queer-predator cliché she seems; she’s just one woman bargaining for a taste of the good life with another woman who fought tooth and nail to taste it herself.

I reviewed last night’s Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone.

Spoiler Alert

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Here I am talking about The Leftovers, Boardwalk Empire, and Masters of Sex with Ricky Camilleri, Drew Grant, and Matthew Jacobs on the debut episode of Spoiler Alert, HuffPost Live’s new talk show about TV. Hooray!

STC on HuffPost Live

Monday, September 8th, 2014

I’ll be talking The LeftoversBoardwalk Empire, and so forth on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show, tonight at 5:30pm. This link will take you right to the show when it airs. Hope to be seen by you then!

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode One: “Golden Days for Boys and Girls”

Monday, September 8th, 2014

As its final eight-episode season begins, with tonight’s ironically titled premiere “Golden Days for Boys and Girls,” it’s time to be honest about Boardwalk Empire. Appropriately enough given the attention the show has paid to family traumas, HBO’s sprawling gangster epic has long suffered in the shadow of its siblings. It lacks the seismic influence of The Sopranos, where creator Terrence Winter previously worked; the acclaim and tonal versatility of Mad Men, helmed by fellow Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner; the relentless suspense and narrative arc of Breaking Bad, the era’s biggest crime show; and the epic-fantasy scope and pop-culture cachet of Game of Thrones, the network’s other big costume drama about bloody power struggles.

What it does better than 99% of its competitors, however, is mount pure sensual spectacle. No other show on television says so much about its world through sight and sound alone – via meticulously composed frames, thoughtfully arranged sequences, colors, voices, tics of performance, and, yes, gore, all designed to communicate the violent tragedy at the heart of Nucky Thompson’s story directly to the heart. Tonight’s season premiere offered ample evidence of this — as well as suggesting that Boardwalk Empire might very well be the New Golden Age of Television’s secret masterpiece.

I’m so excited to be covering the final season of Boardwalk Empire, a show I love and admire tremendously, for Rolling Stone. Here’s my review of the season premiere.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode 12: “Farewell Daddy Blues”

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

* 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,

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:
There’s richard.
Oh shit.

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
oh no.
no, please.

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.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eleven: “Havre de Grace”

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

* 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.”

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Ten: “White Horse Pike”

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

* 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?

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

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

* 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.”

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eight: “The Old Ship of Zion”

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

* We open on Dunn Purnsley walking in slow motion. This is what my mind looks like inside, if you were wondering. Thank you, Tim Van Patten.

* Ha, this nice old lady runs a crackhouse! Or whatever you call its heroin equivalent in period-appropriate slang.

* God I love his reptilian smile, his gold tooth, his oily purr. Such a fun character.

* “The Doctor’s expecting everyone.” Lovely line. Thank you, Cristine Chambers and Howard Korder.

* Knox is such a prick. That said, “We’ll get the crooks. Then we’ll find the law” is undoubtedly an American recipe for success.

* Assuming Nucky’s nephew is the weak link, that’s some Boardwalk-ass tying together of disparate strings. And kudos to the show for presenting this information to Knox in the form of an unnecessarily articulate, righteously indignant fellow agent. Even the bit parts don’t respect Knox, and that sends a message to the viewer.

* Willie’s staying in Eddie’s place. Another strand.

* “We all have to move forward, Will….I want you to give some thought to how to turn this into an opportunity.” Nucky in a nutshell.

* “Daddy, are you alright? People were lookin’ at you.” That’s Chalky’s gift and Chalky’s curse. His part of town looks to him as a leader because he delivers for them, but his power is therefore dependent on them. Nucky, by contrast, has increasingly withdrawn from the public-service aspect of his career the more it’s involved outright criminality. You can’t be worrying about electability when you’re fighting a gang war, or vice versa, as Mayor Ed’s concerns make clear.

* Mrs. White is wise to Chalky’s affair, and Chalky’s unconcerned, we learn later on. So my earlier question about what she sees in him is answered at least in part, or at least as far as Chalky’s concerned: She appreciates the refinement his unrefined money can purchase for herself and her kids. Carmela Soprano.

* I like the look Narcisse shoots at the Mayor when he “Amen”s. Like he smelled a fart.

* The new preacher’s got a good question: “Might we ask why his leave need be so swift and so violent?” It’s interesting to see how soft power drives hard men like Chalky and Nucky into action.

* “Turns out…this was her sister!” “Twin sister?” “No. That’s the peculiar aspect.” Never change, Mickey Doyle.

* I’m coming around on Sally Wheat. Patricia Arquette has a fabulous look for this show, the toll of age on her striking face and frame transmutated into Southern charm, like Spanish moss on an old building. Flirting with Mickey Doyle would read like a transparent ploy, or simple bad writing, were any other woman we’ve met to do it, but Sally legitimately seems like someone who’d relish his entertainment value enough to actually enjoy his company, as far as it goes. And her chemistry with Nucky is genuine, much to my surprise. Maybe it’s just that she’s an age-appropriate love interest, for once, or maybe it’s that her appeal in no way relies on subverted sexual innocence, like his countless girlwomen showgirls (just compare her unfathomably prominent bosom and cleavage to those flat-chested flappers), or Margaret’s nice-Irish-girl vibe. She’s as in control of her desires as he is.

* “It’s always good to save something to talk about for later.” Criminal caginess as courtship etiquette. Nice work, Nucky.

* It’s to the show’s great credit that during the entire series of scenes between Chalky and Dunn, I had no idea who was going to die. I suppose I’d have put money down on Dunn if I had to, but last night when I saw a tweet to the effect of “We talked to Boardwalk Empire’s Dunn Purnsley about…” I stopped myself from reading the rest of it and suspected that he’d died but also thought it was entirely possible he’d staged a successful coup and killed Chalky.

* “You’re uncle, he’s…involved in other enterprises now.” Mayor Ed’s got a gift for understatement.

* The raid on the heroin house (someone please give me a term to use here) was engrossingly brutal. It’s relatively rare on this show to see a full-fledged assault on someone completely incapable of defending himself, let alone an entire one-sided battle full of such things. Sickening, yet cathartic given all the delayed and deferred tension — tension Dunn preserves by executing his contact before Chalky can interrogate him. Not, however, before he can discover a connection to the Doctor, whose vanity is starting to prove to be his undoing.

* “Know what I see? A house full of trouble.” Another lovely line.

* Three packs of Chesterfields and “Tell me all about William Thompson.” Chillingly efficient.

* “It’s not my style of music, but you can’t say it doesn’t have an effect.” “Chalky. Don’t let your life get out of hand.” Nucky Thompson, student of human nature.

* “If you’re bored, you’re boring.” Betty Draper offered a variant of that line in Mad Men, too, which means it’s safe to assume it’s something David Chase said to Winter and Weiner when they complained about the long hours sometime.

* “Enjoyed our conversation. You have a fine evening.” Hahahaha, Mickey Doyle responds to a rap on the head with a cane like a dog getting hit with a newspaper. To be fair, he hasn’t had the best luck with pissed-off bosses in boardwalk nightclubs.

* “He gets on my nerves.” “He wasn’t getting on mine.” Double entendre of the night.

* Hahahaha Willie kept up by Nuck and Sally. The thought of lying in bed forced to listen to the coital noises of your uncle is truly gross.

* As he mouths his own turgid lines from the side of the stage, as his play lands with a thud, as he theatrically bows in front of a blank curtain to no applause whatsoever, as he self-deprecates with obvious phoniness and egotism, the true character of Dr. Narcisse is revealed at last: Just as I suspected, he really is just a vain piece of shit.

* Marvelous Godfather-esque staging for the street confrontation between Chalky and Narcisse. And I loved the unspoken menace of Dunn, an enemy hiding in plain sight.

* Willie wants to try making it on his own. “If I don’t, it means I didn’t deserve it.” Looks like he internalized that morality-of-capitalism lecture he attended after all.

* Daughter Maitland suffers from depression, and Dr. Narcisse has her apologizing for how badly she upsets him when she gets that way. Wonderfully loathsome, and recognizable.

* “Will you keep him here? There will be…another visitor.” Another lovely line.

* I’d assumed Willie was going to be the next weak link Knox attempted to break, but of course it makes more sense to use his plight to blackmail Eli, a tried and true tactic of law enforcement targeting medium-sized fish with big-fish bosses and little-fish kids who’ve got legal trouble that can be made to go away. My thing about this development is this, however: Eli’s gotta go to Nuck with this, right? I mean, wouldn’t you? Eli’s sore at Nucky for his involvement with Willie, but not so sore that he wasn’t amused by Sally’s antics at the warehouse earlier that day, for example, or that he didn’t seem to be on the road to accepting Nucky’s truce. And god knows the two of them have weathered far worse.

* But maybe that’s the point — some wounds never fully heal. The part of Eli so hurt by Nucky’s paternal condescension and intrusion into his nuclear family is the same part of Eli that was hurt by Nucky’s political condescension back in Season One when Eli’s attempts to become a macher in his own right wilted in the face of his lack of innate talent for the game.

* I suppose my point is that I don’t fully buy this turn of events, particularly if they lead into the death-of-Eli territory virtually demanded by a second betrayal, fool-me-once-etc.-style. I really enjoy that character and that performance. But I also recognize that as the historical figures on the show evolve from supporting characters in the larger story of organized crime into leading players, the less pivotal/non-fictional characters are going to have to make room, by any means necessary.

* All that being said, there were two marvelously revealing details in that diner confrontation. The first: Eli struggling in vain to remain in place and not allow the other agent to sit down next to him. It reminded me of nothing so much as doing that exact thing to a sibling when they want to smush in and steal your spot. That’s telling. So too was his inability to stop it.

* The second: Knox’s sole technique, it seems, is to bully people. His schemes so far: Orchestrate the execution of his corrupt partner; beat, blackmail, and terrify Eddie into betrayal and suicide; blackmail Eli by using his son to get him to betray his brother. For Knox, spycraft consists solely of getting into a position where you can more successfully kick someone in the face. I think that will come back to bite him.

“Jack Dempsey came to your hotel.” “You remember that.” “I remember everything.”
Will’s got political ambitions! “I want the family to be back where it belongs.”

* When we hit that final scene, I thought to myself, “Wow, between Eli and Chalky, this could be a tough, tough episode.”

* “When you sing…that sound…like, like you tyin’ up a secret.” Lovely!

* The moment she persuades him to stay, you can hear a car pull up.

* All these shots of Chalky’s face. Guy’s like a monument. a weathered monument, his scar a crack in the edifice.

* Daughter broke because she saw he was moved to tears by her singing. That’s an incredibly accurate portrait of how discovering someone is affected by your art can move an artist. You get the impression that Narcisse’s compliments were always more about him hearing the sound of his own voice and congratulating himself on its powers of persuasion. I doubt her singing ever made him think of his mom and weep.

* And so passes Dunn Purnsley, one of my favorite television performances of all time. I’ll follow Erik LaRay Harvey pretty much anywhere now.

* Don’t do it, Eli. Don’t do it.

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

Monday, October 21st, 2013

* 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.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Six: “The North Star”

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

* I look prescient for making such a thing out of Eddie’s shaky teacup a few episodes back now that it’s the visual callback that represents Nucky’s sadness about his passing. “You go your whole life with things right under your nose…”

* He’s there to meet with Margaret! It was awfully good to see her given this season’s dearth of female characters that command attention.

* Oh, Penn Station. How sad.

* “I wouldn’t put something alive in a box.” Oh jesus. hahahahahahaha

* “No one knew how to look after you like Mr. Kessler.” It’s a nice little double meaning, but it’s also true on the surface level. The Commodore, Jimmy, Eli, Owen, even Margaret — only Eddie was steadfast.

* Hahaha, Knox getting dressed down. Love the sarcastic laugh as Hoover snorts “A nationwide network of organized criminals.” Comsymps and Negroes, now that’s where the FBI should be spending its money.

* “If this was my room I’d kill myself. Oh I didn’t mean–oh fuck it, he can’t hear me, hee hee.” Was that Mickey Doyle’s first great line of the season?

* “He had kids?” Huh, Eli’s genuinely moved by it all. And he feeds the birds. Nice touch.

* Aaand that’s how he finds the safe deposit box key. Box 23, lol

* “New pianist?” lol

* “Don’t you ever feel bored?” “If I do I keep it to myself.” “That doesn’t stop you from feelin’ it.” This is a well-written show!

* I have a bad feeling that Richard’s girlfriend’s dad’s alcoholism will be used against them in the custody hearing by Piggly Wiggly guy.

* He’s the walking wounded.

* Richard!

* “You alright?” “I’m dying.” “Right now?” “Christ, I don’t know.”

* Mrs. White can’t stand that rock and roll.

* How’d Chalky wind up with this lady anyway? What does she see in him that prevents her from seeing everything else about him?

* “I killed those men, Paul. Every one of them….And, um, other things.” “How many?” “I’ve stopped counting.”

* “I am who I am. Who else could I be?”

* “You came home. You know why you did that. The rest is bullshit and I don’t wanna hear it.”

* I’d like to point out that the presentation of Paul’s war-criminality is one where we’re meant to empathize with his current plight but not forgive him for having murdered a little girl. Compare and contrast to True Blood‘s unforgivable handling of Terry.

* Hothouse atmosphere down in Florida lol

* I never won’t be happy to see Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky together.

* Oh lord, they’re using Knox to get into the bank. But what I realized at the end of his fishing expedition at the warehouse is that when he went there, he thought it was possible Eli and Mickey knew he was a narc and were going to kill him.

* Richard oh oh oh oh oh oh.

* “That man got a heart like a rock cast in the sea.”

* Eli still moved by Eddie’s death, and his birds: “No one’s been looking after them. What do they know what’s goin’ on.” But Knox is upset that he killed himself, too.

* Eli! Eli! “And the thought that…that I could just…leave them…” I’m awfully moved when grown men are moved.

* Ohhh, the monogram on Knox’s handkerchief is different. Eli’s gotcha, you fuck.

* Honeymoon’s over for Lansky and Luciano, huh?

* “I’m trying to build something. I don’t know why. And I’m wondering if I did nothing, nothing at all, would I be happier. But I can’t stop. I tried, but I get wound up.” Nucky can’t understand why he’s Nucky. Arquette is bored by this.

* Ha, she punched him! “I just hate a goddamn whiner.” The full-fledged fistfight as foreplay is not something I’ve seen before, I don’t think. Shit, why not. Although the best bit was what she said when they actually started having sex: “Let’s go, smart guy — I’ll give you something to cry about.”

* There’s enough going on in this episode that I actually wasn’t waiting with bated breath for Richard’s scenes.

* Lansky to Arquette: “Delighted to have you on board.” He makes even the minor players feel major, and gets in their good graces. He’s good at this.

* And he knows about Eddie. Yep, he’s good.

* Chalky White, graduate from the third-grade pull-your-hair school of flirting.

* Chalky on Narcisse: “He ain’t nothin but a nigger with a dictionary.” Invective aside, it remains to be seen if Narcisse’s vanity is merited.

* At last, Chalky and Daughter hook up. That’s a great dress, admittedly.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Five: “Erlkönig”

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

* This was a fine, fine episode, and that’s largely down to Tim Van Patten, the show’s go-to director (and an executive producer). The constant, sumptuously staged and shot off-center framing of its characters was dramatic and gripping and unsettling — simple enough to do, sophomore-year film school shit I suppose, but so rare on television, and so thoughtfully applied here. Characters addressing each other through the discontinuity of the edge of the screen from shot to shot; memorable set-dressing choices like the mountain of discarded chairs in Eddie’s interrogation room; the choice of who to show in close-up (Knox, Nucky) and who to show in a medium shot (Eddie, Willie) in order to establish the power dynamic…beautifully done. One of the most visually impressive television episodes I’ve seen all year.

* Oh boy, I didn’t like that opening montage of shots of Eddie’s stuff, no sir. Ominous.

* “That is for protection.” “Against who?” “…Apaches.” Lots of memorable one-liners and exchanges from writer Howard Korder, too.

* “Everybody is talking always, everybody has the opinion, nothing gets done.” Van Alden’s wife (wouldn’t it be nice if we were given enough to remember her name?) is the fertile soil from which autocracies would spring worldwide in the decade to come. Of course, she also straight-up murdered a guy once.

* Whoa, Willie was arrested! Or at least detained. I assumed it’d all be about whether he got caught, not how he’d handle it afterwards. The College Boy storyline surprises me for the first time.

* Gillian’s a very gauzy junkie. Okay, that’s a fine way to depict it, sure.

* In its way, the POV shot of Frank Capone coming up the stairs at Al’s HQ was as much of a tip-off regarding his fate as the montage of Eddie’s belongings was of his.

* “You know who dat includes?” “I don’t.” “Guess.” “I can’t.” “He likes flowers.” “Mr. O’Banion.” It would not have occurred to me to use Van Alden as a comic foil to the Capone Brothers, but that’s my loss.

* Al’s crude peer pressure, lol: “Don’t you wanna be my friend?” He’s a big child, right down to his rough-and-tumble affection for his brothers.

* “I didn’t want you to know.” “But now I do. You see?” Nucky’s philosophy of power comes through in that exchange with Willie, I think. Power is getting into the position to know about everything that concerns you, and to have the power to do something about it.

* Gillian already using Piggly Wiggly guy for custody purposes? Soliciting the judge? This storyline is moving a lot faster than I expected, but then that’s often the way for this show. The shattered glass was unexpected, too.

* It was clear very quickly that Nucky and Willie were gonna throw that other kid to the wolves, which is admirably shitty of them. But more importantly, taking all this time to hash this stuff out kept Nucky from actively worrying about Eddie, which he’d otherwise be doing, and which fact Knox used to help break the poor guy.

* “That’s who I am. And I’m going to own every last bit of you.” The vomit-punch was truly gross, and lingered on in a soul-shriveling way.

* “Stick with me, huh? I’ll put grass in your fucking lawn.”

* So did Van Alden suck at his job, or were the numbers just never in their favor at all? I can’t quite figure what we were supposed to take from the initial stage of the confrontation, when the workers retreated and locked the gate.

* Dunn Purnsley and Gillian Darmody, hot damn. Didn’t see that coming. Loved his throne. Loved this:
“May I examine the preparation first?” “No, you mayn’t.” Now, did Dunn give her that H gratis, or was the implication that he’s taking her up on her offer?

* Nice to hear Nucky mention both Mabel and the Commodore. I like links to the show of old.

* Oh, Gillian, please stay away from Tommy. Boy was I relieved that that plan didn’t work out. “I have to give him the Abba Zabba.” Guh.

* American flag hanging behind Willie. “I promise. You can live with it.” “Is that what you do?”
“The only thing that you can count on is blood….The rage you feel, listen to me carefully–it’s a gift. Use it. But don’t let anyone see it.” Nucky is really formidable, huh?

* Haha, Van Alden could have killed Capone.

* The death of Frank Capone took me by surprise — I hadn’t boned up on him. But gosh, that was some wholly convincing rage and grief on Al’s part. He’s lethal.

* Beautifully staged stuff with Roy in Gillian’s sickroom. “Roy, I’ve done the most awful things.” Interesting to see her and Richard arrive at roughly the same place in roughly the same time.

* Oh, Eddie ran off with the money and the mistress. Another thing I didn’t see coming.

* Sun and wind through the newspapers.

* “Every fuckin’ thing that crawls is gonna pay.”

* I feel bad for this College Girl character. She’s a dupe, she has no agency, she exists solely for Willie to have something to do, to be juxtaposed against him. You might could get away with this if your only female lead wasn’t Gillian Darmody now.

* A part of me thought Eddie might — might — play ball with Knox following Nucky’s insensitivity to him upon his return, but now that I think of it, that’s just Eli S1-S2 all over again, so they couldn’t go that way. The sad thing is that I found myself, god help me, rooting for Eddie’s suicide. Much as I enjoyed that character, and that marvelous little performance by Anthony Laciura, seeing him put to the screws over and over again in order to ruin things for Nucky on behalf of Knox was just going to be too much for me. Better to get it overwith. And he went out with perhaps the loveliest shot of the episode, centered at last, the open window paying off all the episode’s window imagery leading up to that moment.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Four: “All In”

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

* A much stronger episode, thank goodness. Honestly the smiles of Erik LaRay Harvey and Michael Stuhlbarg alone would likely ensure I enjoyed myself, but the strength of the ep is owed in large part to a comparatively rare use of parallel-storyline structure: a criminal’s night out. Nucky hangs out with Rothstein and Lansky; Purnsley hangs out with Narcisse; Van Alden hangs out with the Capones; Eddie hangs out with the other Capone; College Boy hangs out with the other college kids.

* Solid opening on the big collection guy going up the stairs. A lot of attention to the sound of his breathing, the sound of the stairs, his weariness. I’ve said this before, but this is the kind of thing this show can do to tell a story that a lot of others can’t.

* Waxy Gordon, King Solomon, John Torrio, Arnold Rothstein, Joe Masseria — a nationwide criminal conspiracy indeed. Wow, the hayseed’s a real fucking G-man! There are three points of interest here. The first is that Knox has cottoned to an idea that even “organized crime” hadn’t really figured out yet, at least on a formal basis; that would be the eventual innovation of Luciano and Lansky, which is why, I’d imagine, Lansky as up-and-comer factored so heavily into the back half of the episode.

* The second is that J. Edgar Hoover, despite his domineering presence even at this early stage in his career, remained a skeptic of “the mafia” and the organizational system developed by Luciano and Lansky for ages. So my “oh shit, they’ve figured it out already” reaction was immediately tempered by my real-world knowledge that it would be a long, long time — not until Appalachin made it impossible to ignore — before Hoover really sussed out what was going on.

* The third is that Knox is someone we’re rooting against. For one thing, that’s funny, given how the G-men were the heroes of old Hollywood. For another, it’s because he was introduced to us as a Todd-style cornfed sociopath; now, it seems, it was simple intolerance for law-enforcement corruption that drove him to set up his partner for death, but that’s hardly more appealing in the context of this show.

* That Eddie must be the weakest link for which Knox was searching was apparent from the moment they cut directly from Knox to Eddie. Sad — I was so happy to watch the guy have such a great time! I like when grown men are rewarded for competence and cooperation, and I like when they get along, the way Eddie and the Capone brother did. Natural friends! Who knew! Really weirdly crushing to watch dignified Eddie get carted off in the end.

* “I shall protect it with my life.” “Don’t be so dramatic. It’s only money.” That’s Nucky’s attitude in a nutshell, as expressed again in his trouncing of Rothstein at the poker table. In one of the best pieces on the show I’ve ever read, Tim O’Neil really nails this aspect of Nucky’s character, particularly in relation to the vicious, unreconstituted gangsters against whom he squares off.

* You could probably contrast both Nucky’s “it’s okay to lose sometimes” attitude and Rothstein’s usually fruitful zeal for winning with Lansky’s approach, a kind of third way where a sound appraisal of business prospects is backed up with absolutely merciless violence. Lansky used the latter as a tool to support the former; they were both vital, but he knew the cart from the horse.

* “Happy? You’re there to get an education. You think I’M happy?” That line of Eli’s was by far the best thing about the still-regrettable College Boy storyline, which was thuddingly predictable, if admirably disgusting.

* The Capone brothers are doing a collection? Sold. Marvelous casting once again — they could not look or seem more different, yet their fraternal chemistry and camaraderie is indelible. Even the corny bit where the lady who answered the door at the collection spot instantly warmed up to the handsome Capone got over on pure charm. (That said, I still have no idea what the brothers’ names are, other than “Bottles.”)

* “Don’t we know each other, Arnold?” “One would have thought so.” Rothstein thought he was serving Nucky there, but wound up serving himself.

* Dr. Narcisse is pretty obnoxious. How did Marcus Garvey put up with him? He’s vain and pretentious, as well as being an enormous hypocrite, though that’s nothing new.

* Rothstein busting Nucky’s chops at the poker table was delightful, especially in contrast to Nucky’s inflappability. I loved his ghostly pallor, and that reptilian smile that curdled on his face when he lost. And I loved his gentle chiding of the increasingly infuriated Lansky over the anti-semite player: “Meyer, it’s all an aspect of the contest.”

* “There is a time for levity.” Man, remember when Van Alden was more than just the comic relief? I’m not even complaining, that’s a great use to put a person who looks and sounds like Michael Shannon to, though I do wonder how much longer he’ll last on the show as his Hollywood utility grows. But there was a time when he was the Richard figure, mysterious and terrifying and emotionally crippled. Now he’s someone the jocularly homicidal Capone brothers take into their bosom.

* Lansky’s smile as he gets a taste of the big time was a crucial tell. He’s the true steel, as they’d say in A Song of Ice and Fire, but up until this point not a macher. It’s new, and he allowed himself to enjoy it.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Three: “Acres of Diamonds”

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

* Huh. That was…that was a shaky one, I think. Terence Winter wrote it, which I’d assumed meant it would feel pivotal in that showrunner-wrote-this-one way, but in retrospect it looks like a whole bunch of thankless plothammering needed to be done and Winter decided to do it himself. Multiple storylines felt both perfunctory and predictable: the Narcisse-exacerbated falling out between Chalky and Dunn Purnsley, Gillian’s ladies’-room fix, the weak wink-wink “that’s a matter of opinion” dialogue between Nucky and Patricia Arquette’s character, and especially everything involving Eli’s college-boy kid. We’ve seen that story a million times, and while this is true of a lot of things on Boardwalk Empire, the usual compensatory values in performance or setting were absent; the whole Temple sojourn felt, appropriately and regrettably, like a sophomore creative-writing class exercise. You drop Capone, Luciano, Lansky, Van Alden, Gaston Means, Eddie, Eli himself, and (god knows) Margaret for this — for stock frat-boy bullies and cardboard girls who throw themselves at anyone who can provide booze? Every time those scenes came on I just wrote “College boy, I dunno.”

* Even Richard — Richard! — was served some underbaked material. The Carl Billings storyline was weirdly stumpy; it was just a freelance gig he picked up on the train back home, after all, and after his legitimately epic battle at the end of Season Three it felt like the anticlimax it was. I mean, these doofuses get the drop on him? We all saw him kill his way through Gyp Rosetti’s gang, guys. And his sister killing to save him felt less inevitable than predictable, without the value of catharsis since the whole storyline felt so rushed.

* And the McCoy/Florida thing…McCoy, I discovered through googling, was the very first person we saw in the entire series, and he’s been there on and off throughout, but it’s not as though he ever made a particularly strong impression despite having been a pretty interesting character in real life. (His rep for honesty in his bootlegging and the undiluted quality of his product gave rise to the phrase “the real McCoy”!) But suddenly we have to be super-invested in his fate, and satisfied that he’ll suck Nucky into his vortex. (Well, him and that unconvincing meet-cute with Patricia Arquette.) Eh.

* I mean, it’s still Boardwalk Empire, so even the weak spots had their moments. That noxious speech about wealth as indicative of moral worth that the college kids were forced to listen to, say; or Richard taking off his mask to gaze at the sunlight; or Nucky’s interrogation of the real-estate kid, and how his too-blunt jokes caught the guy off guard and loosened his lips; or how August Tucker looked like a Michael Rooker cosplayer and wound up with a Tom Savini haircut while McCoy sobbed his way into the closing credits as a moth swirled around a bare lightbulb. But this is the first time in a long time — since Rosetti’s rote “he’s a mad dog!” introduction and Margaret’s doctor crush, probably — that I found myself ambivalent about such a large swathe of the show.

* A few other thoughts, though:

* I really can’t get over what a good-looking show this is. That straight-up Magritte quote of Nucky at the window in Florida, overlooking the sea — man.

* The business with Nucky and his goons in dark suits while all the Floridians are in white was a little blunt, maybe, but it’s interesting to see just how much he looks like a gangster now. Maybe it’s the rise of the fedora on his men that does it.

* Owney Madden shows up! Legs Diamond is mentioned! Voice-off between Rothstein and Narcisse! Yep, still love this shit.

* Ron Livingston’s a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Richard Nixon.

* The heroin stuff with Gillian did contain one lovely little detail: “It melted!” Childlike and sad.

* The confrontation between Nucky and McCoy after the deal fell through was very suspensefully staged. A lot of standing against windows, a lot of off-center placement so there’d be huge stretches of screen for bodies to fall through. I was convinced Tucker was going to open fire.

* “Oh Richard, you need to call yourself to account.” The confessions of Richard Harrow?

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Two: “Resignation”

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

* It’s funny: My first instinct upon seeing Michael Shannon’s enormous moon face at the door, delivering flowers and punching faces, was to say “Agent Van Alden broke bad.” But he’s always been bad, right? A powder keg that exploded and drowned his partner for being both crooked and Jewish. But the character’s been drawn…inconsistently, I think is actually being charitable about it, so it’s somehow easy to look at his current predicament as a fallen-man situation, when of course he never had far to fall to begin with.

* “Too old to hunt. Pretty much blind. Can’t even smell. Senile. Stares at me sometimes like I didn’t raise him from a puppy.” Emma Harrow describes the great terror of all the men on this show: outliving their usefulness.

* “Orphaned in April, married in May, pregnant in August, widowed in November.” Maybe it’s just seeing Dennis Lehane’s name in the writer’s credit, but boy this episode had some cracking dialogue.

* The Chessmen of Mars. Oh Richard, please get into SF.

* The rattling of the cup, the focus on the sight and sound of it, the sense you get that this is a very expensive cup on a very expensive saucer, containing very expensive coffee…this is the kind of detail at which this show excels, and which it can use to drive home information about the emotional state of the characters, in this case Eddie (and Nucky). “Everything is ‘only something,’” Eddie says, and that’s true, but on this show, everything is something.

* The elder O’Banion’s one of the few cases in which I think the casting plus the period voice equals a miss rather than a hit on this show. Nice to see Finn from The Sopranos, though.

* Chalky’s son-in-law’s dad’s voice is lovely. More on that later.

* “Mr. Thompson is in everything. He is in the sky and sea. He is in the dreams of children at night. He is all that there is, forever.” DARKSEID IS

* Okay, so, Richard’s big killing-his-way-to-the-top mission was, what, a favor he’s doing for a fellow vet he met on the train? Is that the gist of it? It’s rare that a plotline confuzzles me on these shows, and rarer still that I’d go public with it if it did — it always baffles me, the way people who are paid to be smart about these things crow about not being able to tell characters apart and stuff like that; wiki it, folks — but I’m a little lost here.

* Ha, the head Prohi is crooked now. Did we know that?

* Chalky Ascendent. I liked that whole entrance-into-the-club sequence, even if you knew it’d go sour the moment that gladhanding doofus who always shows up at the wrong time and is obliviously happy showed up and rubbed his head. Chalky’s earned five minutes of enjoyment.

* Enter Doctor Narcisse, aka Jeffrey Wright with a Marvel Comics villain name and a Trinidadian accent. Man, this show really is voice porn, isn’t it? I could have listened to him go line for line with Chalky all night. Maybe Stephen Root could pop in once in a while to do his demented Foghorn Leghorn now and then.

* Now I’m just going to write down some more dialogue.

* “You wish to leave it at this?” “I ain’t pick it up in the first place.”

* “One looks down in secret and sees many things. You know what I saw? A servant pretending to be a king.”

* “Respect. I wish you to demonstrate it. [Nucky gives Eddie an envelope full of cash] This is beneath you.” “I’m not sure that it is.”

* “Are you quitting or asking for a promotion?” “This will be for you to decide.” (And with that, Eddie leaps right into the deep end of the Season Four dead pool, alongside Nucky’s handsome nephew.)

* Richard can’t kill anymore. I think maybe the pacing of this was bobbled a bit? Like, if I were him, I’d have finished the job before visiting my sister, wouldn’t you? So it’s weird that we see him go all Terminator on two dudes, then visit his sister, then go “oh yeah, I’ve got one last Terminating gig to take care of,” and then he freezes.

* I would not have put it past the show to see the bullet hit the dog, by the way.

* “Dat schemin’ mick fuck.” I giggled with delight, hearing that line. Gangsters!

* Chalky and Dunn need a bottle episode like “Pine Barrens” or “Fly.” I want to watch Williams and Harvey glower and growl at each other for an hour.

* Yessssssssssss Stephen Root, christ, what a voice. “I’d say your Agent Knox is a hayseed of the purest variety.” I want to make that my ringtone.

* Nuck’s got an instinct about Knox, though. That’s a good sign, especially given how grim it is that his secret completely eluded Root’s fixer character.

* Van Alden growls during the attack on the Democratic rally. He didn’t used to be comic relief, remember?

* Does Chalky take Nucky’s gift of 10% of the club to Narcisse as an insult, or will he write it off as the cost of doing business? Will the lynching of the woman who caused the trouble affect either of their POVs on the transaction?

* Acting Director Hoover!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hahahahahahaha, sure, why not, Boardwalk Empire. I like the introduction of J. Edgar as a pint-sized martinet in a back room.

* “A thing mixed is a thing weakened.” “Is that from the Bible?” “That’s from me.”

* I’m glad you didn’t get the shot of the feet after the lynching, by the way. You know the one — the shot where we see the car drive off and we pan over and up and her feet are dangling. I mean, it turns out they just choked her to death, they didn’t hang her, but still. Leave it unseen.

* Eddie’s breaking bad, haha

* Who’s trying to lure Richard? Does this “Carl Billings” quest have anything to do with Emma being in the red?

* What a shame this show launched opposite the final four episodes of Breaking Bad. I gather HBO doesn’t care when you watch it, as long as you do watch it, but buzz is based on that initial airing, no?

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode One: “New York Sour”

Monday, September 9th, 2013


* Before I say anything else, please go read Ryan Leas’s piece on Boardwalk Empire for Salon, by far the best writing on this show I’ve ever seen. Alone out of the professional critics I’ve seen tackle this show, most of whom appear to be imagining themselves at a cool kids’ table with David Chase and Matthew Weiner, gleefully refusing Terence Winter a seat, Leas gets what the violence and spectacle of this show are, what they mean. It’s not the show trying and failing to to have taste.

* Anyways:

* Aw, that poor gas-station guy from No Country for Old Men. All he does is get menaced during monetary transactions with professional killers.

* Richard Harrow emerges silently, retreats into the darkness.

* Dunn Purnsley! He’s a main character now? Or is he just the germinative incident for the Chalky White storyline? Either way, I am so deeply glad to see Erik LaRay Harvey get more screentime, in a season premiere no less. That is a very odd, very magnetic performance, made more so by the beaten-in eye socket make-up.

* Hey, Nucky’s German factotum (thanks, Cicero Daily Tribune!) survived! This is just the first of the Season Three finale cliffhangers resolved in fairly short order this episode: Rothstein’s not in prison from Nucky’s frame-up using the treasury secretary’s distillery; Masseria’s willing to meet and forget the massacre of his men post-truce; even Rosetti’s right-hand man is allowed to come back to A.C. for the meeting.

* I’ll never not be enough of a mafia nerd not to be thrilled any time I’m watching a scene in which Joe Masseria, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and Meyer Lansky are characters.

* I sure would like it if there’s a Lucky/Meyer break-up-to-make-up storyline this season. That’s this show’s great undying romance, after all, if history is any indication. (Spoiler alert for non-mafia nerds?)

* “All of man’s troubles come from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself.” I think this might be true! Out of the mouth of Rothstein, man. (Hat tip to Jim Henley for reminding me of the genius of “Flip a coin. When it’s in the air, you’ll know what side you’re hoping for.”)

* Michael Stuhlbarg’s Rothstein echoes Eddie Cantor in some way, doesn’t he? Pale pancake-makeup complexion, studied speech pattern — a performance by a performer who’s become his character. You can’t spell “vaudevillian” without V-I-L-L-I-A-N.

* Nuck at the window. Lots of conspicuous framing of Nucky overlooking things this episode.

* Leander is Gillian’s lawyer, lol.

* Hey, the Sigorskys are still around. That’s rad. I thought the saga of Jimmy’s little boy would be over, and that Richard’s girlfriend and her PTSD father would be gone with him. I hope there’s more thread to tug at there.

* Was Eli’s son hot last season too, or is this new?

* Mickey Doyle is back on my television. Truly this is the most wonderful time of the year.

* How soon did you see Agent Knox coming? Something was up with the guy, that was clear when he took that lingering look at the payoff money changing hands, but it took me until his next scene to realize what he was.

* Fuck “cellar door” — “Cicero, Illinois” makes my heart sing like no other two-word English phrase.

* Hey, it’s Herc from The Wire!

* “He gets my fuckin’ name wrong??”

* Actual note written down: “YESSSSS Eddie Cantor!” NERD

* Nuck loves the showgirls, huh. What’s up with that? I mean, I guess obviously they’re reliably attractive and relatively liberated. But are we to read into their nature as performers, entertainers, actors, dissemblers-for-hire?

* Gillian Darmody is, indeed, “quite the scene-painter.” Aaaaand she’s a junkie, and a whore. I’m still capable of feeling very, very bad for Gillian, the Cersei of New Jersey. As they made a very welcome effort to point out after that incredible Season Three climax’s smoke cleared, Nucky has an awful lot to answer for in terms of how she became what she is.

* The scenes with Richard on the hunt for…whatever he was on the hunt for regarding the insurance company were great, but as I guess is clear from this sentence I have no idea what that was. Maybe we’re not supposed to know. The episode is structured to make it look like he was trying to find his sister, but that doesn’t exactly square with, you know, killing his way there. Separate missions?

* Don’t stop fighting for the cherry and the white, college boy. I don’t think things will go well for you otherwise.

* Los Bros Capone

* “Yes, boss.” Christ. Nauseating scene, amazingly good at making the viewer feel Dunn’s helplessness, loathing, and rage. I knew exactly what he’d be getting himself into and didn’t care. I just wanted to see him stab that guy to death, in that moment. You want a show that addresses race, critics who cover the Mad Men beat? Good god. Ran right at the most noxious shibboleths of anti-black racism with a broken bottle. Right at the end of the sexiest scene in the show’s history, too, I think. Wow.

* Right, so, this next scene was where it became clear that our new agent setting the old agent up.

* Back to Dunn, now with Chalky and Nucky and Eli. I like how unwilling he is to own up to wrongdoing. He was being raped.

* The steel blue gray of that burial scene. Wow.

* Ron Livingston, I presume?

* It’s just a split second, but I loved the beat where Gillian realizes he’s not in it for the prostitution. Gretchen Mol is usually as heightened as her Lady Macbeth archetype calls for, as are a lot of the performers on this show, but that was really subtle and really strong work.

* Roy Phillips. Piggly Wiggly. Big Business.

* Outrageous splendor of the shots of that Cicero Daily Tribune office, for no good reason.

* “I don’t want anyone else’s grief.” Aw Nuck. Good luck with that.

* Chalky front and center, at least so far.

* “Bring on the dancing girls.” The Onyx Girls in a post-Miley era. “Deliciously primative.”

* Agent Knox:Boardwalk Empire::Todd:Breaking Bad

* “Albatross Hotel. Transients welcome. Closed.”

* “Big hauls down here. Come and see. McCoy.”

* “Hello. I’ve come home.” Keep making Richard Harrow a myth, Boardwalk Empire.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Twelve: “Margate Sands”

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

* 1. Mad Men 2. Breaking Bad 3. Boardwalk Empire

* Boardwalk “Blackwater”

* I’m consistently entertained by this show, and amazed by that entertainment. I mean it. I haven’t re-read all my reviews so I’m not 100% sure, but I’m almost there: I don’t think I once reached the closing credits this season thinking “Meh,” let alone “Goddammit.” That puts Boardwalk in very rare company indeed. So I’ll go to war for this show, one of the great pleasures of my life over the past few months. I wish a fraction of the ink spilled over that shitty Homeland episode had been spent on this magnificent thing, this pretty hate machine.

* I’m not sure what new thing I can add to all the reasons I’ve cited before as to why I think this show really has become Great TV. Here’s what I said about it this time last year:

I think that when genre material gets sufficiently dark or weird, when its tropes become a form of sinister spectacle rather than just hitting the marks required by convention, that’s a depth all its own — a way to communicate the emotional and philosophical themes more commonly articulated by plot and dialogue, if at all. Boardwalk Empire the balls-to-the-wall engine of gorgeously shot death that perverts and slaughters its characters in periodic fits of nihilism is saying at least as much as some theoretical Boardwalk Empire the meticulously drawn character study, or Boardwalk Empire the rigorously developed allegory for contemporary political issues.

You can quibble over the quality of the execution, and that’s perfectly valid. But to dismiss Boardwalk Empire as phony baloney, as faux-Great TV, to say it’s empty-calorie gangsterism, is to make an argument that aesthetic sensation is inherently empty sensation. Personally, I think watching beautifully backlit bodies jerk from machine-gun fire for half a minute as men whoop and cheer says something without speaking. Same as a distorted guitar. Same as a visit from the Black Lodge. Its superrealism is real to me. There’s a line I wrote down from this episode and now I don’t know who said it, or when, or why, and google doesn’t help, but here: “Where’s the God in this?” As real as it gets.

* Part of the problem, perhaps, is that it’s obvious to everyone watching that this will never be a show that will make its audience complain “When is someone gonna get whacked?” This will never be a show that will frustrate audience expectations — delay their gratification in service of playing a season-long game instead of an episode-by-episode one, sure, but never frustrate them. For God’s sake, Terence Winter wrote “Pine Barrens” and spent the rest of his tenure on The Sopranos trying to convince David Chase to resolve the fate of the Russian. Is there a more perfectly illustrative anecdote than that in the history of television? The trick is to deliver what the audience expects in a way that feels like it fulfills those expectations rather than panders to them. Does Boardwalk pull it off? Watch the Richard sequence from this episode and then you tell me.

* It’s easy to overlook in light of everything else that happened — happened seconds later, even — but I think Gillian’s storyline in this episode was the first time I felt Boardwalk Empire really did right by one of its female characters, really treated her plight, her scheme, her damage with same sense of enormity with which it’s treated those of the men for so long. Her sexual brinksmanship with Gyp Rosetti amazed me.

Having driven away the men who could have protected her and Tommy from the depredations of Gyp and his goons, Gillian realizes, too late, that the Artemis Club truly is no place for a child, or even for her. So she attempts to free herself and her grand/son from captivity with the only weapon she has: her ability to figure out what men want, and deliver. This is likely the most high-stakes gamble she’s ever taken with her sexuality since the bad old days of her childhood relationship with the Commodore. Gyp is a 1) thin-skinned 2) sociopath who gets off on 3) sado-masochistic 4) humiliation and 5) asphyxiation: any one of those ingredients are potentially lethal to a prostitute forced to do business with them, let alone all of them in tandem with nothing less than the life of child in the balance. However monstrous and unsympathetic Gillian’s behavior has been throughout the last two seasons, I felt nothing but tremendous sadness for her as she put her body and dignity on the line, probing Gyp for his sexual secrets, delicately taking one step at a time until at last he put himself where she needed him to be. How devastating for her and us both that her best, the sum total of everything she’d been forced to learn by the men who preyed on her for years and years and made her into a predator in turn, wasn’t good enough. “Someone’s gotta lose.” Ugh, ugh, ugh.

* Her subsequent “conversation” with Nucky, after suddenly appearing, beatific and from out of nowhere, in a hallway full of dead people, was the episode’s most explicitly dreamlike moment, and as I’ve said over and over the show is rarely better than when it’s dragging the structure and imagery of nightmares into the real world. This was Nucky’s earlier hallucinations of a young Jimmy Darmody made real — a sudden and unavoidable encounter with the past in living form. What a nightmare for Gillian, and what a collision with the uncanny for the baffled, then horrified Nucky. Never forget, Enoch.

* Even Margaret’s material worked, at long last. Kelly MacDonald goes a long way toward overlooking how poorly the show has historically done by Margaret. Her rapidfire 180-degree morality turns throughout season one were a mess, and her fixation on religious guilt during season two was more consistent but also more dull, since nothing is death to drama like Roman Catholicism. For a long time it seemed like her newfound interest in women’s reproductive health and freedom was just a new way to atone after the failures of temperance and Jesus.

* But when she stepped out of the communal bathroom after her abortion and encountered the Luciferian presence of Nucky in the hallway, mirroring the miscarriage that brought him to her in the pilot episode, it all clicked for me: For the women of Boardwalk Empire biology is destiny and pregnancy is a life sentence. Margaret loses her baby at her abusive husband’s hands, driving her to Nucky (and driving Nucky to order a murder, for what I believe to be the first time). Years later, her pregnancy with Owen is the final straw for her decision to leave Nucky, and she abandons Nucky and (more importantly?) his money within minutes of reaching down between her legs and finding blood following her abortion. Pregnancy through rape irrevocably altered the lives of Gillian Darmody and her young son. Pregnancy by Jimmy wedded Angela Darmody to a man, a life, and a sexuality she had no business with. The first Mrs. Van Alden was kept in lonely thrall by her husband’s decision not to fund fertility treatments for her, and left him once she discovered he’d impregnated another woman. That woman, Lucy Danziger, viewed her pregnancy as parasitical, sucking away her life and looks and freedom, and ran from it as soon as she could. The inability of women of this time period to control their own lives without being able to control their own bodies is as much of a throughline through all three seasons as anything on the show. You wouldn’t know to look at it that Boardwalk Empire is one of the most feminist and pro-choice shows on television, but there you have it.

* That opening shot. Slo-mo balletic violence! Full Peckinpah! Slowly seguing into normal-speed villain walking up and firing into the camera! Full Scorsese! Margaret closes the door on Nucky at the end! Full Coppola! Nucky puts on a hat and disappears into the crowd! Full Silence of the Lambs! Not a show that’s afraid to wear its influences on its lapel.

* Also not a show that’s afraid to bob and weave a bit in terms of where you expect the weight of the narrative to fall. Who else thought we were headed for a big one-time-only winner-take-all assault? Instead we open with a gang-war montage (Godfather again, but violent like Casino) that takes place over the course of at least a couple weeks. It’s the inverse of how I expected all of season two to lead up to Jimmy, Eli, and the Commodore’s coup against Nucky, which instead happened in the first episode.

* You’d have to dig a couple seasons back into Breaking Bad to find a more delightful cast of heavies, by the way. A brief highlight reel:

** Mickey Doyle’s giddily obnoxious telephone exchange with Arnold Rothstein: “Am I disturbing you?” “Yes.” “Oh. Alright.”

** The sweat pouring down the face of the big undercover cop as he beats Luciano up.

** Meyer Lansky’s face as he contemplates Luciano’s screw-up on their way up to see Rothstein. Yikes. A glimpse of the coldness you expect from the guy who’ll dream up the Commission. (Which, you might have noticed, Nucky Thompson proposed a few episodes back.)

** Rothstein’s “heh, what a goon” smile as Masseria curses at Meyer and Charlie.

** Capone’s street-fighter stance vs. Chalky’s prizefighter stance.

** Michael Stuhlbarg’s inexpressive doll eyes and flat affect as he demands 99% of the distillery as payment for helping Nucky not die.

** Gaston Means leaning into the frame to deliver two whispered words in the ears of a great man and thus change the landscape of American criminality.

* Then there’s the late, lamented Gyp Rosetti. I loved his suddenly gentlemanly affectation as he instructs his goons to please show Miss Darmody in. I loved the obliviously rotten job he did of playing along with Gillian’s affection for children when asked how old his daughters are: “Sixteen and fourteen, I think.” I loved the veiled threat as he repeated Tommy’s age back to Gillian: “Six. Got his whole life ahead of him.” I loved how hungry he was to reveal his masochism, given the slightest prompt, but how he cagily first cloaked it in sadism. This was all in the space of a single conversation, by the way, during which he also split the double Ts in “settled” the way my Brooklynite grandfather used to do. Need I even mention his final scene, the unhinged way in which he launches into his Nucky impression, then launches his face at his goons as he completes it by bugging his eyes out? A magnificent character, a go-for-broke performance, funny on purpose in a way Homeland doesn’t have the brains or stones to be, pretty much ever. Bobby Cannavale, ladies and gentlemen. I mean, this? I’ve had entire mornings like this on a weekly basis for months now. I get it. I get it.

* Finally, Richard. Richard Harrow. This is tricky territory, because whatever else it was, however successful it was, Richard’s rampage was fanservice. I mean, let’s be honest about it. Winter’s described it as such in interviews, not using the term but echoing the intent. As such it could be one of those maybe-slightly-too-cornpone moments — the drunk embittered veteran dad letting Tommy sleep in his late son’s room; Nucky lighting a cigarette and throwing his carnation on the ground — writ show-ruiningly large. And talk about referencing the crime-movie pantheon: This is Taxi Driver given a Jason Bourne makeover. Also a potential disaster.

It worked as well as anything I’ve ever seen on television. The choreography, the staging and layout and pacing, Huston’s performance and how he used his character’s clipped way of moving and his incongruously tweedy get-up and his unseeing eye to turn himself into a totally unique and convincing action hero, all that was great, yes. But what made it was the ending, and the confrontation with that marvelously well-cast creep with the flaring nostrils and the schoolmarmish way of saying “Put it…down” and the totally believable nihilism of “You think I give a FUCK?” When Tommy ran to Richard and hugged him as we watched through the blood-spattered glass, I started to sob. Big tearless spasms wracking my entire body. I sobbed for a little boy’s chance to feel safe and loved again — I have a father’s weakness, now, for children made to suffer. And I sobbed for a man who’s spent years killing people, because he believes people have no connection to each other, finally connecting. Not because I look for the heart of gold inside every mass murderer, but because Richard’s nihilism is something that haunts me every fucking day I get up in the morning, and I want to believe that damaged people aren’t forever trapped in their damage. Hashing this out in the context of an unstoppable killing machine in a Phantom of the Opera mask orchestrating a gangland massacre to protect the child he loves isn’t bullshit, it’s a way to make the event as big as the emotion. That’s why I love Boardwalk Empire. It’s as big as you feel.

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

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

* “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.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “A Man, a Plan…”

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

* A dream comes true. Echoing your opening credits in your opening scene is a surefire signal that something momentous is going to happen in the episode, that’s for sure. And while we’re on the subject of how this show brings the dream world into the real world, that shot of Neptune running into the sea was disproportionately unnerving to me. Typhoon! Typhoon!

* The smiling old woman with the rotten teeth was a big moment, too. I don’t know…I just feel like this show has gotten really, really confident in its ability to wordlessly, plotlessly communicate itself.

* Gaston Means is fucking phenomenal. That’s mostly Stephen Root at work, of course: the snake-oil accent, the purred one-liners (“I hope you don’t choose a surgeon on the same basis”), the way he smizes after advising Jess Smith to take his money and “consign it to the fires of hell,” the obviousness of how unused to being caught off guard he is with Smith surprises him in the middle of his home invasion, his IDGAF grin after Smith takes care of the job for him. But it’s also how Means is being presented as a character: Here’s a guy who in the case of Smith alone is playing trusted advisor to at least three people that we know of, all of whom are at literally mortal odds by the end of the gambit. Here’s a guy who’ll double-book a hired gun to people on opposite ends of a conflict, only to serve as his own triggerman. He couldn’t be further removed from the immigrant-gangster milieu of the New York/New Jersey/Chicago Jewish/Irish/Italian criminals, yet he demonstrates that a true genius for graft knows no ethnicity. I hope the show gives him room to breathe — its track record for this sort of character puts him at about 2:1 odds against.

* Speaking of: Please let a negro nightclub be Chalky’s ticket to increased screen time and plot prominence.

* Also speaking of: I liked Owen. Hailing as he did from the auld sod, how could I, Sean Thomas Patrick Collins, not like Owen? But…did he ever really get off the ground as a character? Better: Did he ever really reveal his character? It was never clear to me whether he was ever truly down for the Cause or simply a gangster who went where the market for his talents provided. It was never clear to me if he was the compunctionless killer who choked a man to death in a men’s room and remorseless liar who proposed to poor Katie knowing full well he’d be skipping out on her, or the romantic who apparently sincerely planned a life on the lam with Margaret and her two-point-five kids. This made it difficult to know how to feel about pretty much everything he said and did in this episode.

* Crystal clear how to feel about our final glimpse of him, though: jesus, that was grim, grim business — high-Godfather mafia-movie violence at its most dramatic and unpleasant. Margaret’s dragged-out screaming and sobbing and flailing in response was all but unbearable. Certainly that character’s finest moment in a long, long time.

* Regarding Means and Owen, and also Lansky & Luciano’s betrayal of Nucky & Owen to their former rival Masseria: Their respective storylines in this episode embody something Terence Winter said in interviews after the conclusion of season two: that among other things, the show turns out to be a show about the difference between people who are able to make a go of high-level high-stakes criminality versus those that aren’t. This, I suppose, is how he squared the circle of having people named Al Capone interact with people named “Jimmy Darmody” — since we know what the show can and can’t do with those two sets of people, they might as well make it a theme.

* Richard’s galpal looks a little bit like Gillian Darmody, doesn’t she?

* The shovel to the protruding head murder is one of the most appalling I can remember seeing on television. If Owen-in-a-box is The Godfather, Gyp’s execution of his underling’s hapless fisherman cousin is Casino. Makes me wonder if my “Richard is the endgame” theory is incorrect and Gyp’s heretofore acquiescent underling will be his boss’s undoing.

“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine: “The Milkmaid’s Lot”

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Last week’s thoughts today, again!

* “The man is on the phone. The gypsy.” Nightmare phrasing right there. This show is actually quite good at tipping reality juuust over into nightmare. In fact, now that I write that out, isn’t that what Nucky’s impairment following his concussion is all about? Giving his speech and thought process the non-sequitur, molasses-slow quality of the show’s dream sequences? I thought it was tremendously effective, placing him in a dimension just slightly alternate to reality like that.

* Actually, while we’re on the subject, isn’t that the point of Gyp Rosetti at this point as well? Gyp’s reality is obviously all too real to him — from what we’ve seen last week and this week he’s barely holding it together — but that surreal, unpredictable intensity makes him a nightmare figure to everyone else. The guy strode on to the beach to look on his works while wearing a tri-corner hat, for pete’s sake. If Nucky saw that he wouldn’t know if he was awake, asleep, or hallucinating.

* “I’ll wear that fucking dago’s guts like a necktie.” I wonder if it’s Margaret’s failure to get with the handsome liberal doctor that’s pushing her toward escaping her marriage to a murderous monster by running away with…the murderous monster’s chief enforcer. Maybe it’s just those smilin’ Irish eyes of his.

* Tommy’s an artist, just like his mother.

* Everyone at the Legion hall loves Richard. Whatever’s broken inside him, they don’t see it.

* I still think he’s Nucky’s endgame against Gyp, somehow.

* Enormously depressing, watching all the real-life gangsters wash their hands of Nucky. Depressing even though I know the basic contours of Joe Masseria’s career and thus could predict how this particular segment of it would shake out. Now, I suppose, we learn how well the show can manage building up real-world people into characters knowing full well they can only take them off the board at the appointed time.