'Boardwalk Empire' Review: "Two Imposters"

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'Boardwalk Empire' is always the most intense in the last two episodes of the season, and "Two Imposters" is no exception: this week gives us plenty of Chalky White, a gut-busting (literally) hour of tension, and Gyp Rosetti is finally reunited with his dog.

Poor Eddie Kessler -- shot in the gut while trying to protect Nucky and doesn't say a word about it until he's passed out driving the getaway car. But Eddie and Chalky White have a lot to teach Nucky this week and in just an hour, I think they succeed. First up, we're just as surprised as Nucky to learn that Eddie has a wife and two kids, and it's just another great example of the way this show -- like all great ones -- manipulates viewer perspective; even when we're over in Chicago or in New York, everything we watch is colored by Nucky Thomspon's desire. And when Nucky goes to the shop manned by Eli's oldest later in the episode and comments on the deliciousness of the day-old donuts and coffee, Chalky points out something that Nucky has forgotten from his past: all it takes is having nothing to show you what you need.

Nucky's spent too long at the helm of Atlantic City with everyone serving at his feet, and the man has lost sight of both necessity and the value of life. Though he cares for Margaret, his power and greed -- like most wealthy, authoritative men -- have created a bottomless pit that he's forever trying to fill with more women, more power, more control, and more money -- more, more, more. But there's a balance that can be struck within a man like Nucky, and that balance lies in the Rudyard Kipling poem that the injured Eddie tries to recite to Nuck:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

Can there every be honor in being a gangster? there can be if you have empathy, and Nucky hasn't had that until now (and maybe at the end of last week's episode when Margaret lost Owen, mirroring Nuck's loss of Billie). Now he cares that Eddie has a family, and we see on his face how stupid and careless he knows he's been -- of course Eddie has a family, but Nucky's never asked or cared. Nucky has spent too long treating everyone like a meaningless pawn in a game that seemingly has no end. There will always be a Gyp Rosetti or a Joe Masseria, and like Meyer Lansky says, everything is connected.

These men inhabit such a small world, with each of them always a hair away from bumping into another man's enterprise. Maybe it's because I've been watching 'The Wire' for the first time recently, but "Two Imposters" reminded me of several things from that show: D'Angelo Barksdale teaching his two subordinates about chess and how it relates to the drug game, the way that show can make you empathize with such complex and flawed characters, and of course, the neverending wars fought over turf, the bodies that will always fall, and the infinite nature of organized crime. If Gyp succeeds in taking over Atlantic City, there will undoubtedly someday be another Gyp Rosetti -- all hot-headed and ambitious -- with whom he'll inevitably have to contend.

I'm also probably hung up on 'The Wire' right now because of a major player both shows share: Michael K. Williams. His Chalky White played such an integral part of this week's episode, and there's a man that has something Nucky needs, in more ways than one. Chalky has the guns and the manpower, but he also has the business sensibilities and empathy that Nucky lacks. Chalky's loyalty to Nucky may be his undoing in the finale (and I really hope that's not the case), but a man like Chalky has struggled more and knows more about the value of both material things and human life.

This week also brings Al Capone into the fold -- while Nucky tries and fails repeatedly in the last two weeks to get Johnny Torrio involved in his war, Eli manages to make a deal to get Capone down to AC, and damned if I didn't have the biggest grin on my face when Capone said, "I need a bed, some chow, and then you and me sit down. And we talk about who dies."

Along with Capone, it seems Nucky also has Eli and what appears to be some leftover men from the AC bootlegging enterprise, and Chalky and his men, who seem to be more loyal than even Chalky assumed. In exchange, Nucky promises Chalky Babette's old spot on the Boardwalk for his new nightclub. I just hope he survives the finale so we can see it.

Absent this week are Margaret and the kids, who've been sent away for their protection, and most of the dealings in Chicago (save for Capone, of course). We might not be seeing Van Alden until next year. Lucky Luciano's story gets wrapped up this week when he makes the mistake of selling five pounds of heroin to undercover cops, but we'll be seeing him again.

And Richard's story finally gets a little action when Rosetti's men take over Gillian's brothel, plundering her supply of women all over the place. The look on her face as she realizes that maybe she's gone too far this time is priceless. Richard's been staying out of trouble this season and just trying to eke out a life for himself -- a life that involves Julia and saving Tommy from Gillian. I know it hasn't seemed like Richard's been doing much, but a trained sniper learns to be patient and wait for the right time to strike -- unfortunately, Rosetti and his men rushed those plans along and Gillian busted him before he could walk out the door with Tommy. But judging by that last (very awesome) shot of Richard laying out all of his guns, it looks like he's about to saddle up for Nucky's cause if it means he can save Tommy.

Filed Under: Boardwalk Empire, HBO
Categories: TV News, TV Reviews
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