BOARDWALK EMPIRE Recap: “The Pony”

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After a focused and deeply emotional episode last week, Boardwalk Empire returned to the state it’s been in for most of the season, with very fractured storytelling covering a wide array of what sometimes feel like completely unconnected plots.  Although in “The Pony,” we finally started to get a glimpse of how things are coming together, culminating in the short term in one final explosive scene.  “The Pony” seemed largely about freedom, what its costs are, and whether it can ever really be achieved.  Van Alden, Margaret, Billie, Gillian, Nucky (and Capone?) all try their hand at securing ways to make their futures tenable, with varying degrees of success.  Hit the jump for why you ain’t the lead, you’re just the pony.

boardwalk-empire-the-ponyHell hath no fury like Gillian scorned, and after her elaborate pantomime to bury Jimmy was through (and met with disapproval from Harrow, who I really want to just kidnap Tommy and run far, far away from Gillian) she set about to freeing herself from gangsters once and for all by setting a trap for those who have wronged her.  Gillian knows Nucky killed Jimmy no matter what he says about it.  Lucky, of course, made his bed by ignoring Gillian’s pleas to keep her business running smoothly by paying to have repairs made, spurning her not only as a lover but as a business partner.

Gillian has always been friendly, however, with Gyp Rosetti; though I found it strange that he would so easily waltz back into Atlantic City given all of the shit that has gone down.  Having gotten information of a meet from Lucky about Nucky and Rothstein as well as himself, Gillian passes on the info to Gyp in order to get those men out of her life and exact her revenge.  Predicably, none of those men were actually fatally harmed, being stopped as they were by some goober Nucky knows (though prior to this Rothstein clearly looks like he knows something could be up).  Instead, Billie (presumably) got the brunt, which will likely put Nucky on an insane emotional warpath.

boardwalk-empire-the-pony-james-cromwell“The Pony” was the first time I didn’t really hate Billie.  Her scenes were actually pretty cute, mostly because they largely didn’t include Nucky (a.k.a. Gus).  But the two together are irritation incarnate, and Nucky trying to establish himself as the Alpha Male in front of Billie’s friend Gil was just embarrassing.  As for the deal he offers her, is it similar to the one he had for Margaret originally?  To keep her as a concubine, to live her life as she wished?  Why don’t I meet men like this?  Billie seemed willing to live with this arrangement, finally coming to a mature understanding about her relationship with Nucky … all too late.  She wants him to be the only gangster in her life?  Well that’s what happens.  It’s a tough road, Billie, but I’m not sorry to see you go.

Nucky’s better half spent “The Pony” like she was still back in the character-building episode of “Sunday Best,” reminiscing with Owen about life back in Ireland, getting caught in the rain, wanting to learn to drive, continuing her affair, asking for diaphragms.  “Boardwalk Empire” doesn’t often veer into politics, but I actually don’t mind its commentary on women’s reproductive rights, and married women who may not want another baby but don’t have the resources to get devices to stop them from happening.  It’ll be interesting to see where things between Margaret and Nucky go in the aftermath of Billie’s death (assuming she’s dead …).  In the meantime though, it seems Margaret would like a Dutch Cup of her own, please.

boardwalk-empire-stephen-rootElsewhere, Van Alden’s story and Al Capone’s Chicago one met in an unexpected way.  I know some of you lament Van Alden’s continued existence on the show, but wasn’t his iron scene (which we all saw coming) this week exactly what Michael Shannon was cast for?  Not just to attack that obnoxious goon with the iron, but to then rampage through the office itself!  Weirdly though, Van Alden doesn’t seem to think anyone will come after him.  At least, not after his incredibly resourceful wife shows him not only how much she has produced from the distillery but also shows initiative in selling off some extra to Norwegians for spending cash.  O’Banion has other uses for Van Alden as well, such as muscle for his meets with Johnny Torrio and Capone, using the old irons-in-a-case gag again (hey, it works!).

Finally, the political dealings: Nucky meets with Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury (James Cromwell), to convince him to arrest George Remus, the country’s largest bootlegger (fond of speaking in the third person) who can in turn give up Jeff Smith, who has connections to Attorney General Harry Dougherty, Nucky and Mellon’s common enemy.  Mellon dismisses Nucky for show, but rings him up later to say the deal is on.  Mildly interested to see where this goes, but honestly, the show hasn’t done much to make this plot have any urgency to it, and its larger implications are unclear except to protect Nucky who (frankly) doesn’t really seem all that worth protecting at this point.

boardwalk-empire-poster-unbranded“The Pony” had everyone strategizing over their futures, but the final explosion proved that the gamble was miscalculated in almost everyone’s case (except Van Alden, who actually seems to be doing ok at the moment all things considered).  With only a few episodes left, I think it’s safe to say that shit is about to get real.

Episode Rating: B

Musings and Miscellanea:

– What do you do for fun, Esther? “I run naked through the pages of the U.S. criminal code.”

– I thought it was a bit lazy staging to have Nucky and Mellon both speaking so loudly in what is clearly a quiet lounge area.  I mean anyone could have overheard their conversation the way it was presented.  Nitpicky but, you know.

– I just knew that the woman who started Margaret’s whole women’s health crusade had attempted an abortion.  Interesting subplot there, although really not at all related to, well, just about anything in the main story.

– Michael Shannon’s Crazy Eyes were set to MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE during the iron scene!

– The meatpacking district and that aerial shot of Chicago was bleak.

– At some point I would like to see what Gyp’s wife is like.

– “Jimmy deserved better than this” – Harrow.




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  • junierizzle

    Overall I think a B is fair. It was better than last week. I agree about Nucky fighting that guy being embarrassing. Also the Van Alden iron scene was pretty bad in terms of acting and direction. I still don’t know what this season is building towards.

  • Mavro

    The writing, action, AND direction of the iron scene was AMAZING! That is why Michael Shannon is the best actor on that show, why Tim Van Patten is the best director, and why both Terence Winter and Howard Korder are the best writers. After last week and this week’s episodes the show has finally found its stride again. They needed to have the season to set everything up and find a new direction after the season 2 finale, but we’re finally there. Best line IMO: Margaret’s story to Owen about following a man and imitating him when he’s not looking right before they commit adultery. Brilliant.

    • Mavro

      *half the season to set everything up

  • Daan van Meurs

    Ugh, damn you Van Alden. Seriously, Michael Shannon is amazing, but it’s obvious they are desperately trying to keep him in there. If it would have been any other actor he would have been out a long, long time ago. It really does hurt the series if you ask me. Even if they actually get him in the Al Capone storyline it’ll always be something forced :(

  • Tim

    I’m not sure I have much interest in the storyline of Nucky and Mellon but I don’t care. James Cromwell in anything is a good thing. Am I a terrible person for being happy that Billie will no longer be appearing on my television?

    I really LOVE Steve Buscemi but I still don’t seem him as the lead character anchoring a drama series. I see him playing Mickey Doyle more than Nucky Thompson. He’s the perfect character actor. Sometimes I feel he’s reading off cue cards (although the fight with Billie felt like Buscemi I know and love). Probably just me though.

    Not that it matters anymore but why did Billie call Nucky Gus? Did I miss something?

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  • Lance

    I think Michael Shannon and the Van Alden character are great. Didn’t like psycho Van Alden from the first season so much, but I like the guy who’s trying to do the right thing but gets driven over the edge. That iron salesman should have known better!

    I echo Tim’s thoughts about Buscemi. Buscemi’s great, but I don’t know he can pull off the kind of moral ambivalence I think the writers want Nucky to have, like Tony Soprano or Don Draper.

    The actress who played Billie is really cute and really I have no good reason to not like her, but I found her character a bit too flighty and tiresome. Any time spent with her was a diversion from the real action.

  • Jimmy

    They jumped the shark with blowing up Babette’s.

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