Boardwalk Empire season 3 episode 7 review: Sunday Best

Michael settles down to spend some quality time with Boardwalk Empire's characters in this episode. Here's his review...

Boardwalk Empire has a surfeit of great characters, too many to fit fully into a single episode, but all worth looking at in detail. It’s good then, that after last week’s deft handling of the season’s plot elements, we got a nice suite of character studies this week. The Thompson brothers, Margaret, Rosetti, Harrow and Gillian each took some precious screen time to reveal a little bit more of themselves.

The opening section of the episode was very nicely handled; I liked the repetition of the mealtime scenes and the differences in attitudes to the saying of grace. It was a handy slice of forced formality which established the different ways the characters responded to having to behave nicely.

The Thompson family Easter carried the right amount of mannered formality and natural family fun, and what a treat to have some light entertainment to relieve the horrors elsewhere in the episode. It was a neat play, making the attempt at reconciliation between the Thompson brothers so convincing. It was not easy, but it was honest, and I actually thought that Nucky and Margaret had a shot at things at the end. Margaret’s damning ‘it’s too late, it’s too late’ was a painful verdict.

Gillian’s little scheme for Roger was finally revealed, and while it was a relief that she wasn’t totally twisted, merely brutally practical, the killing of poor Roger still has a scent of weirdness to it. I admit that I was relieved when she placed Jimmy’s dog tags on his drowned body because I could at least see then what her game was. It was still a disturbing scene, part murder, part seduction and all the more effective for the gentle sweetness with which Gillian began her grim task.

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Even Rosetti, who has been a little one-dimensional in his motives (if thrilling in his execution) revealed a little more of himself. Armchair psychologists may have already deduced from his bedroom practices the fact that he might be a little hen-pecked at home. And how. Sitting at his table, wearing a vest and having loud, combative conversations with his wife, mother and mother-in-law is clichéd Italian-American gangster territory, but it provided the character with some necessary comic relief. It was good to see him in full context as well. So far, we’ve seen him strutting about New Jersey and stomping into everyone else’s business with ease. Now we see him beholden to Joe Masseria (who I’m glad to see appearing again) and the coterie of women he has at home. He’s like a dangerous adolescent, preening over his new suit in his room and being summoned, repeatedly to come down to dinner. I especially liked the detail of the awkward friend being asked to stay for tea and grudgingly accepting like a good boy.

It might be funny, as was his very teenage ranting at God for not letting him get what he wants, but he is still a powerful and dangerous man. This was the best we’ve seen of him, the polar opposite of the measured and rational Thompson and Rothstein.

Harrow, that walking reminder that the pain of war doesn’t remain on the battlefield, had a good episode. He has found in Julia someone who can see him for who he really is, but is neither repulsed nor frightened by it. The scenes with her father were difficult, especially as he is such an unlikeable man, but they made the scenes on the boardwalk better. The photograph was a nice touch –it shows how far Richard has come that he even submitted to being photographed, but the remaining image, in which he hides his disfigured side by looking at Julia, was beautiful, and finally gave him a reason to put himself in his own scrapbook.

The death of Roger and the beaten priest aside, this was a gentler episode focusing in character and human drama. It was handled expertly and shot very well indeed (the kid’s eye view on Eli’s porch was a great touch) and it worked very well as a pair with last week’s plot-heavy episode. I just wish there was time enough to spend with all of Boardwalk’s characters in this way.

Read Michael’s review of the last episode, Ging Gang Goolie, here.

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