What a long, strange trip it’s been. The chief complaint about this odd season of Boardwalk Empire has been its wandering. The journey has been uncertain both for the series and the characters within. There have been some absolutely fantastic small moments throughout, but on the whole, the series has had trouble defining itself this year. Making the choice it did to end the second season — putting Nucky in the position of going Full Gangster — has been difficult on viewers who appreciated the parts of the show that were more than a shoot-em-up. But “Two Impostors” handled the balance exceptionally well, culling down other stories to focus back on Nucky. Whether or not it’s too late remains to be seen. Hit the jump for why, with all due respect Mr. Custer, this ain’t no time for a last stand.
What angered me so intensely last week was that Boardwalk finally split in to two separate personalities. If you enjoyed last week, I’m guessing you weren’t a huge fan of this week. The comments seemed pretty split — those who believed the show had lost its way, and those who thought I was completely crazy for going on about it as I did. Friends debated it the same way, and I realized that Season Three’s extreme unevenness finally drew a line in the sand. There are the languid, character-driven side-bar plots, and then there’s the action. The two haven’t mixed well. Until, perhaps, now.
Season Three has had trouble finding itself ever since Jimmy’s demise, and the villanization of Nucky (besides his usual gangster role) has made me think that Owen’s death was about more than just showing the violence of the world or sending a message. It’s about how everything Nucky touches turns to shit, yes, but also that there can’t be anyone who takes Nucky’s place as an audience favorite. Nucky is the protagonist, we’re supposed to root for him, but this season has made that all but impossible. By eliminating Owen, who often stole his scenes with Nucky (and indeed stole Nucky’s place with Margaret), Nucky was able to have a redemptive episode that almost made him likable again. Almost.
“Two Impostors” was a great episode though, and suspenseful throughout. Nucky was left with the only people in the world he still has to rely upon — Eddie, his faithful servant who he has taken for granted forever, and Chalky, who he alienated last week and in the past as well. Not exactly a rousing group. But Chalky still has plenty to offer Nucky, for the right price, and more Chalky is never a bad thing.
Nucky’s moment in the back of Chalky’s truck was the first time I’ve seen the man really feel in a long time. He felt fully the weight of the bodies he’s put into harm’s way, and the extent of his fall and possibly soon demise (it won’t play out like that, which is good or bad depending on your personal feelings towards him). It brought Nucky back into the sympathetic fold before Eli, White Knight, rode in with Capone and the Chicago guns, ready to war with Masseria. It was necessary for Nucky to fall further before the war escalated in his favor, but I still don’t believe he fell far enough.
Still, “Two Impostors” has set up one hell of a season finale where both sides (the cold and the emotional) will be wrapped up together in what looks like a whirlwind finish to this strange set of episodes. While Nucky’s war has its most important battles on the horizon, Richard Harrow, the show’s only remaining hope for happiness this year, sets out to do some damage of his own. What and to whom is debatable (I know what I would like to happen, anyway. Sidebar: I’m essentially hoping he shoots Gillian in the face. Yes, I who wrote of excessive violence last week. But that at least would have a point to the story. With Gyp, we already know he’s a psycho, how much more spelling out do we friggin’ need? If Harrow killed Gillian, which I doubt will happen, it would have so much emotional fallout and meaning it would be warranted).
This week’s episode was mostly a set up to the finale, but it still had plenty to recommend it. Eli saving the day was fantastic, as was Capone’s sudden appearance. The Chicago story has been very remote from the rest of the action, but now it has finally come together in a way that makes sense. Lucky Luciano, out on his own getting arrested, felt less certain. His story is important, historically, regarding the Masseria War, but probably not until (possibly) later seasons. As such, for now it feels like little more than a shoehorned plot point, even though it was interesting on its own.
But back to Nucky — while Atlantic City and New York have turned their backs on him, Chicago comes to the rescue. The war will be brutal and bodies will stack up. Hopefully one of them will be Gyp’s. But anyone who vies for attention other than Nucky better watch their back if they start getting screen time … their episodes could be few (looking and you, Richard, may you live long and prosper).
Episode Rating: A-
— Nucky killing Masseria’s men at the beginning is significant — recall that he hasn’t really killed much this year even when required. It’s new for him still.
— Poor Eddie Kessler. I hope he lives and leaves Nucky and goes back to his wife and two children (who are probably not alive anymore, but if they are go, Kessler, go!)
— Kessler was quoting Kipling’s poem “If…”
— Gillian was such a snake this week. There hasn’t ever been anything redeemable about her. If she sleeps with Gyp and they die in some Harrow-engineered bloodbath, I will cheer.
— Gyp: “You’ve been left out in the sun a little bit too long.” Chalky: “Maybe you still cooking.”
— Chalky used one of my favorite phrases: “for the nonce.”
— “Then we’ll sit down and talk about who dies.” – Capone