Monday, October 27, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Eight "Eldorado"

"Eldorado," the series finale of the wonderful Boardwalk Empire was penned by creator Terence Winter and executive producer and Winter's right hand Howard Korder. The fantastic Tim Van Patten fittingly directed the last episode.

Old Man Duggan: With no benefit of the opening credits to which we have all become accustomed, we open on Nucky--stripped down, both figuratively and literally--wading into the ocean and swimming against the tide. The tide, of course, brought him his fortune. The oceanfront brought people and their money to Atlantic City, and to its shores came the booze to keep America drunk through the Prohibition. Obviously, the tide also represents the force of Nucky's past--his actions, their consequences--and as he later relates to Eli, he is unable to tell how far is far enough to never come back. The weight of a lifetime's worth of actions in pursuit of wealth and power cannot be counterbalanced. A quiet shot starting with the symbol of his material empire--clothing, shoes, cigarette case, lighter, and iconic hat from the credits, all clearly a nod to what we didn't get to start the episode--in the sand, stripped from his body just as his empire had just been wrested from his grip, and the man adrift attempts to head against the grand force of the ocean. Loaded, powerful opening shot, complete with underlying music that strangely made me think of the introductory measures of the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme, until it took its minor turn.

Wordy Ginters: Buscemi swimming naked against the tide. A nimble remix of the traditional opening credits, and a pretty apt coda for the series in general. Plus, Buscemi shirtless. Love it when Winter throws a bone to the ladies.

OMD: After Nucky's insistence that he could be of use to Commodore Kaestner, his palpable disgust at the Commodore's delight in having young girls recite Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Secrets of the Sea" to him. "Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me / As I gaze upon the sea! / All the old romantic legends, / All my dream, come back to me." After some cursory re-education on the subject of Longfellow, his first wife died after a miscarriage when he was just 28 years old, and it came while they were travelling abroad in a year-long voyage through Europe all for the purpose of furthering his career, so there are cursory similarities between the two men. While I cannot speak with certainty, I do not know that Longfellow procured underage tail for Josiah Quincy III, the man who brought Longfellow to Harvard.

WG: Don't fret, historians and English scholars alike have wrestled with the dark rumors of Longfellow's role in 19th century sex trafficking for decades. The theory that dactylic hexameter is the metre of the sexually deviant becomes more accepted each day. Even here in stodgy old Nebraska.

OMD: Definitely perv meter.

Margaret turning stock-manipulating mastermind, outwitting and playing Kennedy in the process, was beautiful. She even managed to rebuff his advances while securing him as a client. Cagey.

WG: Winter didn't spend much time constructing the female characters on the show, but he rebounded nicely with the way he wrapped up Margaret's thread. I especially loved the line she stuck on Kennedy, "Imagine all that you want in life and then picture yourself in a dress." Rumor has it that Winter and Scorcese are developing a prequel to The Wolf of Wall Street based on Margaret's ability to get filthy rich on morally questionable German stock positions during WWII. Jonah Hill co-stars as a Young Sergeant Schultz.

OMD: While I'd absolutely pay hard-earned cash to see that, my real desire is still to see Nelson and Eli hold down the fort in Cicero during the seven years we missed. I'd also like to state that I really wish I had the time to make that Wolf o' Wall Street artwork happen, but that would take me forever.

The last time we see Mabel, she is unable to tell Nucky that he doesn't disappoint her immediately after having a miscarriage.

WG: Kind of a bad day for Nucky, wasn't it? Punched Father? Check. Father points shotgun at his head? Check. Wife has miscarriage? Check. Fired from job? Check. Asked to aid and abet pedophile in return for career advancement? Check. Flat tire? Check. Forgot to pay cable bill and service disconnected? Check. With the broad strokes on Nucky's backstory finally all filled in, is it enough to make Nucky a sympathetic character? I don't know.

OMD: Good question. I think he clearly wants to repent but doesn't have the mechanism by which to make that happen. As he eventually finds out in a very hard and final way, money is not the answer to every question, though it's the best answer he knows.

Capone's scene with his son does a nice job of re-humanizing him. It's been a long time, and Stephen Graham has been relegated to playing the brazen, larger-than-life caricature of Capone for the past couple seasons, but there has always been a striking dichotomous nature to Capone on the series, and with his contemplative last shot in the back of the car before he puts on his game face, it's nice to see Winter, Korder, and Van Patten bringing this part of Capone back to the fore.

WG: Loved it. These types of pro moves are why I loved the show so much. How tricky would it be to write a show based on these larger than life historical figures? The mobster genre has been done to death. Boardwalk Empire was able to bring a fresh angle to the genre by having the balls to meander a little, and show these criminal icons as human from time to time. Sure, they were badasses, and brash, and cartoonish many times too, but taken all together it made for a sweet little nut roll. Jesus, Capone on the courthouse steps aping John Barrymore? Beautiful.

OMD: Weird note that only I would care about: as Margaret is walking into the open apartment in the Eldorado (its name having obvious significance, of course), the radio broadcast is talking about the market roller coaster ride and then breaks into talking about Jim Weaver and the Yankees having beaten the Philadelphia A's 3 - 2. Weaver faced the A's once in a Yankees uniform and the Yankees lost 16 - 4.

WG: Christ, what a couple of degenerates. I immediately paused the show and spent 15 minutes on baseball-reference searching for said game. I was kind of bummed I didn't find one that matched that score from 1931. I wonder what the significance was? You think someone on the production team was related to Jim Weaver or something? You notice that Yankee line-up in 1931? Ruth (+218 OPS with a .495 OBP). Gehrig. Chapman. And they finished 13.5 games back in 2nd place. To think our beloved Kansas City Royals will soon be taking their rightful place alongside past World Series champions, a notch above has been teams like the '31 Yankees, seems just.

OMD: I sure fucking hope that happens. I'm concerned now. Zero wiggle room for the Royals (who were responsible for the delay in this post, of course).

The framing in the opening of that scene was nice. Nucky started on the opposite side of the divided floor, a gray area if you will. He steps across the line on the floor and to the checkered floor, presumably a world that's more black-and-white. Coming over to Margaret's world, meaning to leave his old life behind, they dance, but they're ripped from the momentary fantasy by a happy couple looking at the suite. Their past is obviously too complex to leave behind. He's left to look at the ground, the other world into which he is trying to make the transition, and cannot help but feel out of place. Their silence speaks volumes.

WG: Nice catch. I'm convinced repeated viewings will be rewarded, especially for things like this. Fundamentals guaranteed to make film buffs weak in the groin.

OMD: I liked that there was just enough vagueness surrounding who they were killing to lead one to believe that maybe Nucky was going to get offed. A sly misdirect from Van Patten with the shot over the shoulder of two men wearing hats, seemingly walking together. Then he meets The Future. Into the darkness he heads, and inside he finds the television, the device that would change the world forever, highlighting an amusing reflexivity in that his story is being told on a device that shows him that he's a misplaced relic an antique ready to be left in the past.

WG: Probably my favorite scene of the season.

OMD: Nucky's father puts the shotgun to Nucky's head in their kerfuffle. The past that he's trying to leave behind, of course, will not let that happen.

It's interesting that Nucky, in his quest to break good, goes farther than he ever had as a kid in swimming against the tide. The power of the life he yearned for was always greater than his will to do good. The goodbye between Nucky and Eli is bittersweet. Of course, Nucky doesn't know why this is actually their farewell. Both men are torn down, but at least Eli, whose actions, at least of late, were borne out of necessity, may have a shot at a future and a fresh shave. Brother speeders / Let's Rehearse / All together / "Good morning Nurse!" / Burma Shave.

WG: Ahem. I think I called my shot by predicting Eli would shave in our last recap.

OMD: Indeed you did.

Narcisse? Done.

WG: And a pretty spectacular death scene by Jeffrey Wright. That was gratifying. The extended ongoing sermon/rhetoric he was spinning prior to his demise fit just as nicely as the kids reciting Longfellow for the Commodore.

OMD: Nucky's visit to Gillian in the nut house is loaded with double-meanings and subtext. His insistence that "the past is past" shows that he still doesn't know that he can't outrun his. When she gets up after he tries in his own way to get her to absolve him for misdeeds for which absolution are not possible, the true horror of what she's undergone is obvious. Thankfully we don't get to see the butchery up close. Jesus, Dr. Cotton was a fucking lunatic. He should've been in the loony bin himself.

WG: That was a powerful scene for me. Jesus. So rare for Nucky to show emotion. And he should have. If he wouldn't have steered Gillian to the Commodore, maybe she wouldn't have been so looney tunes. Gillian was just as dangerous as the gangsters, maybe even more so. Does she ever get out? Doubtful.

OMD: She's surely missing the bulk of her innards if she does make it out. I think it would take a fire to spring her. It wouldn't be a release on account of her being a good girl.

Nucky gets into his old quarters at the club, sees the postcard young Mabel sent him, and gets another call requesting his presence at the Ritz. The past is going nowhere.

"Mrs. Thompson said you want to be good. But you don't know how." That's the key to this whole show, isn't it? As he leaves Gillian on the boardwalk to answer the Commodore's call, a call to relieve him of his duties, only really to tear him down and have him do his bidding and cater to his every depraved whim. To get the Sheriff gig, he has to deliver Gillian, and in delivering her, he promises to take care of her. A loathsome act. Vile. Wretched in his own eyes, yet in the pursuit of power and wealth, he swallows that bitter pill.

WG: Absolutely the foundation the show was built on. He was willing to debase himself and others for wealth and power. And he never stopped. Of course he had to die in the end.

OMD: Back in the present, Nucky sees Neptune on the billboard atop the boardwalk, and then Princeton college boys--serving both as symbols of the privilege he never had and the surrogate son that he murdered in cold blood--confront him and one begins reciting Robert Service's poem "The Spell of the Yukon." "I wanted the gold, and I sought it; / I scrabbled and mucked like a slave. / Was it famine or scurvy--I fought it. / I wanted the gold, and I got it-- / Came out with a fortune last fall,-- / Yet somehow life's not what I thought it, / And somehow the gold isn't all." Setting aside the extreme improbability of this happening in the real world, the poem is clearly on the nose.

WG: And I lapped it up nonetheless.

OMD: Same here.

Back to the past, he weighs his options. Present, Tommy reveals himself. Past, he assures Gillian he'll look after her. Present, he pays for his misdeeds. IRS agents nab Tommy after the damage is done. Young Nucky grabs the coin in the water. His symbolic fate was sealed from jump street.

WG: Loved that final shot. Young Nucky floating innocently in the sea, snatching the coin. Some Cormac McCarthy type shit going on there. The simple act of playing footsie with greed sets in motion all kinds of horrible dominoes we can barely comprehend. Also nice homage to Nirvana's Nevermind album cover.

OMD: Thankfully no baby dick.

It feels like there's a lot still to talk about. I think it makes sense (to me at least) to flip the controls over to you here. What are your overall feelings about this all coming to an end?

WG: For me, Boardwalk Empire is in a trinity of all-time great serial dramas along with The Wire and Deadwood. It didn't have the breathless mayhem and corkscrew plot action of Breaking Bad. It's not as sexy as Mad Men. Not as balls out fun as The Sopranos.

OMD: I don't know where I'd put it. I'd say the artistry is on a level that I don't know another show has ever reached. I'd still defer to someone championing The Wire or Deadwood. I say without hesitation that I prefer it to any of the others mentioned, though I'd certainly have to add a handful of hour-longs to the mix, namely Justified, Terriers, Carnivale, Friday Night Lights and Veronica Mars, not to mention shows currently in production that have to be considered as potential contenders for such categorization like Broadchurch, HannibalMasters of Sex, and True Detective. Yes, I know I didn't list Game of Thrones, anyone lobbying for its inclusion in this list can start their own fucking blog.

WG: I don't think there has been a more cinematic show on television. Beautiful to look at. Lots of critics bag on Boardwalk for the multitude of threads and plots that moved too slow. To them I say: Bah. I hope there is always room for series that take their time. That allow productions to have a vision and follow it through, if nothing else for the entertainment derived from watching badass craftsmen do what they do.

OMD: I've seen every episode of the last three seasons at least twice, many of them more than that. The painstaking attention to detail, the incredible production design, the symbolism that runs rampant through each episode, hell, the fucking shot framing, all of it sets the show apart. I think nearly all of the criticism comes from people who either didn't find Nucky compelling enough or worse from people who were viewing each episode as its own thing, which a show like Boardwalk Empire was never going to be able to withstand as it is so serialized as to render such criticism pointless.

WG: I'll definitely be watching the series again. I think it's hard to grasp the towering scale and scope of what Winter created, especially fresh off a satisfying final episode that managed to finish some telegraphed final touches without being too hokey. Boardwalk Empire, it was good to know ye. I'll be seeing you again.

OMD: Indeed. We'll miss you, Nucky, Nelson, Margaret, Eli, Chalky, et al, but we'll probably rewatch you over and over.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Seven "Friendless Child"

The penultimate episode of Boardwalk Empire was written by "Riccardo DiLoreto & Cristine Chambers and Howard Korder"--oh, WGA--and directed by Allen Coulter.

Old Man Duggan: With most of the secondary plot lines having resolved themselves or come back to the central arc, we get a pretty damn streamlined episode this week. Winter, Korder, & Co. made the efficacious move to advance the war between the Mustache Petes and the Young Turks--it's a goddamn shame they've not been using these names, by the way--by way of montage and press clippings to its conclusion. While the denouement for Nucky is still a week away, the war to overthrow Maranzano is reaching its own denouement this week, thankfully.

Wordy Ginters: Surprised Timmy Van Patton wasn't manning the helm this episode. Surely he'll get the call in next week's finale. You suffering from some Maranzano fatigue? That's been fixed. His character arc seemed a little tacked on. I find the role of Torrio much more interesting.

OMD: I'd like to think that Nucky's extinguished cigarette in a glass of Bacardi is a grander statement upon the standing of rum amongst other almost universally superior liquors. Fuck that bat. Fuck rum.

WG: Fuck that bat. Fuck rum. Also a goddamn shame that nomenclature hasn't crept its way into the script.

OMD: The actress they got to play young Gillian did a shockingly good job of channeling Gretchen Mol's take on Gillian. Their casting in the origins timeline is really quite breathtaking.

WG: Look, this show is a fucking gem. All facets. Casting has been outstanding all the way around, with the most counter-intuitive home run being Buscemi as the lead. Only one episode left. I don't know if there has been a prettier show to watch. The writing is top notch, too. It's not sexy, it's just fucking solid. Speaking of the origins actors, I just realized the lady who plays Young Nuck's wife, also plays a wife on The Knick. On that show, she is on the receiving end of some rather drastic cutting edge for the time psychological assistance via John Hodgman. It's deviant, brilliant, and shocking at the same time.

OMD: I've still got the entirety of The Knick sitting on the DVR unwatched for no good reason other than not really knowing what it is. I should rectify that.

Nucky is never served well by indulging in impatience. The move to grab Bennie Siegel seems at first to be a way in which Nucky might be able to swing some momentum his way. So much for that. Willie getting kidnapped erased that advantage. Of course, Nucky should have been playing chess and figuring Luciano and Lansky had a counter to his move.

WG: I couldn't fathom how the kidnapping was going to work out in Nuck's favor. When Siegel queered the hand-off and ultimately painted Nucky in the corner, it just underlined, for the millionth time, that Nuck is a stranger in a strange land. Not born of the silver spoon, and not tough enough to roll with the real gangsters, it appears his only remaining moves are murder for hire and insider trading.

OMD: The smoke ring settling in over Willie's crown while Lucky was on the phone arranging for the meet with Nucky was a nice touch.

WG: I'm glad you mentioned that. Was it not badass?

OMD: So what in the hell is going on with Mabel? Is it merely her fear of what dear Enoch is going to become, or is something more at play here? She's scared of something, according to Gillian, and her distractions and midnight pie-making seem to allude to her later suicide. Somehow I doubt it's merely manic-depression given the tenor of everything that has preceded this.

WG: The Big C? Depression? I'm telling you, the parallel's between Maya Kazan's character on The Knick and Boardwalk Empire are many. The two shows could share their psych ward sets.

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OMD: I guess Sheriff Lindsay drew the line at the umpteenth adolescent girl returned to her parents, services rendered/agreement terminated. Charitable acts. "Schooling them in the domestic arts." Jesus, Leandor could have represented Michael Jackson astonishingly well.

WG: That shit was grim. Terence Winter isn't painting a pretty picture of those in power, is he? Not too hard to read that as a grand point of the show: revealing the seamy underbelly of the "American Way." Not that pedophilia is the American Way, though it does seem to rear its head with disturbing frequency. Boardwalk Empire tends to make a mockery of the kind of down-home bromides that are plastered on the billboards behind Eli as he leaves his disheveled street meeting with Willie. In other words, hard work, honesty, free enterprise, and democracy are much easier to swallow in theory than in practice.

OMD: Indeed. Power corrupts and the most corrupt were probably sexual deviants from the get-go.

Mickey finally got what he wanted. Then I got what I wanted. He was always such an annoying shitheel. Unfortunately, the totally badass Arquimedes went down too. I'd have loved to see one last ear trophy.

WG: Archie was another in a long line of unfortunate deaths on the show. Spin off? Archie and Gillian open a restaurant specializing in Cuban sandwiches and erotic massage. Archie's catch phrase? Shut you fuck up! I get it though, Nucky is isolated down to the last drop. Mickey was a classic shitheel, he lived so much longer than I ever thought he would, I was kind of hoping he'd be the last man standing. We also haven't seen the last of that creepy young buck who may or may not be Darmody Jr., have we?

OMD: Can't imagine that we have.

I liked the fake out from D'Angelo meeting with the federal judge to the IRS agents coming into Maranzano's office. I totally thought Nucky was screwed until they started stabbing Maranzano. Glad Eli was the trigger man if for no other reason than that it means the brothers Thompson might be riding again, if for ever so brief a time.

WG: So much stabbing.

OMD: Torrio can't be too excited about being thanked for his help and then dismissed. Of course he's a eunuch at this point, but still.

WG: Another cool scene. When Lansky and Luciano rebuffed his idea to arrange the "one big family" mob meeting, Bugsy and a gaggle of party people came bubbling in ready to celebrate. A deep focus shot showed old man Torrio standing solo on one side of a pillar, and the new turks cutting a rug on the other side. The chasm between old and new couldn't have been any chasmier.

OMD: Joe's curiosity about watching someone die would seem to have a larger purpose. I don't think it's as easy as him being the person in whom Nucky sees his younger self. I still don't know what his endgame would be if he were Jimmy's son, but it seems like it has to bring the story full circle, doesn't it?

WG: Absolutely. He's cooking up something. Mustering. Pro tip: It's in the eyes. Mustering is always in the eyes.

OMD: Take note of that pearl, kiddos.

What gets lost in the shuffle of all this is that Nucky still has the Mayflower play in place. If we've learned anything during Boardwalk Empire's five seasons, it is that no scene is wasted. Clearly this angle must come into play in the finale. Can he parlay that into showing that he still has value to Lucky and Meyer? Is it enough to keep Nucky alive?

WG: I'll be astounded if he lives. If Winter had any balls, he'd end this one ambiguously just like he and Chase did on The Sopranos. MAYBE, a different Journey tune with an abrupt fade to black. "Feeling That Way/Anytime."

OMD: It should be noted that Meyer isn't exactly pumped to hand over Atlantic City to Pinky. Mightn't this play into Nucky getting a reprieve from them? After all, Meyer is the calm, measured one of the two. All that character work is unlikely to be for naught.

WG: They're telegraphing Pinky and wide-eyed virtuous milquetoast maybe Darmody Jr. pretty hard. I'd have to agree with you.

OMD: There were some surprises in Gillian's letter. I honestly thought that Nucky hand-delivered her to the Commodore, but it surely appears as though she made the decision on her own, though she shouldn't be held responsible for such decisions. Will helping Gillian be the redemptive salve for which he has been longing all season long?

WG: I'm eager to see how that connection gets made. Their was a montage scene that worked, so fuck off Trey Stone and Matt Parker. You fucking cowards. Bush takes us to war in Iraq for reasons still unclear to me, and you make a movie that picks on Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn? Goddamn it. Ummn. Where was I? Oh yeah, that montage was a great way to encapsulate Gillian's descent in the maelstrom - - which also happens to be a great Radio Birdman song.

OMD: While I hesitate to make predictions in general, this is the last Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire before the series finale. Do you have any?

WG: Nucky dies from a cleaver to the head. Eli shaves. Gillian seduces and kills her psychologist. Royals in 4.

OMD: All of that would be wodnerful. I'm thinking Meyer convinces Lucky to keep Nucky in place in Atlantic City only to have Joe off him as revenge for Jimmy's murder. Oh, and Dr. Giggles has gutted Gillian, who is a shell of her letter-writing self and basically a vegetable, because it's far too late for Nucky to have rescued her.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Six "Devil You Know"

This week's antepenultimate episode penned by Howard Korder and directed by Jeremy Podeswa features a couple of conclusions to character arcs in a very Boardwalk Empire kind of way.

Old Man Duggan: Anyone wondering how so many storylines were going to get wrapped up in just six episodes got some answers tonight. And all this happened while Nucky was playing hooky and Chalky moved all of maybe four feet.

Wordy Ginters: It began on the gallop with Chalky at the Harlem Cathouse. Kind of unusual for Boardwalk to get rolling so quickly. I made a mental note that fucking around was apparently not going to be tolerated.

OMD: We pick back up with Daughter Maitland, Chalky, and Althea, right where last week left off. Clearly Althea is Chalky's. It must have been a rough seven years for Daughter, as her gift went without professional implementation thanks to being blackballed by Narcisse.

WG: Hey, I get the pushback against those who fetishize vinyl culture. The sound is warm. The cover art was integral to the experience. You have to listen to the whole damn album. I know, I know. But I'll be damned if Daughter's voice didn't sound fantastic coming out of that vintage turntable. Even better was seeing it saw Chalky in half.

OMD: Indeed. The look on his face was tragic.

In the flashback, we have perhaps the first inkling that Mabel may be a bit moody, as she's up in the middle of the night making pies. She seemed to have just a slight undercurrent of emotional fragility that she'd then underplay by speaking in that faux Southern accent.

WG: Homage to Crispin Glover in Wild at Heart. "I'm making sandwiches!"

OMD: While we're in pre-WWI Atlantic City, we may as well talk about Sheriff Lindsay delivering young girls to the Commodore with their mother's in reluctant tow. The look on that mother's face. What the fuck was she thinking? And how the hell does Sheriff Lindsay sleep at night?

WG: On piles of memory-numbing cash. You can't be a cog in the cynical wonderland that is Atlantic City without viewing those not in on the take as less than human.

OMD: As for Gillian, apparently she was always a fucking handful. Around the World in 72 Days. This is where Nellie Bly comes into Nucky and Gillian's story. Funny since she also did that expose on the treatment of the patients at the Women's Lunatics Asylum on Blackwell's Island.

WG: Nothing happens without a reason on this show. The details are on point.

OMD: I guess the Depression made hard, crass broads with a knack for rolling Missourians in the alley with the draw of dirty, back-alley threesomes. Those women also apparently enjoy making men recite Longfellow. I have to wonder if Irene, the near-King Neptune's consort, was one of the Commodore's pedophiliac casualties.

WG: Who didn't see that one coming? Interesting to hear Nucky finally put words to the sentiment he's been carrying around from jump street. He can't escape his prole roots. He can hang at the Ritz, but it doesn't suit him. Drunk on rot-gut whiskey, winning a fist fight, and fucking two women in an alley. Three-fiths of my bucket list. The remainders? Royals World Series Champs. Scott McKinney reinstated at Royals Review.

OMD: That old piece of shit should've apologized to the nice--er, breathing--ladies.

WG: Hey, Nucky may be a piney from the sticks, but he's no mouthbreather. A little respect for the ladies shouldn't be too much to ask.

OMD: Man, Van Alden and Eli's plan that was foisted upon them was a shit one. Ralph is boning in the count room. Agent D'Angelo is asked to take care of them only to have Al come back with Paul Muni and George Raft with him. Timing went wrong in nearly every possible way. "We're having trouble at home." "I can vouch for that." Even when their lives hang in the balance, Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham deliver the funny.

WG: Those two were magic when they found themselves in the same scenes. Too bad it didn't happen earlier and oftener.

OMD: In his final moments at least Van Alden got to be himself again. Crazy, invoking Jesus, insisting wrath would reign down on the man he was strangling.

WG: It was interesting for no other reason than I've always kind of wondered how Van Alden could stray so far from his extreme straight-edge religious vibe. Did he cotton to the dark side, or just get swept along in the tumult that was his story arc? I don't remember if it was this week, or last, but I was glad to see a pre-episode " previously on Boardwalk Empire" clip of Van Alden drowning the crooked prohee from way back in Season One. That batshit brutal baptism/drowning revealed to me how fucking awesome this show is. Shannon was fantastic in this series, it was good to see him going out in a blaze of biblical righteousness.

OMD: Yeah, if he's got to go out, it was nice to see him revisit his roots en route.

Eli says it's Ness gunning for him, and Al unwittingly hands the damning evidence to D'Angelo. Eli is released to return east, presumably to eventually help Nucky.

WG: A little too tidy. But what the hell. Sets up some interesting possibilities for the last two episodes. Shea Whigham was awesome as per usual. Right after Van Alden got popped, and Eli thought he was next, he began nervously mumbling and apologizing over and over to his wife? That was powerful.

OMD: I guess Narcisse's being neutered at least made him amenable to releasing Daughter Maitland. Chalky clearly knew what his fate would be, but he got to hear her voice again, and that was all that mattered. As he stepped into the light of day, he knew what fate awaited him. He still got to do right by his daughter and Daughter, who Althea confirmed did love her father.

WG: Chalky went out with some dignity. It was cool that he knew what was up. What a great character. I don't think that Winter quite new what to do with him. Tough episode when you have popular series icons like Chalky and Van Alden both get whacked.

OMD: "You think I don't know who you are?" I'm really starting to think that there has to be more to Joe Harper's story. If he is Tommy Darmody, though, I've got no idea what his endgame is, as revenge could have been taken in the alley.

WG: It's either a head feint to keep us guessing, or something is up with that dude. Towards the end of the episode there was a split second cut where they flashed to Joe Harper's face. Struck me as odd for a rando extra type guy. He's undoubtedly set up for a bigger role down the stretch.

OMD: Regardless, it looks like Nucky is getting his army ready for a war. Unfortunately his legion of allies seems to be dwindling. I can't imagine how he gets out from under this.

WG: With Mickey Doyle serving as his right-hand man? He's screwed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Five, Episode Five "King of Norway"

This week's installment, courtesy of scribe Steve Kornacki and director Ed Bianchi, treats us to a time jump in the story of Young Enoch Thompson--1897, to be exact--where we find him courting Mabel while trying to work his way into the Commodore's inner circle. In the present day, Nucky and Chalky are reunited, June visits Eli in Chicago, dinner is had at the Van Alden/Muellers, and the Young Turks take a shot at the Mustache Petes.

Old Man Duggan: Let's focus on the Young Nucky stuff first. There seem to be some viewer complaints about this aspect of the show. I guess if you don't think the show is about Nucky and/or that he's a dull character then this part of the show would stand still. I don't understand either of those points of view, but it seemed like maybe they should be acknowledged. I, for one, am very interested to see from whence Nucky Thompson came. This bookending works for me.

Wordy Ginters: I've got a small issue with the novelty teeth used by the actor playing Young Man Nuck. The eerie physical resemblance was sufficient to hammer home the flashback vibe without that hornblast grill leaping of the screen. To those faint hearts wounded by the looks back, let's join together and say pshaw. For me, the examination of the boy who became the man is a fresh fucking twist.

OMD: Once again, this time in the flashbacks, we get a Ragged Dick reference for Nucky. This is not the first time that Nucky has been compared against Horatio Alger's protagonist. Of course, that middle-class respectability is something that is likely to elude Nucky, given the choices that he's made. Of course, there's an element of damned if you do, damned if you don't in his tale. He comes from such abject poverty that it's hard to fathom the future he desired without cutting some corners.

WG: Therein lies the rub. He wants it so bad, the ends always justify the means.

OMD: Adult Mabel is played by Maya Kazan, Zoe's sister. The courtship of Mabel Jeffries includes a scene at the table straight out of any classist father-suitor tale. This, of course, plays into the class issues endemic in Nucky's greater story. The life he wants, the woman he wants, all of these are things which the boot black Nucky Thompson is perhaps too bold to want.

WG: Is Buscemi the shit or what? How does he make Nucky a sympathetic character? The flashbacks help establish a patina of empathy, but ultimately he's a loathsome protagonist. Despite his wormy ways, I typically find myself pulling for him. He's got zero charisma. Physically, he's unlike 99% of what we see in male leads. His character is a schemer, a murderer, a womanizer, a liar, a cheat, a lawbreaker, and all of this is carried out with the low-grade menace of a high school principal. He operates with an offhand disdain that burns too cool to be openly hostile. You can feel his patronizing contempt for the majority of the characters around him, who are two beats too slow to keep up with his thinking. The look on his face is best described as lemon-wedge constipated. Yet, at almost every step along the way, I'm pulling for his schemes to succeed. Perhaps this says more about me than the necromancy Buscemi is able to beam through the character.

OMD: I definitely don't feel like I should be rooting for him, yet I am at every turn.

It seems likely that the Commodore wants Nucky's handling of the corpse of Mr. Halligan to be his trial. Though he seems to regard Nucky unfavorably--"mooncalf" is an abortive fetus of a cow but came to mean either a monstrous/grotesque thing (Shakespeare refers to Caliban as such in The Tempest) or later a dullard or fool; one must figure that the Commodore means to apply the latter usage in this situation, though it's hard to see how either really fits here--this must be the Commodore's means by which to evaluate Nucky's ability to do his dirty work.

WG: "Mooncalf" struck me as a little harsh. Nucky had already demonstrated veteran leadership skills by nonchalantly laying out strategy to keep rivals out of Atlantic City. And he showed plus-plus cigar-handling skills. Obviously, the Commodore wasn't hip to his charms. I think the corpse de Halligan is most certainly intended as an acid test.

OMD: I'd watch Stephen Graham clench the Tribune in hand while parked on the shitter any day. Judging by the fact that Agent D'Angelo is hep to Capone's plan to move the whole operation to Cicero posthaste, I'd posit that it's highly unlikely that his rash decision to enlist Eli and Nelson to nab Capone's ledger goes off without a hitch.

WG: Having Capone refer to his own stubborn shit as "fucker" was inspired.

OMD: Looks like Al is going to be taking Owney Madden and presumably George Raft (who was Madden's lifelong friend and actor in Scarface). Raft later made sex on Betty Grable, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West.

WG: Raft makes Derek Jeter look like an amateur. I'd love to see them go balls deep with the Hollywood angle. I want to see someone playing your boy Edward G. Robinson, slamming shots with Capone and pouring over a Daily Racing Form trying to suss out the feature at Hawthorne Park.

OMD: Joe Harper, that fresh-faced lad who Mickey Doyle grabbed from the hobo fire in the alley, looks like he'd make a great Mr. Bates. He's got the suit-coat-hold down pat.

WG: Bates! Great series cross over idea. Downton Abbey gets Nucky's Cuban muscle and Boardwalk Empire gets Bates and a footmen to be named later. Hilarity and ear loss ensues.

OMD: I saw someone hypothesize that Joe Harper could also by Jimmy's scion, which would make sense.

With Chalky White so hellbent on revenge against Narcisse, it's too bad that coming to Nucky's aid one last time probably isn't in the cards.

WG: I'm just glad he's around for another episodes. I felt a pang of doom when Chalky rashly showed up at the Harlem brothel.

OMD: Eli's drunken fever dreams are answered. The only man on the show who loves his wife fucked the bitter shrew Mrs. Van Alden Mueller in his seven-year drunken stupor and didn't even know he'd done it until the titular man showed his mustachioed face. Before the key to his nightmares was revealed, that dinner scene was a pretty great snapshot of the shit home life of George Nelson Van Alden Mueller. Their sex scene, whoa. The look on her face. Harpy.

WG: I'm not going to lie. I'm a sucker for the beautiful cruelty. I'm down with Mrs. Van Alden Mueller, for no other reason than her habit of barking out "Husband" to her man like she was trying to get the attention of a pet. That dinner scene was hilarious. How do you create a scene as cliched as the henpecked husband and marital strife without sinking into the threadbare depths of banality? You turn it up to 11.

OMD: "The event you're thinking about? That was an accident. Plain and simple." "You mean like a streetcar hitting a horse? A man getting his head crushed in a metal press? A gas explosion in which bystanders are literally torn limb from limb? That's what your having sexual relations with my wife was like?" "Look, I don't know about you, but my life is a fucking shipwreck." "Well, land ho." Honestly, I could just transcribe that scene and leave it at that. We need a fucking Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham series. It'd be great if it was Eli and Nelson these past few years, but anything. The scene while the waited for D'Angelo was transcendent.

WG: The Chicago scenes in general have stood out with a different type of electricity than the rest of the locales on the show. Looney Tunes. A joy to watch.

OMD: Gillian's future is looking bleak. Dr. Cotton seems quite the kook. Cutting the crazy out like a loony-bin Mengele. Not from the brain either. Jesus.

WG: I'm more worried for Dr. Cotton than I am for Gillian.

OMD: Daughter Maitland and daughter. Methinks Chalky's got another, younger Maybelle.

WG: I didn't even think about that! You might be onto something. I hope so.

OMD: Torrio makes it out of all this unscathed. So do Lansky, Luciano, and Siegel. In Maranzano, it looks like Nucky is betting on a losing horse. And by looks like, I mean he is. It's hard to imagine a peaceful resolution between Nucky and the Mustache Petes. Knowing the fates of the others, it's hard not to assume the worst for Nucky.

WG: I hope Winter has the courage to flout history, and the skills to end the series with the flair it deserves.

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