The Rarities in Reality
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
This week in many ways is the second part of the premiere, catching up on characters we missed in the premiere. It’s a more packed hour and a better one than last week, but there’s no Margaret here so there’s a drop in the grade right there. We’re right back into gangster violence in comparison to last week, with the opening shot (a complete doozy with Allen Coulter’s incredible direction) welcoming us back to a shootout against Al Capone. The flashbacks are still heavy as they will be next week as well, but this really works. Gillian’s material is creepy, but I can’t wait to see where it goes. The resonant thematic question of if one can truly escape the reality of the greed they pursue is still heavy, mixed in with how fixated the past can mire itself into one’s present and future.
The attempted assassination of Nucky is a continued plot thread in this episode, a welcome development considering what had happened last week. It turns out (as pretty much anyone who was watching had surmised) that Meyer had everything to do with it. Tonino jokes about Nucky retiring, which seems as likely as everyone on this show having a happy ending. I won’t use actual historical events to perhaps see where they’re taking this particular rivalry, but even without Wikipedia it is obvious there isn’t a pleasant ending to this.
The flashbacks continue to work well and it certainly helps that they’re bound by a thematic structure that keeps them from feeling disparate and tacked on. This week the flashbacks are united by the depressing demise of young Nucky’s sister Sarah. It’s a tragic event to see the death of a young child, made only worse by the fractured family around it. Ethan Thompson steals all of the money that could have been used for the funeral, his drinking and hatred for the Commodore more powerful than any duty towards his family. He even leaves his grieving wife standing with their children, not even bothering to fill in the dirt over his daughter’s coffin. This speaks volumes about Nucky’s being, how he constantly pushes towards more and more greed, his past not allowing him to be in a position where he can’t even provide a decent burial for his child. Of course at a certain point his greed went way past that, but there is something fairly tragic in knowing where the seeds of greed and bitterness first began to plant themselves within his persona.
The Capone thread comes back, with Stephen Graham giving his flamboyant, great performance as always. There’s always a sense of sheer overbearing suffocation with Al, but Graham sneaks in an unpredictable danger that can cut your throat at every minute and it’s the combination that lets the sparks truly fly. Val Alden and Eli have a terrifically hilarious partnership that culminates in them robbing Capone’s men to pay back Capone. It’s a grisly shootout but you can’t help but laugh when Van Alden screams “Why must it always be pandemonium?!” The circumstances of those two characters being together heightens the comedy, with Eli being in absolute rock bottom and Van Alden being as tense as ever. My God, is his family dysfunctional. Sigrid is as angry as always, slamming her cigarettes in a brilliant moment. And as far as their children are concerned, they’re going to need some serious therapy. Just a hunch.
Gillian comes back this week as the sanest person in an insane asylum. She is still a survivor and I’m glad the show kept that semblance to her character instead of throwing her further down the rafters, which would be a tad bit difficult to do at this point frankly. The asylum patient next to her who freaks out over the radio being shut off leads to the episode’s most chilling scene. She has a deal with the warden for paper (good paper, not cheap mind you) and writing utensils and it’s an intriguing thread to go about it that way. Is her ascension back on the horizon?
The show continues to give a decent amount of screen time to Luciano’s rise throughout the year, which makes sense. The scenes provide the opportunity for Vincent Piazza to give the best death eyebrows on screen and give Nucky a far more powerful nemesis. As the episode comes to an end, Luciano & Co. are treated to a gruesome “treat” if you will, with Tonino lying in gruesome repose. His throat is slit and the camera circles around it, soaking the blood in and resting upon the decapitated ear and a Havana postcard lying behind the stump. It’s on.
The Good Listener is a solid, packed hour of Boardwalk Empire that is needed considering there are only six more episodes to wrap up at least most story threads. There were acute touches I loved in this hour. Nucky admitting the Crash of 29 hit him pretty hard. The name dropping of Women for Reform of the Volstead Act. The appearance of the 1931 Variety interview and Joe Kennedy, Sr. The buzzing flies surrounding the flashbacks with Susan’s death were drawn out acutely. Two elderly wealthy ladies have extraordinary hats in the elevator, which was absolutely fantastic. But more so than moments of despair and comedic touches, they are truly trying to bring the series to a full circle and in that regard I truly appreciated the name dropping of Gyp Rosetti and the caricature portrait of Billie Kent. The Capone man who’s really a federal agent was a neat touch. As much as I don’t care about Willie Thompson, him attempting to channel the very thin line of justice considering who he is was well done in another example of a character trying to escape the greed and past he so wanted initially. For the final season it’s a neat idea to circle back to the repeal of the Volstead Act and to see Nucky trying to repeal it is a wonderful moment of ironic catharsis. Bring on next week.
Title: The Good Listener
Written By: Terence Winter
Directed By: Allen Coulter
Image Courtesy: HBO Asia