Boardwalk Empire Watch: Get Me a Wet Towel

When the war moves to New York, everyone feels more exposed

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Macall B. Polay/HBO

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen “You’d Be Surprised,” have someone strap a belt around your neck before reading on.

It’s not a huge surprise that Rosetti’s sexual tastes run to the louche. We have already seen him treat most people as though he can buy them. But I was not expecting to learn that Rosetti’s vulnerability would be so similar to Van Alden’s. Van Alden has beaten himself with a belt; Rosetti wants women to choke him with a belt. Rosetti leaves himself exposed—literally. Naked and covered in blood at the end of last night’s episode, Rosetti is an animal. (Please no talking about Bobby Cannavale’s enormous personhood.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As the episode starts, Rosetti is a difficult conundrum for many people in the liquor business. In a tense meeting early in the episode, Arnold Rothstein—pale and stolid as always—summarizes for the audience: “Rosetti controls the roads in and out of Tabor Heights. [He has] taken up residence in the town, commandeered the sheriff’s department—”

(PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes of Boardwalk Empire)

—at which point Sleater offers, in a bit of brutal humor, “burned the sheriff.”

Nucky and Rothstein end up in a confrontation I’ve been hoping for. Nucky promised liquor for New York, but he can’t deliver partly because he shot Jimmy in the face. Jimmy would have fixed the Tabor Heights problem weeks ago. Rothstein cuts quickly to the problem: Nucky is so busy with Billie that he can’t focus on business. Nucky can’t deny, so he deflects. “You’d be wise to leave Miss Kent out of this.”

The exchanges here are impressively fast and cruel—old Hollywood, noir-style. But that’s a difficult trick to pull off for an entire episode, and the writers still seem uncertain about what to do with Van Alden. We endure yet another misdirecting scene in which Van Alden seems to be caught—tax fraud?—and then one in which Sigrid nearly kills the G man from earlier in the season. Van Alden is left is to finish the murder—”I’ll hold his legs,” Sigrid says helpfully—but isn’t it time to see him move on?

Nucky is also having trouble moving on. He has fallen for Billie so hard that, as Rothstein pointed out, he can’t focus. Nucky creates an elaborate (and ultimately boring) scheme to get Eddie Cantor to work with Billie on Broadway. He also goes dress-shopping with Billie at the boutique where Margaret worked. After Margaret accidentally discovers them, she and Nucky have a very Downton Abbey conversation in which she maintains her poise (“whatever fiction you prefer is perfectly fine”), he offers slight apologies (he says he demonstrated “bad form”), and then they end on his good bit of advice: “You might want to ask yourself some practical questions.”

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A few thoughts before I snort more heroin cut with lactose:

*Sleater tells Nucky at the end that Rothstein reports four fatalities, none of them Rosetti. Does that mean Rothstein ordered the hit or that he just knows about it?

*I enjoyed the prolix but funny writing in the conversation between Leander and Gillian. He asks: “You know what consoles me?” She draws from a cigarette and then says “I can’t imagine.” It turns out that he imagines the world may be “overrun by corruption, ignorance and perfidy.”

*Magnate and kingmaker Andrew Mellon has appeared in the form of James Cromwell, who is such a gifted (and, I would imagine, expensive) actor that we will almost certainly see more of him. As writer Daniel Okrent has pointed out, the Treasury Secretary detested having to enforce Prohibition. Cromwell is perfectly disparaging.

*What are those Cheeto-looking things that Gaston Means is eating outside the hearing? I want them more than a night at Gillian’s.

*Mr. White’s name is not “Milky.”

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