Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 3.01: “Resolution”: New Year’s brings new faces and new tensions to Atlantic City
Boardwalk Empire Review, Season 3, Episode 1, “Resolution”
Directed by Tim Van Patten
Written by Terence Winter
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO
If we were all asking ourselves how Season 3’s premiere would top the dark and bloody finale to Season 2, it took about thirty seconds for the answer to be handed to us. With the business end of a tire iron.
Jimmy Darmody is dead. Nucky pulled the trigger. Not only does that create a certain…tension…for mother-with-incest-issues Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Moll, luminous as ever), it leaves a gaping, antagonist-sized hole in the drama. Without Jimmy to palely plot against father-figure Nucky (was there ever a show more steeped in Oedipal issues than this one?) we might have feared that the story would lose impetus. Sure, we have Nucky’s disintegrating relationship with new wife Margaret – and Margaret’s gradual transformation from colleen to suffragette is one of the most interesting character arcs of the show – along with the equally inexorable descent of straight arrow Nelson Van Alden from federal agent to door-to-door salesman to keep us occupied, but those are just sideshows. What we want is the thing that makes Boardwalk Empire so seductively watchable: the contrast between those luscious, perfect in every detail, period sets and the extreme, close up violence.
And for violence we need gangsters. Nasty gangsters. We have Nucky, of course, who is changing as much as anyone. In Season 1, Nucky was a man who gazed at premature babies in their incubators with a sentimental tear in his eye. His edges were slightly soiled, but basically, Season 1 Nucky was first and foremost a businessman. Season 3 Nucky is happy to fool a quailing thief into thinking he is going to live, only to give the order for execution once he has the information he needs. Nucky is not just a businessman anymore. He still gets others to do his dirty work, but we sense that the killing of Darmody pushed him over some internal moral boundary. In a tight spot, Nucky won’t hesitate to pull the trigger again.
We also have diminutive baddie Al Capone (played by Liverpudlian Stephen Graham), who is busy terrorizing various parts of Chicago. But at this point, Nucky and Capone are on the same side and, although this is a situation that won’t last long, Capone has territory issues in his home town to sort out before he starts edging in on Nucky’s bootlegging operation. This means that the position of arch-rival to Nucky Thomson is currently vacant. Which is where the tire iron, or, to be more precise, the guy wielding it, comes in.
Enter Gyp Rosetti: Sicilian, not very bright, liable to take offense at innocent bystanders. Rosetti must be some distant relation to Goodfellas’ Tommy DeVito. He has that same tendency to take a remark out of context, impute an insult from it, and beat the perpetrator into a pulp with the nearest blunt object. Bobby Cannavale gives Rosetti the dead eyes of a man whose mental equipment moves much more slowly than his emotional impulses. It’s chilling and effective. In the opening sequence, you can see the moment Rosetti decides to commit murder and it’s long before his conversation with his intended victim closes. The chit chat is just Rosetti shooting the breeze before he brings the metal down on the guy’s skull. Like Nucky, Rosetti’s murders aren’t personal. Unlike Nucky, who has business reasons for what he does, Rosetti kills people the way the rest of us swat flies.
So when Nucky refuses to sell his liquor to Rosetti and Rosetti responds by calling Thomson ‘a bread stick in a bow tie’, our titter of laughter is a nervous one. We’re very glad when Rosetti hands the puppy he has obtained on a whim over to Margaret (although the suspicion that a dog version of the bunny boiling scene from Fatal Attraction is planned does spoil the relief). But it isn’t Rosetti who takes revenge this episode. That honour goes to Richard Harrow, the horribly disfigured WW1 veteran who became Jimmy Darmody’s steadfast protector over the past two seasons. Harrow’s act of violence, committed on New Year’s Eve, aptly demonstrates that the ‘resolution’ of the title is not about closure, it’s about the making of vows and the settling of scores.