Boardwalk Empire season 3 episode 6 review: Ging Gang Goolie

A fan-favourite returns in this week's Boardwalk Empire, which brings us to the mid-point of its third season. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.6 Ging Gang Goolie

We’re at about the halfway stage in season three now, and it has been motoring along fairly nicely, due in no small part to the actions of Gyp Rosetti. I had found him irritating to begin with, but over the course of the past few episodes he has emerged as a great antagonist, remaining ahead of the curve at every step, not least of all when fending off last week’s violent attack.

Indeed, Gyp has become so much a part of the season’s structure that his absence this week might have been expected to leave a void in the episode. Fortunately, the vacuum is filled by the return of two much-missed Boardwalk staples, namely fan-favourite Richard Harrow and Nucky Thompson’s mojo. 

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Why is Harrow so loved, outside the fictional universe at least? His story is a compelling one, but there were many disfigured young men who returned broken from the First World War. Harrow’s appeal is in his character, so empty of normal human concern (witness his last appearance, and the disaffected manner with which he recounts how many people he’s killed). The contrast between that and his sentimental ache for Angela Darmody, and now the plaintive looks he gives Julia shows that there may yet be a way back for this young man.

It is, as ever, an astonishing performance from Jack Huston, who manages to convey so much emotion with half a face, and without overacting to compensate. He’s also the quietest character in a show full of people who talk too much (Capone, Rosetti, Doyle). His hesitant rasp, still unpleasant to hear, carries so much with so few words. I am always left wanting more from Harrow.

For rather different reasons, I’ve been wanting more from Nucky all season, and here he is in what is clearly his best episode since he offed Jimmy. Strutting about Washington, making friends, enemies and even getting arrested with something approaching aplomb, this was Nucky back to his old ways. I loved the scene between him and Esther Randolph (another welcome return), not least because of the commanding way Nucky led the discussion. His ‘can you break a hundred?’ line to the court clerk was the season’s best joke, and classic Nucky. 

The Daugherty angle is a fascinating storyline that is warming up nicely and it’s great to have a secondary antagonist for Nucky to face. It also provides more historical meat on how the ‘great experiment’ of Prohibition played out. Just look at the packed courtroom and the brisk but bored judge. The continued reading out of charges ‘in violation of the Volstead Act’. This is historical social commentary done very well indeed, played out in the background at the characters go about their lives. 

Which brings me to Margaret, whose enthusiasm for the women’s clinic has given her something to do, but it seems to be there solely to provide the show with a vehicle through which to pass comment on the treatment of women in the 1920s. The church-enforced coyness over the language chosen is instructive, not least because the self-same concerns are being elaborated today. It is perhaps a deliberate irony that the part of the show that seems so rooted in the past is the one that has had the longevity to remain today. 

Margaret’s relationship with Sleater, now seemingly back on, brings her back into the main fold. It was a natural progression, but it is striking how hesitant she seems in contrast to Nucky, sitting bold as brass in bed waiting for Billie Kent to come home. 

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Of course, still absent is Jimmy, permanently so. Gillian’s plot in this episode was deeply odd, and not a little disturbing. Removing his photographs can be understood as a method for dealing with her grief, removing reminders of his absence, but the scenes with Roger? Very unpleasant and another example of the show using perverse sexual behaviour to highlight a character’s psychological situation. 

I really liked this episode. The shifts in focus were most welcome and have really opened up the season, especially in those scenes showing Washington’s handling of Prohibition. I hope for now that Nucky can continue to perform at full strength, the coming showdown between him, Rosetti and Daugherty could make this the best end to a season yet.

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, You’d Be Surprised, here.

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