Boardwalk Empire Watch: The War Begins

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Macall B. Polay/HBO

Steve Buscemi on 'Boardwalk Empire'

First, a spoiler alert: Load your weapons and watch “Two Impostors” before continuing.

Wars tend to start not only in anger but confusion. People choose sides; people change sides; death comes unevenly. Last night’s Boardwalk Empire—which continued an extraordinary run for the series that began a few weeks ago with “Sunday Best”—shows in tight frames and efficient scenes how the Thompson-Rosetti war begins. “Two Impostors” is taut, sad, and thrilling. The scene in which Harrow gathers his guns managed both art and fright in a way rare for television or film. In short, I can’t wait for next week’s finale.

We begin in Thompson’s darkened Ritz suite—among the first of many of Allen Coulter‘s gloomy palettes during the episode. Margaret has taken the kids to the train station; Sleater’s body has been removed; some henchmen are there to protect Nucky. Eddie also remains—loyal even though Nucky says, correctly, that “they’re coming.”

The phone is dead, and so is the score: one of the most interesting artistic decisions of the episode is that it uses virtually no music. Men come in the night with shotguns to kill Nucky. He makes it out, but the only sounds are those of gunfire and the pelicans outside on the beach. The scene in which Nucky and Rosetti’s man fight through the doorway is shot with a quiet spareness bordering on Hitchcockian genius.

Rosetti invades Nuck’s apartment and violates his space—going so far as to read Nucky’s copy of Ragged Dick, a famous Horatio Alger novel that Nucky apparently received as a gift from his mother when he was 12. “To my brave Enoch,” she wrote, although her son’s bravery remains a matter of contention. He does try to get Eddie to the hospital, where he has to remind a doctor that there’s “a fucking wing here named after me. Get a goddamn stretcher.” But Rosetti’s men have already shown up, and Nucky has to flee with a delirious Eddie.

Meantime, we also see Luciano without music. In a rain-soaked New York City alley, he offers heroin for $200 an ounce—although the buyer turns out to be a cop. Rothstein would never have let himself be caught up in a dangerous deal for just $15,000.

It is Harrow who—as usual—forms the moral center of the episode. He arrives at Artemis to find Gillian violating his privacy the way Gyp is violating Nucky’s. She has found what I call Harrow’s family porn—his images of happy moms, dads and kids in innocent situations. But one of those photos is of Harrow himself with Julia and Gillian’s grandson Tommy, whom she has come to call her own son in a typical act of vanity and deception. Her decision to turn Harrow away—to have him escorted from the premises at gunpoint—will be her downfall. Or at least I hope it will. Grethen Mol has skillfully found the outer limits of this character, and I grow weary of Gillian.

Nucky goes to Chalky, for whom he has done favors and who still wants something from him: control of how Babette’s will be rebuilt. But let’s not ignore the racial politics here: Nucky has preferred to see Chalky as a useful tool rather than simply a black man. On some moral scale, that may not make Nucky a good person—but I think it makes him not a bad person. Chalky knows this: Nucky is going to be just as brutal to him as he would be to anyone else.

The psychopath Rosetti is offering $25,000 to kill Nucky—but Chalky picks the devil he knows. When Rosetti shows up with many guns to make the cash offer in person, Chalky demonstrates a loyalty to Nucky that was a bit unexpected—but again, Rosetti is obviously a psychopath. Chalky appeals to Rosetti’s sense of sexual privacy, which was established earlier in the season: “Got a little private affair going on right now,” he says. “Your gents marching in are going to cost me more than money … I just aim to keep my johnson in its rightful place.” And so Gyp backs off.

Gillian has consorted with devils, but even she seems to understand that Gyp is unstable. Because she has little choice, she allows Artemis to be turned into a common whorehouse where one thug is openly having his way with a woman on a sofa. She then kicks out Harrow and so leaves herself exposed. Her resolve is her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. It will help defeat Rosetti, but it will leave her vulnerable.

We end with Nucky resolving to Chalky that he will stay in Atlantic City—it is, after all his town. And finally a plain, drum-based score begins as Harrow removes his weapons. Such care was taken to film this scene, which is breathtaking: seven guns in all and a determined expression on Harrow’s face. The unadorned music begins again when Nucky goes to protect his nephew from the Rosetti hordes. Instead, those hordes turn out to be the army that Eli has gathered in Chicago. Al Capone wants “a bath, some chow—and then you and me sit down. And we talk about who dies. All right?”

Cut to credits after an impressive bit of television. The finale next week—are you as excited as I am?

20 comments
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FredPahlke
FredPahlke

Excellent is all I can say.  This series is so much better than anything you can see, movie theater or TV.  The best characters (actors) in well written and directed pathos.   It is what great movies are about and now we get a mini movie on TV every week of the series.

KayMoore
KayMoore

I still miss my boo Owen, but this past episode was soo good! Chalky, Al Capone and Harrow! Enough said!

IPFletcher
IPFletcher

I was literally bouncing off the couch and cheering when Capone stepped through the crowd in that final shot- haven't had a "VICTORY!" feeling like that with a show in ages- would have to go back to the next-to-last season finale of The Shield. This show may never get Emmy love, but it'll get plenty from the rest of us, that's for sure.

I'm so psyched for the finale it's ridiculous.

TerryClifton
TerryClifton like.author.displayName 1 Like

This season has been incredible. However, I saw no purpose whatsoever killing off Owen. He could have been useful over the next 2 episodes, and he brought a certain calm to every situation. Nucky has now finally come to learn what Jimmy told him last season; you can't be half of a gangster. Let's hope Richard Harrow gets them all, including Gillan and Gyp; that would be poetic justice for Jimmy and Tommy. This show is the best HBO has to offer.

galens
galens

one of their bests EVER!! gripping!!

CindyHuntSkimmyhorn
CindyHuntSkimmyhorn

I love this show so much, it is almost painful that next week will be the end of a season that seems to have just started. I look forward to Richard getting even with Gillian and hopefully taking Tommy with him. I also look forward to the final gunfight, but worries me who might be killed since they claimed the gentle Owen last week.Will probably spend the off season re watching Seasons 1&2 over again. Great, great show!

TigerDude
TigerDude

"Gentle" Owen?!  The guy was an IRA terrorist and killer for Nucky!  I do find it amusing that we tend to "root" for certain "bad guys" in this series, especially given that they all are bad guys.  Except for maybe Tommy and Julia, but it is still early for them.

KayMoore
KayMoore

@CindyHuntSkimmyhorn I just watched season one, and I am about to wrap up season 2. I hate that Owen is one. It's going to be weird without him on the show.

Atlantagirl
Atlantagirl

I cant get enough of this show. I count down the days until the next episode. All the characters have my complete attention. Chalky White was fantastic on the last episode. Some of his lines and the way he executes them are PERFECT.  " You just aint done cooking yet ".  I really think Harrow is going to be the one to kill Rosetti for Tommy's sake. Too bad he and Nucky cant be on the same team. When Al Capone showed up showing his support for Nucky with that wonderful smile on his face I had tears in my eyes. Cant wait till Sunday !

TigerDude
TigerDude

Since we're speculating, I am thinking Rosetti most likely would be taken out by his number one henchman, the guy whose cousin as brutally murdered by Rosetti in last week's episode.  I sort of got the impression that Gillian was "allowing" Richard to leave, to free him up to also go after Rosetti and his gang.  Prior to this, I always wondered why Richard was staying there at the Artemis, if he truly disliked Gillian. If it were only for Tommy, why had he not removed Gillian earlier?  I do believe that Richard and Nucky will emerge as a team, with Richard taking the place of Owen (or Jimmy before him).

And who would have thunk of Al Capone as the cavalry?

Great stuff.  Definitely my favorite show.

ParisofAmerica
ParisofAmerica

Oh the family porn.  Wasn't Harrow a bit crazy in his own way? Sure he and Julia are adorable and you want the best for him, but when it was him and Jimmy he seemed a bit off. Him setting up the guns neatly on the bed had to be one of the best scenes of the episode. I also couldn't help but get excited when Capone showed up.

JohnCloud
JohnCloud

@ParisofAmerica Harrow was certainly crazy in his own way; in fact, he was suicidal. Partly because Jimmy showed him basic decency, Harrow owed him a great deal. But then Jimmy rode off the rails--and got himself killed. This season, we have seen Harrow come into his own. He's setting up those guns to kill not for Jimmy but for his incipient family--the family he had always wanted. It may be the most sane thing he's done since the war. I can't imagine getting in his way next week. And we can (hopefully) be assured that he won't die since he may be the only decent man left.

GabEhcuoda
GabEhcuoda

Wow, BE has turned out to be even more compelling than last season's Game of Thrones! Rosetti has turned out to be one of the most engrossing villains in modern TV, and each week, the storyline becomes more addictive. Shows like BE and GoT are the reasons why HBO co continues to be best content provider on cable today. Can't wait for next week's season finale.

KayMoore
KayMoore

@GabEhcuoda ha, I am constantly comparing BE, GOT, Trueblood and the Wire. And right now, BE is winning! This show is sooo good! HBO has the best series!

KurtAlexander
KurtAlexander

Can't wait !!!! They saved the best for last !!!

phillipsmcsd
phillipsmcsd like.author.displayName 1 Like

Really glad to see Nucky and Eli on the same side again.  I think that it would have been interesting if Capone showed up with his new pal Van Alden in tow as added muscle.  That would have added an interesting twist. Richard Harrow will be the last man standing, at least I hope so.  The one thing about this show that drags me in, is that there are no happy endings, just more tragedy and death for those involved. This is why I make the prediction that Harrow goes out in a blaze of glory, but not before decimating Gyp's men and Gillian at the Artemis, and perhaps gives Tommy to Julia and then fades out.  I know there is a season 4 on order, but with all of the main characters dying off, I am not sure what can be salvaged.     

TigerDude
TigerDude

I believe Van Alden is the reluctant henchman of Danny O'Banion, not his enemy Al Capone (unless I missed something when I retrieved a beer sometime). 

KayMoore
KayMoore

@TigerDude Remember when Al stuck that fork in Van Alden's face? He s now one of Al's henchmen.

TigerDude
TigerDude like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thanks Kay!  I remember now. I guess beer does take its toll . . .

JohnCloud
JohnCloud like.author.displayName 1 Like

@phillipsmcsd Nice point on Van Alden. I think he will become an even more fascinating character next season. And completely agreed on Nucky and Eli.