Over the course of Boardwalk Empire’s second season, we witnessed the periodic destruction of one character to a degree much greater than that of any other. While Nucky faltered from the peak of the empire, and Jimmy eventually met his ultimate demise, the real tragic tumbling came attached to Eli Thompson — a once prominent lawman and connected crook (his brother, after all, is the kingpin of Atlantic County crime) whose journeys robbed him of everything: his stature, his family, his freedom, even his mind. Eli’s lowest points saw him grappling with Nucky (only to incur the gunpoint wrath of sister-in-law Margaret), and murdering a colleague out of frantic desperation, nearly being caught red-handed by his own young son.
We catch up with Eli on this week’s episode, finally released from prison and retrieved by the most insulting of chauffeurs: Mickey Doyle. Throughout the episode, we see a newly stoic Eli come to recognize every air of grace from which he has fallen. Understanding that only expendable Mickey is worth the mission of picking Eli up from the penitentiary, Eli comes to understand his lost spot in Nucky’s inner circle. Losing a battle of wills with a team of local police, Eli comes to understand his lost authority as a crooked sheriff. But most importantly, Eli meets his grown son: now the family’s breadwinner and moral compass. Eli is grief stricken by just how little respect or affection his son seems to hold for him. There is no hostility, no confrontation. It’s almost as if Eli’s eldest son doesn’t consider him a father at all, but merely a visiting family friend to whom he owes politesse, but nothing else. It kills Eli. Though probably not enough for him to actually work toward a better life.
The episode sees Eli and Mickey cross paths with Gyp Rossetti, whose lack of adult reasonability seems to be his deadliest weapon. Everyone else on this show, even the scrappy Al Capone, fosters some understanding that his own ways, wants, and perspectives must be compromised with that of the forces around him. But Gyp Rossetti is an overgrown five-year-old, which makes him an especially unlikeable character and a particularly palpable threat.
Unfortunately, the former overshadows the latter. While the viewer might appreciate how great a danger Gyp might pose to Nucky and company, it’s still hard to get excited about the scenes wherein he’s onscreen. Not for fault of the capable Bobby Cannavale, but watching Gyp feels like babysitting a brat. Unless we find some presence of human character within him — some motivation to root for him, as we have seen in just about everyone else on the show (except maybe for sidelined figures like the Commodore) — then we can hope that his days will be cut short soon.
A contained, entirely personal story comes along with the family of Chalky White, a man who clearly holds no affection for the life he has chosen for himself. Chalky’s daughter Maybelle has been courting a polite, respectful young medical student. Whereas we might expect anyone involved with Chalky’s daughter to be in for some trouble, Chalky instead takes a liking to the boy, encouraging the idea that he is entering an honest, ethical line of work. But Chalky’s daughter dons her Elektra Complex this week to profess herself bored with his boyfriend. She wants someone exciting, risky, dangerous, pointing out that these were the reasons her mother married her father.
Maybelle takes her boyfriend to one of her father’s seedy clubs, looking for excitement and earning just that: a man is beaten to a bloody pulp right in front of her, and her own boyfriend slashed with a knife — Maybelle trembles in terror as her father glares at her knowingly. The story transcends beyond the confines of her character. Chalky clearly upholds an air of resentment for the life he has made for himself — one that seems to have been brought on by the father of his own wife, and a young Chalky’s eagerness to earn his approval. Few of the figures on Boardwalk ever really give their doings a second thought, but Chalky obviously wants a different future for his children, and perhaps wishes for a different present for himself.
Margaret is on her own crusade of good. Deeply disturbed by the miscarriage of a patient in her hospital, Margaret tries to invoke the partnership of an intelligent and ethical but curt doctor — think House or Perry Cox, but in the ‘20s. All of the other forces at the hospital wish not to stir up trouble for themselves; this man, though in favor of progressive steps like education women about prenatal care, doesn’t seem to trust Margaret or her intentions. But Margaret has her way with stark, noble men: Season One’s Nucky, before he fell entirely from his seat of hidden morality, then Owen Sleater. And now, pre-Depression Hugh Laurie. We’ll see how extensive of a partnership these two develop (and to whose expense… probably Nucky’s and the hospital administrators’) over the coming episodes.
Finally, Nucky himself. Engaged in an affair that he seems to be taking much more seriously than his partner (one of the entertainers at his New Years party), Nucky shows that beneath it all, he is a vulnerable, human fellow. It’s a shame that these affections are reserved not for his wife, but for a woman without much genuine feeling for him. Nucky’s most interesting stories to date have involved his vulnerability — his love for Jimmy, his soft spot for Margaret (in the early days, at least), so hopefully something substantial will come out of this apparent budding love for his new mistress. Of course, it might also symbolize his graying years: Nucky is no longer the hottest commodity in town. In his days of fooling around with Lucy Danziger, he was her top priority (at least among suitors). Now, he's falling to the second and third tiers of the playboy game. Maybe the season is setting up for a crumbling of the other Thompson brother? Maybe, in a twist, we might even see Eli take the reins?
[Photo Credit: HBO]
'Boardwalk Empire' Season 3 Premiere: Jimmy, We Miss You Already
'Boardwalk Empire' Returns: A Deep Dive
That Bobby Cannavale was so much nicer on Will & Grace.
When the last season of Boardwalk Empire closed out with a bullet to the head of Jimmy Darmody — the character whom many considered to be the backbone of the HBO series — fans felt more or less unconvinced that the show could carry on with the same weight or emotional investment it had managed through its first two years on air. Season 2 especially lent its primary focus to Jimmy, shifting away from Nucky for entire episodes to lend development and examination to Michael Pitt’s tortured war veteran, absent father and husband, criminal protégée to the Atlantic County treasurer, and incestuous son to Gretchen Mol’s Gillian Darmody. Boardwalk seemed like Jimmy’s show, where it had begun under the premise that it was Nucky’s alone. The mentality behind this strategy — shifting gears only to drop Jimmy in the end of the season, thus reverting back to Nucky as the central antihero — was perplexing. The aftermath does seem to bear evidence to its birth from this confusion.
Nucky’s story kicks off, on the eve of 1923, with Steve Buscemi’s master crook conducting business — with partners Munya “Manny” Horvitz (William Forsythe), Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks), and right-hand-man Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox, now a cast regular — and instituting a new procedure for the distribution of alcohol. Nucky will sell exclusively to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), a fact that disappoints the likes of George Remus (Glenn Fleshler), et al, but particularly enrages season newcomer Gyp Rosetti (Cannavale).
We meet Rosetti in the episode’s introductory scene. Automotive complications land him roadside, taking a favor from a passing dog owner with a case of oil in his car. An innocuous remark from the good Samaritan sends Rosetti into enough of a rage to bash the man’s head in with a crowbar; later on, this rage (albeit not exacted) is apparent in Rosetti’s conversation with Nucky about the latter’s decision to cut off his distribution of alcohol. Nucky’s decision is sparked by the advice of his politician “friend” Harry Daugherty (Christopher McDonald), who wants Nucky to be more careful lest he find himself (and his allies — Daugherty included) the subject of a news story for illicit business. Thus, Nucky tidies up his act to the point of dealing only with Rothstein. But obviously, Rosetti was not introduced into this series to be the kind of guy who takes news like this calmly.
So what’s the angle here? A rougher, more unpredictable enemy? That seems to be the sell: Rosetti’s actions are meant to shock us, to suggest that he’s the exception to this organized game. As if most of Nucky’s would-be assailants so far have maintained spotless records of calculation or professionalism. Detective Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is a venerable psychopath. Al Capone (Stephen Graham) is a childlike hothead. We’re reminded of the latter in this very episode. This show has never had its deficit of unbalanced foes, so what makes Rosetti so compelling or unique that he should be able to lead the peril (for Nucky) in Season 3? And if he isn’t meant to do so, then who or what is?
I suppose Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) might provide Nucky with a fair share of enmity, although of a different sort. In the premiere, we see a refresh of her feministic values — she celebrates female pilot Carrie Duncan’s pioneering of the breakdown of gender barriers, and looks toward the institution of a program for the hospital (of which she and Nucky are benefactors) that would help teach pregnant women about prenatal care. Her ambitions get in the way of Nucky’s business; this disparity in interests will undoubtedly escalate toward the crumbling of their marriage this season. Nucky is already seen enjoying extramarital encounters. The question is, how significant will the destruction of Nucky’s and Margaret’s relationship become? Will she also pose a threat to his career? Will his love for and investment in her children become the real issue for Buscemi’s character? Or will he prove entirely heartless and risk or discard everything in the name of success and glory?
The memory of the fallen Darmodys is more present over in an Atlantic City brothel run by Gillian, although it is not Jimmy’s mother who is holding onto the spirit of her son or his wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino, who was murdered by Horvitz last season) — it’s Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the series’ breakout character with a hopeless devotion to both deceased parties (Angela especially). While Gillian is bent on erasing all recollection of Jimmy and Angela in the mind of their son Tommy — her son now, as far as she’s concerned — Richard makes it a point to teach young Tommy about his beautiful, golden-hearted mother... until Gillian catches an earful and demands ever-so-manipulatively that he keep his mouth shut. “Look to the future,” she suggests. He’s not really into that. Instead, he heads out for the night and shoots Manny Horvitz dead right in the man’s doorway.
As interesting a character as Richard is, it seems unpromising to think that Huston will be shafted alongside young Tommy this season. The murder of Manny might suggest that Richard will be out on the warpath of revenge, maybe hunting down the likes of Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), Mickey, and Nucky himself. Of course, then the show would really be over, so we shouldn’t actually expect that.
Meanwhile, over in Illinois, Al Capone is still a hot-blooded gangster, but another old friend has turned over a new leaf: Van Alden, who is now going by alter ego George Mueller, working as a door-to-door salesman, and living in a cramped apartment with an unhappy Sigrid (Christiane Seideil) and his daughter Abigail. But Van Alden is pulled back into the game by chance, when he happens upon a run-in between Capone and Irish gangster Dean O’Banion (Arron Shiver). Helping O’Banion out of a jam with an improvised performance as the man’s hired gun, Van Alden earns the crook’s favor and a job offer. He might be getting his first full-fledged step onto the criminal side of the prohibition deal… and perhaps might see his first shine of financial fortune since we met him.
Of the stories introduced in the premiere, Van Alden’s is the most interesting, if only to see where the depths of his psycho character will fall next. The man has no discernible sense of reality. His staunch appreciation of right and wrong cannot be defined, as he is so far gone from a sane mind that any viewer would be hard pressed to identify what he deems appropriate. All this, delivered expertly by Shannon, makes for an undoubtedly exciting story to come this year.
Unfortunately, Nucky’s case does not hold the same luster. Sure, Cannavale might be a fun addition to the series. But is he really anything new? Just another egomaniacal crook with his finger perpetually on the trigger? Jimmy’s absence is palpable in this premiere, as you can’t forge the kind of relationship that he and Nucky had between any other two characters on this show. Their mutual broken-hearted hatred, sorrow, distrust, sense of betrayal, it was the show’s lifeblood. And now all we have is another angry mobster who wants his rum. Hopefully, Van Alden’s adventures to come are strong enough to carry both stories. Maybe with a little help from Richard?
Episode Body Count: 4
Season Body Count: 4
[Photo Credit: HBO]
'Boardwalk Empire': A Deep Dive
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Over the next few months, we’ll see new series soar, old series sour, and so much Jersey Shore madness, we’ll want to shower. Let’s face it: The Fall TV season is intimidating. With dozens of new and returning shows hitting our small screens, we know we have some big choices to make. So, to help you determine what to watch, we’re digging deep into the most notable series premiering this season. Where did each show leave off? Where is it headed? And who should you watch it with? Today, we're checking out the return of Boardwalk Empire... a series that left us with a particularly unexpected, jaw-dropping, and (as many believe) show-destroying cliffhanger (of which there are a few spoilers below). But can it pick up the pieces?
Series: Boardwalk Empire
Premiere Date: Sunday, Sept. 16 at 9:00 PM ET
Number of Seasons: Two going on three.
You'll Like It If: You thought the Roaring '20s were a better time. A simpler time. A time when machine gun violence was at an all-time high, and the legal distribution of alcohol was at an all-time low.
You Won't Like It If: You thought killing off Michael Pitt's character was the absolute worst move the series could make, and that the life of the show died along with Jimmy Darmody.
Cast: Everybody's third favorite actor Steve Buscemi leads a cast of Brave heroine Kelly Macdonald, that-guy-from-Hugo-sans-beard Michael Stuhlbarg, back-from-the-dead Omar Little Michael K. Williams, the haunting Michael Shannon, the even-more-haunting Gretchen Mol, and welcoming cast newbie Bobby Cannavale.
Behind the Camera: Great names like Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, Terence Winter, and Tim Van Patten. You can't beat that hand.
Synopsis: Atlantic County treasurer Nucky Thompson runs the New Jersey boardwalk, with varying degrees of success (and legitimacy). Nucky controls the crooked cops, the crime rings, the illegal distribution of alcohol... unfortunately, in a business like his, you amount a good sum of enemies.
Where We Left Off Last Season: Nucky had just offed longtime rival and longertime surrogate son Jimmy Darmody; Commodore Kaestner had been killed (by his not-so-surrogate son Jimmy Darmody); Nucky's brother Eli, the sheriff, was placed back firmly back in the treasurer's pocket; new land deals were being made to expand Nucky's control and distribution of alcohol; Det. Van Alden had high-tailed it to Illinois after undergoing some personal and professional difficulties. Additionally, Margaret had explored an extramarital affair with Owen Selater; afterwards, opted to sign some of her and Nucky's property over to the church as a means of seeking forgiveness.
What Might Happen This Season: Many fans have expressed concern that Jimmy's death could mean the end of the show as we know it. From the inception of the program on, Jimmy has served as a chief component of the series' backbone, providing both an emotionally tormented antihero and a rising threat to Boardwalk's main character, Nucky. Now that he's out of the picture, Nucky will seek villainy elsewhere: maybe with Bobby Cannavale's new addition? Plus, Nucky will have to wage his own war between his work life and his home life, as Margaret's disapproval of Nucky's business and her own increase in ruthlessness might pose a greater threat to Buscemi's central figure this year. Additionally, we will likely see a greater exploration of Nucky's relationship with his brethren overseas in Ireland. And are we actually going to get to see Al Capone do something this season?!
Who We'll Miss the Most: Jimmy was a dynamic force for sure, but the real loss can be attributed to the killing off of Aleksa Palladino's deeply depressed Angela. Although her screen time was never extensive, every second Palladino was featured was a treasure for the viewers. Also leaving the show is Season 1's up-on-her-high-horse showgirl/Season 2's tortured unwed mother Lucy Danziger, played by Paz de la Huerta.
Oh, The Places You'll Go: Though largely set on the Atlantic City boardwalk, the show has lent major focus to Chicago and New York City, with an increasingly prominent look at Pittsburgh.
Mood: Can veer pretty dark, especially when brother turns against brother, husband turns against wife, child turns against father... but on the lighter side, there's always Mickey Doyle with a "tasteful" one-liner.
Fan Favorite Characters: Shannon's psychotic Det. Nelson Van Alden, Jack Huston's suicidal World War I veteran Richard Harrow.
Most Cringeworthy Moment: Jimmy Darmody's exploration of an impulse of physical love with his own mother. Don't worry: he's gone now, so that shouldn't be happening anymore. Shudder...
Gore Factor: It is a series about organized crime, and it is on HBO, so you should prepare for some flinch-worthy blood gushers. At least once every two to three weeks, something will incite a disturbed "Augh!" from the viewer.
Attention Span Requirements: Boardwalk does have its fair share of hair-raising shocks and exciting scenes, but the midseason episodes do have the tendency to drag. The slow pace of some of the business-heavy scenes, and the dry nature of the setting and characters will warrant a degree of patience that you have to spend weeks in meditation classes to achieve.
Musical Prowess: The era-appropriate ballads vary from catchy to grating, but the theme song will stick with you through the week.
Educational Benefits of Watching: A history lesson, sort of! Learn about prohibition, about the Jazz Age, about real figures like Arnold Rothstein, Bugsy Siegel, and Al Capone. Of course, it's important to recognize that the show does take liberties before foregoing studies for your next U.S. History test; It is fiction, after all.
Halloween Costume Opportunism: You can put on an old suit and a fedora and call yourself Nucky, but nobody's really going to get it if you don't tell them. Richard Harrow is probably your best bet, although you could easily be mistaken for the Phantom of the Opera. For women, a simple flapper dress from H&M or a consignment store will do. Add a feather for a touch of that stage-girl feel. Maybe forgo mood inducers though. You don't want to end up like Lucy, do you?
Cultural Legacy: Boardwalk Empire is an equal-opportunity debaser, with all depicted cultures and ethnicities earning a criminal limelight: the Irish, Italians, Blacks, Jews, Christians, Germans, Polish, the Dutch... the list goes on.
Water Cooler Standings: The most important question of them all: will you be able to talk about this show with your friends, co-workers, fellow Subway riders? As most of the other big water cooler series, such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men won't be on air this fall, Boardwalk stands as one of the biggest and most "Did you see when...?"-prone dramas of the season. Competitors of course include Homeland and Dexter, but you're bound to have a few pals who don't subscribe to Showtime. As such, Boardwalk is a good bet to prove you're up to date with all things television.
[Photo Credit: HBO]
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Humble and sincere Bobby (Favreau) an aspiring boxer and Ricky (Vaughn) his obnoxious loser friend work construction for a two-bit mob boss named Max (Peter Falk). Bobby just wants to make a decent wage to support his stripper girlfriend (Famke Janssen) and her daughter but whether its his own temper or Ricky's big mouth these two guys can't stay out of trouble. Max gives them one last chance to prove they're good for something and assigns them to a mysterious job that takes them to New York City where they hook up with a slick gangsta named Ruiz (Sean Combs). The two try not to look like the fish out of water that they are and attempt to carry out Max's instructions. But to Bobby's consternation the insufferably cocky Ricky never fails to get them into hot water and what should be an easy job turns into a comedy of errors.
Friends in real life Favreau and Vaughn have an honest chemistry on-screen and their long-awaited reunion is a joy. Though they reprise similar characters as in Swingers (serious-guy Favreau smart-ass Vaughn) Favreau delves deeper into his role as the floundering honest good guy who somehow cares deeply about Ricky despite his incessantly infuriating behavior. Vaughn hits the bullseye as a strident volatile jerk who can't keep his mouth shut. You never really like him but you can't wait to see what he'll do next--his missteps and offenses are so unbelievable you wince but you can't look away. Though not on-screen very often Falk is a hoot as the take-no-bull mob boss who is sick of both schlubs. Combs surprisingly makes a more than adequate turn as the hardcore gangster who finds himself enmeshed in Bobby and Ricky's chaos. His sidekick Horace (Faizon Love) is pretty funny too.
First-time director Favreau shows real talent behind the camera keeping up the pace and allowing the story to unfold while developing the fleshed-out characters at a swift even tempo. In Made the journey is more important than the destination--the slim plot takes a back seat to the story's twists and turns. Favreau draws the viewer into his world so deeply it's easy to forget you're in a movie theater and not with the guys as they sit in Max's office or in a NYC cab (cinematographer Christopher Doyle helps keeps it interesting with a deft touch and a handheld camera). The locales juxtapose nicely with this uneasy escapade--Bobby and his wanna-be-a-player pal stick out like sore thumbs at both the slick clubs and posh hotels and the seedy low-rent neighborhoods of the Big Apple.