Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Episode 5 Review: You’d be Surprised

A war is brewing and Nucky gets the squeeze by Rosetti...Heyyooo!

In keeping with the promise of the title, viewers actually will be quite a bit surprised by some of the developments in this week’s episode not the least of which is another opening scene for the mob series that takes full advantage of the pay cable home, here hair trigger psycho Gyp Rosetti’s penchant for auto erotic asphyxiation, an act that almost kills him (in more ways than one) and is indeed shocking but somehow doesn’t feel gratuitous. It’s in line with the psyche of the character and once again proves why this is one of the better written series on TV and the episode doesn’t disappoint.

After last week’s ambush resulted in a number of Nucky’s men being killed, and Rothstein not getting his agreed upon shipment of booze, the two men have an intense disagreement over the Gyp Rosetti problem – Nucky: “What do you expect one would do with a mad dog?” – and the two men’s personal disregard for the other boils over into a full blown shouting match, the most public display of vitriol between the two crime bosses yet. Albeit, this is partially obscured from the auditory perspective of their respective henchmen in an adjoining room, a key detail that hides the final betrayal from the viewer after it subsequently appears Rothstein cuts a side deal with Gyp leaving Nucky out of the picture, that is until the final scene…more on that later…

Nucky’s personal life is no less discordant as his affair with showgirl Billie Kent is discovered by Margaret and it clear that this is just a marriage of appearance at this point, even if there are brief flickers and intimation of the passion and love the two felt for each other at one time. Nucky devotes more time to the acting career of Billie and – acting out of a perceived combination of jealousy and affection – has Chalky White pay Eddie Cantor a semi humorous and wholly intimidating visit to convince “man of his word” Cantor to renege on another acting contract and replace Billie’s attractive yet less than talented co-star in a show. Cantor wisely agrees but leaves Billie with the biting sobriquet, “You ever hear of (Nucky’s former mistress) Lucy Danziger?”

Also on the home front, disgraced Fed and now struggling working class stiff Van Alden is being followed by Agent Coughlin and confesses to his wife Sigrid of his checkered past and how he thinks Coughlin may be trying to arrest him. The fear is unfounded when Coughlin finally confronts Van Alden at his home to complain about a defective iron the former agent sold him but a panicked Sigrid does what she can to protect her family and bludgeons the FBI agent much to the chagrin of a shocked Van Alden. At that point, the family man tells his wife to avert her eyes and does the right thing by her and suffocates the semi-conscious agent, calling in his chit with Dean O’Banion to help dispose of the body.

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All this leads to the episode’s major set piece, a brutal botched hit by an assassin disguised as a paperboy on Gyp while the gangster goes at it doggy style with his girl, belt around his neck, gunshots in the hall – Gyp: “Untie me!” – that results in several of Gyp’s bodyguards dead while the mad dog chases the killer out of his house in a brutal violent sequence culminating in a brilliant shadowy overhead shot of a wired and crazed Gyp walking slowly down a hall, naked, belt trailing behind to stumble upon the dead body of the real paperboy in the foyer and the manic grin of a realization that Nucky and Rothstein have just tried to have him killed. War can’t be far behind.

Other developments:

– Gillian is clearly in some sort of denial about the extended disappearance of her dead son James, writing letters imploring him to come home, perhaps this is something she even truly believes.

– The introduction of Andrew Mellon (played by James Cromwell) testifying about the corruption within the Justice Department, a storyline perhaps paving the way for a righteous group of prosecutors and FBI agents down the road.

– Margaret’s continued feminist empowerment at the head of a sex education class held within the strict confines of a Catholic hospital and her burgeoning attraction to the opinionated and gruff Dr Mason who is alas engaged.

If there is any major fault with the show, it is the sin of plenty (too many characters, too many historical subplots) as the writers try to balance both the conceits of a crime show and the narrative tics of a prohibition era historical drama. Surprisingly, the show never really collapses under that weight and ends with a bang, a haunting, brutal violent display notably devoid of stylized choices, just rough and dirty death.

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