Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 3.05 “You’d Be Surprised”: Bobby Cannavale gives it all he’s got

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Boardwalk Empire, Season 3, Episode 5: “You’d Be Surprised”
Written by Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
Directed by Tim Van Patten
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO

An auspiciously titled episode: we begin with the customary sex scene and discover that Gyp Rosetti is a man of very specific needs. The fact that Rosetti requires the assistance of partial strangulation to get his rocks off doesn’t actually come as much of a surprise (that comes later) but it foreshadows, in a clumsy way, the danger that has been gathering around Rosetti’s head ever since he flambeed the local sheriff and followed that up by murdering several of Nucky’s men. Rosetti is a man who flirts with death, the subtext informs us, in large capitals. Later, much work is expended setting Lucky Luciano up as Rosetti’s nemesis, which is a waste of time, because Rosetti has plenty of those already.

The choice of Luciano as adversary seems strange – he and Rosetti have so much in common (sadism, omerta, etc) – but maybe the writers realize that having two homicidal gangsters with trouble in the manhood department (Luciano can only get it up for Gillian Darmody) might confuse us and decided one of them had to go.

Whatever. Anyway, the plot to assassinate Rosetti doesn’t work, but it does treat us to the sight of Bobby Cannavale covered in fake blood and displaying his wares to the world (that is the surprise). I don’t know if Cannavale is going to get an Emmy for his performance, but his penis should definitely win some kind of award. They say you can’t take your eyes from a good actor. I certainly couldn’t rip my gaze from it.

If the attempted murder gives us a scene of the quality for which the show is deservedly famous, the plotting which leads up to the event fails to meet the same standard. The plan is hatched by Arnold Rothstein (played by Michael Stuhlbarg as a man who, when cut, would bleed antifreeze) and carried out by Luciano’s minions. Neither Rothstein nor Luciano have any motivation to do Nucky the favour he asks and get rid of Rosetti, who is sitting like a giant blot of Italian ink on the road between Atlantic City and New York. Rosetti might be a maniac, but he is a maniac with business sense and so far Rothstein and Luciano have shown no signs of getting sentimental when they have the smell of dollars to distract them.

As for Nucky, he is still perplexingly obsessed with his chorus girl Billie. Meg Chambers Steedle has a Raggedy Annie charm, with her startled eyes and round cheeks, but she isn’t a patch on Margaret, Nucky’s wife. We’re led to believe that Nucky wants a woman he can dominate and protect and that Margaret is too wholesome for him. Poppycock. Nucky craves wholesome – that’s what attracted him to Margaret and out of the mad-ferret clutches of showgirl Lucy Danziger earlier in the show. Weak psychology irritates me, but I’m prepared to live with the storyline because it gives us a wonderful scene where Nucky sends Chalky White and his sidekick Dunn Purnsley to intimidate Eddie Cantor into rescuing Billie’s sinking show and Cantor has to sing and dance for a silent, forbidding audience of two.

But the best part comes with Nelson Van Alden’s return to the screen. In this episode he has to smile. It’s an effort, but he manages it, just. This is a moment I cherished, also his reaction when his wife Sigrid attempts to brain a dissatisfied customer with a kitchen implement. Van Alden has the expression at that point of a badly stuffed grizzly – eyes pointing in different directions, mouth open in a surprised snarl. Sigrid doesn’t lose her cool for a second, snappily suggesting her husband finish the job while she hold the victim’s legs. Van Alden, so far unlucky in love, has a keeper there.

Cath Murphy

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