Boardwalk Empire: “Blue Bell Boy” (Episode 3.04)

TV Reviews Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire: “Blue Bell Boy” (Episode 3.04)

One of the biggest complaints about Boardwalk is that it’s “boring,” and admittedly this episode would probably not be the best prop when counter-arguing that sentiment. The opening sex scene surely got the attention of the Owen Slater fan base (or, um, anyone with a pulse), but then some patience was required over various subplot conversations and waiting out the probies alongside Nucky, Owen and the little punk that robbed them. It wasn’t until the final minutes that the plodding action (minus one Capone flip-out) picked up and pay-off was delivered, in a rather crazy sequence of events: Nucky shoots the Rowland! Eli tries to stop the ambush! Gun shots fire! Rosetti overlooks the carnage and says coolly, “I’m gonna fuck the redhead.” Then, in an equally shocking turn, Al Capone sings “My Buddy” to his son on a mandolin while the estranged Thompson brothers reunite on a rainy boardwalk and Margaret learns that lady flyer Carrie Duncan has died. It was an intense closing act, and one that felt worth the wait.

The hand-wringing induced by this show isn’t like waiting for the big twist on a typical procedural. Just as often as Boardwalk surprises, it sets us up to get exactly what we expect. The suspense in the latter then derives from sheer waiting. For instance, when Mickey defies Nucky’s orders and tells the crew to go through Tabor Heights anyway, we know it’s going nowhere good—and Owen’s later assertion to Nucky that “word came back it’s clear” only deepens the sense of dread. Likewise the first four episodes have trained us to expect a certain line of behavior from Mr. Rosetti. What he’ll do next is never certain, but we always know it’s going to be ugly.

At the same time, I was convinced Billie Kent was going to turn up dead last episode, and had no idea what Nucky was going to do with this Rowland Smith character this week. In the season premiere we saw Nucky order a hit on Smith’s partner, but the fact that he didn’t do it himself, coupled with the psychological trip of last episode, lead me to doubt how dark he had in fact gone. But knocking off the kid who robbed and then so glibly lied to him surely served to assuage any lingering doubt. Much like anyone who’s ever been momentarily lost or distracted, Nucky is back, and doubling down. And let there be no mistaking that. See the exchange between Nucky and his new Jimmy:

Owen: I thought you were letting him go.

Nucky: Why would you think that?

Owen: I misunderstood.

Nucky: As long as you understand now.

In other words, Nucky has made his point (again), and next time he shoots I won’t be surprised. Unless of course this was all too little, too late. Had he taken care of Rosetti when he had the chance, things would be very different right now.

This episode was clearly a big step in the Rosetti vs. Nucky saga, while other developments remained minimal in comparison. To recap: Katie is still around, Luciano tries to negotiate with Joe Masseria, Doyle continues to be mean to Eli, who strangely enough, came out to be the most sympathetic character of the evening, alongside Al Capone, who has been struck by a wave of compassion for his son (and tangentially, his friend’s poor personal hygiene). If this is all to get us more emotionally distant from Nucky Thompson, well, it’s working.

Meanwhile, Margaret’s woman’s clinic storyline is still chugging along, and as mentioned, we learned Carrie Duncan’s plane crashed, which reminded me of another time Margaret was disappointed by one of her real-life heroines. As you might have recalled, in Season 1’s “Anastasia,” she became enchanted by the media frenzy over the resurfaced “Princess Anastasia Romanov” only to learn it was all a hoax. Now the story clearly reads as a metaphor for Margaret’s own fake identity and slippery induction into Atlantic City “royalty,” and I can’t help but wonder if the announcement of Duncan’s death serves a similar purpose. Is Margaret’s clinic doomed? She seems to be having trouble convincing her female counterparts at the moment, but I wouldn’t lose faith in her just yet. There just may be something to this “Kotex.”

Stray observations:
• Chalky and Harrow have gone missing yet another episode (sigh). Van Alden also wasn’t there, but he’s one of those characters I appreciate when around, but don’t particularly miss when he’s not.
• Is it just me, or has Margaret discovered red lipstick?
• Menstruation, “a regrettable neologism.”
• The Sesame Street “Birdwalk Empire” has nothing on the Mad Men spoof IMHO, although the wordplay was a delight. See “Clucky Luciano,” “Mallard Capone,” and “the beakeasy.”

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