Boardwalk Empire season 3 episode 5 review: You’d Be Surprised

There's a war brewing in this excellent season of Boardwalk Empire. Here's Michael's review of You'd Be Surprised...

This review contains spoilers.

3.5 You’d Be Surprised

I have commented before on the way that Boardwalk Empire slams its characters’ personal and business lives together, complicating both sides. This is particularly the case in You’d Be Surprised, an excellent episode which shows how badly this can turn out.

Nucky is still underperforming commercially. Is he letting his relationship with Billie Kent cloud (or even remove) his judgement? Rothstein certainly seems to think so, and calls him out on it in a fantastic opening scene that neatly summarises the parlous position in which they find themselves. Rosetti, it transpires, is connected to Masseria, who, as we know, can make things very difficult in New York. We should have seen this coming. The racial connections I mentioned last week are proving definitive, and likely to prove bloody.

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Speaking of which, proud Sicilian Gyp Rossetti had an interesting episode, driven partly by luck but chiefly by sheer brute determination. The shoot-out scene – the episode’s pinnacle – established just what a tough mother he really is, even if he is a little odd in bed. Sleater’s laconic “…four fatalities, none of them Rosetti” deliberately underplayed the brutality of the scene. The naked, bloodsoaked Gyp, still wearing the ligature from his kinky session, made for an arresting sight, the overhead camera making it particularly so. Rosetti frequently sounds dumb, but this is clearly a ploy as his knowing look at the dead paperboy revealed. He’s a cunning operator and would test even Nucky at his best.

James Cromwell’s turn as Andrew W. Mellon was excellent. Brisk, efficient and in control, he dominated the Senate hearing with polite ease and, were it not for the bloody events at Rosetti’s, he would have stolen the episode in under five minutes. Gaston Means is a fascinating character, more audacious in real life than in the show (although the season is relatively young) and he is wonderfully played by Stephen Root. Root delights in Means’ loquaciousness, deftly avoiding the trap of making him seem comical. He is one of the most quietly capable characters on screen and I just hope the script continues to do him justice. 

That is not something we can necessarily say of Chalky and Dunn Pernsley. Their role in the episode was interesting to say the least. Chalky is still essentially a business associate of Nucky and having him run what was a personal errand showed just how confused Nucky is by his situation. He’s letting his private life affect his business life and using his business associations to straighten out his personal affairs. It also spoke to the central crisis at his heart: just which side of the gangster/politician divide is he now on? He made a game effort to sweet-talk Cantor into accepting his offer, and seemed genuinely taken aback at his resistance to bribery, but when it failed had no compunction about sending the heavies in. It also served as an unintentional metaphor for Chalky’s role in this season, surely there’s something better for him to do?

Gillian’s inability to separate her business from her private life is also troubling. Despite the sympathetic but insistent lecture from Leander Whitlock, she can’t let go of Jimmy. It’s not clear how far her denial is wilful, but it is certainly real. Gillian is not always the easiest character to like but it was hard to remain unaffected watching her write to her dead son as if he is simply out of town for a while. The large Darmody-shaped shadow that has been hanging over this season is one of the most subtle yet important features of the writing. It’s been fantastic how little Jimmy’s absence has directly affected the plot, except through the actions of the three characters who were closest to him, Nucky, Gillian and the (sadly absent) Richard Harrow.

It was good to see the Van Alden storyline begin to blossom into an actual story as opposed to a series of fractured vignettes. Circumstances have brought him back into the orbit of Dean O’Bannion who will presumably want something in return for disposing of a body, Van Alden’s earlier ‘favour’ notwithstanding. It was a surprise to see how effortlessly he switched back into bad-guy mode, which is testament to how effectively he’s been playing the role of downtrodden sadsack George Mueller. It also suggests some dynamism to come. Not to mention violence. There’s a war brewing. 

Read Michael’s review of last week’s episode, Blue Bell Boy, here.

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