“It’s oil, what else could it be?” The elder gentleman says to the Sicilian gangster, Gyp, as he assists with his flat tire. In any circumstance, a comment such as this would be tossed to the wind, ignored, or perhaps found in good humor. This, however, is no ordinary circumstance. This is the first scene of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ season 3, and the first introduction to our notorious antagonist, Gyp Rosetti.
“It could be a wrench,” Gyp responds, driving the scene forward, and we soon realize that this is a man who thrives on being in control of the situation. And soon, after a brief exchange of words and disregarded apologies, we see the full extent of Rosetti’s patience. A crow bar to the face speaks volumes to our antagonist’s nature.
Season 3 begins about a year and a half following the finale of season 2, needless to say, things are quite different. We see our characters submerged in different situations, but now more than ever we begin to see true change in identity. So let’s begin with a play-by-play analysis on where each of our characters stand at the end of episode 1:
Let’s begin with Nelson Van Alden – the righteous, over-zealous, on-the-run prohibition agent. After being exposed for the murder of his corrupt partner, Eric Sebso, in season 2, Van Alden, now under the alias George Meuller, has fled to the small town of Cicero in the Midwest, along with his daughter, Abigail, and his nursemaid, Sigrid. He’s introduced in his usual fashion, standing tall, hard-eyed and knocking on the door of what appears to be an illegal, alcohol-related operation. After a failed sales pitch, however, Van Alden gets the door slammed in his face, and we realize that this is hardly the idealistic life of an impassioned crime fighter. Again and again we see Van Alden fail, yet he continues with a fiery devotion that can only be explained through his vehement pursuit of God. After stumbling in on Al Capone, who has a score to settle with a north-side rival, we catch a glimpse of Van Alden’s unflinching mettle, and perhaps an opening to get back into the bootlegging game. Disappointed in his failure to bring home the sale’s prize money, Van Alden returns to his quiet home, where we’re introduced to his newest son, mothered by nursemaid, Sigrid.
A very interesting look into the new life of Nelson Van Alden, but who can really tell what’s going on in the mind of this immensely complex and misunderstood character. Will he return to his bootlegging ways in order to provide for his family? Or will he see this opportunity as an obscure method of pious redemption?
Next, let’s examine the remaining faithful links to our fallen protagonist, Jimmy – Gillian Darmody and Richard Harrow. What a complex relationship these two have, made ever more complicated by they’re shared responsibility of raising Tommy Darmody, Jimmy and Angela’s orphaned son. We see that Gillian is now the head-mistress of what appears to be a women-for-hire sorority, a reflection of her infatuation with glamour, composure and order. Now, the trauma of losing her only son has begun to take form, calling on Tommy to refer to her as ‘momma,’ subliminally trying to erase the memory of his murdered parents. Richard, however, forgets nothing. As Tommy’s caretaker, he finds Gillian’s intentions to be quite disturbing and doesn’t miss a chance to remind Tommy of where he comes from – reminiscing on Jimmy as a great soldier, or Angela as a talented artist. Not surprisingly, this does not sit well with Gillian.
Richard is an incredibly elaborate character. You can see the pain behind his eyes .. I mean, eye .. when he talks about Jimmy, but even more so when discussing Angela. You can tell he had deep feelings for her, love perhaps. So when he finally blasts Manny Horvitz in the face with a shotgun, I find myself asking, “who is he truly avenging, Jimmy or Angela?” Probably both, but one thing remains clear – Richard and Gillian are out for blood.
Margaret Thompson now resides on the board of the new Atlantic City Hospital, courtesy of her decision to sign Nucky’s Land Deal over to St. Francis Church. As we continue the tour through the newly renovated hospital we see a woman collapse after miscarrying right in the lobby – a grisly scene which sparks memories of her own miscarriage on the crossing from Ireland, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the troubled times that lie ahead. As the wife of the ‘king,’ Margaret must act accordingly, in this case, planning Nucky’s Egyptian-style 1923 new years eve party. An extravagant display of the times, the celebration served as a catalyst introduction to a host of recognizable faces. Theres still obvious sexual tension with Owen Sleater, and afterward, newcomer Gyp Rosetti presents Margaret with a disdainful gift – the dog from the poor man in the opening scene.
The celebration comes to an end and the last guests walk out the door. It’s here that we begin to see the newly married couple act like .. well, a married couple. Nucky’s unforgiving nature holds true with Margaret, scolding and resentful over her emotional decision to sign over his precious land. Yet still, Margaret holds on to hope. Her astonishment of aviatrix, Carrie Duncan, and her transcontinental voyage represents a longing for freedom, and, perhaps, an escape.
And now, let’s delve into the court of gangsters that keeps America refreshed. Al Capone and Johnny Torrio find themselves in a territorial dispute with the north-siders – another tribute to Capone’s short temper and Torrio’s continued struggles in Chicago. After insulting his deaf son, the north-side florist, Dean O’Banion, receives an unexpected visit from Capone, who in return receives an unexpected visit from Van Alden. Rest assured, this stalemate won’t last for long.
The notorious gambler, Arnold Rothstein, holds the seat of power in New York City, and still has the support of his once mutinous underlings, Meyer Lansky and Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano. The three, along with George Remus and Gyp Rosetti, are honored guests at the Thompson’s new years eve bash, the celebration, however, is merely a mask for business. “New year, new rule,” Nucky says. Due to political heat, Nucky appoints Rothstein as the sole beneficiary of alcohol on the East Coast, a decision that does not sit well with our antagonist, Gyp Rosetti.
Gyp’s trouble on the road was merely an introduction, the tip of the ice burg. He’s a man who demands respect, and has no qualm with taking it by force. His outburst on the gangster court at Nucky’s party reflect that of a man who fears no one, not even the most respected, dangerous and infamous men in the business. But if ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has taught us anything, its this – ambition can be a very dangerous thing.
And now, at last, Nucky Thompson. Once a man with virtuous withholdings, now, as Harry Daugherty would say, “a gangster. Plain and simple.” We see Nucky for the first time in an empty, run-down apartment – clean suit, fresh jacket and coffee in hand. Even as he interrogates a thief, we still get the sense that Nucky has compassionate tendencies for helping others who can’t help themselves. We were wrong – “Untie him, but before you do, put a fucking bullet in his head.” The first glimpses of his now ruthless nature. It would seem that he’s become more ruthless in a political sense as well – confronting the U.S. Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, about his shady dealings in the White House, thus, directly affecting his business, declaring AR as his sole client, and Gyp Rosetti as his new enemy.
As Nucky rubs and flexes his once bandaged hand, we see the first impressions of Jimmy’s death – a sad and sullen look of regret, yet a satisfying flash of vengeance. The scarred flesh is merely a reminder, under the skin lies the heart and mind of a man who is truly lost, a man who is never truly satisfied. We leave Nucky in the comfort of another woman – an expected luxury, yes, but still a perverse representation of how some things never change.
After all the flaws and misgivings, all the manipulation and lies, we still pull for Nucky Thompson. Perhaps one of the most captivating scenes of the episode is when Nucky reveals the ‘Egyptian’ treasure at the new years eve party, giving away hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, diamonds and other refined pieces. As the mob converges on the chest, we see Nucky, AR, Gyp and the rest stare in both disgust and admiration, a look that implies an understanding of human instinct, and, perhaps, a testament to their own covetous nature.
What were your favorite moments from episode one and why? Take a look at the preview for next week’s episode in the video above.