“Erlkönig” – Boardwalk Empire

kessler-death-650x364Goodbye, Eddie. The phrase “we hardly knew ye” is too appropriate. Last week, I noted that Eddie explained how he figured he could make a fresh start for himself in America following his wife’s death, leaving behind two grown and stable sons. The actual reason isn’t nearly that pleasant, though. He worked at a German department store and fled with the company’s funds, along with a woman from another section, leaving behind his wife and sons. The woman abandoned him soon after, and his sons have changed their names to help them forget their father.

Warren Knox uses this information to break Eddie, weakening him so Knox can get to Nucky. He deprives Eddie of the outside world, giving the Feds enough time to uncover the weak link’s background. Eddie’s loyalty has always been his greatest trait, which Knox realizes. He has Eddie point this out himself – “I strive”, Eddie tells his interrogator. An old German poem (Der Erlkönig, after which the episode is named) is used to remind Eddie of the devotion a father owes his sons and, by extension, his whole family. Finally, the knife is twisted when Knox puts a simple question to Eddie: would Nucky show his devoted assistant the same loyalty Eddie proffers? Eddie knows the answer, as do we.

Eddie gives up Ralph Capone’s name and is released, with the promise that Knox will be speaking with him again soon. When he finally returns to Nucky’s, he sees that his master’s only struggle during the period of interrogation was Continue reading

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“All In” – Boardwalk Empire

boardwalk-empire-all-inWith the large numbers of first generation immigrants in America, circa 1924, it’s not a surprise that the writers on Boardwalk Empire decided to focus their pens on the various ethnic identities of the characters. We’ve had Jews, African-Americans and Italian-Americans, primarily, with a smattering of time spent exploring the Celtic connections in Atlantic City (in Season 1’s “Nights in Ballygran”). In “All In”, we’re privy to a brief look at another ethnic group – German Americans – of which Eddie Kessler is a part.

He’s sent on a routine pick up by Nucky, only for it to devolve into him leading Ralph Capone around AC before finishing up in a pub. We learn interesting details about Eddie along the way, most importantly that he’s not a typical immigrant. He came to America relatively late in life – after his sons had achieved job security and his wife had died – figuring he’d find a vibrant career. Working as an assistant to Enoch Thompson has certainly provided that. Eddie is an educated man who’s fallen in with some bad eggs, and he doesn’t seem to regret it one bit. When he’s telling his immigrant buddies that his promotion means he now deals in the more nefarious side of Nucky’s operation, he’s delighted. And Anthony Laciura hilariously imbues his character (Eddie, of course) with such a gleeful beam while his friends fire off their pretend Tommies that it’s hard not to feel happy for him, too.

When Ralph enquires about the gang war between Gyp Rosetti and Nucky (and Al), it’s Continue reading

“Acres of Diamonds” – Boardwalk Empire

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 6.09.35 PMOh, Dr Narcisse, you sneaky dog. Fresh from muscling in on Chalky’s business (without having to use muscle), he’s now gauging Dunn Purnsley’s allegiance to his master as preparation for flooding Atlantic City’s black community with heroin. Purnsley is still in Chalky’s dog house for the murder of Dickie Pastor. Chalky isn’t too pleased that Dunn’s libido has brought Dr Narcisse into his life. If Dunn continues as the rope in Narcisse and Chalky’s tug of war, then his days are likely numbered in AC. If TV has taught us anything, it’s that the treacherous lieutenant rarely survives.

And from where is Narcisse getting the heroin? Arnold Rothstein, of course. There have been some wonderful combinations of actors in the show already, and Jeffrey Wright and Michael Stuhlbarg look to be the latest. Both characters deal primarily in verbals, leaving the bloodier side to their underlings. However, both also realize the power inherent in subtly gaining advantages through mere conversation. Witness how Narcisse has already done this with Nucky, endeavoring to show himself as Nucky’s equal by describing him (among other things) as a “king, pretending to be a servant”. I hope we see more of Narcisse and Rothstein alone together. It’s already clear that Narcisse is as dangerous as Rothstein ever was, so having them team up should make things interesting for Nucky when he returns from Florida.

An interesting aside here relates to Continue reading

“Resignation” – Boardwalk Empire

boardwalk-empire-resignation-michael-shannon-1Often on Boardwalk Empire, characters become resigned to the less agreeable aspects of their situation, even if they’ve otherwise acquired positions of power. Jimmy Darmody was a prime example, as he never fought his depraved mother’s presence in his life. Richard Harrow has followed this example with his heavy involvement (almost reliance) in violence since the war. And we see in (the not coincidentally titled) “Resignation” that Chalky White has succumbed to this trope, playing the part of subservient black man to his white customers.

Here is a man who personally brutalized the local Grand Cyclops of the Klan in Season 1, and who now controls the biggest club in Atlantic City – in “New York Sour”, he comfortably and authoritatively called in the Thompsons to help clean up Dunn’s killing of the booking agent. But when we see him tending to his guests in the Onyx during the early scenes of “Resignation”, he just stands there while a white customer condescendingly rubs his head. It clearly bothers him, yet he says nothing and walks away. After all the progress he’s made, he still views himself as the “field nigger” he described to his family in Season 2.

This is noticed, too, by Dr Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright, Casino Royale). Narcisse is looking for reparations after the death of the booking agent, Dickie Pastor, and observes that Chalky is “a servant, pretending to be a king”. It clearly rankles the modest Chalky. It gets worse, too – Mrs Pastor Continue reading

“New York Sour” – Boardwalk Empire

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 11.32.06 AMWe’re back for another season on the Boardwalk, where the showgirls are underdressed, the government agents are crooked, and Mickey Doyle continues to giggle. Quite a bit has changed since our last time in Atlantic City. Nucky has followed through on last year’s promise to Chalky, so Babette’s is now the Onyx and is in Chalky’s control. It also appears as though Nucky is trying to stick with last season’s decision to stay under the radar. He’s a disgraced politician and is known by the government to be heavily involved with bootlegging, so it’s the wise course for now.

When we see him in the Onyx, he’s keeping far back from the action, standing in a darkened room observing Chalky running the club. This is a stark example of how far he’s withdrawn his reach. Apparently gone is the Nucky with his fingers in every pot. In his place is a more cautious man. It turns out he’s awaiting the New York boys, who are still a little touchy about the dozen or so corpses last season’s activities left near the Commodore’s old mansion. A peace is offered – one which it seems Joe Masseria and Arnold Rothstein will accept. Rothstein, in particular, comes off as worried about Nucky’s capabilities. Considering how Nucky dealt with him through some ingenious trickery (instead of brute force, as he used with Masseria’s men), that’s understandable. Nucky may be a “bread stick in a bow-tie”, but he’s damn fearsome in an understated way.

When he’s not worrying about Continue reading

“Margate Sands” – Boardwalk Empire

        Image copyright HBO (2012)

It took me until today to watch Boardwalk Empire. I think I was a little scared. Scared that, as with so much of this season, it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Scared that it would and some character I really loved would bite the dust. Scared that it would be too much for me to cope with. (I get really, bizarrely invested in shows.) But, strangely, it was none of those things.

It was bloody. More people got shot in this episode than throughout the preceding three seasons combined. (That fact may not be factually accurate.) It felt like the majority of the story took place with a gun battle in the background. And that was almost cathartic. The whole season has been building to this, with tension growing and growing and growing in the background. Every episode finished with a sense of incompletion – like everything was ready to kick off and we were just waiting for the spark that would set Atlantic City on fire. So, in all honesty, to get all of that out in the open was a release and a relief. That was personified by the animosity between Al and Chalky. That built and built until the climax – the ambush in the woods. Then it was gone. It felt like everyone just needed to get this out of their system, including the viewers. And making the release all the sweeter was that none of our favorite characters were on the receiving end of bullets. Chalky, Nucky, Eli, Al… they all made it through. And Rosetti didn’t.

And Nucky won. He more than won. He took out Rosetti and Rothstein – the latter in a move so ingeniously intricate as to earn genuine applause from me – and offered peace to Masseria.

And, though it may not be of his doing, he might be free of Gillian. That’s a little trickier to call, and is one of the stories that was open-ended enough to carry into Season 4. Gillian was tired of having Rosetti’s men at the Club, and tired of her and Tommy being prisoners in their own home. She seduced Rosetti and attempted to inject him with some of that heroin she used on Jimmy 2.0. He reversed the needle, though, and left her for dead. When Nucky and Eli found her later, she thought it was the night Nucky sent her to be with the Commodore. We’re left wondering if this is a temporary effect of the heroin or whether she’ll be left a mentally-damaged wreck.

Other storylines that aren’t quite tidy by the end of the episode relate to Margaret and Harrow.

That happy ending I’ve been envisaging didn’t quite transpire for Harrow, but I feel like I wasn’t far off and that that future isn’t lost to him yet. He stormed the Artemis Club, shooting Rosetti’s men and taking Tommy away. He brought him to Julia’s but, covered in blood, was not quite the hero he had hoped he would be. Surprisingly her father was the voice of reason in that moment. He told Julia to take Tommy and bring him to her (dead) brother’s room. He made sure Harrow wasn’t followed then told him to go clean himself up – “You don’t come home like this. Whatever battle you’re fighting. It’s not what a soldier does.” So it’s very much left open. He still has the option to come back, and to run away with Julia and Tommy. I feel like that avenue isn’t completely shut off for him.

Margaret is in Brooklyn, and desperate. She gets an abortion (in quite a sad moment, as she rids herself of the last tie she had to Owen). After all the business in Atlantic City is finished, Nucky appears on her doorstep asking her back. Forgiving her for what happened with Owen, and with the land deal. Offering her money, which she refuses. She’s grown since that first season. She’s no longer content to allow herself to be blinded by the money. She sees Nucky for what he is and wants nothing to do with him. But I don’t think her story is finished. I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of Margaret Schroeder-Thompson. I hope it’s not.

And as for Nucky, his veneer of societal propriety, that big-man-around-town air… it’s all vanished. We began the season watching Nucky as he struggled to deal with the death of Jimmy Darmody at his own hands. As it closes, we see him embrace this new self. He has taken on New York and he has won. He has vanquished his attackers and his betrayers. But he has lost himself. Gone is the man who wanted everyone to know who he was, the man who had the love of a good (if often misguided) woman, the man for whom appearance was everything and who wanted a piece of every pie. As he turns away from the Ritz – the symbol of his extravagant lifestyle, his pomp and circumstance – and drops that carnation, we are left with a man who doesn’t want anyone to know who he is, who doesn’t want the army of followers and admirers, who wants no one with him but his brother. We’re left, for the first time in truth, with a gangster. Season 4 should be interesting. – K

 

Quoteworthy: “I don’t want anyone knowing who I am. I don’t want anyone looking into my business. I don’t want anyone coming near us we don’t already know.” – Nucky 

“Two Imposters” – Boardwalk Empire

       Image copyright HBO (2012)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Ad nauseum, probably. The episodes of Boardwalk with a stripped-back story and very few strands to keep track of are by far the best.

We picked up exactly where “A Man, a Plan…” left off. Margaret has left with the children. Nucky knows about her and Owen, but seems far less angry than either she or Owen anticipated. Though, I suppose, that’s because he knows it’s over. Obviously over. Nucky tries to send Eddie away too (to protect him) but it’s too late. Rosetti’s men arrive at the Ritz. In the escape, Eddie gets shot. With the hospital staked out by Rosetti’s men, and nowhere for them to hide, Nucky has to go to Chalky for protection. Chalky shows himself to be several times the man that Nucky is – aside from a little sulking and some passive-aggression he not only opens his doors, but provides his future son-in-law’s medical expertise and refuses Rosetti’s offer of $25,000 to give up Nucky.

Rosetti, meanwhile, has ensconced himself at the Artemis Club much to Gillian’s disgust. But she can’t do anything so she grins and bears it. She’s also discovered Harrow’s love affair and – while snooping – found the photo of Harrow, Julia and Tommy. She’s quick to disabuse him of the idea that he could replace Jimmy as Tommy’s father. As the episode progresses and Harrow finally tells Gillian that the Club is no place for Tommy, Gillian fires him and tells him to get out of the house. I really hope he sneaks the kid away, for Tommy’s sake. And I think that’s exactly what he has planned. The scene of him tooling up in his new lodgings would certainly suggest it.

One aspect of the episode felt out of place, but I think I see a purpose to it all the same. We were bouncing over to New York every now and again, watching Lucky trying to sell heroin (against Meyer Lansky’s wishes). He’s desperate to make some money because of how much they owe Masseria. The man he was selling to turns out to be a federal agent carrying out a sting operation. Lucky is arrested.

After a number of extremely close calls, Nucky finally decides he’s not going to run. He’s going to make a stand. He goes to the warehouse to hide until he can get in touch with Eli and that’s where Eli finds him. With him he has Al Capone – who delivers our favorite line of the episode (Quoteworthy) – in tow.

So, heading into the season closer, we’re preparing for a blood bath. But, perhaps, it won’t be as catastrophic as we had previously thought. Nucky will have to take on Gyp but, with the backing of Al and Chalky (and perhaps a little help from Harrow), that should be a piece of a cake. As for Masseria? I see Lucky Luciano turning on him faster than a beaten dog turns on its owner, effectively getting rid of Nucky’s problem for him. All makes for an exciting finale! – K

 

Quoteworthy: “We been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bed, some chow, and then you and me sit down and we talk about who dies, huh?” – Al Capone

“A Man, a Plan…” – Boardwalk Empire

       Image copyright HBO (2012)

This week’s Boardwalk was just a little slow for my liking. I know I’ve been extolling the virtues of low-content episodes for the last few weeks, but there’s a difference between giving a story space to breathe and not having any story at all. Though even that’s not quite right. It’s not like nothing happened. But I spent the episode acting out my own inner monologue, complaining about the slow pace of the action and how there was no drive to the story. Little did I know that the writers were saving all of that drive for the final five minutes and that emotional gut punch that, while utterly predictable, somehow came out of left-field. Though, perhaps, it was the manner of the event, rather than the event itself that got me. Forgive the rambling. I’m a bit distraught here. But enough prevaricating. Enough beating around the bush. I should just say it. Owen’s dead.

In the ongoing war for control of the bootlegging business, Nucky is determined to take out Masseria. He sends Owen to assassinate him. But Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky know all about his plot and tell Masseria exactly when and where Owen will attack. All in an effort to bring Masseria on board as a partner in their heroin business. Nucky must have a leak somewhere.

Rosetti’s still crazy.

Gaston Bullock Means charges Daugherty and Nucky $40k a piece to get rid of Jess Smith, telling them Smith is likely to turn on them. Smith shoots himself, saving Gaston a lot of hassle.

Richard and Julie’s relationship is going from strength to strength. Richard nearly kills her father after he insults both of them. She’s been talking about how Tommy needs a father. We’re sensing that we’re getting ever closer to the ending we envisaged for them last week. But considering how Boardwalk has never been about the happy ending, we probably shouldn’t get our hopes up.

Chalky wants to open a club where Babette’s was. “Black on stage, white in the house.” Nucky shoots him down. Chalky isn’t happy, and is clearly rethinking his allegiances.

Van Alden is brought before Al because he’s been selling Aquavit in Torrio’s neighborhood. Al spares his life, but only if Van Alden starts talking about O’Banion.

Dr Mason definitely still has a thing for Margaret. But Margaret’s definitely not interested. At the start of the episode we learned that plans were in place for her and Owen to move to St Louis.

And then, in the final moments of the episode, Eddie wakes Nucky up. It’s 4am, and there’s a delivery. When they pry open the crate, Owen’s lifeless body is staring up at them. Before they can get it closed, Margaret sees him and flies into a rage. And Nucky sees the depth of her grief. I think in that moment he finally realized what had been going on. Me, on the other hand? In that moment I couldn’t take it in. I had seen it coming from the moment Nucky sent him to New York. I knew too much could go wrong. I knew, somehow, that it would end this way. And yet, I couldn’t believe it. In some small way, I was in denial.

That only lasted until the final scene. The touching conversation between Margaret and Owen, seen in flashback, in which she tells him that he’s pregnant and wants to know the truth about how he feels. “The truth?” he says. “Well, I would like it to be a boy.” I’m undone.

But sad as I am, there are practical concerns. For instance, what’s Nucky going to do when he finds out she’s pregnant? Will he realize it’s Owen’s? Will he care? I know there are far more important Boardwalk issues at the moment, but I can’t focus on any of them. I need to go and sit in a dark room and cry a little now. – K

 

Quoteworthy: “This job doesn’t call for an army. Just patience and opportunity.” – Owen. Oh Owen. Why didn’t you take an army…

“The Milkmaid’s Lot” – Boardwalk Empire

       Image copyright HBO (2012)

Well we have to be honest. Things aren’t looking great for Nucky.

Unlike the majority of this season’s episodes, there wasn’t too much chopping and changing of locations this week. The drama was centered on the Ritz, Tabor Heights, the Artemis Club and the bar where the American Legion hang out. The characters were kept to a minimum, as was the story, and, as with “Sunday Best”, it made all the difference. This was one of those episodes where few things happened but those that did were monumental.

Nucky’s suffering from a concussion. The doctor warns him that this might affect his mental acuity, and that’s the driving force behind much of the episode. He doesn’t know who anyone is, he can’t remember anything he’s said, or asked for. A dangerous time to be calling for war. Not that that stops him. He summons the big bootleggers – Rothstein, Waxy Gordon, Lucky and Lansky, and a few others – to ask them to join him in his fight against Masseria and Rosetti. And they all say no. Will Nucky pursue this war when his head clears and he realizes he has to go up against an army by himself? He has to avenge Billie, so I’d say that’s almost definitely a yes.

Rosetti is back in Tabor Heights and is paying locals not to rat him out to anyone.

Remus was arrested. And he turned on Jess Smith and Daugherty before the Feds even got him out of his house. It seems he kept receipts.

Tommy Darmody walked in on one of the girls while she was ‘entertaining’ a client. Gillian blames Richard because he wasn’t there. Though it’s hardly his fault she’s decided to raise her grandson in a whorehouse.

Frivolous news: Richard takes Julie on a date. They dance, they kiss. Aww! I hope they get married and leave town and take Tommy with them. I’d be sad to see the back of Richard, but I think it would be a nice note to end the season on, amid all the doom and gloom that is bound to come from this war.

Margaret’s story is perhaps the most interesting. Or, at least, it opens up a lot of possibilities for the way in which the rest of the season can unfold. She, Teddy and Emily have moved in to Nucky’s suite at the Ritz, for protection. She finds it difficult being around Nucky when he keeps confusing her for Mabel and Billie. And being in such close quarters with Owen. After Nucky goes crazy and falls over, she’s out of her depth. She talks to Owen about running far away and leaving this whole life behind. But it doesn’t seem like she thinks it could ever really happen. Nucky relies on her more and more as the episode progresses and this culminates with her being privy to a conversation that, unlike all the other strange goings on she could chalk up to anything else, she can’t ignore – him swearing bloody vengeance on Rosetti. When Nucky finally remembers that Billie is dead and when he seems to have given up, she says, “You need to get up. You need to finish getting dressed. And you need to attend to your business.” And with that, she becomes as much a part of it as any of them. But it’s also the last straw for her. As Nucky’s big meeting begins, she tells Owen “We’ll go. As soon as we’re able.”

But will they ever be able? – K

 

Quoteworthy: “Either they’re with me and we go to war or they’ll smile, shake my hand and walk away. I’ll be alone. And that’s as good as dead.” – Nucky 

“The Pony” – Boardwalk Empire

      Image copyright HBO (2012)

Well holy shitballs, Batman. I did not see that coming. I was thinking another shoot out, maybe. Not that. Never that.

The lead up:

Van Alden is running a still for O’Banion, to pay him back for helping to dispose of that probie’s dead body.

Jimmy 2.0’s heroin OD ruled an “accidental drowning”. Right. Nucky, Eli (who’s back in favor) and Owen horrifically confused to hear that Jimmy’s dead. Again. Nucky calls by the Artemis Club to ‘pay his respects’. Gillian throws a drink in his face.

Nucky makes a trip down to New York to meet with Esther Randolph and Means. Means gives them a line on Andrew Mellon, the Treasury Secretary, who’s notoriously anti-prohibition – and who also has a colossal stake in a distillery. Nucky’s got an in.

In women’s health class, Margaret gets an uncomfortable (for her) request. Mrs Shearer, that woman whose miscarriage prompted all this, asks Margaret to hook her up with a diaphragm. She can’t ask the doctor herself because, she says, they don’t listen to women like her.

Over in Chicago, Johnny Torrio’s back from Italy. Al tells him about the bar fight. Al is worried after telling him because Torrio seems different now – is treating Al differently. He worries that what he did to O’Banion’s man has destroyed things between him and Torrio.

Nucky’s buying Emily a pony for her birthday. Owen and Margaret go shopping for one together. Can’t resist the sexual tension. When Margaret goes to Dr Mason for Mrs Shearer’s diaphragm, she asks for two.

In New York, Nucky offers to run Mellon’s distillery for him, at a profit, if Mellon arrests Remus.

Van Alden snaps in work. Can’t stand the mocking laughter anymore. Goes insane. Attacks one of his co-workers with a hot iron. Trashes the place. Is all set to leave town when his wife shows him what she did with the day – 14 bottles of whiskey (over half way toward what O’Banion asked them to produce in a week) and some aquavit for them to sell themselves in the Norwegian neighborhood. She’s a regular little bootlegger!

Gyp is back in AC and visiting Gillian at the Artemis Club. She wants Nucky dead, so tells Gyp that she knows where Nucky and Rothstein will be that evening.

Mellon calls Nucky and the plan is in motion – Remus is to be arrested within the week.

Nucky and Billie spend the episode fighting but, by the end, have made up. Just in time for tragedy to strike. She tags along on his dinner with Rothstein. Which is why I was expecting a shooting. I’m all, ‘oh yeah, typical. She’s all happy and junk, so she’s obviously gonna be the only one that actually dies from this’. And I was right, but only to a point. Because there was no shooting. There was a bomb. Rosetti blew Babette’s sky high. Nucky and Rothstein had been delayed outside by an annoying fat man, but Nucky had sent Billie ahead. Just as she stood in the doorway, *ka-boom*. Bye bye, Billie.

If I know Nucky, and I do know Nucky, this means war. – K

 

Quoteworthy: “Unlike steam irons, aquavit sells itself.” – Van Alden


PS With her husband and her new lover wrapped up in a war over booze and drugs, how will Margaret cope?