Boardwalk Empire season 3 episode 8 review: The Pony

Boardwalk Empire maintains its current winning streak with yet another deftly plotted episode...

This review contains spoilers.

3.8 The Pony

The past few episodes have seen Boardwalk Empire firing on all cylinders, and this latest one, The Pony, was no exception. In fact, it achieved more than its immediate predecessors, finding room for all but one of the key characters (the still AWOL Chalky), and skilfully blending the private and the public, as well as reducing the gap between plot and character.

Nucky, who seems to have fully recovered from his moping earlier in the season, was on fine form even as he navigated the different layers of his world. His scene with Gillian, in which they traded lie for lie, was a case in point. We’ve seen both characters almost destroyed by their loss and guilt, but here they prove themselves capable of maintaining their chosen façade, breaking it through choice, rather than necessity. Gillian is almost as adept a liar as Nucky (remember, she owns a ‘health club’), and in her every scene this episode, she showed how she can use it to her own advantage.

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When Nucky visits Andrew Mellon at his club we notice, perhaps for the first time, just how small-time Nucky really is. He notices it too, appreciably nervous, he corrects himself, ‘a small businessman’, and throws a careful trail of flattery at the plutocrat to try to win his favour. He’s okay at ordering minions around, and is an expert at the skilful manipulation and persuasion of peers, but here, in the face of real power he is reduced to polite begging. I liked the ease with which Mellon had him dismissed as an interloper – a wave of the hand and a quiet word was sufficient. It contrasted superbly with Nucky’s clumsily violent dismissal of his own interloper, duffing up the fake Sheikh to soothe his rage at his perceived dismissal.

The addition of Mellon is a great touch, even in the brief cameos we’ve been given. James Cromwell is always good value, but it adds depth to the story to show that for all the trading and politicking among Nucky, Rothstein, Masseria and so on, there is a much bigger game going on here, one that reaches way over the heads of the show’s principals. Stephen Root’s wonderfully oleaginous Gaston Means is an ideal go-between linking these different worlds. I cheer whenever he appears. His scene with Esther Randolph and Nucky was typical of him, acting as though he was the smartest man in the room, but revealing very little.

Revealing more and more is Sigrid, who, after her despatching of the ‘bad man’ a few episodes ago is now proving herself a handy, if reckless, businesswoman. Turning O’Bannion’s imposition into an advantage, she’s also brought Van Alden full circle, the former Prohi Agent now flogging cheap home-distilled whiskey to Norwegians. It is, of course, a necessary source of income now that he’s left the iron selling business. That scene with the taunting colleagues has been brewing since the first episode of the season but was no less satisfying for its inevitability. Van Alden/Mueller’s face was a picture, the relief at having silenced the laughter of his tormentors visible in his psychotic grin.

Margaret’s quest for women’s health finally dovetailed with her own personal interests with the sourcing of a Dutch cap, in itself almost as much an item of contraband as the booze on which the show floats. He relationship with Owen now in full bloom, Margaret hasn’t seemed so alive as when she was reminiscing about her life in the old country, Kelly MacDonald’s portrayal was full of an animation that has been missing from the character for some time. It seems she has something in common with Sleater, a more solid foundation on which to find a future.

The notion of looking ahead certainly seemed to be on Margaret’s mind, doubting the value of a pony for Emily “when there’s no certainty of the future”. It is poignant to consider this in the light of the show’s other ‘pony’, showgirl Billie, who was given an assured income by the penitent Nucky even though, as we saw, her future was not to be. The explosion at Babette’s was as shocking a denouement as we’ve seen all season and a reminder that she, like Johnny Torrio’s Pompeian blacksmith, were trying to get on with things while the end hung over her unexpected and brutal.

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Sunday Best, here.

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