Boardwalk Empire Watch: The Crate

  • Share
  • Read Later
Macall B. Polay/HBO

Chris Caldavino and Bobby Cannavale on 'Boardwalk Empire'

Spoiler alert—no really, serious spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen “A Man, a Plan…,” then bury yourself in the sand and watch before reading on.

Boardwalk Empire has always been free of typical television constraints because of the Hollywood royalty who back it: Martin Scorsese is an executive producer (who also directed the pilot), and Mark Wahlberg—whom I suppose counts as royalty at this point—is another producer. Tim Van Patten, the prolific and talented director of many great HBO episodes, helms much of Boardwalk. And of course creator Terence Winter is partly responsible for one of the most enduring series ever filmed, The Sopranos.

Possibly because of its magnificent backing, Boardwalk has felt free to take chances. In last season’s finale, the show killed off a favorite character, Jimmy Darmody (played with troubled insouciance by Michael Pitt). And last night we lost Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox), who was to be Margaret’s way out from under Nucky and a way for the show to wind down. Instead, Sleater’s corpse was delivered in a crate to Nucky in the middle of the night.

That means Steve Buscemi will have to work all the harder to keep an audience that may be eager to see some heroes. But there are no heroes here. You should switch over to Showtime’s Homeland if you want to see people being routinely decent to one another.

(MORE: Boardwalk Empire Watch: My Ears Are Ringing)

We begin with the only possible hero of the show, the mangled assassin Harrow, who may finally be getting the domestic bliss he always wanted. We watch him carry ice cream cones to Julia and Tommy at the beach, where swimmers are enjoying an old-timey performance of the Neptune story. (Like so much else in Boardwalk, the costuming here is extraordinary—the swimsuits, Tommy’s sailor outfit, Neptune’s fake beard.) But the bliss is broken when we get payoff from the title sequence: bottles of whiskey wash up onto the beach, and everyone runs for them.

It turns out that Rosetti owned much of that shipment, and now he has only 24 or so crates. But a new man, cousin to Tonino, tells Rosetti—in a scene accidentally prescient of the Sandy storm (which ravaged the New Jersey coast)—that the whiskey could have been lost to “rogue waves.” Rosetti, whose character has been written as a rogue wave, asks for clarification. “Sometimes,” the cousin says, “when the wind shifts, waves crash into each other from different directions. And when they do, they make giant waves. It’s easy to lose cargo if it’s not strapped down.”

Rosetti, of course, is a character who is not strapped down—and he is the least convincing, most annoying character on the show. I understand that Darmody had to die, but we have only Rosetti—little more than a sadomasochist—to replace him. He eventually has the cousin buried in the sand so that only his head is showing. And then Rosetti beats him to death with a shovel. Enough already.

Van Alden is a far more complicated character—probably just a masochist rather than a sadomasochist—and in this episode, we see that he has become what he swore he wouldn’t: a liquor dealer. The scene in which he sells aquavit to the bartender recalled, in a slightly askance but riveting way, the scene in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables in which Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness says, “I have broken every law I swore to uphold. I have become what I beheld.” When Van Alden gets taken away at gunpoint—an arrest that turns out to be an abduction by Capone—it’s neither a legal nor a moral comeuppance. Instead, it’s a grooming: I would wager two cases of whiskey that Van Alden will be the greatest gangster of the series. Van Alden’s quoting of Job only seals the deal: he will be a patient, selfless killer.

For his part, Nucky has never seemed troubled by scruples. He is conspiring with the oily Gaston Means to kill Harding Administration aide Jesse Smith, who might testitfy against Thompson and Means in the trial of bootlegger George Remus. (Remus wants to know how this subplot will end.) Means wants $40,000 for the job, which would be more than half a million in today’s dollars (according to my trusty inflation calculator).

(MORE: Boardwalk Empire Watch: Everyone Has a Breaking Point)

We first see Sleater with Katy, and—rather indirectly—he proposes to her. When she seems skeptical, he winks. Then he says, “We’ll discuss it later.” She is radiant as he leaves, but she has little idea how cruel he’s being. Sleater and Margaret are planning to run away together to St. Louis.

When he sees Margaret, they play out their act before Eddie before having a real conversation. Sleater tells Margaret he will follow her a month or six weeks after she leaves—so much later so that Nucky won’t know. If he does, they will have no place to hide. And Katy? “I’ll leave one morning, tell her something convincing—and she’ll never see me again.” Margaret seems troubled.

Sleater goes in to meet with Nucky and Eli, who are discussing palindromes—which is fitting, since Boardwalk is a show whose characters can run forward and backward at the same time. Sleater is told that Masseria goes to Turkish baths every Thursday at 9 p.m. on Chrystie Street. (Chrystie, once home to many poor immigrant communities, has changed somewhat.)

Meantime, another iniquity is at work. When Means meets with him, Smith is addled—so addled that he takes Means’ suggestion to burn $10,000 cash. When Attorney General Daugherty sees Smith’s hysteria, he cuts him off, which sets up Smith’s suicide (another actual event dramatized in the show).

This episode is dark and full of disenchantments, and now Margaret is absorbing a disappointment: “the bishop himself” has decided to terminate her women’s sexuality classes. But the doctor has prescribed a diaphragm for her, and he suggests that they could get a storefront—presumably an abortion clinic—where women could learn “anything they needed to know.” Margaret—who has plans to leave with Owen—dissuades him.

(MORE: Boardwalk Empire Watch: Finding the Easter Eggs)

We go back briefly to Harrow and Julia, who seem to be happy apart from her drunk father, who storms in and suggests his daughter is “some mongrel bitch in heat” and that Harrow is “some sideshow freak.” Big mistake. Harrow attacks and holds down Mr.Sagorsky. Harrow removes his mask and then asks Sagorsky: “Would you pay a dime to see this?” He forces Sagorsky to apologize, and then he and Julia kiss. But I have the feeling we will see more of this problematized domesticity and that everything will become harrowing for Harrow once again.

I’m going to glide past the bocce scene with Masseria, partly because the Italian accents are so bad. But it does establish that Rothstein has played his eight ball into both corners, just in case. And I’ll skip the machinations over Rosetti’s new shipment except to say that it leads Rosetti to that brutal and slightly ridiculous extermination of Tonino’s cousin.

Every appearance of Michael Kenneth Williams on Boardwalk is welcome, so I was happy to see Chalky. Mr. White comes to Nucky with a deal to turn the wreck of Babette’s into a black club. Nucky is resistant because, he says, there’s a line. Chalky: “That line can move.”

But, at least for now, Nucky won’t move. At this point in the episode, the music darkens and then builds for the last 10 min. Smith shoots himself, and we see Sleater going into the bathhouse. Then we see Rosetti counting up his new shipment: 28,800 bottles. He also tells a story: his father smelled like sweat and died at 50. That’s not long before he beats the man to death with a shovel. It’s a beautifully shot scene. But as with most Rosetti scenes, it’s overwritten.

What is not overwritten is the final scene, the one in which we see Owen’s body in the crate. Eddie wakes Nucky, and then Margaret wakes. She finds Sleater, and Kelly Macdonald shows her talent: she beats Buscemi half-heartedly but mainly cries—and runs away with her nightgown billowing. She is spectral, not unlike her character in the last Harry Potter movie. It turns out she is pregnant with Sleater’s child—something he knows before going off to try to kill Masseria.

“A Man, a Plan…” was one of the darkest episodes in a dark series. What with the brooding music in the final scenes, I had trouble sleeping afterward. Harrow seems to offer redemption, but it will be a neat trick for the writers to find a reason to care about any of these people after last night. There’s taking risk with a show, and then there’s burning it to the ground.

MORE: Boardwalk Empire Watch: The House Is on Fire

14 comments
KendraTaylor
KendraTaylor

Right from the beginning I knew Owen was going to die and I had to confirm it to prepare myself. Still,even after reading this review and watching the episode, my heart broke knowing that we wouldn't see Owen anymore. There was something about him-besides his good looks- that made him one of my favorite characters. He got the job done, was ruthless, but there was an ounce of humanity within him that I couldn't find in Nucky, Rothstein, Lansky, or Luciano (al capone doesn't even make it to the list). I literally dont think my heart could take it if Harrow or his girlfriend (Julia) were harmed. :/ Damn you Gyp!!!

KatherineSilberblattWolfthal
KatherineSilberblattWolfthal

@MitkoVaradinov @ans504girl

Speaking of Italians. I'm not sure whether mr cloud realizes that the guys in the bocce scene are not speaking Italian, but one of many Sicilian dialects. That's why their accents are so bad, and why subtitles are needed even for me, who am bilingual in Italian and English. Not even an Italian would understand them, unless he were a Sicilian speaking that dialect.

MoLudwig
MoLudwig

Can't believe people were surprised to see Owen's body in the crate! Right from when Nucky gave his orders in this episode, we knew poor old Owen was toast! The 2 sets of promises he'd given were just further confirmation, from an epic drama pov, that he wasn't going to be contributing anything further. And then, when a crate like that is delivered at 4am, you just know that's gonna be nothing you asked Santa for! We knew exactly what the contents of that crate were gonna be!

That was for the commenters. To Mr cloud, I do appreciate a very in-depth and insightful review of the episode, but are you so sure Van Alden is more complex than Rossetti? When it comes right down to it, that they are in power, and someone has pissed them off, their reaction is pretty nearly the same. Rossetti bashes Tonino to death with a shovel: Van Alden repeatedly ducks Sebso until he drowns. Sure, their motivations and self-idealizations are very different, but both of them are crazy as hell, and the only reason I'd rather have Van Alden after me than Rossetti right now, is that the latter seems to be much better organised, with better backup, while the former looks totally incompetent for the last while, which may or may not continue.

As for 'burning to the ground'? For me, not yet. My favourite character for a long time has been Stephen Harrow. Clearly, though, he is the only guy who could kill Rossetti. And if he does threaten Gillian's place (ie Tommy), I guess he will have to. I want him to get away with Julia and Tommy. But if he did, or if he got killed, why would I watch the show anymore? So I guess what I want is for him to get away with them, but not til the show ends, lol. So still watching for now, and prepared to forgive anything except killing those 3!

mc.archambault
mc.archambault

"There’s taking risk with a show, and then there’s burning it to the ground." I completely agree with you. They are riding a fine line. If they have to continue killing off every single character that lends the show even the tiniest bit of pathos (and I'll admit, both my favorite characters), can they at least give me a villain I like to hate? Rosetti is unbelievable and doesn't show any of the finesse that a "bad guy" should. He's brainless and although I found the whole "good luck" thing humorous at the beginning, his egotism is now wearing me thin. And not in the good/bad way. Owen's death and Margaret's bawling and futile fists were in my opinion, some of the most tragic moments in television. I found myself actually sobbing, heart broken and online looking for people to commiserate with and the point is, I don't know if I will watch the show next week. At least not for a while. It will sit there on my tivo as I lick my wounds.But what did I expect? This is a show where the hero dies, if he exists at all. Or moves to St. Louis.

MitkoVaradinov
MitkoVaradinov

This is why there is no other show as Boardwalk...it is so hard to guess right. I love the fact that I am  never right on what will happen next, and the show continues to amaze with its authenticity, complexity and historical value. There definitively where things about Jimmy and Owen that I liked, but nevertheless they where gangsters, and if one is truly transparent, that is what happens to gangsters. THE BEST SHOW OF THIS GENERATION! Thank you all that participated in it, from the begging until now !      

farabeedonnell
farabeedonnell

I guess harrow will be my new favorite character since sleater is dead, another one my favorites gone like last season when they killed off Jimmy

ParisofAmerica
ParisofAmerica

Great Recap! I think we saw a subtle difference in Rosetti this week. He didn't just kill some stranger like he usually does, but one of his men and a cousin of his inner circle. I loved this episode although I was sad to see Owen go it was necessary. Margaret couldn't just run away and have a happy ending. This makes me worried for Julia. Unless they are going to write off Harrow, I don't see her staying long term. As soon as this happens I will stop watching because that will be too much heart break.

JasonOldmanvegasButler
JasonOldmanvegasButler

I thought the final scenes of the episode were excellent - especially the flashback reveal of Margaret's pregnancy. That was where the show actually showed it's depth - rather than callow shock tactics. Personally, I didn't see Owen's death coming (well, not like that) and I think it will play out that Nucky will have to outwit his opponents using brains (and political connections) rather than brawn (and hired guns). 

ans504girl
ans504girl

I disagree...i think you are watching the wrong show if you are looking for a good guy. This is a show full of bad  guys playing for the upper hand. I think Nucky set owen up thats why he didn't send eli with him. all the sneaking margaret and owen did in the previous episode during nucky's head ringing was seen and acted on. I would say rosetti is a bit over done but it gives that element you can't control i mean who knew somebody was buried in the sand during his speach about his father.

Sammyrose69
Sammyrose69

When you see Luciano whispering info about Nucky's plan in Masseria's ear, you have to know it's the end for Owen.  IMO Jimmy was a full character where Owen wasn't, he was mainly a driver/bodyguard. Of course this season, most of the opposition was from out of town. Nucky needs manpower badly, will Harrow and Chalky become major players in next weeks episode? 

Supposedly the show has been renewed for another season.

DebbieParksForal
DebbieParksForal

I was totally bummed when Sleater was found in the crate. I didn't see that coming and am sick about it. I loved his character with Margaret. They were two Irish peas in a pod, so to speak. He had such wonderfully emotional brown eyes! Alas, I see Margaret going down that forsaken path that Nucky has offered. Sigh...if only.

DanStrey
DanStrey

All I know if they would've saved playing Loudon Wainwright III rendition of Carrickfergus (played at the end of an early BE episode) at the eod of this episode after the opening of the crate... there would not have been a dry eye in the place.

drlaw
drlaw

Interesting conclusion.  I have watched BE faithfully,  but after last night's episode,  I wondered whether I would continue to watch it.  So I agree that the writers may be burning the show down.

MitkoVaradinov
MitkoVaradinov

@ans504girl  I like your comment, and you could be right, but i doubt Nucky would want to get rid of Owen that fast, the Italians are a bigger fish to fry. Even if he saw them sneaking around, Nucky uses a person until the last drop and there was more that he could use Owen for.  We are going to find out soon! This show is amazing!