Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “Sunday Best” (S3E7)

It’s Easter Sunday. A day of remembrance. A day of resurrection. But, who will rise from the dead and who will be buried forever? To answer that question, the writer’s of Boardwalk Empire present to you Four Dysfunctional Easter Dinners, or: The Most Biblical Episode of BE Ever.

Dinner #1-Nucky and Margaret go to Eli’s house

In what must have been an uncomfortable conversation for both men, Eli and Nucky are convinced by their wives to have Easter dinner together. Nucky, Margaret, Emily and Teddy (who may or may not have been carrying a switchblade in his Buster Browns) show up for a good old-fashioned egg hunt and talent show. (I’m Jewish, so forgive me for this next question: I know about Easter Egg hunts, but is there forced performance art on Easter as well? I thought you just had to wear a funky hat.) While the children hunt for eggs in the shrubbery, Eli beats around the bush with Nucky until he finally gets him alone in the workshop. When Eli asks for more responsibility and a better position, Nucky reminds Eli (now playing the role of Judas) of how he betrayed Nucky in ways that can never be forgiven. So, Eli tries to “kill himself” as Judas did by offering Nucky a gun. But, of course, St. Nucky forgives him.

Meanwhile, Margaret and June are getting all chummy in the kitchen over pineapple upside-down cake. Maggie feels so close to June that she confesses Nucky’s affair. June (playing the role of Polyanna) chooses to ignore that sordid talk and offers only a silent hand on Margaret’s shoulder in comfort. Then, we are treated to after-dinner theatre.

The opening act is one of Eli’s seventeen children who plays a little tune on a something that sounds like a theremin, which is used most often in…wait for it…ghost stories. Nucky headlines with a juggling trick, which leads to the awkward “I-didn’t-know-you-could-juggle” conversation between Nucky and Margaret. Clearly, Nucky can juggle women, which is what Margaret tries to get him to admit. But, Nucky brashly offers to teach her. Margaret says that it’s too late and if Nucky had been paying attention to her song about how “the boys can’t leave her alone,” he wouldn’t have been so cavalier.

In the end, Nucky calls Eli to tell him that he’s now co-manager of the warehouse operation with Doyle. After going through hell, Eli is born again.

Dinner #2-Richard and Tommy break bread with Archie Bunker

Richard is smitten with Julia Sagorsky and he brings young Tommy along on the date so Gillian can do other things (we’ll get to that later). Richard brings Julia a bouquet of lilies, which though appropriate at Easter are often given at funerals as well. Julia’s father, who has lost all faith (Doubting Thomas), mocks the pre-meal grace. He baits Richard and even Tommy with pointed questions about the war and why we raise young men as Christians and then send them off to die (martyrs).

Julia, in a gesture that was supposed to be kind, exiles Richard to the kitchen to eat his meal. Curiously, Richard’s pre-meal prayer is “to be ever mindful of the needs of others.” When he returns to the table, it is Tommy who sets the true action of the dinner in motion.

After using the upstairs bathroom, Tommy opens the door (rolls back the stone) from Julia’s brother’s room/shrine and lets his spirit free. When the old man finds Tommy in the room, he explodes in rage and after Richard threatens to kill him, retreats back into the room to spend the remainder of the day with his son’s ghost.

Then, Jesus, Joseph and Mary (Tommy, Richard and Julia) hit the boardwalk and walk among the freaks until they are immortalized in a picture. Richard, fast becoming Atlantic City’s pre-eminent scrap-booker, places it in his holy book of memories. Can I get an Amen?

Dinner #3-Gillian and Roger in a mini version of “Tales from the Crypt”

Who better to play Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday than Gillian? The original MM was both a prostitute and, get this, mother of James. (Look it up.) Gillian has not been able to come to terms with Jimmy’s death in the absence of his body. So, she decides to recreate his demise in her own way. (Credit to Mitch for predicting this last week.) After a little sex and ham, Roger wants to take Gillian like a sacrifice right there on the dining room table. But, Gillian wants him to take a bath, a ritual cleansing, before they have at it again. Like Mary Magdalene, she anoints Roger/Jimmy/Jesus in purifying oils. Unlike MM, she sticks him with about 20ccs of heroin. As he slips beneath the water, his last words resonate in the bath chamber. “Am I dreaming?” Unfortunately, no.

In one final creep-tastic gesture, Gillian drapes Jimmy’s dog tags over Roger’s lifeless head. With that completed, she finally admits out loud for the first time (to Richard, as it turns out), “My son is dead.” In 3 of the 4 gospels, Mary Magdalene is the first to witness the resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps Gillian thinks she will be the first as well.

Dinner #4-Dinner with the Rosetti’s

In a sterling balance of comic and tragic, we find the terrifying Gyp Rosetti in a cramped New York apartment meticulously primping for an Easter Dinner. But here, instead of being feared, he is the object of his mother and sister’s derision. They chide his clothes and his manners and even his manhood. Even though Gyp eats the marrow from the roast lamb, it is he who is being bled dry by these women.

Following dinner, Gyp engages in a classic “Why hast thou forsaken me?” monologue at the local parish. After getting no answers, he does what any supplicant would do. He knocks off the church to make up the difference in his weekly envelope to Joe Masseria. I could only smile when I thought about the episode of The Sopranos when Paulie Walnuts rolls an old lady in his mother’s nursing home to impress Tony with a fat envelope.

 “What did you do? Rob a bank?” asks Tony.

“Yeah, something like that,” replies Paulie.

So, Gyp takes the pennies and nickels from the collection plate and brings it to Masseria. But, here’s Gyp’s problem. Joe “The Boss” has had it with Rosetti’s cowboy act. When Joe gets up to leave and the dark shadows step forward, it looks like dog collar sales in the Manhattan area will be taking a significant dip. But, Gyp has his own resurrection act. He offers to kill all of Masseria’s enemies—The Irish Mob, The Jewish Mob and any Italians who run with The Jewish Mob (watch your back, Lucky). And what does he say?

“When I’m finished, they won’t call you Joe ‘The Boss.’ They’ll call you Joe ‘The King.’

The King of Kings, perhaps?

My sermon is over. Until next week, peace be with you.

- C. J. Kaplan

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Wow, I’m impressed with your religious knowledge (I never read the sequel). Not as impressed as I am with myself for predicting Roger’s fate, mind you, but impressed nonetheless. There’s not much that I can add to your distillation of the symbolism, so I’ll stick to the plot and over-arching themes.

This week we find the various factions inching closer and closer to war and yet peace temporarily breaks out. Rosetti continues to be a rabid dog, but at least he’s on Messeria’s short-leash. You would think it would be wise to get rid of Gyp after the Tabor Heights debacle, but it’s got to be pretty hard to turn down a sincere offer to have all of your enemies killed. So we’ve got the weakened Italian mob on one side and the uneasy Jewish-Irish alliance on the other side. Someone’s going to end up controlling both the liquor and the (lovely) heroin trade, but it won’t come easy.

And while it seems like we’ve largely transitioned from politicians to gangsters, we’ve still got the looming issue of Esther Randolph versus Attorney General Dougherty. It’s a reminder that the serious money is always taken with a pen instead of a gun.

Or perhaps with an iron, lest we forget the developments in Chicago, where Van Alden has unwittingly hooked up with the gang of Capone’s chief rival. Johnny Torrio isn’t going to be able to keep Little Al under control for much longer, and things are going to get messy in the Midwest.

But perhaps the most tragic wars are the emotional ones: Nucky and Margaret’s estrangement, Gillian’s loss, and Richard’s on-going attempts to convince himself that he’s deserving of a loving family and a normal life.

Poor Richard. Richard Harrow is perhaps the most fully realized character in the Boardwalk Empire universe and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that he’s one of the few characters not hamstrung by historical events. Richard is terrifying and tender. Unfailingly sincere (“I had a lovely time at dinner”), Richard can’t lie to others or himself. He recognizes both the sin and the potential for salvation in his soul. He’ll kill without hesitation but will remember each and every victim. Are we defined by our actions or our intentions? It’s a question that Richard openly struggles with but can easily be applied to every member of the Boardwalk Empire familia.

In closing, here’s my Halloween salute to Richard…

- Mitch Blum

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