Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 3.03, “Bone For Tuna”: The women take over

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Boardwalk Empire, Season 3, Episode 3, “Bone For Tuna”
Written by Chris Haddock
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO

Top moment this week: watching Bobby Cannavale and Gretchen Mol in their first scene together. It’s like watching a Great White and a cobra face off. Two entirely different but equally deadly creatures confront each other for the first time. They eye each other for weaknesses. They size up the best place to bite. They retreat to consider their options. It’s like Animal Planet in period dress.

If Cannavale as Gyp Rosetti is ably filling the large boots recently and sadly vacated by William Forsythe as Manny Horvitz – just watch Cannavale’s eyes go dead when he thinks Nucky’s careless reference to trees implies he is an ape – the rest of the male characters are lagging behind in the interest stakes. Irish hard man Owen Sleater has his tail so firmly tucked between his legs since backing down to Rosetti that he resembles a Manx cat. Nucky is still engaged in his mid-life crisis, repeatedly calling his new girlfriend like an adolescent in the throes of calf love. If power ballads had been invented in 1923, Nucky would be tearfully listening to Air Supply or Toto. It’s an unedifying sight and the power vacuum in the story is in danger of collapsing the whole show into a black hole.

The situation is partially saved by Rosetti, but more so by the female characters who not only get more interesting things to do, they get to be stronger than the men.

First we have Gillian Darmody, grieving mother to a murdered son, a lady who is not averse to a spot of incest and now proprietress of the highest class brothel on the Eastern seaboard. Gretchen Mol is capable of acting any man off the screen, which makes her character’s encounter with Rosetti all the more enticing; with Cannavale she now has adequate competition. If Cannavale is the master of implied menace, Mol’s face is so artfully blank that when she allows any kind of expression to pass over it, like the fleeting moment of wistfullness when Gillian asks ‘if you don’t have family, what do you have?’, the impact is jawdropping. Rosetti’s jaw is suitably dropped. He will be back, we know it, and trouble will ensue, because Gillian not only wants vengeance for the son Nucky killed, she is the occasional squeeze of Lucky Luciano, another man whose sense of honor is liable to become disrupted at the smallest error of courtesy.

Moving on. Margaret Thomson, estranged from Nucky because she dared to give some of his money away, achieves her plan of setting up a Women’s Health clinic at the local hospital with the adroitness of a woman playing a complicated card trick. Confounded male chauvinists fall trumpeting like wounded elephants as Margaret trips lightly between them, getting exactly what she wants without spilling a drop of blood. She’s so whip crack smart it’s hard to understand why she can’t win Nucky over and detach him from the plump-cheeked Billie. My guess is we’re supposed to think she doesn’t want to, that as Nucky’s wife she has the security for her children she craved without requiring to submit to the moral complexities of loving a man who breaks the law for a living.

And finally there is Sigrid, Nelson ‘Mueller’ Van Alden’s Swedish wife. So far, Christiane Seidel has played Sigrid with clear eyed, wholesome innocence, but this is Boardwalk Empire and now we get to see why after only a couple of years together, there’s already a baby in the Mueller crib. Sensing her husband is having a difficult time at work, Sigrid pins Nelson to the mattress and takes his mind off his troubles with refreshing Scandinavian candour. We understand that Van Alden, who is a walking definition of uptight, is going to go to some lengths to keep his wife happy, including breaking his strict moral code.

So the women win hands down this week. And actually, so long as they keep Gyp Rosetti around, I’m quite happy for the series to continue that way.

Cath Murphy

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