“Ordinary men avoid trouble. Extraordinary men turn it to their advantage.”
‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 3 continued this past Sunday night with it’s second Episode, ‘Spaghetti and Coffee,’ a tribute to Gyp Rosetti’s bizarre dinner combo. This episode, much like the first, served mainly as a tension builder; a re-introduction for much of the ‘Boardwalk’ cast like Eli Thompson and Chalky White, along with a steady build up of the main plot.
These introductory episodes can be hard to get through at times. As an audience, we’re constantly craving more conflict, more danger, more booze, more sex, more violence, so much so that we sometimes forget the little things that make each character so complex and unique. Episode 2 takes us behind the relationship of Nucky and his new mistress Billie, the complicated dynamics of the White family, the new role of ex-convict, Eli Thompson, and the introduction of a fascinatingly, unconventional middle-man, Gaston Bullock Means (Stephen Root). Yea .. not a whole lot of action, just scene after scene of eventless dialogue and story setup – but that doesn’t mean we can just brush this episode to the side, no, certainly not. As you know by now, Season 3 begins about a year and half after the Season 2 finale, but by the look of things, it might as well be ten years. Things have changed so drastically that the entire flow of the series has been compromised, resulting in a slow paced buildup of each character which will hopefully create a more thrilling climax to each act or sequence. For now, we must sit and wait.
The White family earned a surprising amount of screen time in this past episode. I’m not sure how much of an effect Maybelle White and her dud of a boyfriend, Stephen, will have on the show, but it was certainly enough to merit a host of scenes, each one building upon the last. Stephen proves his worth to Chalky – Maybelle wants a man with a personality – Stephen gets slashed – Dunn Purnsley beats the assailant half to death. After such an elongated, and rather boring, sequence of events, were left with Stephen, whose studying to become a doctor, aiding the man who tried to make him look like ‘The Joker.’ Nothing is solved, we’re merely shown how Maybelle is introduced to her father’s brutal methods. Of course, every scene on ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has some higher purpose, and its certainly possible that these scenes will have everlasting consequences throughout the season. Perhaps Stephen will find a place at the Thompson’s new hospital, perhaps Gyp will endanger Chalky’s family, I don’t know, but I do know that the one-two duo of Chalky and Dunn Purnsley is as compelling as any alliance on the show – Maybelle and Stephen, not so much. I think we can all sleep easy without the painfully slow-paced family life of Chalky White.
Eli Thompson’s intro to Season 3, as uneventful as it may have been, somehow managed to bring some life to the Episode. We’ve known him as the Sheriff of Atlantic City these past 2 Seasons, but now he’s taken a drastic dive down the bootlegging totem poll. After his release from prison, Eli returns home to confront the family he left behind and the opportunities he let slip away, and now he must start from the ground up. Eli’s most compelling scene occurs when Owen Sleater approaches him in the warehouse in preparation for their New York delivery. Quiet and sullen, Eli looks to Owen and asks for “a piece.” Hesitant at first, Owen reaches into his jacket pocket and holds out a compact revolver. Eli doesn’t quite grab it, but the scenes solidifies his re-emergence into the story. What does it all mean? How can Eli reclaim his power with his unforgiving brother still running the show? Either he’ll find a way to prove his worth, or he’ll have another go at Nucky’s life alongside Gyp Rosetti. Who knows where his allegiance really lies, but I strongly believe that Eli will do whatever it takes to provide for his family.
Margaret follows suit with the lackadaisical pace of the Episode. She’s certainly never been at the heart of danger, but her confrontation with Dr. Mason shows, once again, her willingness to stand up for herself. However inspiring this may be, it’s also nothing new. Margaret has always been a strong woman, no ones ever doubted that, but her righteousness in Episode 2 hardly adds any depth to her character. If anything, I’m more interested in her affair with Owen and, dare I say, the flirtatious vibe from Dr. Mason.
Nucky, too, fails to bring any sense of climactic drama to the Episode, but we do get a more in-depth look at his relationship with Billie Kent, and his introduction to Harry Daugherty’s middle-man, Gaston Bullock Means. We enjoy Nucky’s new founded fortitude for violence because its exciting and dangerous, it’s what we tune in to see. What we don’t tune in to see, is bullshit, and that’s exactly what I think when I’m watching Nucky with Billie Kent. Sure, it’s nothing new, he’s always had a thing for young ladies, who wouldn’t? But at some point in a man’s life, even a fictional character, you have to have the wherewithal to understand that emotional decisions over women who like to fool around hardly ever lead to a good thing. I don’t know who keeps calling Billie Kent, but I do know that Nucky is not the one to take things lightly.
Mr. Means, on the other hand, was by far the shining beacon of Episode 2 – an intelligent, eloquent and mysterious man of unorthodox methods yet practical views. What I love about this character is his overwhelming dedication to secrecy along with his rational business sense, a combination which left Nucky in silent admiration. He fundamentally flips the system on it’s head in the most elementary yet brilliant fashion. With all the complexities of gangsters and the way they do business, essentially, it all comes down to putting the money in the bowl. An invisible exchange, a seamless transaction, the perfect cure to a bootlegging industry where a comment such as ‘It’s oil, what else,’ can merit death. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this character will fall in line as the season continues, but hey, Mr. Means is an agent of espionage, what more can you expect?
The stage is set, the pieces are in place, the fuse is lit – Gyp’s highway holdup, as anticlimactic as it was, was the first major act of defiance, showcasing not only his firepower, but his willingness to openly provoke both Nucky and Rothstein. Next episode will (hopefully) launch is into the premise of Season 3. We all have a basic understanding of what will happen, Nucky and Gyp will go to war, but we all want to know why, we want to know how, we want to know what will become of each character and what consequences each shall reap. Although this Episode wasn’t the epitome of action, it sets us up for an even greater opportunity for the Act I climax next week.