Kibbitzing about TV: Breaking Bad “Blood Money” (S5E9)

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has long described Breaking Bad as a show about the transformation of Mr. Chips into Scarface. The reality, however, is that Scarface was there the whole time, lurking underneath Mr. Chip’s mild-mannered exterior. The drivers of Walter White’s behavior – arrogance, bitterness and hubris – have clearly existed from the Grey Matter days. It’s the viewer’s perception of Walt that is changing, not Walt himself.

Of course, the Scarface transformation happened long ago. You can pick your cataclysmic moment: was it when he watched Jane die? When he set-up Hank? When he pulled the Godfather move on Mike’s guys? (Sorry about the dropped oranges, Carol.) So what’s left for the show after all of the chemical transformations have occurred?

Resolution. And that’s what made this season’s premiere so enjoyable. The cold open flash-forward picked up where last season’s premiere left off: with a bearded Mr. Lambert packing heat and returning to ABQ. We quickly learn that Walt has been exposed as Heisenberg, his family is gone and the end is near. We also get quick confirmation of the return of Walt’s cancer. Best of all, we get the long-awaited showdown between Hank and Walt, culminating in the most-satisfying punch since Lane Pryce decked Pete Campbell.

The transformation in the garage scene was perfect. First, “good guy” Walt checks in on his brother-in-law Hank. Then Heisenberg takes over and confronts Hank about the GPS tracker. After 5 years of Hank being portrayed as the more powerful man the camera angles suggest a shift in perspective as Walt literally towers over Hank and warns him to “tread lightly.” But the end is coming, as Skyler hoped and we all knew it must.

Jesse’s arc felt repetitive, as we’ve seen him wallow in guilt before (reminiscent of Don Draper’s déjà vu season 6 arc) but the question remains: does Jesse kill himself, kill Mr. White or finally find a way past his guilt and shame? Either way, he’s the best paperboy ever.

It’s going to be hard for Breaking Bad to live up to the hype and expectations for this final season, but we’re off to a fast start. Walter may mirror Gus’s fastidiousness when it comes to placing towels in front of commodes, but he certainly doesn’t exhibit the patience of the man with the box cutter.

Seven.

(That’s how many pies Chekov ate.)

Kibbitzing About TV: Mad Men Season 6: The Death of Don Draper

When I was in college I took a “Crime in American Film” class and wrote my final essay on The Godfather Part II. My thesis was simple: by ordering the death of his brother Fredo, Michael had committed spiritual suicide. He had turned his back on the path of light and was no longer the good man that Vito so desperately wanted to save.

I thought it was an interesting perspective but my professor disagreed and my brief career as a film critic went swimming with the fishes.

I was reminded of this episode after watching last night’s season 6 finale of Mad Men. As always, lots of crazy shit happened to everyone, but the most important thing to me was the death of Don Draper.

Now, obviously Don Draper didn’t die in a corporeal sense. But the lie of Don Draper was publicly laid bare during the Hershey’s pitch when Don committed personal and professional suicide and finally allowed little Dickie Whitman to emerge from the shadows and reclaim his primacy.

For six season we’ve watched as Dick would emerge at times of stress – going all the way back to when he wanted to run away with Rachel Mencken – and we always thought of Dick as the weak side of the cool, calm and collected Don persona.

In retrospect, Don was always the weak one – the false persona, the stolen identity that allowed Dick to overcome his shame of being a hobo raised in a whorehouse.

What Don finally realized – the result of hitting bottom, particularly with regard to Sally – is that he could never have a real life or real relationships until he accepted the truth of being Dick Whitman.

And so a season that seemingly ended in chaos actually represented a bright new beginning for Don/Dick and a host of other characters: some seeking the warmth of the California sun while others embracing the healing light of truth.

Going for The One: The Hidden Funk of the Grateful Dead

When people think about the Grateful Dead the last thing they think about is funk. Now, a real deadhead will point to Spring of ’77 tour as proof of funkiness, but the hidden connection between the Dead and funk is actually much stronger that a sweet Dancin’ jam.

It all comes down to “The One”, a concept invented by James Brown and executed by bassist Bootsy Collins:

“Bootsy’s bass fit perfectly as the new means for carrying the One, James Brown’s own pet name for the style of funk that found its emphasis on the one and the three beats—the upbeat rather than the downbeat, because “the upbeat,” as Brown once philosophized, “is rich, the downbeat is poor. Stepping up proud only happens on the aggressive ‘One,’ not the passive Two, and never on lowdown beat,” the four. Previously, the drums had instigated the One; now it was the bass.” [Source: The Faster Times]

Here’s a great video of Bootsy talking about “the One”.

So, what does that have to do with the good old GD? Let’s see what Jerry has to say about the One:

“Rhythmically, our policy is that the one is where you think it is. It’s kind of a Zen concept, but it really works well for us. It makes it possible to get into a phrase where I can change into little phrase spurts, spitting out little groups of notes that are attached fives-five in the space of four, or five in the space of two, is more common for me-and then turn that into a new pulse, where those fives become like a sixteenth note pulse. Then I’m inside of a whole irregularly rotating tempo in relation to what the rest of the band is playing, say, the original common time. It produces this ambiguity, but all I have to do is make a statement that says, “end of paragraph, and one,” and they all know where it is.” [Source: Gans, 'Conversations With the Dead', p. 67]

In other words, funk music starts on the one and Grateful Dead music uses the one as a home base during jams.

And that, my friends, is the hidden funk of the Grateful Dead.

Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart…

[Note: over the years I've reviewed quite a few shows by Phil & Bobby. If you're interested, you can read all GD related content here.]

In Defense of Next Food Network Star

I’m not a huge fan of reality TV. I’m not a huge fan of Alton Brown. In my TV repertoire, Food TV has exactly one role: to watch Guy Fieri late at night when I’m literally too lazy to change the channel with a remote.

I do, however, respect Food TV as a brand. Sure, they’ve put most of the real chef talent out to pasture (Mario, Emeril) but they’ve created a strong property with a sense of place. It reminds me of the Might Marvel Comics Bullpen of the 1970s – a space full of compelling personalities that really only exists in the consumers’ minds.

The reason why I like Next Food Network Star is because the judging criteria and feedback is incredibly valuable to anyone who presents in front of an audience for a living. People like me – your friendly neighborhood ad guy.

Alton, Bobby, Giada and the gang demand that the aspiring talent demonstrate perspective and authenticity, the two key ingredients for truly connecting with an audience.

Perspective is having something unique to say. It’s the ability to introduce new ideas or frame existing ideas is a new way. This is the value that is delivered.

Authenticity is delivering your perspective in a way that is true and real for you. Consumers can’t connect with fake personas no matter how well constructed they are.

it’s fascinating the watch the process of someone realizing their public voice. Let’s just hope that voice doesn’t sound like Paula Deen’s.

Damn Kids Today Don’t Respect Juice Enough

Nothing makes me crazier than when I see a kid (perhaps my own) take a giant cup and fill it to the brim with 44 ounces of orange juice. Don’t these kids realize that juice is a precious commodity? It isn’t called “liquid gold” for nothing, you know.

When I was a kid juice was a treat. On the rare occasion we were given a splash it would be served in a special glass – a juice glass – that was basically an over-sized shot glass. And it would cost at least $3.95 for the privilege. No one ever complained, however, because we knew how lucky we were just to taste the fruit of the branch.

I knew how hard juice was to extract because my grandparents in Florida had a hand juicer. And it would take 14 oranges, 20 minutes and a case of carpal tunnel just to get a thimble-full. Remember when people would bring those giant mesh bags of oranges home from vacation? That would produce maybe one glass of juice, if you were lucky.

Now kids’ll callously pour a year’s supply, take two sips and throw away the rest. If I see this about to happen I swoop in and rescue that juice like it was a puppy in a burning building, bellowing “DON’T WASTE THE PRECIOUS!” like some Semitic Smeagol.

My theory is that this is the unintended consequence of OJ Simpson’s stabby stabby episode. He didn’t just ruin his name, he ruined respect for juice.

Movie Review: Man of Steel

Our plan to see Star Trek was thwarted by technological issues so we settled on Man of Steel, a movie I had no real interest in seeing. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a hardcore comic book nerd with four long boxes of classic comics in storage, so I like superheroes just fine.

My issue was that they just released a shitty Superman reboot, but I guess the Brandon Routh version was 7 painful years ago. The trick with these endless reboots is that the ideas are tired so it all comes down to casting and execution. And this version was executed by Zack Snyder.

Zack Snyder, like Michael Bay, is the perfect director for 13 year old boys. Endless fight scenes linked together by a thin plot and perfunctory character development. The visuals were cool, especially the liquid metal type technology, but the movie was boring. I’m not saying that I want another emo Hulk movie from Ang Lee, but at least try to write something of substance.

Henry Cavill was a good Superman. I love Michael Shannon and he brought the crazy as always, but Zod was a cartoon. I love Amy Adams (for different reasons) but the relationship between her and Clark needed more set-up. And there were so many name actors stuffing the cast that it was distracting.

I guess the strongest recommendation I can give is that you should definitely see Man of Steel if the other movie you wanted to see doesn’t download.

Concert Review: The Black Crowes in Boston, MA, 4/11/13

Concert Review:

The Black Crowes
April 11, 2013
House of Blues
Boston, MA

The first time I saw The Black Crowes was in the fall of 1990 at a small barn in upstate New York called Saratoga Winners. Back then we didn’t know much about our favorite bands. You’d read the liner notes, catch a blurb in Circus magazine and maybe hear some dubious gossip from other fans.

Before that first show I only knew three things about the Crowes: the singer and guitar player were brothers; they covered a song by my favorite soul singer (Otis Redding); and they rocked. When I say “they rocked” I mean that they kicked my ass in a way wholly unlike any of the other musical options available at the time. On the airwaves we had terrible hair metal (pop/rock gussied up with self-indulgent guitar solos), the first strains of the grunge sound (a sludgy morass of punk/rock for depressives) and not much else.

Seemingly out of nowhere (or Atlanta, same difference to a northerner) came this band playing new music that sounded like the old music I loved. Some called it derivative. I called it a godsend. There was no one else at the time – including the classic rockers – making music that delivered that heady mix of blues, country and soul that I wanted.

That young band was a little sloppy, a little drunk and a hell of a lot of fun. They brought the energy and the crowd loved it. It was blues-rock with a danceable groove.

Here’s the funny thing about concerts – they haven’t changed all that much from the sock hops of the 1950s. The kids are just looking to shake their hips and have a good time. Even back in the ‘60s David Crosby and the Byrds realized that if they added a Beatle beat to a Dylan tune they could offer the best of both worlds – danceable music with real substance and meaning. Positive energy.

###

Consciousness awareness of a crowd’s energy is not a new thing. Jerry Garcia used to describe the feedback loop where the Dead would give energy to the crowd, the crowd would amplify and reflect that energy back to the band who would then feed off of that energy, elevating their performance to another level.

This feedback loop is so powerful that it can actually change the relationship between the crowd and the performer; instead of being a witness to the show you become a participant in the show. The show becomes a spiritual event. You live in the moment, lose yourself in the power of the sound and become one with the energy. Positive energy.

###

This brings us to Thursday night’s show at the House of Blues. Back from a three-year hiatus, the new-look Crowes reminded me very much of the original Crowes from 1990. You know, the Crowes that rocked hard, kicked ass, and kept the classic rock flame burning bright.

Returning to the stage are Chris Robinson (vocals, harp), Rich Robinson (guitar, vocals), Steve Gorman (drums), Sven Pipien (bass, vocals) and Adam MacDougall (keys), joined by newcomer Jackie Greene (guitar, vocals). Missing from the stage are former guitar player Luther Dickinson, percussionist Joe Magistro and the soul sisters. This is a leaner, meaner incarnation of the Crowes, in many ways reminding me of the late 1973 incarnation of the Dead sans Donna and Mickey.

From the opening strains of “Jealous Again” it was clear that we were going to get a high-energy, hits-laden set list. And while some long-time fans will complain, I say bring on, bring on. After 20+ years of refusing to play many of the songs that casual fans want to hear, it’s great that they’re finally delivering the hits.

Refusing to play your hits is not, in my mind, a sign of nobility or authenticity. I actually believe quite the opposite: it’s selfish to deny your fans the songs they love. Those songs are the precise reason why they love you. Every major act plays their hits. That’s part of the unspoken agreement between bands and fans – the fans listen to the stuff the bands want to play in exchange for getting the songs they want to hear.

And the thing about the Crowes is that they have a ton of great songs that people know and love.  In my group at the show we had the full spectrum of fans represented: from the diehards who have seen every tour, to the most casual of fans. Everyone loved the show and everyone knew just about every song played.

The effect this hit-heavy set list had on the crowd was obvious: they loved every minute of the performance. The energy was up all night – peak after peak. The room was on fire. The vibe was great. Everyone was singing, dancing and happy. What more could you ask for?

###

Chris Robinson sounds better than he has in years. No longer a rock and roll screamer, Chris has matured into a bona-fide soul singer. Contrary to popular belief he is not from the Otis school. Otis was more of a shouter. Chris’s phrasing is smooth – how he comes in and out of lines – and he reminds me of no less than O.V. Wright. It’s great to see Chris back in the front man role, smiling, dancing and blowing some mean harp.

Rich Robinson is beyond underrated as a guitar player. Whether laying down a heavy riff or delivering a stinging solo, Rich’s playing is fantastic. He’s the bedrock of the band. He has a gift for getting exactly the right sound for each song out of his instrument.

Steve Gorman is a monster behind the kit, as always. The ass kicking starts with his performance, drums you can feel as well as hear. Coupled with his partner-in-rhythm Sven Pipien, the bottom is heavy but it swings, the way it ought to be.

Adam MacDougall is one of the best – and most flexible – keyboards players around. While not featured quite as prominently as he is in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Adam can do it all. His solo on “Wiser Time” is a demonstration of his chops in action, as he goes from atonal jazz to slinky funk to space-like psychedelia in the span of five minutes.

Last but not least is the new guy, Jackie Greene. While still feeling out his new bandmates, especially in the transitions, his tone and feel are right on for the blues-rock Crowes. His tone is thick and substantial and his solos are full without crossing the line into the dreaded “shredder” territory. I can’t wait to hear where he’s at when he has 50 shows under his belt.

The nice thing about this slimmed-down version of the Crowes is their ability to pull-off multi-part harmonies between Chris, Rich, Sven and Jackie, negating the need for back-up singers (although creating the need for them to work up “And We Bid You Goodnight”).

###

Of the 19 songs played, 10 were from their first two albums – the ones that made them stars and established their image in the popular culture. They sprinkled all of their big hits throughout the show and filled out the set with lesser-known songs from the catalog and some covers.

As always, they managed to pick the right covers and elevate them to new heights. Their take on Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” was amazing, and somehow they pulled off the alchemic trick of weaving cheese into gold by inserting Deep Purple’s “Hush” into “Hard to Handle”. The closer “Oh Well” was great, very reminiscent of the 1999 version from the Jimmy Page era.

If I had to pick any nits, I’d recommend that they go back to the old arrangement of “My Morning Song”. The gospel thing is fun but this line-up would do justice to the classic version of the song. They also repeat the gospel breakdown in “Thorn in My Pride” so I’d keep those tunes separated.

I also love the idea of treating the encore as a mini-set for the diehards. Hopefully they’ll keep adding more deep cuts and obscure covers to close out the show.

###

I’ve seen a lot of Crowes shows over the years. I’ve certainly seen tighter performances. I’ve heard deeper cuts. I’ve dug into trippier jams. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a crowd more engaged and energetic, at least not since the very early days.

That’s the beauty and the magic of this iteration of the Crowes – they’re selflessly delivering a performance that is exactly what the audience needs and wants from them.  I think my brother said it best after the show, “if they played a set like that every night they’d be selling out across the street at Fenway”.

Positive energy.

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JEALOUS AGAIN
THICK N THIN
HOTEL ILLNESS
GOOD MORNING CAPTAIN
MEDICATED GOO
SISTER LUCK
WISER TIME
SHE TALKS TO ANGELS
MY MORNING SONG
HIGH HEAD BLUES
SOUL SINGING
THORN IN MY PRIDE
REMEDY
SOMETIMES SALVATION
HARD TO HANDLE -> HUSH
- encore -
HOW MUCH FOR YOUR WINGS
BRING ON BRING ON
OH WELL

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I’ve written a lot about The Black Crowes over the years. Click here to read more.

Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “Margate Sands” (S3E12)

“Now You Know What Time It Is”

After last week’s episode, I read an article about Boardwalk Empire by some hipster douchebag who claimed that he was finally being rewarded for sticking with BE through two “confusing” seasons. The hipster douchebag went on to say that Season 3 finally helped him process the things that happened previously. He decided, in typical hipster douchebag fashion, to go back and watch Seasons 1 and 2 now that he “understood” how to watch the show.

This told me two things:

1. They’re called “hipster douchebags” for a reason.

2. The ratings for BE are lower than they should because this generation of spoon-fed, soccer trophy-getting, chest-shaving, Dave Matthews-listening dimwits are too ADD to follow anything that doesn’t resolve itself completely within 60 minutes.

“It’s too hard to follow all these characters.” Wah-wah.

“I don’t know who is real and who is made up.” Boo-hoo.

“I can’t remember more than one plot line.” Sniffle.

The writers, directors and producers of BE are classic storytellers who aren’t afraid to let one plot line dangle for a couple of weeks only weave it back into the fabric of the main story when the time is right. Why is this so challenging for people? Are you so over-stimulated that you can’t bear to have something that engages you for longer than the average status update? Time to put down the tablet and pick up a book, people. Maybe the next generation will be a little more thoughtful.

And thus concludes today’s Old Guy Rant. Now back to the show.

There is always some measure of satisfaction in season finales. You can argue that it’s not enough from time to time, but you must admit that there’s always some.

As Mitch and I have been saying throughout the season, Gillian had to die. Her death, like her life, was just another in a series of unfortunate events. Yes, she had to be killed to free Tommy. Yes, it was fitting that she got a taste of her own needle at the end. Yes, it made sense that a pair of self-destructive people like Gillian and Gyp had to enter the Thunderdome as two and leave as one. But, was it satisfying? Ultimately, yes. Although in that satisfaction there was also a little bit of sadness. As a heroin-addled Gillian admits to Nucky in her dying breath, “Those men did some very bad things to me.” And, implicitly, “It was all your fault, Nucky.”

Both are sad and both are true. As a result, Gillian fought for something she never had even up until her death. Control of her own life.

As Gyp said, “Somebody’s always gotta lose.” And that somebody was always Gillian.

The season finale also gave us the long-awaited meeting between two of the show’s most dynamic and ruthless characters. Al Capone and Chalky White are constantly eclipsing everyone else who appears on the screen with them. So, it was only fitting that every interaction between the two of them became a pissing match.

Side Note: Speaking of pissing matches, there was a preponderance of people whipping out their dicks to pee all over something in this episode. Were these symbolic gestures as in “It’s time to lay our cards and our junk on the table?” Or was it more of a “I’ll show you whose boss in a canine, alpha male sort of way?” Either way, I think I’ll be careful where I step the next time I’m in Atlantic City.

Chalky and Capone and their respective armies are at constantly each other’s throats throughout the siege. And they were supposed to be on the same side. There’s so much tension that Nucky releases them against Masseria’s retreating motorcade. There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to this as Masseria’s men were no longer a threat and were merely on their way back to New York. It may have been a show of strength, but I think it was Nucky’s way of giving Chalky and Al somebody to kill besides each other. In fact, they part ways in grudging admiration of each other. Yeah, a little too pat for me.

Margaret’s denouement this season is almost as sad as Gillian’s. Her lover dead (and boxed), she heads to one of those secret doctors in New York a la Dr. Larch in The Cider House Rules to terminate her illegitimate pregnancy. Well-done by the writers to make it seem as though she were inquiring about a room to rent. That piece of misdirection made the scene far less maudlin than it could have been. I have been the most critical of Margaret’s character throughout the season, but it was moving to see her stand in the middle of the abortion clinic and admit “I’m lost.”

The internal struggle between her faith, her relationship with Nucky, her love affair with Owen and the well-being of her children as well as her position as the show’s moral compass have torn poor Margaret apart this season. So, I’ll admit to cheering a little when she turned down Nucky’s money at the end. It didn’t forgive everything she’s done, but it did make her a stronger player going forward.

Richard’s mission to spring Tommy was something that everyone saw coming. Yet, the actual act was so breathtaking that it still felt surprising. We know Richard is an expert marksman and we’ve seen him kill before, but he went full Rambo on the occupants of The Artemis Club. He killed them from near and far, from sneak attack to hand-to-hand combat. He plowed through that house like a howitzer. His coup-de-grace, the killing of the guy who had taken Tommy hostage, reminded me of that great scene in The Untouchables when Andy Garcia’s character catches the baby carriage at the bottom of the stairs and then kills the guy at the top of the stairs with one bullet. The shot of Richard and Tommy embracing through the splash of blood on the windowpane will, no doubt be studied by film students for years to come.

After handing Tommy off to Julia, Richard’s conversation with her father is touching. Mr. Sigorsky wants to help Richard work it out with Julia, but Richard knows that it’s over.

“He’s safe,” he says of Tommy. “That’s all that matters.”

As he walks down the Sigorsky’s front walk, Richard is exactly where he was when he met Jimmy two years ago.

Alone.

Damn.

Back in New York, Masseria and Rothstein’s little double cross on Lucky and Meyer leads to a circumstance where AR can bail out Nucky. I’m not sure what to think about AR playing Charlie like that. On the one hand, it shows Charlie that he can’t get around Rothstein. Ever. “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…” and all that. But, taking the heroin out of Lucky’s hands and putting it in Masseria’s seems like a zero sum game.

I’m pretty sure Masseria was already pulling away from Gyp after their little tete-a-tete at The Artemis. Joe “The Boss” knows that Gyp is does not have the control he believes he has. When Gyp can’t articulate his plans despite the loss of twelve of Masseria’s men, Joe checks his pocket watch and then adjusts the hands on the clock in Gyp’s office.

“Now you know what time it is,” smiles Joe.

And with that, Rosetti is effectively on his own. The fact that Nucky cuts a deal with AR to get Masseria’s men out of Atlantic City seems superfluous. In my opinion, they were already gone. What it does do is give Nucky the opportunity to stick Rothstein with the Overholt Distillery, which is about to come crashing down courtesy of Andrew Mellon, Gaston Means and the lovely Esther Randolph. For a guy who plays “a shot to nothing” in billiards and admonishes against rushing into any deal, Rothstein sure jumped all over the information that “Giggles” Doyle gave him. I find it a tad hard to believe that AR didn’t see some sort of trap there. But, it was a convenient way to close the loop on the Mellon-Jess Smith-George Remus-Harry Dougherty circle. Though I have a hunch that if Rothstein can beat the rap on fixing the World Series, he can squirm out of a connection to a distillery in the sticks of Pennsylvania.

And so we come to Gyp and Nucky. One of them has to die and we’re all pretty sure it won’t be Nucky. But, again, Nucky gets lucky. Just as Richard took out all of Nucky’s would-be assassins at The Artemis, he manages to leave one would-be hit man alive in the basement. Magically, this man appears as Gyp is about to deliver his soliloquy on the beach. Just as he gets to the second verse of “Barney Google,” the happy hit man turns him into shish kabob.

As far as mafia deaths go, it ain’t no assassination at the toll both and it sure ain’t no guns blazing, nose full of coke last stand at the top of a double staircase. As charismatic as Gyp was, that was a real punk ass way to go…with your dick in your hand pissing onto the Margate sands.

But, it does answer one question for us. Is Nucky still half a gangster? My answer is yes. If you want to run the show, you have to do more than give tourists withering looks on the boardwalk. You have to get your hands dirty. Nucky did that when he killed Jimmy. Using a surrogate to kill Rosetti was a pencil pusher’s way out.

So, what kind of power will Nucky have when we next meet him? And what of Van Alden and Capone and Chalky and Margaret and all the others who have passed through our lives for the past twelve weeks?

I am content to let their fates simmer until next season.

I just hope the hipster douchebags can stand the wait.

- C.J. Kaplan

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Once again, Boardwalk Empire concludes a season by weaving a masterful tapestry out of seemingly unrelated threads. In many ways this is the show’s core strength: juggling multiple characters, locations and plot lines and somehow getting them to intersect in an organic way for the conclusion.

This season we watched as Nucky’s ennui resulted in the loss of both his relationship to Margaret and the success of his business. Like CJ, I think it’s incredibly significant that the season concluded with Nucky ordering someone else to make the hit on Gyp Rosetti, as opposed to his decision to kill Jimmy with his own hands at the end of season 2. With Jimmy, it was personal and he needed to pull the trigger to prove that he was capable of being a killer. Of being a gangster. This season he learned the lesson that AR has been trying to teach all along – that it’s never personal, it’s always business.

Of course, it wasn’t hard to convince Tonino to stab Gyp in the back – he did have a strong personal motivation – revenge for his cousin’s death on the beach. Tim Van Patten did a wonderful job directing that scene, having Gyp gasping for breath, deliberately evoking his erotic asphyxiation scenes. Gyp died like he lived – greedily grasping and gasping.

On the other hand, I don’t think that Gillian is dead quite yet. Sure, she succumbed to quite a lot of lovely heroin, but the drug was meant to disable, not kill. Her scene in the hallway with Nucky was genius. Just like they successfully humanized that dummy Jimmy before his death, they reminded us that the evil black widow is just an abused little girl at heart. In one short scene we felt sympathy for a monster and were reminded of Nucky’s culpability in her sad state.

I suspect that Gillian will be back next season to look for her beloved Tommy. The tragic arc of Richard Harrow continues as once again he chooses virtue over personal happiness, rescuing the boy but sacrificing his last chance for humanity. How perfect was it that Mr. Sagorsky instantly recognized that Richard the soldier saved the boy, accomplishing what he couldn’t do for his own son. He invited Richard to come home, but understand why he couldn’t. Beautiful.

Richard’s massacre was perfectly shot – the best of the three violent set pieces (the war montage during the open and the Masseria massacre at the end were also well played) – and showed the interplay between violence (gangsterism) and persuasion (politicism). Nucky thought that he had to choose between being a politician or a gangster, but that was always a false dichotomy. Some of the big bosses win by the sword (Capone) and others will win by the pen (Rothstein). In the future Nucky will pave a third way – wielding both influence and violence, but exposing his hand in neither. That is the meaning of the final boardwalk scene and the abandonment of the carnation. Nucky the glad handler is dead, but so is Nucky the trigger-man.

But there’s still plenty of questions for next season: Gillian’s fate, Richard’s next move, Van Alden’s role in Capone’s organization, Daugherty’s political life, Margaret’s probable return, and the eventual show-down between Rothstein and Nucky.

Thus concludes another excellent season of a truly great show. And while I might not fully qualify as a hipster douchebag, I might re-watch these three seasons not because I have to, but because I want to.

Thanks for reading.

- Mitch Blum

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Kibbitzing About TV: Boardwalk Empire, “Two Imposters” (S3E11)

“Devotion”

It’s funny that they decided to call this episode “Two Imposters” when there were two characters that proved themselves to be true to the man who counts on them both. Eddie and Chalky have, in sunshine and rain, cast their lots with Nucky. And never was that loyalty tested more than it was this week when Nucky’s entire world came crashing down.

As Chalky says, “Sometimes you have to lose everything to find out what you really need.”

This may have been my favorite episode to date. It was lean, tightly written and unsentimental. Margaret and her bullshit soap opera storyline were sent packing along with the children and other non-essential personnel. What remained were two generals (one with an actual general’s hat), one battlefield and no middle ground. If someone had just put a bullet in the back of Gillian’s head, I would have felt complete. But, we’ll get to that.

Gyp, at the apex of his power, goes on a full offensive—attacking a trapped and friendless Nucky from all sides. Why he didn’t just lay siege to the Ritz-Carlton and eliminate any chance of Nucky escaping, I’m not sure. Instead, Rosetti sent three nobodies to take out Thompson while Gyp introduced himself to the locals. What kind of general does that? In a war like this, you need to take out the other leader yourself and then stick his head on a pike and march it around town. Show the world who’s in charge now.

“The king is dead. Long live the king!”

But, Nucky has the wherewithal to take out two of the nameless assassins and then finally eliminate the third gunman after a game of Knock-Knock-Who’s-There? Of course, this small victory comes with a huge price. Eddie Kessler takes a bullet for Nucky, as we always knew he would.

As Nucky and Eddie limp toward Chalky’s place, Eddie begins to babble in German. What we learn later is that he is repeating the opening stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” a poem that along with Tennyson’s “Ulysses” makes every tweed-elbowed English professor weak in the knees.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:

Those are the lines Eddie keeps repeating, but it is the last stanza (which he never gets to) that shows how Kessler really feels about Nucky.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

We’ve seen Kessler dress Nucky, tie his shoes and even spoon-feed him. He has performed these functions not as a servant waits on an employer, but rather as a father dotes on a son. And, if we know one thing about Boardwalk Empire, it’s that when you strip away everything, this show is about one thing and one thing only:

The relationship between fathers and sons.

So, Eddie sees Nucky as a son. But, how does Nucky view Eddie? How telling is it that Nucky doesn’t even know where Eddie lives or if he has a family? Like a child who believes that his teacher lives in the classroom at school, Nucky seems to feel that Kessler exists only in Nucky’s limited world.

And, for me, that makes Nucky Imposter #1.

On to Chalky’s house where Mr. White has a decision to make. With Nucky and a wounded Eddie helpless in the back shed with Chalky’s would-be son-in-law and Gyp at the front door with 25K and an open hand, Chalky could easily have lifted the latch and stepped aside. With the way Nucky has treated him recently and in the past, nobody would have blamed him. But, Chalky stands his ground. He stiff arms Gyp and runs an end around with Nucky, sneaking him out the back door to the safety of young Will’s place of employment. Chalky is offered money at several points during the episode, by both Gyp and Nucky, but money is not the reason for his unwavering support. He’s pledged his loyalty to Nucky and his word is the sum of his net worth. Chalky is worth a million.

So, who is the other imposter? Is it Lucky? Maybe. As poorly as he played that drug deal, it may be. Seriously, haven’t gangsters learned by now that anytime somebody says they’re from Buffalo they’re either a cop or a government agent? I mean, how many times does this have to happen? Now, Charlie was an easy mark. Even as Meyer is realizing that Rothstein was right to wait on the drug trade, Charlie Looch is going off half-cocked to do a deal on a rooftop with two guys he’s never met. No wonder his nickname is Lucky. There’s no way he ever would have gotten as far as he did on the strength of his brains.

Is the other imposter Gillian? Hard to say. We’ve never really known who the real Gillian is. She’s so damaged and twisted that it’s impossible to know if the rational part of her mind even exists or if it checked out long ago. Her treatment of Richard is despicable, but not out of character. The one good part of Gyp occupying her bordello is that she’s forced to allow people to have sex in the parlor. This eliminates her fantasy that she’s running a health club and not a whorehouse. Now that Richard is effectively a soldier of fortune, we can expect some sort of resolution to the Richard-Julia-Gillian-Tommy imbroglio very soon.

No, I suspect that identity of Imposter #2 is revealed in the episode’s spectacular final scene. Nucky finally gets help thanks to a big assist from Eli (another guy who stepped up and showed his loyalty). Al Capone rides into town like a man on a white horse or, in his case, a black sedan.

“We’ve been on the road for 18 hours,” says Capone. “I need a bath, some grub and then we’ll talk about who dies.”

There, my friends, is the real deal. Not half a gangster. Not a sex-crazed megalomaniac. Just a straight-up, badass commander-in-chief.

Which means that Imposter #2 is Gyp Rosetti.

So, it turns out that the Two Imposters are the opposing generals. Seems fitting to me. After all, haven’t we learned time and time again that all generals are imposters in one way or another?

Until next week.

- CJ Kaplan

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While I almost always agree with my esteemed colleague from Needham, this time I think he’s shooting too low. Yes, on the surface level Boardwalk Empire is about the relationships between fathers and sons. Whether we’re talking about Nucky & Eddie or Richard & Tommy or Al & Johnny almost all of the relationships between male characters have a paternalistic element to them. But I think the show is really about the BIG father-son dynamic in the world: the relationship between God and Man, or more specifically, the relationship between righteousness and actions. Can a good man do bad things?

That’s why Margaret is such an important – albeit annoying – character on the show and why I know she’ll be back: she personifies the struggle between right and wrong. Her conscience and her desires are constantly at war. She desires, she sins, she repents, she forgives, she rinses and repeats.

In season 1 we watched Nucky metamorphasize from politician to gangster. His struggle was to try to hold onto his innate sense of self as a good person while committing increasingly bad acts. And while it’s never easy to squeeze a camel through the eye of the needle he somehow pulls it off: Nucky becomes half a gangster while still trying to be half a mensch.

In season 2 the balancing act can no longer be sustained, as brother turns on brother, father turns on son and commandments are broken like so many bottles of bathtub booze. The sins of the fathers and the sins of the sons have a much higher cost. Margaret quite literally tries to buy penance by gifting the blood money to the Church. Nucky’s payment is somewhat higher: his soul. Pulling the trigger on Jimmy turned him into a bad ass, and a bad man.

This season has seen our characters reveling in the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride. They’re sinners who deserve their gruesome fates, seemingly beyond redemption. And yet all is not lost for Nucky. Eli’s forgiveness, Eddie’s love and Chalky’s loyalty are giving him a glimmer of hope in the face of all that he’s lost.

My predictions for the finale:

Death for Gyp & Gillian.

Redemption for Nucky.

Humility for Meyer.

Victory for Arnold & Al.

Jail for Lucky & Daugherty.

Peace for Richard & Tommy.

Booze for all.

Giggles for Mickey Doyle.

- Mitch Blum

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