Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “The Pony” (S3E8)

“The Push”

(Please note that CJ has decided to be all fancy and title these essays. Like Bork Bork, I will support my man no matter what…MB)

After last week’s deeply religious episode, this week’s installment of Boardwalk Empire delves into the dark recesses of the cast’s souls to see what happens when they get pushed to their limits. As is often the case when one is trapped or cornered, the animalistic impulses that are common to all of us rise to the surface.

Let’s start with our man Nucky. Having been threatened and slighted by Dougherty, Nucky will go to any length to bring down the AG. With the lukewarm support of Esther Randolph and the fake i.d.-wielding Means, Enoch poses as successful cattleman in order to approach Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon.

Side Note: Gaston Means is apparently a man who can get you whatever you need for a price. He’s like a 1923 cross between The Shawshank Redemption’s Red and Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Damone. I wouldn’t be surprised if he offers Nucky and Esther front row seats to Cheap Trick.

Secretary Mellon, as we learned at that seemingly random Congressional hearing a couple of weeks ago, hates both The Volstead Act and income tax. Today, this would make him a viable candidate for Governor of New Hampshire. On the show, it makes him the perfect target for Nucky’s little scheme. It seems that Mellon, who is the jelly to Andrew Carnegie’s peanut butter, has a brewery in Pennsylvania that has been lying fallow lo these many years of Prohibition. Nucky endures another round of being called a nobody by a public official and then uses Mellon’s brewery as leverage to get him to indict Jess Smith.

That accomplished, he heads back to New York City and beats the shit out of Billie’s actor friend because the guy called him “sir.” See, that’s what happens when you think you’re important and somebody who actually is important tells you that you’re not. You go and pound on the guy who really is less important than you. Then, badda-bing, you’re important again. All this fighting causes Billie to change her hair color, lose her earrings and revert to her given name. Just in time to get blown to smithereens. Looks like the role of Nucky Thompson’s showgirl mistress has roughly the same life expectancy as second in command on the Death Star.

In Margaret’s case, getting pushed to her limits drives her to seek out a two-for-one sale on diaphragms. Seriously, BE writers, are we just using the Margaret-Owen-Young Doctor storyline to goose female viewership? ‘cause I’m pretty much done with Maggie and her mewling fascination with Owen. Fuck her! Fuck her sanctimony! Fuck her women’s classes! Fuck her childhood stories! Fuck her driving lessons! And fuck the damn pony!

See, that’s what happens when I get pushed to my imaginary TV fandom limits. Let’s move on to more interesting characters.

Nelson Van Alden. I love this guy. I really do. The dichotomy between his overly proper, uptight demeanor and the insane amount of violence the he is capable of is intoxicating. And I don’t just mean that because he now has a still in his home. So, now he’s paying off his debt to O’Bannon by making a little homebrew on the stove. (How much whiskey do you have to make in order to be even for disposing a body? Two cases? Ten? Can somebody look this up?) He’s also become O’Bannon’s “muscle,” which basically means that he has to carry that heavy trunk full of steam irons around. One thing, though. Muscle guys aren’t supposed to know the date of the Vesuvius eruption and the subsequent burial of Pompeii.

And speaking of irons and eruptions, the least surprising explosion of the week was NVA getting pushed too far and martinizing that guy’s face. Of course, Sigrid saves the day (and another midnight run) by siphoning off some aqua vitae for her Norse countrymen and selling it in Cicero’s world-famous Little Scandanavia District.

I’m going to admit something to you here because I feel like we’re close. I have a bit of a crush on Sigrid. Now, I never had much luck with the blond/blue-eyed set. But, maybe after a few more years with the pasty Van Alden, Siggy might go for a swarthy dude like me. What do you think? Do I have a chance?

And finally, we come to Gillian.

“Do you have anything to say?” she asks Richard at the cremation of fake James. “You were his friend.”

“Jimmy deserved better,” he grunts.

And with that pithy retort, he at once displays his disdain for Gillian and honors his dead friend. Mr. Harrow, I am frankly in awe.

Even mutton chop guy gets in on the action when Gillian asks for an extra minute with the body.

“I think we’ve bid our adieus,” he sneers.

In other words, “Cut the crap, lady.”

Gillian, now able to secure a loan against the house, pushes Charlie out of the whorehouse business. However, Gillian gets pushed by Nucky in the ultimate powerplay.

“You only exist in Atlantic City because I allow you to.”

Nice.

So, Gillian does what any crazy lady, son humping, murderess would do. She calls in Gyp, who hardly needs to be pushed at all before he snaps, and tells him where Nucky and AR are going to be dining that evening. And, just like that, boom goes the dynamite.

Last, but not least, Big Al is making a push to take over now that Johnny T. seems fond of snowbirding in Italy.

It’s only a matter of time before push comes to shove.

Until next week.

- C.J. Kaplan

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“Acting & Acting Out”

This week’s episode finally saw a few of our favorite characters acting out…blowing off a little steam, if you will (sorry). We all knew that Nelson Van Alden would eventually snap, but who could have imagined such a gruesome scene? I guess this proves that the iron actually works quite well and that poor Treasury agent died in vain.   Bork Bork has easily locked up “wife of the year” honors with her calm demeanor and fragrant orange slices in the homebrew. And Nelson already has a new job acting as O’Bannon’s enforcer.

On the other side of town, Johnny Torrio comes home and Al gets nervous that he’s in trouble with the boss. After fearing for his life in the meat-packing district the happy truth is revealed: Ol’ Torrio is ready to retire and is confident with Al’s leadership. It looks like Al won’t suffer the same fate that befell Jimmy, another one of the Muppet Gangster Babies that wanted more power.

Nucky both acted and acted out plenty this week, first by feigning ignorance to Gillian over Jimmy’s death (setting in motion her Gyp-fueled revenge), secondly by pretending to be a cattleman in order to speak with Secretary Mellon (setting in motion his political revenge plan on Daugherty and Remus), and thirdly by beating up Billie’s actor friend for smirking and/or disrespecting sheiks. But his finest performance was still to come – giving Billie a lifetime annuity while seemingly setting her free, trying to convince her (and himself) that he’s really a good guy after all.

Of course, Nucky’s thespian skills ultimately saved him, AR and Lucky, as he humored an annoying acquaintance on the boardwalk and avoided the bomb at Babbette’s. Come to think of it, Masseria isn’t going to take Gyp’s failed assassination attempt well.

I’m totally on-board with Margaret’s attempt to turn her boring lectures into an underground planned parenthood, but where exactly is this relationship with Owen going? If they were smart they’d ride that pony back to the old country, because things won’t end well for them in AC.

One final interesting thing to note: both Nelson’s and Nucky’s victims ended up with bloody damage on the left side of their faces, in the same spot where Richard wears his mask. What, if anything, does this symbolize?

- Mitch Blum

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