Posts Tagged ‘Boardwalk Empire’

Q&A: Terence Winter on the end of “Boardwalk Empire”

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


Nucky started the series as a crooked politician, but as Prohibition continued he became more of the traditional gangster. Was it the law that unleashed the criminal in him?

People were made millionaires overnight by Prohibition. If you were willing to traffic in illegal alcohol and run the risk of getting arrested or hijacked by other gangsters, you had to be prepared to do things you hadn’t done before — like murdering people. That’s what Jimmy was warning Nucky about.

You know, there was no shame about it. People had been drinking beer their whole lives, and suddenly it’s illegal? It was pretty hard to convince anybody other than the temperance movement that alcohol was this bad thing. It was just illegal, not morally wrong. Your average man on the street had no intention of giving up his daily beer or scotch — he just had to figure out how to do it. So these guys weren’t looked down upon. It’s not like they were heroin dealers or murderers. They were providing a service, a commodity, that most people found innocuous.

There was also a collision of historic events that not only made the gangster world possible, but were tailor-made for it. You had a generation of young men coming back from World War I who spent the last two years in trenches killing people for free. Now, suddenly, all you have to do is guard a truck and maybe shoot somebody, and you could make a fortune. Guys lined up all the way around the block to do that, since they’d basically been doing exactly that for nothing. You had all these disenfranchised, disillusioned young men who were perfectly willing and able to get into that business.

There’s a character on the show who says: “The premise of fiction is that people have some sort of connection to each other. But they don’t.” Is that your conclusion as well?

I think it’s a matter of perspective. I’ve always thought that when they say ignorance is bliss, the converse to that is that knowledge is hell. The more you know, the bleaker things can get. Jimmy once said that all you have to worry about is when you’re alone at night. You run out of booze and you run out of company, and [then] you’re really alone with your thoughts.

I interviewed Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter about the upcoming finale, and his next project with Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Bobby Cannavale, for Rolling Stone.


The HuffPost Affair

Monday, October 20th, 2014

I’ll be talking The Affair, Boardwalk Empire, and Homeland on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert at 5pm today. Turn on tune in!


“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Seven: “Friendless Child”

Monday, October 20th, 2014

“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?”—Bobby Bacala, The Sopranos

“You tell yourself it’s quick, but you don’t know. You can’t know, until it’s you, and then you can’t tell anyone.”—Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire

In an echo of the New Jersey gangster masterpiece that spawned it, Boardwalk Empire‘s penultimate episode ever — “Friendless Child” — walked Nucky Thompson right up to the edge of the great unknown. He’s lost everything now, or close enough not to make much of a difference. His unlikely right-hand man Mickey Doyle and ruthless, loyal bodyguard Archie were tossed on the pile of bodies that’s been mounting around him for years — a levee of corpses designed to protect his kingdom by the sea. But that empire, too, has fallen, traded away for the life of a nephew who wants nothing to do with him to a trio of crime lords who couldn’t possibly intend to honor the agreement. When they break it, they’ll break it with a bullet.

But now that Nucky is alone – now that there are no more plans to hatch, deals to make, wars to fight – what does he see in his isolation? A letter from Gillian Darmody, and the sight of her face staring back, begging for help. Her plea and her gaze are an indictment of the terrible crime Nucky committed by bringing her to theCommodore in order to begin his long road to power. (A decision, we learn tonight, he made knowing full well the fate that awaited her.) By having her direct them not just at Nucky but at everyone watching the show, Boardwalk makes this act’s importance clear in no uncertain terms. That final shot puts young Gillian at the center not only of the frame, but by extension the episode. It suggests that the suffering of the series’ greatest female character is no less important than the moves and machinations of the men fighting for control of the empire she eked out an existence within. It shows that that empire would not exist without the suffering of Gillian and countless other people like her. It’s the series’ gutsiest, and most moral, move to date.

I reviewed tonight’s penultimate Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone. I cannot stress enough that if this show were the vapid, self-serious shoot ‘em up it’s made out to be, Gillian Darmody would not be where she is in this episode.


HuffPost Dead

Monday, October 13th, 2014

I’ll be talking Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and (god help me) The Walking Dead on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show at 4:40pm today. Click here to tune in!

And if you missed last week’s show, watch it here!


“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Six: “The Devil You Know”

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

I can’t really excerpt anything from my review of tonight’s Boardwalk Empire without ruining it for someone. If you’ve seen it, though, please read the review.


Today on HuffPost Live: Homeland, Boardwalk Empire…and Twin Peaks

Monday, October 6th, 2014

I’ll be discussing the season premiere of Homeland, the latest episode of Boardwalk Empire, and the news that Twin Peaks is returning for a new season in 2016 (!!!!!!!! more on that anon) on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show at 4:50pm. I’ll be talking about Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, and Twin Peaks (!!!) on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show today at 4:50pm. Click here to tune in!


“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Four: “King of Norway”

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

“You want it to be one way. But it’s the other way.” That’s a quote from The Wire, another great HBO drama of crime and community. But Nucky Thompson – and the Boardwalk Empire viewing audience – would do well to heed the words of the steely-eyed young Baltimore drug lord Marlo Stanfield. When a fictionalized version of a bit player in gangland lore declares war against Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torrio, and Meyer Lansky – the three men who established the most successful organized crime operation in American history – that war can only end one way.

Granted, it may not be as simple as Nucky dying in defeat at the end. Perhaps he’ll find some way to make peace with the kings of New York —”paying Roman tribute,” as he puts it to current crime boss Salvatore Maranzano right before the Luciano/Lansky/Torrio alliance tries to assassinate them both. All we know for sure is that he won’t be sending them to their graves as promised. But with material this varied and rich it hardly matters. The task of tonight’s dynamite episode — “King of Norway” — was simply to show whether a journey to a preordained destination can be worth taking. The answer is yes.

“My life is a fuckin’ shipwreck.” “Well, land ho.” I reviewed tonight’s fine Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone.


Terence Winter is coming

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I interviewed Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter about the end of the series — and the start of his new one with Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Bobby Cannavale — for the TV Issue of Rolling Stone, on stands now. Says so right there on the cover and everything. I hope you like it!


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

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Power is a performance. It’s a matter of knowing your audience, picking up on whether you should be funny or scary, when to play to the cheap seats or act with awards-caliber subtlety. Isn’t this the obstacle faced by Steve Buscemi in the minds of many viewers? His quiet, hangdog intensity as Nucky Thompson is an outlier in an era of volcanic, Byronic TV antiheroes. But that’s the point: For all his successes before and after Prohibition, Thompson’s decision to become more than “half a gangster” has forced him into a role he can’t quite master. As Boardwalk Empire hits the halfway mark of its final season in tonight’s episode — “Cuanto” — it examines the nature of that performance, and those of other characters who’ve found themselves shoved onto stage.

As a boy, the future chairman of the boardwalk is brought before the Commodore, who offers the young Nucky a glimpse of his grand plans for the Jersey shore (and an unwitting peek at his collection of photos of sexualized young girls), grinning when the kid notes that this is Atlantic City “as you wish it to be.” That wish includes everything from a stronger transportation infrastructure to segregated housing. But Nucky’s ability to follow along does nothing to placate his boss. “You think you’re a smart boy.” “If I say yes, you’ll think I’m boasting. If I say no you’ll think I’m lying.” “Don’t try to parse me.” The boy is trying his best, but this command performance is unscripted, in front of the toughest crowd in town.

So he’s naturally flabbergasted when he and his brother Eli are rewarded for going off-book. After catching them breaking into the Commodore’s hotel for a taste of the good life (read: indoor plumbing), Sheriff Lindsay takes the Thompson boys to his own house for a home-cooked meal with his kind, politically minded wife and smart, friendly family. They eat good food, they tell corny jokes, they negotiate a role for the patriarch in Mrs. Lindsay’s temperance crusade, over which the Sheriff conspiratorially shares a nod and a wink with Nucky. It’s too much for the kid, who breaks down crying at his first glimpse of a life that’s emotionally rewarding — a life where he can simply be himself. Cut to an hour later, when he’s asking the Sheriff to assassinate his own father. The terms with which Lindsay demurs are revealing: “Don’t go where you don’t belong. Don’t take what isn’t yours. Don’t pass your burdens on to others. Don’t make me do my job — because I will.” Know your role, Deputy Sheriff Thompson.

The rest of my review of tonight’s Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone continues along these lines.


“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Three: “What Jesus Said”

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Ironically, the underworld is the one place where our antihero’s real-life inspiration — Nucky Johnson — made a legacy that lasted. As the host of the 1929 Atlantic City Conference, a multiethnic gathering of crime bosses from across the country whose ranks included such Boardwalk Empire characters as Meyer Lansky, Charlie Luciano, John Torrio, Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Waxey Gordon, Jake Guzik, and Owney Madden, Johnson was a pivotal player in the organization of the criminal network known as the National Crime Syndicate. This in turn was a crucial step on the road to the establishment of New York’s “Five Families” and the nationwide governing body called the Commission by Luciano and Torrio several years later, following the bloody resolution of the war between Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano.

But the Atlantic City Conference – like Arnold Rothstein’s murder in 1928, like the stock market crash and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 – falls in Boardwalk‘s seven-year gap between its fourth and fifth seasons. Generally, Boardwalk‘s storytelling instincts are sound, particularly in building to big climaxes, so that’s a decision worth trusting. Lining up the end of the show with (presumably) the final consolidation of power by Luciano and Lansky makes sense — and hey, nothing’s stopping us from deciding that Nelson Van Alden and Eli Thompson were Capone’s St. Valentine’s Day triggermen on our own. But given the fictional Nucky’s envy of Joe Kennedy’s legacy, cutting the real Nucky’s single greatest contribution to American history is a curious choice. However, Nucky’s conversation with Lansky in Havana, in which it’s revealed they haven’t seen each other since 1928, means the Conference never even took place in the Boardwalk universe — so it’s possible that the show’s simply playing with the timeline.

Either way, Nucky’s empire as it currently stands has narrow boundaries, and establishing them cost him everything. His sister and parents, including his abusive father, are dead. His brother Eli is in hiding. His surrogate father and son — the Commodore and Jimmy Darmody, respectively — both turned on him, and both died for it. His closest companion for years, Eddie, killed himself. He lost his first wife, Mabel, in childbirth and his second, Margaret, when she could no longer stand him. His relationship with his nephew Willie is cordial enough, sure, but as Kennedy notes, that’s a very thin reed to hang a life on.

It’s only in talking to Sally Wheat – long-distance love interest, business partner, and the closest thing he’s had to a friend in the entire series – that Nucky feels truly at home. In moment so sweet it’s shocking for a show like this, the two of them listen to “Happy Days Are Here Again” together over the phone. Suddenly a relationship between two Prohibition Era bootleggers becomes recognizable to anyone who’s ever enjoyed a favorite song with a loved one over videochat.

Well, I used my knowledge of mafia lore and close reading of film to try to predict the end of Boardwalk Empire AND compare a very sweet plot point to using Google+ Hangouts in my review of tonight’s episode, so I’ve probably peaked.


“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?
I’ll
Playing the saw,
Eyeball
MY SON MY FUCKING SON
DADDY PLEASE DADDY PLEASE

Sort of the show’s Dan Dority vs. Captain Turner, wasn’t it. Breathtaking.

* “Stay rightchea and don’t raise no fuss.” “Don’t like it.” “Not meant to be liked.” Chalky has a lot of confidence in the plan.

* “A daughter for a Daughter.” “I understand I rocked her right. That was some sweet jelly.” “Behold the noble savage.” “That me. Bankroll in one pocket and pistol in the other. And all the rest? I never did give a fuck.” “A nod from me and she’s gone. I’d say that makes us even.” These right here are two men who haaaaaaaaate each other. Narcisse is to Chalky what Gyp Rosetti was to Nucky: a force of nature our hero had the misfortune to attract and aggravate. The only difference is…well, it’s Richard, isn’t it?

* My notes on the sniper sequence, in their entirety:
There’s richard.
DO IT RICHARD
DO IT
DO IT
DO IT
DO IT
Oh shit.
Richard.
Richard.
Richard.

Even if he were to survive, Richard would not survive this. Chalky, a man who couldn’t stand wearing another man’s clothes, likely couldn’t weather this either. And Maybelle White, a character I was just two weeks ago saying could have been fascinating, is lost to us. This was an ugly scene.

* Narcisse arrested. Everyone’s getting rolled up because Eli killed Knox — and Hoover’s using it to come at Marcus Garvey, not any of the world-historical criminals tangentially involved in the murder.

* “Truth is what those in power wish it to be.” Lord Valentin of House Narcisse, ladies and gentlemen.

* “I am a businessman and a follower of Christ.” Beneath Narcisse’s narcissism is a deep-rooted need for these things to be true, of course.

* “Yes…sir.” Now that’s a comeuppance.

* “Your father is safe with friends out west….He’s your father. My brother. And I’m not the person you think I am.” Or that I thought he was, for that matter. Once Eli popped up in the next scene I knew where he’d be and who’d be picking him up, but until he popped up I figured he was dead. Nucky surprised me.

* Eli and Van Alden, together again. Gillian’s nicked. Rothstein shows Margaret to her lush new apartment hahahahaha. Sally stood up. Chalky out to pasture. Daughter singing in some shithole. And Richard’s on the train, thank christ
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.
huh.”

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.