Welcome to Atlantic City, where they mix the sex with asphyxia and even the kids are psychopaths.
For the third time this season the opening of the show featured two people getting it on as "You'd Be Surprised" begins with Gyp Rosseti getting choked out by a lady friend. Much of the episode centers on the aftermath of the ambush in Tabor Heights, which left a portion of Nucky's crew dead and his liquor hijacked by the Italian hothead.
Nucky sees Rosetti as a true threat, and after brother Eli reports on the massacre he calls a meeting with Arnold Rothstein, one of New York's major players. As they discuss how to handle a problem named Gyp the conversation blossoms into a fantastic little argument between Nuck and Rothstein, with the normally even-keeled latter finally showing bravado in hurling some measured insults. The scene ends with Lucky, Lansky, and Owen staring each other down in the "waiting room" and Rothstein storming out of Atlantic City. The next time we see him he's meeting with Gyp Rosetti in the hijacked little town with a gas pump. The two form a deal over a premise of "Nucky gotta go".
I would say it doesn't look good for the former Treasurer, but it never does, so that'd be redundant. The external forces of hired assassins and thugs blackmailing family and loved ones are old foes. Nucky is prepared for them, but is he ready for an internal conflict? Infatuated with the young actress Billie Kent, Nucky goes on a vendetta to secure his mistress a lead role in a faltering NYC production. After asking nicely, Nucky depends on the heavy, roguish persuasion of Eddie Cantor (Stephen DeRosa) and the assistance of associates Chalky and Dunn to get the play back on track. Real-life (forgotten) superstar Cantor has some memorable scenes and one-liners in this episode, including one where he asks Billie if she knows the name Lucy Dazinger, the beau she replaced.
As he watches Billie and the blackmailed Eddie perform "The Naught Virgin" Nucky gets word of the failed assassination of Gyp Rosetti, one helped orchestrated by Rothstein. Luckily, we get to see the high tension scene, where a collared Gyp uses a prostitute as a human shield and stumbles down a bloody hallway, naked, firing one weapon while the other swings freely in the crisp Jersey air. The aftermath of this scene isn't revealed, even in the next episode, but wow, are we in for some serious retribution. If Gyp gets mad when you wish him good luck how will he take it when you try to blow his brains out?
Weaving in and out of the world of booze trafficking and murder are the tales of political consequence. The U.S. Senate wants some answers concerning the state of Prohibition, and on the advice of Andrew Mellon (fellow Pitt alum shoutout!), played by James Cromwell in a guest spot, the government decides to peer a little closer at the activities of the Attorney General Harry Daugherty. The slick politician has roamed around the show for a few seasons, and now we get a bit of a payoff as this action mirrors real life tension around Daugherty during 1922-23. His aide (and rumored lover) Jess Smith sweats bullets through both episodes as the heat of mob goons and powerful bureaucrats tighten intensifies. Gaston Means, timeless American con artist and at the time of Boardwalk Empire, member of the Justice Department, flutters in the background, assisting whoever can most benefit him most at the time, The awesome Stephen Root plays Means like a southern snake, using words and phrases so labyrinthine I get a little caught up in not speaking so good in my everyday talk time.
All this political stuff boiled under the surface for the first handful of episodes and I knew it was bound to spill over. That happens in "Ging Gang Goolie" when Nucky ventures to Washington D.C. to meet with Daugherty. After a short argument with a couple threats tossed back and forth, Nuck is thrown in jail over a violation of the Volstead Act…for possession of one bottle. He is forced to spend a short duration in jail and later ushered into a crowded courtroom to receive his five dollar fine.
There, he is suddenly blindsided with the charges he narrowly avoided last season, which included voter fraud, booze handling and murder. The propagator of the accusations is Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson), the woman who prosecuted him last year, and the scene is kind of hilarious as Esther attempts to argue justice to a judge who's tired and wants little of it. After the failure, Nucky invites the lady lawyer out to breakfast, and she reluctantly sits in on his pitch of how to improve her station — go after Harry Daugherty. She is obviously hesitant, but the sly Thompson plants a seed that will grow. No doubt.
So are we done talking about Nucky? Well, for a little bit. Cause as much as Steve Buchemi is delivering one of the best performances of his career, there are many characters murdering it on the screen, literally.
Our favorite weirdo, the future General Zod, Nelson Van Alden, kills a man in his living room. Well, to be fair, his foreign wife struck the first blow. The man dead in Van Alden's apartment is a Prohibition agent who wanted to return a busted iron; a nobody, but somebody enough to be worried about. This drives "Husband", as the Scandinavian chick calls him, to track down Capone rival Dion O'Banion (Arron Shiver) to help "dispose of a body". If there is a busted leg on this narrative centipede it's this whole track, which is slow moving and extremely tangential to anything go on in any significant character's story. Yo, show runners: Van Alden still maintains potential as a great character, use him!
In the vein of using a great character even if the roots of his story were shot in the head last year, Richard Harrow is finding screen time as we follow him to the 1920's version of a VFW, a place where a bunch of injured vets sit around, drink, bicker and fight each other like their mantra is "What Would Tyler Durden Do?" It's a fascinating look at veteran affairs of a hundred years ago, as these sick and hurt men have next to no support. While there are still issues about the amount and type of support vets receive in America, the scene shows how far the country has come in assisting those who fight battles overseas. Through this scene we see Richard help out a drunk, slightly batty veteran of the Philippine–American War and which leads him to meet a possible love interest in the man's daughter. It's overdue to give Harrow more to do, and to finally reward him for being the nicest hitman in all of televised fiction.
In that same leg of the story, Gillian Darmody, mother to deceased Jimmy and owner of a failing brothel, finds herself in the dilemma of trying to sort out personal affairs. Charlie Luc
iano demands a return on his investment, but due to her wanting a classier brand of whorehouse, revenue is down. Gillian vents by writing a letter to her dead son, who she refuses to believe is no longer alive. I guess he's on some type of gangster sabbatical or something? In the next episode Gillian roams the boardwalk until she runs into Roger, a kid from Indiana who looks remarkably like Jimmy. After she sleeps with him, reinvigorating the sick feeling evoked by last season's incest, she insists on calling him "James". Wow, is this woman bad news, scheming only for her own benefit and remaining shielded from the realities of the world. Gillian is a loose cannon, but as with many others in the cast, it's anyone's guess where that weapon is pointed and when it will fire.
The other significant woman on the show continues to keep herself busy. Margaret quickly finds her woman's health education class is not the smashing success she thought it would be, and in her attempt to leave some flyers at a boutique (one she worked at in the first season) she runs into Nucky and Billie shopping for the young flapper. Margaret takes the adulterous reveal in stride, certainly upset with her husband but not livid or even threatening. In a subsequent talk Nucky chooses to suggest that his wife really think about the practical ramifications of her harassing him for infidelity, implying that if she pushes him away the money will go too. It's a cruel implication, one that thrusts the Irish-born immigrant back into the arms of Owen Sleater, who is reluctant to rekindle their affair, but at the same time, never says no.
Slapped in the middle of this is her son, young Teddy. He is thought to have started a fire in the Thompson's greenhouse as the boy has an affinity for matches. It is revealed he did not commit arson (it's pinned on some off-screen hobo), but Teddy does mention something about "a gypsy with a hat", and tells his younger sister (who seems quite recovered from that bout of Polio from last year) that if the man comes back he will protect them all the while brandishing a small pocket knife. It's another crazy character moment from left-field as it's implied Teddy is something of a nut, first relishing in fire and flame, and now making up, or possibly hallucinating, men who wander the streets and declaring to stab said men in the face if they come around. As if Margaret didn't have enough to handle outside of her home she now has to deal with a budding serial killer under her own roof. Oh, and she'd better keep an eye on her next door neighbor too, who seems to have taken a shining to Owen, practically quivering when he shows his face at the Thompson house.
A show with this many moving parts should come with a choking hazard. It's remarkable how quickly one can forget about a whole subsection of the plot, only to have it reappear and be a main focus of an entire episode. From racketeers, to politicians, actors and housewives everyone on Boardwalk Empire is culpable in some way; no one is safe from evil and frankly, I like it that way. As the second half the season unfolds, I hope some elements become more cohesive. Nucky is dealing with no less than three problems: a rivalry with New York mafia, the highest rungs of US politics nipping at his heels, and a couple of women who care about him, but not enough to really care about him.
But maybe above all, why I keep watching is that no one is safe. Case in point: as Margaret wanders around her house with a loaded gun, ready to shoot a potential arsonist or thief I am preparing myself for the woman to blast one of her kids as they dart around a corner or hide in the shadows. That's what this show does to me. It makes me think that a mother will shoot her own kid! Even children aren't innocent. That is a definite switch-up from what most would expect from a TV show, and I say again — hell yes, give me more. Start killing kids, I'm all for it.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.