Boardwalk Empire Review: "The Pony" (Episode 3.08)
In addition to the off-season, it’s been eight episodes—ages in TV time—since Nucky shot down his former protégé for all his cronies to see. It’s strange to see revenge and a (fake) funeral come this late in the game; even with the arrival of the uncanny look-alike Roger, Jimmy Darmody still felt like a distant memory to me this season. And when Eddie “delivers” the bad news to the gangsters, it’s hard not to find their squirming funny, from the silent (and vocal) exchanges of “What the fuck?” to Nucky’s immediate state of agitation (“I’m sorry for your loss,” Eddie tells his boss. “Don’t be an idiot,” Nucky responds).
The official announcement of Jimmy’s death also has me reflecting on how completely different Boardwalk was a year ago and how well it’s reinvigorated itself this impressive third season. The action has certainly moved forward, thanks to Gyp Rosetti, while also being saddled with the unspoken consequences of history. This season we’ve been going off a lot of subtext and denial—specifically Gillian’s (over her son) and Nucky’s (over Jimmy and his relationship with Margaret). But in “The Pony,” history caught up in a big, “no arm-chair psychology needed here” way. Last week we learned that Gillian does in fact know her son is dead, and last night we got confirmation she knows (or correctly assumes) who did it. And having established a rapport with the highly flammable Gyp Rosetti early on, she only needed to say the word—one of her greatest skills in life—for things to go very bad for their mutual enemy.
And as poetic justice, or just plain TV convention, would have it, everything goes up in flames, literally, just as things finally come together in Nucky’s world. In the middle of the episode it seems like he has hit an all-time low: Andrew Mellon has him all but removed from The Union Club and then he starts a scrimmage with Billie’s actor friend Gil, appearing the jealous-older-loser type more than ever. In simpler terms, he got called “interloper” and “sir” in the span of a day. Ouch.
But by the near-end of the episode Nucky strikes a deal with Mellon (running his distillery in exchange for Remus’ head, so to speak) and he gets the girl—the newly blonde Billie Kent, i.e. Nadine Beckenbauer. But things quickly turn for the worse again when Babette’s explodes, taking Billie, instead of Nucky, along with it. The “pony,” or the slapstick chorus girl, Billie is not. Rather, her story, like many of the young beauties on this show (Pearl, Angela, Lucy) is one of tragedy.
Meanwhile in Chicago, Van Alden has another “incident” at work, and it looks like we are about to see a repeat of his exit from AC. “Where would you like to go?” he asks his wife, “I’m open to any state, except New Jersey and New York and Illinois, obviously.” Enter Sigrid. Turns out that in addition to being quite nimble with blunt objects, she also knows how to operate a distillery out of her kitchen. This is exactly the type of woman Van Alden needs—someone to tamp his self-doubts and take control when he’s freaking out. Mrs. Mueller is resourceful and pragmatic, and you can’t say she isn’t taking her vows seriously.
And far as tamer subplots go, Johnny Torrio has arrived fresh off holiday in Naples and is ready for retirement, trying to make teachable moments happen in the middle of a bootleg war (although I have to admit, I did enjoy his little tale from Pompeii). In other words, Al Capone is moving up in the world, perhaps easier than he expected. And Margaret gets closer to Owen while picking out a pony, before another one of their steamy sex scenes (In a car! During a thunderstorm!) and later goes to Dr. Mason for diaphragms (one for her, the other for Mrs. Scherer). And also, Owen’s going to teach her how to drive. What are the odds we get to see her drive off in a sunset, out of AC forever, with Owen in tow? Slim sure, but I can dream.
In contrast to last week’s more measured “Sunday Best,” last night marked one of those rare Boardwalk episodes that squeezed in nearly every character (sans Chalky, sigh) to deliver a number of game changers, one after the other. Payoff is happening, which is as satisfying as it is bittersweet because it means we’re nearing the end of this excellent season.
-This past weekend I was lucky enough to see Michael Shannon in Grace, the first time I’ve seen him in non-Van Alden form since Revolutionary Road. He’s terrific, and so too are his castmates Paul Rudd, Kate Arrington (Shannon’s real-life girlfriend), and Ed Asner (i.e. Lou Grant). If you’re in NYC between now and Jan. 6, see this show!
-After Van Alden irons his co-worker’s face and wipes the desks clean, he lumbers up to the remaining staff, cowering behind the glass window partition, and gives them a half-smile before he puts his hat on and exits. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it, but powerful moment that speaks to this character’s strange personification of awkwardness and danger. In an interview on Fresh Air last year, Terry Gross compared Shannon’s character to Frankenstein’s monster, and in moments like this I can’t help but recall that analogy.
-Dr. Mason continues to have great one-liners. See: “Am I wrong, or is she flirting with me?”
-Goodbye Billie Kent—it’s been a true pleasure getting to know you this season.