Monday, October 8, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Three, Episode Four "Blue Bell Boy"

In this week's installment, "Blue Bell Boy," Nucky and Owen are trapped in a basement with the precocious thief Rowland Smith as Waxey Gordon's bought-and-paid-for Treasury Agents seize the booze that has been stolen from both Waxey and Nucky. Capone beats one of O'Banion's men to death for jumping a defenseless Guzik. Margaret begins promoting the Women's Health classes at St. Theresa's. Gyp and the Tabor Heights Sheriff's Department ambush Mickey Doyle's caravan of whiskey lorries as they foolishly pass through the town, despite Eli's best efforts to redirect the shipment.

Wordy Ginters: Before we dig in, how about a couple of random observations on the opening credits? This may be lingering after shocks from having just seen Bronson, but something about Nucky standing seaward in his bowler hat, with that grey ocean as a backdrop, reminds me very much of Magritte's The Son of Man. Some obvious parallels to be drawn between Nucky and The Son of Man; for example, the conflict between what is hidden from society's view and what isn't being one parallel, the green apple constantly floating in front of Nucky's face being another. Maybe I'm making that last one up. As the opening credits come to an end, Nucky is seen walking back up the beach to Atlantic City. His walk, his way of carrying himself, the inner Buscemi-ness which can never be fully contained, bleeds through the TV even in the opening credits. He looks like Kermit the Frog. The sensation of seeing Kermit gambol about on two feet is similar to the feeling I get when I see Nucky walking. Like it's something we shouldn't be seeing or isn't real. Certainly he does not possess the physical traits we've come to know and love from our anti-heroes. No boiling rage, bulging muscles, or wild palomino like sex appeal. He's a frail sharp with a fearsome mind. Whether or not you think Boardwalk Empire merits Hall of Fame status very likely comes down to the Buscemi question. Can you buy Buscemi's Nucky as a business mobster kingpin? Or does seeing his frail and pale visage soured and nonplussed bring down the whole artifice? I like it precisely because it is different. I don't think Winter had much choice than to go in a different direction after The Sopranos if he didn't want it to be The Sopranos II, Genesis USA: the Early Days down by the Shore. Which way do you lean on the Buscemi question?

Old Man Duggan: Bronson. Great family flick. Hardy sure hangs a lot of dong in that one. I'd imagine the similarities between The Son of Man and Nucky's appearance in the weekly introduction to the show is not coincidental. I know that when I first saw the credits they summoned that image from my memory. Then I jumped immediately to naked Rene Russo making the sex with Pierce Brosnan and down the rabbit hole I went. Back to thoughts in which lust do not enter, I buy Buscemi as mob boss. Historically many of the powerful figures in the criminal underworld were not especially attractive. Aside from maybe Dillinger and Bugsy Siegel, I can't think of many who weren't unappealing. As for his stature, I guess I just think of Meyer Lansky being reportedly a shade under five feet tall, and if someone that small can reach his level of power and influence, anyone can. Also, while I think about Boardwalk's place in the pantheon of hour-long dramas, I'd have to say its story is incomplete, but I'd shortlist it for inclusion upon its completion while reserving judgment until it has concluded.

WG: "Blue Bell Boy" started nicely enough. Nucky maybe less pissed at Owen for being late, than he was at the idea of someone else getting some carnal action. Mr. Poofles? Owen, you deserve better than that. Blowjobs as part of the mise-en-scene brought back fond memories of Al Swearengen plotting and planning by way of oral sex in Deadwood.

OMD: Goddammit, I miss that show. If you saw Bronson shortly before watching this episode, not only were you treated to a ton of Hardy cock, but you also got Cox ass and out-of-focus taint. Bully for you. Owen's little lady is a fetching lass. I guess I'd excuse the slightly emasculating phallic nickname if it were only uttered in that context. In other words, only if she were saying it, we were partaking in a bit of afternoon delight, and I was in 1924 New Jersey.

WG: The director of this particular episode was Kari Skogland, a woman, and the only reason I know is the style of the show was different enough that I was compelled to go back and look. Cut a little more cleverly, with an eye towards heightening tension, tighter in general, and some playful "feminine" angles that were most welcome and well done.

OMD: I suppose it's just in my character, but I look at the writer and director with all my favorite shows. It was a crafty ep. The tension was especially well crafted while Nucky, Owen, and young Rowland Smith were stuck in the basement for an incredibly long amount of time. Women's issues were certainly at the fore.

WG: I don't know what was a deeper shade of purple, lil' deaf Sonny Capone's shiner, or Owen's knob, but it was a deft woman's touch that brought some depth out of both of those early scenes. Part of the fun in Boardwalk Empire is that it's a show filled with famous historical figures like Capone, Rothstein, Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Nucky Thompson. Seeing Capone, with a son who is picked on by day, and a slovenly compadre who gets picked on by night, finally blow a gasket and strike a deadly blow on both their behalf was satisfying. Things like this make a good show great. A monster like Capone attempting to toughen up his kid, and then both of them crumbling into wet tears because sonny ain't a fighter, he can't quite bring himself to hit his dad, or maybe the realization that he let his dad down, etc. whatever the case may be, you pretty much are pulling for Capone to kick someone's ass just because. Making Capone human,and a likable guy isn't a new trick, but it shouldn't be as easy to pull off as they do in Boardwalk Empire.

OMD: Ms. Skogland is skilled at drawing out hues to be sure. The moment Guzik turned around to see Capone gone I was grinning from ear to ear. Joe Miller was gonna get it. And get it he did. This was a great episode for humanizing Capone. It sucks that there are so many characters that for each one whose name isn't Nucky Thompson you just aren't sure they're going to pop up each week. Luckily when they are featured front and center, Winter & Co. waste no time adding layers of nuance and subtext to the characters. It's not unlike Justified wherein a character may only be in alternating episodes, but when they're present, their presence actually means something to the show.

WG: Margaret steamrolling the Catholic Hospital for the prenatal outreach was a hilarious. Sadly, I can imagine that some of those conversations don't sound all that dated. Found footage from a staff meeting of Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin. You know, maybe Skogland isn't such a feminist after all, under her purview in this episode, the vagina was alternately compared with brussel sprouts and a sardine's twat. We need some Georgia O'Keeffe up in this piece to bring some of the true beauty, mystery, and majesty back to the vagina. It was also kind of fun to see Margaret hustling the boardwalk with her flyers, like she was ginning up numbers for a Minor Threat gig at the 9:30 Club in D.C.

OMD: To be fair, Guzik's unpleasant odor was likened to that of a "sardine's twat," but your point remains. There's very little vaginocentric art that pleases me (I'm not particularly fond of phallocentric art either, ladies and gents), but I do like O'Keeffe. You're really going fine art up in here this week. It's weird to see Margaret The Pamphleteer back at the fore. I definitely like that she's championing a cause that isn't Temperance. I'm a much bigger fan of Women's Health classes. I'll say it right now, and I know this is controversial, but all women should be healthy. They're better than men. Especially white men. White men are the worst.

WG: Rowland Smith. I thought for sure that you were too cute to kill. I thoroughly enjoyed his name dropping of 20's film stars as aliases when Owen first got the drop on him. Lon Chaney. Norma Talmadge. Baby Peggy. He was smooth. Wits about him and quick on his feet. Why do you think he ultimately got whacked?

OMD: You do not steal from Nucky. He knows that he cannot show weakness. He also needs to show Owen, whose sway in the matters of transport of illegal goods and generally violent acts feels challenging to Nucky. When Mickey looks to Owen in the warehouse after Nucky tells them to avoid Tabor Heights, Nucky sees that his absenteeism has had its cost and made him look weak. The first sign that he lets people skate, and he's a mark. He also needs to keep up appearances because Gyp is gunning for him, and he needs to exude strength in the face adversity so that his people continue to fight for him.

WG: Speaking of carnal, doesn't matter what Gyp says when he's on the screen, I love it. "Some day I'm going to take you in the back and show you how to make sauce." "But I don't cook." "It's easy. You stir, and I provide the heat." Best explanation for being a submissive bottom I've ever heard. And he kissed her open palm to seal the deal. Open Palm! Sensual mediterranean moves. Yeah, I'm saying Gyp is a submissive power bottom. He's so damn dominant during his day gig, you know the only way he can get off is to work it from underneath.

OMD: That open palm kiss showed panache, confidence, and total disregard for the threat of germs. The balls on that guy. Especially given the fact that Spanish influenza just ran roughshod over much of the Western World. What a brazen fool. But yes, Gyp is most definitely a power bottom, though I find his being drawn to the ginger waitress as a break from what I'd imagine his proclivities would have drawn him to in the objects of lust department.

WG: I'm ashamed to admit that I was caught off-guard by the double dealing Deputy Ramsey in Tabor Heights. I figured he was going to end up on the output end of a meat grinder after a foolhardy attempt to tangle with the Sicilians. But I guess after seeing your former boss being reduced to a shish kebab, you might think twice about crossing swords with Gyp. Better to listen to his reasoning. Listen only though, speaking can lead to death.

OMD: I, too, was surprised to find out that new Sheriff Ramsey had so little loyalty toward his predecessor. I guess I always suspect the worst in people, though, and I hardly thought that it'd be smooth sailing through Tabor Heights for the AC to NYC whiskey pipeline.

WG: Mickey's dead! Upside! Finally. He undercut Nucky's authority earlier in the show, and I thought, Jesus Christ, what does a guy have to do to get whacked on this show? Answer: Just keeping acting like Mickey. How hilarious was Rothstein on the phone to Mickey? "Why am I talking to you?" Is it possible to display complete contempt for another human, in such a mannered and decent way? Does Eli get back into the fold with his valiant pre-game sleuthing, or will Nucky be pissed that despite his instincts, he didn't get it stopped?

OMD: It would seem to me that Eli is primed to take over the distribution end, despite Nucky having told him jail was the last gift he'd give him. It also seems that with as many men as Nucky just lost, he'll probably have to enlist Harrow, who is simply adrift in a whorehouse right now. It seems like Harrow and Van Alden are both on the verge of getting involved in this whole mess again. The characters simply have too high a profile in the show to not end up back in the mix unless they meet an untimely end. I'm glad that Mickey finally got got, if that was in fact him in the car, dead. It was dark. Rothstein's dressing down and marginalization of Mickey was so thorough and swift that it was impossible not to admire. The more Rothstein the better as far as I'm concerned.

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