Monday, September 17, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode One "Resolutions"

Just as each season before it, Season Three kicks off as the New Year is turning over. Opulent parties. Stages being set. Appearances being kept. This time a significant amount of time has passed--roughly a year and a half if I'm not mistaken, as the calendars are about to be turned over to 1923, whereas Season Two started in January of 1921. Things have changed. Nucky is a philanthropist. "Friends" Manny Horvitz and Mickey Doyle are in league with one another. Van Alden is now George Mueller, door-to-door iron salesman in Capone's backyard. Gillian is now a madame at the Commodore's repurposed estate, The Artemis Club, with Harrow as their caretaker.

Old Man Duggan: So here we are, basically at square one. "Resolution" feels very much like the pilot episode. Nucky is on top of the world, throwing a big soiree. Since so much time has passed since last we saw our Atlantic City friends, it really feels as though this episode is setting up all the pieces on the chess board. Let's start in the Chicagoland area. So, Dean O'Banion's a smug mick prick if I ever did see one. It's rare that I'm rooting for it, but holy shit do I want Capone to empty a full magazine into O'Banion's chest. Unfortunately this won't happen until November 10th of 1924, so we've got 23 television months to wait for this to happen.

Wordy Ginters: O'Banion's got some brass. You've got to give him that. What makes Boardwalk interesting is how they color outside the lines a little bit on well-worn gangster archetypes. Foolhardy jackassery like O'Banion displays is usually a prelim for getting beaten with ball bats and rolled into a remote corn field grave. It was bracing to see him above ground the rest of the way.

"Philanthropy" run amok
OMD: If there's a drawback of intently watching a show with such a rich historical background, it's that you can figure out when characters die pretty easily. Dean, or as the papers would come to call him, Dion O'Banion is about to set off the Chicago bootlegging wars. O'Banion got his start in the Market Street Gang, who were put to work first by the Chicago Tribune to beat newsstand owners who wouldn't put out the paper. They were made a more lucrative offer to do the work for the Chicago Examiner run by Moses Annenberg, who would be the channel through which they would meet Ward Bosses. Moses, of course, was the father of Walter Annenberg, who would unsuccessfully sue the Barnes Foundation and then use his own newspaper (the Philadelphia Inquirer) as a means by which to attack over the private art collection entrusted to the foundation as was all elucidated in The Art of the Steal. Of course, the Annenberg Foundation (and The Pew Charitable Trust) would eventually get its way, but it would seem that the Annenbergs may have been philanthropists in a way not unlike Nucky Thompson.

Nelson, Nelson, Nelson. How far you've fallen. Pitiably strolling from Cicero door to Cicero door peddling electric irons for a pittance while living in a sad little apartment with Wife Number Two with your bastard and your newer, proper child--well as proper a child as the devoutly troubled Nelson Van Alden can have post-divorce. Terence Winter sure was cagey with our reintroduction to Van Alden, playing against our expectations that he was there to bust Mr. Posner. But no, he's 1924 equivalent of the telemarketer--the door-to-door salesman. Furthermore, he's reciting Émile Coué's mantra in an almost predictable effort to improve himself through optimistic autosuggestion. It's all so goddamn sad. I just hope that Michael Shannon has plenty to do this season. Of all the great actors on the show, he's the one I want to see ply his trade the most. Do you think Mr. Gulliver gets drowned while being baptized?

WG: Émile Coué. Well done. I thought maybe he was mainlining some early Dale Carnegie. Van Alden, ahem, George Mueller, seems in danger of sinking balls deep into the faux business gospel of salesmanship as much as he was previously immersed in the Old Testament. Trading one set of values for another. I'll leave it to others to discern whether or not the Bible is also a sales book. Gulliver deserves death by baptism as much as O'Bannion deserves moozarella pounded in his arse. Which is to say, they both deserve it richly. Can you imagine buying anything the glowering Van Alden-Mueller would have to offer should he darken your door? My first inclination would be to call the SWAT team.

OMD: Thankfully Tony Robbins, or worse L. Ron Hubbard, isn't around to really do some damage to our wayward hero. His is a tortured soul, and if we're to judge by his recitation of the Coue method, it seems as though he'll latch onto any credo if it can deliver him to salvation. Could you imagine how irritating he'd be if The Secret or The Purpose Driven Life were big in his day?

Speaking of sad and moving back to Jersey, poor Richard Harrow. Our most sensitive character (well, duality obviously plays a role in Harrow's personality) sits watching over his best friend's child while his best friend's terribly fucked up and boundary oblivious mother tries to erase all traces of the boy's dead mother, the only woman who truly understood him in his mangled state. At least he exacted Angela's revenge. Now he'll have to rot under Gillian's roof unless Winter & Co. have more exciting plans for him. I, for one, hope to see Harrow and Owen Slater taking it to Nucky's new foil Gyp Rosetti in a most medieval fashion.

WG: As much as I hate to see Manny go, Harrow's Angela revenge was a nice unexpected touch. I wouldn't mind seeing him go rogue. Tough to imagine him throwing in with Nucky. Harrow is the most interesting character on the show. Regarding the duality you mention, he's often the most gentle and most remorseless character in the course of the same episode. I can't imagine anyone else tenderly taking Jimmy's son under his wing like Harrow does. Jesus, the look on the carny barker's face when he was boring holes in the Great Plains Shooting Gallery was priceless. He was going to score a wagon next, which was needed to tote the bounty of toys and trinkets he had already won. Behind that Tin Mask is a complex motherfucker with an eagle eye for targets.

Two swallows doth not a summer make
OMD: But can we not dream of a world that sees Harrow and The Duke of Crowborough meting out Jersey justice side by side?

WG: Christ. The Downton Abbey connection. I totally missed that one. You can see a little bit of the Duke of Crowborough bleeding through in his dealings with Margaret. A lascivious twinkle in his eye.

OMD: Perhaps the biggest question I had about the new season was what state would the Thompsons' marriage be in? The quick answer would seem to be: filled with strife. As soon as the dust from the party has settled and the two are alone, it is clear that theirs is a marriage now consisting of going through the motions. I suppose such was to be expected given her charitable donation of all the Turnpike land to the archdiocese. I can't say I blame Nucky for being livid. Her sad, guilt-ridden existence has always been the most irritating part of her character to me. Don't get me wrong, Kelly MacDonald is fucking fantastic, but her Catholic upbringing has left her wrought with guilt. Part of me is surprised she's still alive.

WG: I'm with you on that one. My beef is that the royal couple is a little too one-noted. Margaret in perpetual Catholic angst. Nucky as an ever-so slightly nonplussed and grumpy High School principal. Another example of the chopped and screwed character nuances that make the show unique. I get the impression Nucky feels like he's drowning in morons. It makes him weary. Not a raging volatile hothead in the Scarface/Tony Soprano/Johnny Dangerously vein. The snarling at Margaret over the ins and outs of how to appropriately lobby for pre-natal care kindled a rare show of fire from Nucky.

OMD: With Mickey Doyle still puzzlingly alive these four years later, that should be enough dipshittery in the mix to feel like you were drowning in it. Imbecile indeed.

Gyp Rosetti. Quite the intro. Clearly he's a hotheaded fuckmook with a penchant for lashing out at even the slightest hint of disrespect. Think he was an only child? And 500 cases of rum? Even his clientele are douchebags. Drinking fucking mojitos, pretending their Roaring '20s pirates? What worthless piece of shit would need that much rum? Weird rum fact: Apparently it plays a central part in the culture of the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland. I guess if Rosetti is a Newfoundlander or has exclusive distribution rights to what was then still the autonomous Dominion of Newfoundland I can make an allowance for him needing rum so badly. Otherwise? Shitheel.

WG: But what a glorious shitheel. His thinskinnery was laughable. Johnny Dangerously again (Joe Piscopo as Danny Vermin). The way he busted beans after Nucky dropped the "only selling to one guy bomb" right before midnight was magic. I believe I actually heard the terms "smug kike midget creeping around like a dentist with the ether," "and you, like a breadstick in a bow tie," and my favorite, "I'll shit you out like yesterday's sausage you bog-trotting prick." Somewhere among that flurry of verbal brickbats he referred to Charlie Luciano as "short pants" and suggested he "sit in the corner." I thought he was possessed by Don Rickles. Or Shakespeare. Thank God Regina made it out of the episode alive. I thought for sure Gyp was going to snap her neck and leave her cute and fuzzy dog corpse in Margaret's arms on his way out. And Gyp presaged Paris Hilton's "using a dog as an accessory" gambit by decades.

OMD: It sure looks as though the most corrupt administration to ever take hold in Washington is about to come crashing down around the soon-to-be deceased Warren Harding. Teapot Dome is heating up. Silent Cal is eight months and two days from taking office from the dead and shamed 28th President. I laughed aloud at the "If Untermyer were the only woodsman" line.

WG: That line was a shade more distinguished than the spreading legs and spreading wings crack he made earlier. But no doubt, Nucky has the angles covered. The Samuel Untermyer referenced was a real-life liberal lawyer bad-ass, who made his bones locking horns with J.P. Morgan, and ultimately played a role in the creation of the Federal Reserve System. As history catches up, he'll get Daugherty in his crosshairs too.

OMD: Much like Mad Men and Downton Abbey, we get our glimpse at the plight of woman. Margaret is treated dismissively left and right in this episode. Her husband is running around on her now, though she sealed that deal when she pissed away his fortune as a fucking tithe. Every doctor is a douchebag to her, despite the fact that SHE FUCKING BUILT THAT HOSPITAL with the highway land dough. Even their manservant is disparaging Carrie Duncan, the aviatrix attempting to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Methinks feminism comes more and more to the fore this season. What think you?

WG: Absolutely. Interesting arc that connects these three series. And some critics contend Boardwalk Empire is all dressed up with nowhere to go, that it doesn't have anything to say. Bullshit. It's not much of a reach to read plenty into the show. I'd give that type of "it has nothing to say" high-brow dismissal more credence if I'd ever see it laid upon the heads of Family Guy or The Big Bang Theory. Did you catch Nucky's kid Thomas with the shitheel snickering after the manservant made that anti-female pilots crack? Unless Nucky gets shit squared away at home, his kid is going to grow up to be the type of meatwad who ends up with the mantra of Gym, Tanning, Laundry. Thomas and Snooki are bootlegging Four Loko in an alternate universe somewhere.

OMD: Was I alone in erroneously thinking that Lillian Kent was the subject of "Pictures of Lily?" I later figured out that was Lillie Langtry, who was a Brit. Newcomer Meg Steedle was, um, fetching. Comely.

WG: Gorgeous. Beautiful smile. And a refreshing lack of pretense. Anyone who can get Nucky to Walk Like an Egyptian has to have serious game. References to The Who are my favorite references. The seaside vista is vaguely reminiscent of the setting in Quadrophenia. Nucky is a mod. Harrow is a rocker. Sting is Ace Face.

Can't Hardly Wait
OMD: I never thought I'd say this, but the show misses Jimmy Darmody. I really didn't want to like Michael Pitt. It felt like he was channeling Ethan Embry's performance in Brotherhood, but eventually it became hard to imagine the show without him. Obviously, he had to pay for his transgressions, and it's Buscemi in the opening credits sequence, not Pitt, but the absence of Jimmy means the absence of the feuding father/son dynamic that made Season Two so compelling. I assume Nucky will be haunted at having to kill his "son," but there are no signs of such haunting as of yet.

WG: This show has a penchant for erasing its bigger characters, especially the ones played by the "big name" actors. Dabney Coleman. Pitt. William Forsythe. Paul Reiser. Maybe not Paul Reiser. Whacking Darmody leaves a gaping hole in the story line. I'm eager to see how they back fill that one. One thing that leaps out is how fucking beautiful the show is visually. The scene where Manny shot the thief was gorgeous. The shadows in Nucky's hotel room at the end of the episode gave me flashbacks to a decrepit old apartment I used to live in back in college, one that likely hadn't been changed much since the 20s. They have the big budget and it shows.

OMD: Yeah, to me there's no show on television that is more cinematically-inclined than Boardwalk. Think of how much the party scene cost alone. Didn't the pilot cost something like $10 Million to shoot? [I looked it up. $18 Million.] Talk about a rich fucking palette.

WG: What did you make of the scene at the New Year's Eve party when they hauled in Tut's treasure chest? I know it was significant, but I'm not smart enough to suss it out. The well-heeled dug in around that thing like jackals at a kill. The mobsters stood back and looked disgusted. Like they had just seen a Goatse video. Nucky had a mild look of displeasure crease his face. Why were they so shocked to see the 1% go bonkers for a little bling? Did it make them reflective of their own unquenchable greed? You know a variation of that scene took place behind the curtains at the Republican National Convention.

OMD: I think it largely had to do with how disgusting greed looks when the artifice of decorum is stripped away. When greed is laid bare, it is revolting. Seeing these people, who mere moments ago were enjoying a New Year's bash, reduced to ravenous beasts at first sight of free gold serves as a reminder of how quickly we can all be reduced to animals. The first sign of food, and we're pigs to the trough.

WG: Or Pigs on the Wing. Boardwalk Empire via Orwell and Roger Waters.

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