‘Boardwalk Empire’ Review: “You’d Be Surprised”
This week's episode of 'Boardwalk Empire' is all about business and pleasure and where the two often -- and sometimes unfortunately -- meet. "You'd Be Surprised" gives some forward momentum on the government side of things, but it's where business gets down to the personal level that's more compelling.
The episode opens with Gyp Rosetti getting his jollies off with a prostitute, auto-erotic asphyxiation-style, providing us with a startling mixture of imagery and sound that sets the tone for this rather provocative hour before we shift to a meeting between Rothstein and Nucky (and Lucky, and Owen, and Eli). Rothstein is so calm and composed in mixed company, but I also have to note the hilarity between Nucky and Lucky ("Nucky and Lucky" would be a great 'Odd Couple'-like spin-off) as Nuck question's the Italian's potty mouth. This episode is peppered with some great comedy during the more intense moments -- of which there are certainly many.
Rothstein questions Nucky's ability to get him the shipments of booze he requires, but also wonders about his problems with Rosetti, whose dealings with Joe Masseria present a bit of an issue where Rothstein and Luciano's heroin trade is concerned. He lashes out at Nucky with the comically apt, "You expect me to start a war? In New York? Where things actually matter?" Rothstein seems to have a much more realized view of the world of organized crime, whereas Nucky's view is limited by the microcosm of bootlegging in Jersey.
But what's also great to note here is the way Rothstein uses Nucky's relationship with Billie Kent against him -- these guys inhabit a world where a woman you actually care for is a weakness, but a woman you care little for, but is decent enough, is good for you to marry for appearances of normalcy only. Gyp, as seen previously and intimated here, has no regard for rules, particularly these unspoken codes of conduct. 'The Sopranos' was similar in terms of how women were viewed -- as disposable or for noble familial purposes only; you should never care for them too much, but always respect your mothers. Gyp Rosetti's kinks are not shown to paint the idea of a mentally unstable man, but to illustrate how he bucks accepted practices such as these.
Over at the Artemis Club, Gillian's free-spirited, artsy inclinations for the business are getting in the way of its profitability. Leander (Dominic Chianese) tries to bring some rationality to the table with talk of finances, but Gillian asserts that the place is in desperate need of costly repairs. Leander thinks she should be discussing this with her business partner, Luciano, but as we saw previously, he has no desire to be fully involved with his investment. Gillian, like Nucky and Rothstein and Rosetti, is in the business of illegal pleasure, but that business isn't cheap, nor is it as financially sound. And unless she's willing to accept that her son is dead, she'll never have full ownership of the property and will have to continue to defer to men, meaning that she'll need to step away from her lofty ideals and put her girls to work the old fashioned way.
James Cromwell shows up this week as secretary of the treasury Andrew W. Melon, called into a prohibition hearing where Geoff Pierson's Senator Walter Edge is overseeing the committee. Melon's concern is, of course, the financial end of things, and to that end he prefers to stick to talking about money rather than his personal views of prohibition and the way it "panders" to minorities. Gaston Means (Stephen Root) is nearby, showing us that he keeps abreast of all proceedings that may hinder his ability to straddle the line of legality, and with Melon concerned about corruption in the justice department, his job is definitely in jeopardy. I'm not too worried about Means, but what's fascinating here is the way the federal government's hearings on prohibition trickle down and affect our main players. We know Edge's involvement, but Means seems to intimate to another official later on that a bootlegger needs to get busted to put a face on this thing so they can escape further investigation. It's the more elegant side of the business, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Melon and Means continue to play a part in the larger narrative.
There's no pleasure, and some business, going on for Van Alden in Chicago, where the agent he encountered at the speakeasy a couple of weeks ago is still tailing him and making him uneasy. Michael Shannon can play up paranoia like nobody's business, and while his arc this season has been less than thrilling, things get kicked up a notch here thanks to Sigrid. Suspecting the agent of being one of the "bad men" who chased Van Alden out of Jersey, she hits the man over the head, forcing Van Alden to finish the deed and run to the local mob for help with disposing the body. It's all a bit elaborate and a far-fetched way to put Van Alden in the mob's pocket, but we've finally gotten the two together and perhaps the plot can develop a little more organically from here on out.
Margaret is pre-occupied with her own business, taking pleasure in helping women understand the results of their own pleasures -- babies. Her crusade takes her into Madame Jeunet's dress shop to leave some flyers when she runs into Nucky, who said he'd be away on business for a few days. And surprise! There's Billie Kent getting the upscale mistress treatment. "You'd Be Surprised" may be the title of this week's episode, but there's little for Margaret to be surprised about here -- she was the other woman when Nucky was with Lucy, and she herself had a dalliance with Owen Sleater. With an entire marriage built on dishonesty and the coldness that's thickened between them, can Margaret really be surprised that Nucky is seeing someone behind her back?
Here's what you can be surprised about -- how much Nucky cares about Billie's career. When her play rehearsals aren't going well and the whole show is in danger of being shut down, Nucky pays a visit to Eddie Cantor to woo him with a bottle of Passover vodka and convince him to star in the show. Cantor refuses because he's already under contract for a new show in New York, so Nuck sends Chalky White and one of his associates over to scare him into relenting. It doesn't take much for Cantor -- who awesomely refers to Chalky as "Milky" -- to crack, but he gets his later when he asks Billie if she's ever heard of Lucy Danziger. When she says no, he tells her, "The next one won't know a god damn thing about you, either." Eddie Cantor, ladies and gents -- the king of the zing.
The big action this week is with Rosetti and Rothstein, who hold a meeting where Rosetti offers to be Rothstein's new source of whiskey. Later, as Rosetti finds himself with a belt around his neck while having sex with his new hooker friend, a man pretending to be a newspaper delivery boy gets into the hotel and kills a few of Rosetti's guys while he struggles to get the belt from around his neck in time to save his own ass by using the prostitute as a human shield. We watch as Rosetti stumbles naked past the bodies, belt still tied around his neck, and Owen delivers word to Nucky that three of Rosetti's men are dead, but Rosetti still lives. It appears that Rothstein, although keen not to screw up his alliance with Masseria, pulled a clever move here -- Rosetti did mention the hotel room he's staying in and asked for a delivery boy to drop off a paper every evening right in front of Rothstein, who likely tipped Nucky and his guys off to this information.
But with Rosetti still alive and more pissed off than he was before, it seems Rothstein may have very well helped ignite the war he was desperate to avoid.