Boardwalk Empire – Blue Bell Boy

by deerinthexenonarclights

Boardwalk Empire- Blue Bell Boy (Filthsposition)

This review is late enough that I’m arguably embarrassing myself by submitting it at all. But it’s just been a particularly busy week for me, and I feel like I owe it to myself to get this thing posted, better late than never. So then- Blue Bell Boy. Did it match last week’s masterful episode? No. However this was still a pretty darn good hour of TV. Where to start? Well, first things first, this is a show that simply must be watched in HD. Oh boy, is this a treat in HD.

The management of the ensemble cast is still being flawlessly done this season as far as I see it. I think having a satisfying episode of half the cast each week definitely beats the alternative of an unsatisfying episode with the full cast (the latter being particularly problematic back in Season 1). I’m fine with only seeing Van Alden every second week nowadays, for example. And I have no complaints of great characters like Chalky, Capone and Richard Harrow only existing on the fringes of the show. I don’t see the issue with every character only being a small part of the larger tapestry when just about every single character is just so damn good. Although I wouldn’t complain if they kill a few more characters off this season, for dramatic purposes and with the additional bonus of streamlining things a bit more.

The show is already more streamlined than it ever has been though. Some are calling it repetitive that so much of this season so far revolves around a single gas station. I don’t think so, although there are admittedly some contrivances involved with the use of Tabor Heights as a plot device. I’m not entirely sold on the idea that Nucky’s men NEED the station. That they couldn’t just buy barrels of gas in Atlantic City and take it with them on their journey, hence avoiding the station altogether (and the headaches and bloodshed that come with it). But I’m still finding the battle for control of the station to be a very compelling scenario, and it does unite a huge chunk of the cast who are all involved with that power struggle (Nucky, Rothstein and Gyp Rosetti being the three interested parties- and by extension everyone who works for them). I like the more direct focus on alcohol this season too. It felt like a bit of an afterthought at times in earlier seasons but here it is front and center, which is appropriate for a show set during Prohibition.

The tone of this episode was well-handled. It had moments of great darkness, but had a surprising amount of humour peppered throughout it as well. I chuckled a lot at this episode (One of many examples- “My wife always asks me how my days was. I tell her that one thing happened and then another thing happened, and that WAS the day”). But a tear also ran down my cheek at multiple other scenes in the episode (everything with Capone’s son, Nucky with Roland Smith, and the look on Eli’s face as he heard Gyp’s massacre in the distance). Sometimes I was chuckling while also sad at the same time (when we see the crazy Nun being ridiculous about what words can and can’t be used in Margaret’s health class). I just feel that the level of confidence and control has increased this season. From the pacing, to the tone, to the acting and cast management. Even the way that the depiction of violence is evolving from episode to episode to signify a world getting increasingly out of control. So far this season has been doing everything that the first half of a season of Boardwalk Empire should do, and it is doing it better than ever before. For me anyway.

The opening scene featured sex between Owen Slater and housemaid Katie. I can’t remember if these two have been together before. Which is no fault of the show, I haven’t seen Season 2 in a year and my memory just can’t retain all the details of any show after that long. Someone might be able to help me out with this one. It works either way of course. I’ve always felt that when a new season of a show is set a couple of years after the previous one, there usually aren’t enough differences within the lives of the characters that just go unexplained. I’d personally like the implication that interesting stuff was still happening in the months that we didn’t see, even though that sort of breaks the rules of TV-land in a way. I have a feeling though that the sexual relationship between this two is probably something that was already established which I’ve just forgotten though. That’s still okay.

Capone’s wife reminds me a bit of Karen Gillan who is in Doctor Who (well… used to be), although of course Capone’s wife is much less mindmeltingly hot. There can only be one Karen Gillan, of course.

Speaking of Capone, this had to be the best episode for him in the entire series. A lot of people like to complain about the vignettes in Boardwalk Empire that are unrelated to the main story arc. To me they just make the universe of the show feel richer and more immersive. I certainly have no issue when such subplots are as brilliantly done as this Capone one was, much like the Chalky vignette earlier this season. It would be too much to ask for everyone to be tied in to the A-plot. And I’d rather have a sprawling cast with these great tertiary characters who have their own awesome little moments now and then, than to not have half of this cast at all. They might get more ‘important’ scenes later in the season anyway.

Margaret is such a good character. She makes her subplot highly watchable, overcoming the inherent difficulty of making the central wife character palatable on a male-oriented show. This is an issue that has also been tackled by The Sopranos, Dexter, The Shield, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, with varying degrees of success. In the hands of a lesser character or actress, Boardwalk’s current subplot on female health care in a gangster show would just be a major pain. But here I’m finding it definitely just as good as everything else on the show.

Nucky works for me too. He turns off a LOTTA people. But to me his character is a bit of a miracle. He’s a paradox. I feel like I know him so well due to the strength of Buscemi’s acting, and yet at the same time the character is written to be so wonderfully enigmatic. Last week he was suffering guilt for his crimes, and yet this week he’s as ruthless as ever (which tied into the themes of the week about bullies, perceptions, reputations, and a half-dozen other things). And yet to me none of these shifts in behavior ever feel contradictory or out of character, they just make Nucky feel like a fully-formed individual. His level of distraction this season has also worked for me. It’s an unconventional and somewhat frustrating choice (I think deliberately so), but one that has become increasingly deftly-handled and adds more substance to the character. This is a show that prefers nuance to compulsive plot momentum, and I can dig that. Although I’ll sure we’ll eventually get the latter this season too, and that should be glorious when it comes.

The best character of this season remains Eli. He is so much more fascinating now than he has ever been. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t survive this season, there is definitely room to build to a tragic death for him. That could work brilliantly for a few reasons, the main of which being that he is sort of the heart and soul of this season in a way (at least of the male members of the cast) so he should arguably get the biggest climax (like Jimmy did last year). I predict Owen Slater and Lucky Luciano may also perish, if the show does go down the road of killing longtime characters this year.
Eli’s rivalry with Mickey is really fantastic. Mickey is a character who I found unnecessary in the first two seasons (although I always loved his incessant giggling), but Mickey has been a standout this year (then again, who hasn’t?). Mickey’s perception of himself as a badass versus the reality of himself as an idiot and a coward is great. That juxtaposition was always there but it is being more sharply focused on now, and the way that it relates to Eli has been terrific. I have a feeling that it will have a big payoff at some point later this season.

I’m glad that we have the subplot of the two thieves out of the way now. All of Nucky’s distractions have highlighted character in interesting ways, but now is about the time to move past them (unless the writing team prove me wrong). Roland Smith was a hell of a guest star though.

This episode didn’t quite blow me away as thoroughly as last week’s did, it just didn’t have the power of that hour. But this was still a well and truly solid hour of television. This remains firmly my favorite show currently on TV (amongst some other shows that are very entertaining indeed- although too different to compare this to on a more objective level). The world of Atlantic City is just too detailed and immersive for me to not be completely seduced by it. I’m a sucker for fully-realized universes like this (hell, it’s what got me through the much-inferior second season of Game of Thrones!).

I give Boardwalk Empire’s “Blue Bell Boy” an 8/10.

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