Boardwalk Empire season 3 episode 11 review: Two Imposters

Boardwalk Empire delivers the stand-out episode of the season so far. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.11 Two Imposters

Wow. What a zinger. That was a brilliant episode. Efficient, thrilling and tense, taking us forward to an explosive finale but with enough gas in the tank to teach us more about Nucky and for him to learn more about himself. It was the stand-out episode of the season, and one of the best that the show has ever delivered.

The episode was fantastically lean, mainly because so many threads that had been hanging were woven into Nucky’s storyline. They had frequently seemed disparate through the preceding ten episodes, but finally, the hospital, the Artemis Club, the now-ruined Babette’s, Capone, Eli and especially Chalky were all drafted in to support the central story.

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If there was an overarching theme to this episode it was Nucky’s lack of knowledge. From the opening scene, in which he ponders who else knew about Margaret’s affair with Sleater, to his inability to contact any of his supporters, to his skulking about in the dark or being ferried through the night in the back of the van.

He’s been in the dark all along. His scenes with Eddie revealed as much. And not just him. Have we really cleared nearly three seasons without knowing that Eddie had (or maybe once had) a family of his own? He’s always had such a functional role that it’s been easy to see him as little more than a buffoonish manservant. Here, as he falls to his lowest ebb, it’s obvious that he’s one of the few things that Nucky has left. Nucky’s all Eddie has too. As he informs his master at the start of the episode, his life is to serve Nucky.

In fact, it’s tempting to view the entire season as a gradual stripping of Nucky’s power and status. He’s lost his home, his wife, his mistress, most of his business connections (the new subservient link to Andrew Mellon notwithstanding), and quite a lot of money, and it’s only now that he realises just how little he’s been left with. “How can I give you,” he tells Chalky “what I no longer have?”.

Luciano’s little trouble with the deal was an interesting sideshow, separate from the main storyline (for now), but a neat little vignette demonstrating just how reckless he is. Even Lansky declined to get involved, something for which he must now be thankful.

Structurally, the episode benefitted from a series of set-pieces, each one riven with action or tension. The opening shootout at Nucky’s was brilliant, not least because it proved how far he has travelled on the path to becoming a gangster, and how isolated he is. He’s still accomplished –the battle through the door took some real grit.

I liked the scene with Lucky’s deal on the rooftop. It was tense and atmospheric, especially with the moonlight and the laundry swaying in the breeze. The deal was performed with the necessary suspicion, even if by standing behind the chimney stack proffering his wares, Lucky looked a little like he was running a shop.

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However, the stand-out scene has to be the Chalky versus Rosetti showdown. Set against the drama in the makeshift operating theatre, it was almost unbearably tense, with the exchange of mild, but pointed, insults constantly threatening to tip over into actual violence. It showed just how powerful Chalky really is – how many men have we seen able to stand up to Rosetti like that?

If that was the best scene, the episode’s best moment surely has to be the grinning Al Capone at the end. I loved how commanding he was, how transformed from the cocky, awkward young thug we first met all those episodes ago. The moment was made all the more significant by contrast with the beleaguered Nucky, but this does not diminish the performance of Stephen Graham, who delivered so much with a few words and a look. He is the most famous, or rather infamous, of all the historical figures in the show, but I’m genuinely thrilled to see where his story takes us next season.

We’ve still got next week to look forward to first of course, and after this set-up, it’s going to have to be big. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing a heavily armed Richard Harrow getting involved. His dismissal by Gillian this week was cruel and unnecessary and unwittingly designed to trigger his berserk button. He can stand personal insults, a man like him has to, but to denigrate Julia and endanger Tommy is beyond the pale. If Gillian is, however roughly, allied to Rosetti, she’s just given Nucky a powerful soldier. He may have been on the back foot this week, but in the finale, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Bring it on. 

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, A Man A Plan, here.

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