Boardwalk Empire, Season 3, Episode 4: “Blue Bell Boy”
Written by David Stenn
Directed by Kari Skogland
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO
Another episode without Michael Shannon and that disappointed me. I love the way he keeps his features granite still, signifying extreme emotional stress, like when Nelson Van Alden’s wife makes a move on his pyjama’ed crotch, with the slightest hint of panic in his eyes. He is Mount Rushmore in a suit and hat and we should be treated to more of him.
Even without Shannon, this show hauls Boardwalk Empire back on track after a flaccid couple of episodes where nothing much happened. First we get a massive hint about who might be the other man in the life of Billie Kent, Nucky’s current squeeze. A sneaky angle on Owen Sleater in bed with a girl who looks just like her, but turns out to be the Thomson maid, makes the point, which is then underlined by the phone ringing at a sensitive moment in proceedings. Billie’s phone is always ringing, Sleater calls her when trying to track down Nucky, we can join the dots.
If this scenario is where the writers are taking the story, Billie will be the second of Nucky’s women that Sleater has bedded. The fact that Owen and Nucky get to spend some bonding time together, as an ambush on Rowland Smith, the thief who stole part of a shipment, goes wrong and the three of them end up trapped in a cellar for 24 hours, will make no difference to Nucky’s reaction if/when he finds out. This is made clear by Nucky’s handling of Smith, who turns out to be a smart sixteen year old with a winning smile and lots of character. Nucky’s recent behaviour lulls us, and Sleater, into a sense of false security. Last week Nucky was plagued with visions of Jimmy Darmody as a young boy, a gun shot wound in his face. The two men talk about killing. It sounds as though Nucky has discovered his limits, that murder is beyond him. We buy that version of events, right until he puts a bullet into young Rowland Smith’s skull.
Nucky is going to need his rediscovered cojones. Tabor Heights is now firmly under the control of Gyp Rosetti and despite Nucky’s orders, Micky Doyle (he of the high-pitched giggle and feather-brain), who is in charge during Nucky’s mysterious absence, decides to take the convoy through the town as usual. Cue lots of dead bodies. Neatly, Eli, Nucky’s disgraced younger brother, is the only one who figures out what is going to happen and the only one to survive. He is left to fill Nucky in on events and this means that Eli is going to claw back some of his former position with his brother. Eli, who is mostly played by Shea Wigham’s top lip, is inherently weak and untrustworthy. If he is welcomed back into the family fold, Nucky may live to regret it.
Meanwhile, Al Capone (expertly portrayed by Stephen Graham) develops into a more rounded character. Like Rosetti, he’s a villain, but unlike Rosetti he has a sense of loyalty and a need to protect those close to him. Yes, Capone can brutally beat a man to death, but he does it to revenge his put-upon underling, not simply for fun, the way Rosetti does. This re-setting of the emotional boundaries, so that no character is unflawed or flawless (even Rosetti has a sense of humour), prevents us from making easy judgements about anyone’s actions and that is what gives the series its edge.
And as for Margaret, her aviatrix heroine is dead and getting women to her health clinic is proving to be an uphill struggle. The path to independence isn’t going to be smooth.