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‘Boardwalk Empire’ Review: “Bone For Tuna”

HBO

If the season premiere episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire‘ set the table, and the second episode straightened the place settings, then the third episode, “Bone For Tuna,” starts serving up the meat and potatoes real proper. This week’s episode is all about obsession and what it drives our characters to do.

As Margaret prepares for the awards ceremony at the Catholic church, she begins using her infamous powers of persuasion to demand a private meeting with the Bishop. A visit to the hospital only serves to remind her that her opinions on landscaping and flowers are welcome, but her ideas on women’s health are verboten. She still holds some power over her own husband, though, as she informs him that his appearance at the ceremony is not optional or up for debate. When the two appear at the ceremony later, they seem to acknowledge that their marriage is nothing more than superficial, reiterated when Margaret says, “The show must go on.” It’s been awfully depressing watching the Thompson marriage devolve from its early passionate throes to the stiff, cold corpse it resembles now. Margaret and Nucky stay so far away from each other now it’s as if they believe their entire marriage to be made out of the most delicate porcelain, ready to break at the slightest touch.

Nucky is more interested in his mistress Billie Kent this week, as he tries incessantly to reach her via telephone. The episode opens with the sound of him listening as the phone rings over and over, bleeding into a nightmare where he’s holding a pan of sizzling bacon and looking upon a boy who’s been shot in the face. The dream takes on more literal connotations throughout the episode; during the ceremony, Nucky looks over to a choir boy to see his face bleeding like the boy in his dream, symbolizing his guilt over Jimmy, a ghost who hangs over much of this week’s episode.

Gyp Rosetti hasn’t left town just yet, and after his stunt last week in Tabor Heights, Nucky pays him a visit and offers to give him a month’s supply of booze and a cozy night in Atlantic City if he’ll hit the road the next day and forget all about his little vacation. While Nucky waits for Gyp to show up at the club for dinner, he recalls the dinner where he introduced a returning Jimmy Darmody to his crew back in season one. Perhaps Gyp’s loose cannon attitude and uncivilized nature remind Nucky of Jimmy in some way, or maybe Nucky’s just remembering how he didn’t see a threat coming from miles away, but this time his vision is much more clear.

Bobby Cannavale’s portrayal of Gyp is some intense stuff here. The guy is like an ape in a gentleman’s suit — he has no manners or sense of civility, as Nucky has to remind him, “This is where you shake my hand.” This idea is echoed later when Nucky makes a joke about Gyp’s “neck of the woods” and rushes to clarify that he wasn’t suggesting Gyp is a monkey. Rather than blow his fuse, Gyp makes monkey noises — again, this week is definitely taking the more literal approach to its symbolism, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Gyp heads off to the Artemis Club, where he has a little chat with Gillian Darmody, who plants a little seed in his brain when she tells him about the time Eli Thompson tried to kill his own brother. Gyp asks, “When you lose your own flesh and blood, what do you have?” And Gillian’s tone becomes much more serious when she responds, “You don’t have anything.” For Gillian, this may be somewhat true on a more visceral, emotional level than what she’s allowed us to see, but her real concern is with who she can manipulate, and without her son around (and knowing Richard isn’t willing to be played), Gillian is on the hunt for a man who can give her the power she wants — someone who’s already hungry for power, but dumb enough not to know his strings are being tugged. Enter Gyp. This pairing is absolutely volatile.

While Gillian and Gyp chat privately, one of Mickey Doyle’s boys drops off some whiskey to Richard at the bar, and tells him that Mickey’s been bragging about killing Manny Horvitz. This bruises Richard’s pride, and seems to intimate that he may have more in common with a criminal like Nucky Thompson than even he would like to believe. He takes Mickey hostage and forces him to tell Nucky that he didn’t kill Manny — but this also reveals to Nucky that it was Richard, who admits he did it for Angela Darmody, who didn’t deserve to die. Jimmy was a soldier, Richard says — he fought and he lost. Nucky and his family are safe from Richard’s vengeance, but Manny had to pay for the innocent blood he shed. When Nucky asks Richard how many men he’s killed and he responds with the startlingly exact number of 63, Nucky follows up with, “Do you think about any of them?” To which Richard chillingly responds, “You know the answer to that yourself.” It’s such a powerful moment that ties the theme of obsession to guilt in this episode with two men who feel incomplete. Nucky feels like half of a man because he can’t possess Billie the way he expects to, and Richard feels like half of a man because he’s living under Gillian’s foot and has lost the only people he cared about — not to mention the whole half-face thing that makes him a literal half-man.

Over in Chicago, Nelson Van Alden, aka George, is dealing with being at the bottom of the ladder at his sales job. His co-workers prank him with an ink pen and his baby’s nanny tries to sex him out of his funk. It seems that Van Alden has left his staunch Christian values behind along with his badge in Atlantic City, and even agrees to visit a speakeasy with his co-workers to try and fit in, but his bad luck continues when the police raid the joint and he’s almost busted.

Lucky Luciano and his crew are still peddling the heroin, and we get a nice segue to their story when Gillian makes a phone call to ask Lucky for help with some home repairs at the Artemis Club, of which he’s apparently a partner. It also seems that most people believe Jimmy Darmody has simply gone AWOL, as Gillian tells Lucky that Jimmy will sign over the deed to the house when he gets back. Luciano’s boys are running into some trouble on their turf with the Masseria crew — based on real-life mob boss Joe Masseria, who ran what later became the Genovese crime family, one of the original five families of New York.

The episode ends on three powerful notes this week: Margaret tells the Bishop that Dr. Landau is opening a women’s health facility, forcing a stunned Landau to agree on the spot. It seems that Margaret is taking the lessons in shadiness she learned last season and using them for good this year. Over in Tabor, the Sheriff runs into Gyp at the gas station and wishes him well, but it was Nucky’s mispronounced wish of “Bone for tuna” (he meant the Italian “buona fortuna,” which means “good luck”) that’s reignited Gyp’s fury, so he douses the Sheriff in gasoline and sets him on fire to send a message to Nucky that a month’s supply of booze isn’t going to send him quietly into the night. As the Sheriff burns, we hear the ringing of the gas pump’s bell over and over, just like the ringing of Billie’s phone in the episode’s open.

Nucky pops in to Billie’s apartment in the middle of the night and waits for her to return home. He awakens in the morning to the sound of sizzling bacon, just like his dream, and tells her in his nightmare he was alone. Billie assures him he’s not alone anymore, but Nucky’s preoccupation with Billie and New York is keeping him away from some serious trouble on the homefront.

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