You see all manner of dark doings afoot under the boardwalk in Atlantic City, dead pigs that wave at crabbers, screams and moans in the night. Come daylight, you don’t know what you’ll find. You might even catch miniature Mr. Pink doppelganger deputies. Young Deputy Sheriff Enoch Thompson (Marc Pickering) almost looks like a cartoon of half-gangster Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). All those teeth make him look like the happy face of Asbury Park, Tillie, which was a caricature of the guy who put Steeplechase Park on Coney Island, George C. Tilyou. That is, until the toothy deputy sits in the Commodore’s office, smoking a cigar and casually talking about hiring thugs to get rid of the undesirable element in Atlantic City. You know, the guys who don’t vote Republican.
The little Ragged Dick is a slick operator. He knows the trains will be running in thousands of people and he wants to be at the station to welcome them. Of course, he’ll be surrounded by deputies who are ready to see them off. In Boardwalk Empire’s “King of Norway,” Nucky knows where he’s going because he knows where the bodies are buried. He may not have been born to mob rule, but he acclimates. He’s not Scarface. He’s not Tony Montana either, but as young Nucky tries to win Mabel’s father over, he shows that he’s learned what both Montana and Homer Simpson know about crime.
First You Get the Sugar.
Last week’s shocker was Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette). Shot dead on the street like she was some kind of peasant revolutionary. Nucky’s partner in Havana had just dropped off quite a bit of money to the Bacardi King who is using it to bribe Cuban officials and underpay the sugar cane workers who are the heart and soul of his rum. There will be no inquiries into Wheet’s death and no one will be held responsible. This doesn’t necessarily mean the deal’s off. Nucky shouldn’t let the personal interfere with his business sense. The wonder of Nucky is that everything he does is personal. Sally was his lover, but Mr. Thompson, who came up through politics, is all about people.
Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) is back in town. He is a muffled presence now. Prison time locked up all his workings to the inside. He’s got ulterior and interior motives. He really does look like a gangster. I mean everybody on this show looks like a gangster, but Chalky, as much of an anachronism as he might be, looks like he was dressed in a thirties gangster movie. Chalky and Nucky have a very interesting relationship. It is almost a real friendship. Nucky looks positively deflated when he has to ask Chalky “Doesn’t anyone drink anymore?” He wants to share that drink and he wants to share it with Chalky. There is warmth there that Nucky doesn’t have with Mickey (Paul Sparks).
Mickey Doyle plays pretty fast and loose with Chalky’s freedom. One of the great things about the Boardwalk Empire style is that so many things are left ambiguous. Did Mickey give feed the cook to the fed so the cops can say, “yeah, we saw the colored guy with the scar at the Rumpus Room, it ain’t him” or is Mickey keeping Chalky in line? The look they exchange can go either way. Chalky nods, if you can call it that it’s so subtle, as if to say both “good job” and “watch your ass.”
The “King of Norway” is not Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). He’s a figurehead in a matriarchal monarchy. Van Alden will not allow himself to be ruled by fear. He may not lay down for any man, hide from any trouble or cower at the taste of gun metal in his mouth but one word from the kitchen and he’s already got the apron half on. Through it all, Van Alden’s wit has been honed. His best line of the night was when he tells his recorder-playing son “Chester, that would sound better much further away.” Although his jail-cell accident analogy breakdown was also a marvelous interpretation. Shannon is having fun. I’m sure the actor was always having a blast but now his part is so juicy and nuanced he, the actor, Michael Shannon, can barely contain the glee of playing it from oozing from his very pores.
Eli (Shea Whigham) is still having flashbacks. Something got into his head and it’s like a yodeling ear worm. His wife June (Nisi Sturgis) has been smuggled into town and she’s smuggling a bundle of her own. Sturgis is a study in swallowed emotion. The camera gets very intimate with her to catch the glimmer of acceptance and understanding before repression takes over. When the bad news comes out, Eli almost covers her ears as if he can keep her innocent more than to protect himself. They play really well together. Eli really does love his wife and really isn’t on the prowl. When he tells Nelson that the affair was an accident, he really sees it that way.
Then you get the power.
Eli and Van Alden are a good team too. I can’t believe they’re going to be the ones who take out Public Enemy Number One With a Bullet. I mean I can believe it, but I can’t believe it. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” What is that supposed to mean? Coked-out Capone isn’t in the mood for riddles. He can smell trouble in spite of his compromised septum. He just doesn’t know where it’s coming from. The paranoia is real and it’s got him sniffing feds everywhere. Not that he’s going to let that spoil his good time. Owney Madden is sending an actor friend in from New York. He’s gonna play in a movie about Al Capone. This excited me and the whole episode I waited for it. I assumed it was going to be George Raft, who played Guino Danelli in Scarface. Raft knew Madden. I was hoping for a payoff to this, but it never came. I’m hopeful for next week.
Alligator wrestler Al Capone (Stephen Graham) is letting that white powder lead him around by the nose. Just because we can be shown people shitting on TV now, do we have to? Can we be done with it? I once walked in on two executives at a job I used to work at sitting in adjacent stalls, talking numbers. Really? Was there no better place to have that conversation? Yes, everybody shits. But unless you’re going to die of a heart attack on the pisciatoio like Gigi Cestone on The Sopranos, there’s nothing to see here. Al, shut the fucking door.
Now that he has the time to sit on his ass without getting it blown off, Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) tells Nucky he shouldn’t take his health for granted. He should retire. There’s a split second shot of a look Torrio shoots at Nucky that says he knows what he’s talking about. At least Torrio will still drink with him. Maranzano (Giampiero Judica) also knows how to pour bold red vino on tap. Fantastic shoot-em-up scene. Straight out of The Roaring Twenties. Boardwalk Empire modernizes the classics while never once forgetting their roots. But history tells us that this won’t play out well in the long run for Maranzano.
Then you get the women.
As illicit and lethal as the men are on Boardwalk Empire, the women hold more surprises. I predicted last week that Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) was a gangster at heart and this week she more than proves it. She deals with Carolyn Rothstein (Shae D’Lyn) like she was born to it. And then she gets her boss to back the fuck off with the sweetest of demure smiles. It doesn’t get past Mrs. Rothstein either. “You’re right where you belong,” she says. AR’s wife doesn’t miss a thing. And she’s certainly not going to miss that check, Old Rumpus Room or not. She’d been at a party at Nucky’s place and she sees Nucky in his wife.
I’d been irked off and on by Margaret throughout the run of Boardwalk Empire. But now, seeing how she grew into this wonderful creature, it was worth it. We knew she had it in her when she hid Nucky’s ledgers in season 1. She even began her own extortion racket on Nucky. But now as she cowers the veteran mob wife and the elder trader, she becomes a force to be reckoned with. Though, I don’t think she’d ever go off the rails.
Sigrid (Christiane Seidel) is the hot steam engine that threatens to derail the whole deal with a King of Norway poster. She has become a spitfire. I think that’s a twenties expression. If it’s not, it should be. She’s always given the signs. She ran off with him knowing something wasn’t right and defended her husband with lethal force. It was her idea to make aquavit and sell it. She’s no Nordic ice queen. She is the seductress haunting Eli’s dreams and now she’s Freddie come to life, right there in the kitchen, with the flat bread. When Van Alden’s daughter whispers to June that Sigrid isn’t her real mother, that her real mom is a dead ballerina, you get the feeling that there is some seriously spooky shit going on.
Gillian (Gretchen Mol) is witnessing some haunted happenings at the bug house. I happen to be binge-watching American Horror Story: Asylum right now and every second I see Gretchen in the clutches of those quacks feels like a nightmare waiting to happen. Not that her own time is any less rosy. “Beware the villain stalks. Saks 34th’s fur storage vaults are ready to protect your furs,” reads a note passed by a fellow inmate and my mind automatically went to some dastardly surgical procedures that go beyond shaving pubic hair. Did the doctor give that woman an experimental hysterectomy? What sickness did he cut out of her? That scene could be on either Boardwalk or AHS.
And then there’s Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham). She’s just jaw-dropping.
“King of Norway” was written by Steve Kornacki and directed by Ed Bianchi.