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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