New Faces and Old on ‘Boardwalk’

boardwalk-empire2Old faces returned to “Boardwalk Empire” Sunday, from Nucky’s brother Eli, in his own kind of exile, working for Van Alden under Capone; and Gretchen Mol’s Gillian, not seen since she was nabbed for murder, to Eli’s fresh faced son Willie, now out of law school and looking for a prosecutor’s job.

But it was also an episode that unveiled some prominent historical figures who would make their mark, from Elliott Ness to Joseph Kennedy.

It’s Ness, played by Jim True-Frost from “The Wire,” who is behind a huge raid in Chicago in which a lot of whiskey and $20,000 is seized from a Chicago warehouse that was supposed to be under the eye of Eli. The episode actually begins with Eli’s bloodshot, barely focusing eye, recalling a swirl of booze and broads as he lies passed out on a floor above the warehouse. When he wakes up, he gets out of there, but learns that Capone intends him to have Eli — and his gruff, ever robotic overseer Van Alden — to come up with the $20K lost.

When they decide to “rob Peter to pay Paul” by lifting the money by gunpoint from another Capone operative, it all goes wrong and they have to kill the guys. Only later do we learn that Mike D’Angelo, Capone’s new right hand man, played by Louis Cancelmi, is also a G-man.

Mob configurations on the East Coast take up a lot of the episode, with Nucky still rattled over his attack in Cuba shortly after running across Meyer Lansky there. He meets Johnny Torrio, who has gotten out of the racket in Chicago and moved back to New York after getting the message from some violence there last season. He suggests Nucky take the hint as well.  But no, he isn’t going down like that.

Instead, with that strange Cuban guy now his No. 2 guy after saving him last week, he tries to find out exactly what the mob machinations in New York are. New No. 1 boss Salvatore Maranzano seems sincere in saying he has not beef with Nucky, but Lansky and Luciano are seen as plotting against both Maranzano and Nucky. Tonio Sandrelli, who’s been working with Lansky and Co., is persuaded to tell Nucky what’s up because he doesn’t like those guys, but Nucky sends a message by dropping off Snadrelli’s body, with a piece of Cuban money affixed to him by a fatal knife in his back at one of their houses of pleasure.

It looks like much of the final season will be taken by mob infighting, or more than usual.

The bit with Gillian is neatly done, as we first see her in a tub surrounded by women in their own tubs, as if they’re in a spa. But it slowly becomes clear they’re in an asylum and that Gillian has to trade sexual favors to make her own deals, in this case for pen and paper. I wonder who she’s going to write to.

Willie Thompson applies to be a prosecutor, but the job interview doesn’t go well when it’s clear when he admits Nucky’s his uncle. “You can’t help who you’re related to,” he shrugs.

Nucky is trying to go straight, though. He meets with a group of financiers in New York to get his liquor import business some solid backing once prohibition is lifted. But they treat him as a cheap criminal as well, all but one confident man from Boston with a brogue and, it turns out, his own coming political dynasty when he’s finally identified as Joe Kennedy.

The flashback to Nucky’s childhood that highlighted last week’s season premiere, return again this week and are likely to continue throughout the season. By now his sickly sister has died, and when the Commodore comes around to pay his respect (literally, with some money), Nucky’s angry father orders him off the place.

“Think you can buy me twice?” the old man says.

“It was a fair deal, Ethan,” the Commodore says, presumably referring to a boardwalk land deal that would have meant a fortune for the Thompsons. “Nobody forced you to sell that land.”

Next week, Kennedy comes down to visit Nucky in Atlantic City, and Lucky and Lansky go up to Harlem to visit yet another previously missing character, Jeffrey Wright’s Dr. Narcisse.

 

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