Boardwalk Empire Review, Season 3, Episode 2, “Spaghetti and Coffee”
Directed by Howard Korder
Written by Alik Sakharov
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO
I knew this episode of Boardwalk Empire was in trouble before it even started and that was because of the length of the recap. We’re only two episodes into the season and our memories are not that short- we all know what happened last week. Having all the plot points hammered home at this stage is like being handed a map and compass one block from your house in case you have trouble finding your way home again.
The recap proved necessary. It was as though the writers got together and made a corporate decision along the lines of “let’s take all the plot strands we promisingly started in the premiere and dump them in favor of a whole lot of new and unrelated plot strands. While we’re at it, lets make sure that most of these new plot strands make no sense in terms of the characters or the overall story.”
OK, so I’m being a little unfair. But only a little. The narrative driving force is retained, but only just, by the efforts of Gyp Rosetti – spurned by Nucky in the premiere – to extract revenge. We were set up in the opening sequence last week to believe that Rosetti’s way of dealing with disappointment was…shall we say…physical. We were misled. Despite Bobby Cannavale exuding menace in the direction of several hapless bystanders, Rosetti resorts to using his brain to trump Nucky, positioning himself and his henchmen in the vicinity of the only gas station on the road between Atlantic City and New York. The showdown between Rosetti and Nucky’s crew, headed by Owen Sleater (the terminally charming Charlie Cox), for which we were carefully prepared, turned into a damp squib of Rosetti bellowing the line, “You got a gun! I got a gun! Everybody got guns!”, or words to that effect.
It sounds like the line the arch-villain produces at the midpoint of a Sylvester Stallone actioner but instead of falling over laughing, Sleater and the others flee in confusion, leaderless because Nucky, who would normally have seen Rosetti coming from a mile away, has been allowed, by the writers, to suffer some form of male menopause. He lolls around in bed with flapper Billie, saying stuff about how perfect life would be if business could just take care of itself and when he discovers that he’s not the only guy in Billie’s life, fails to implode into a stick of outraged chalk, as we expect, but tearfully rustles up a little hobo snack for her. Oh dear. This is not the Nucky we have come to know and love. Buscemi, whose underplaying is so lethal it can kill other actors at a hundred paces, even allows Stephen Root, as eccentric special investigator Gaston Means, to steal a scene from him with the lightness of touch normally associated with a pickpocket.
If Nucky is behaving like a wet blanket, his estranged wife Margaret is at least showing a little backbone. Her attempts to scale the monolith of male indifference that is the local Catholic hospital are interesting, but really only a sideline. I’ll admit to a frisson of curiosity during her showdown with Dr. Douglas Mason as to whether he’s next in line to succumb to her Irish charms, but actually, I’d much rather see her roll in the hay with Owen Sleater again.
After the meat of the episode, we’re also treated to the travails of Eli Thomson, Nucky’s brother, for some light relief. Once a plotter against his older sibling, Eli has been so thoroughly trounced by Nucky that he is now almost transparent. Shea Wigham manages to salvage enough dignity from the wreckage of the lines he is given to indicate that deep within Eli vengeance still lurks, but it’s not enough to generate much tension. The segment that really had me confused, however, is the one concerning Chalky White, Nucky’s bootlegger accomplice and lynch pin of the local black community. Having spent much of season 2 glowering at his wife for over-educating their kids, Chalky is now insisting his daughter Maybelle marry competent-but-dull doctor Samuel. How this volte-face is going to fit into the overall story-line has me baffled. I’m hoping next week all will be explained.