opening episode of “Boardwalk Empire” Season 3, was like the sleepy morning after awakening from the violent and explosive ending of Season 2, the unremarkable episode two of Season 3, “Spaghetti And Coffee,” was still in rebuilding mode; slowly setting up the events that will expand and surely boil over in this third season.
The ramifications of Season 2 are still bleeding into this latest season. Atlantic City Kingpin Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) married his mistress Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald) to prevent her from testifying against him, but having already betrayed their joint idea of a clean slate, their marriage is already on the rocks; her act of defiance being signing over his lucrative highway deed to the church. And with Thompson having taken bloody revenge on Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) for his role in the political coup d'etat against him, retaliation is still unfinished business. But the latter element will have to have to wait for some time.
Meanwhile, the central purpose of “Spaghetti And Coffee,” or at least its central story, is demonstrating the growing rift between Nucky and Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), the hot-headed and violent Sicilian gangster introduced in episode one. If anything was re-established with Nucky’s return to power it was that order must reign, the rules must be respected and Atlantic City’s kingpin decides the pecking order of business and who eats and profits first.
But loose-cannon Rosetti, who takes everything personally as a sign of some kind of disrespect, seems hellbent on testing Nucky’s power. In the episode’s most engaging storyline, the easily insulted Rosetti wisens up to the achilles heel in Nucky’s operation -- a pit stop in Tabor Heights -- the last gas station before the Jersey shore and Manhattan. And in a ballsy show of power, Rosetti’s men stop of a shipment of Nucky’s booze to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) mainly just as a signal to Nucky that Rosetti can and will mess with the order of things if he so pleases.
Elsewhere in the episode is the introduction to Stephen Root’s new character, Gaston Means, an ex-murder suspect who is now a Special Investigator for the United States Department of Justice under Attorney General Harry Daugherty (Christopher McDonald). A mysterious southern gentleman, and corrupt as the rest of them, Means wants to do his business anonymously, but Nucky isn’t having anything to do with Means’ bribery scheme of throwing large sums of hush money into an empty fishbowl without a face to face. Means is also paid off by attorney and bootlegger George Reemus (Glenn Fleshler) and knows who Nucky is meeting with later in the day, much to Nucky’s annoyance. How Means will fit into the rest of the season remains to be seen, but surely this isn’t the last of his presence.
Looking gaunt and thin, apparently two years has passed since Jimmy Darmody’s death (and or the former Sheriff of Atlantic City had his sentence was reduced on good behavior), because Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), having served a jail sentence for murder, is now a free man. But Nucky, who gave Eli a second chance by letting him live (and agreeing to admit to the aforementioned murder charge as penance for conspiring against him), isn’t there to greet his younger brother. Instead, it’s weasely bootlegger Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks) who is essentially now Eli’s boss. Eli blanches at the thought immediately, but when he realizes there is no one else to pick him up and that he has to start over and this is his only opportunity, Eli acquiesces.
Meanwhile, Margaret, still recovering from her grief over her polio-stricken child Emily, channels her energy into the hospital that she and Nucky have become financial patrons of. But trying to play do-gooder isn’t as easy for Margaret as she hoped and she finds herself receiving opposition from both the hospital and the patients she's trying to help. But an obstinate sparkplug, it seems Margaret won’t stop until she gets her own way. Meanwhile, her and Nucky’s enforcer Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) are still dancing around their past; an affair that Nucky is unaware of.
While chess moves were made, specifically and most dramatically in Rosetti’s powerplay in Tabor Heights, as usual, “Boardwalk Empire” is content to move at a patient gait. A wise move in the end, but “Spaghetti & Coffee” is the type of slow-moving episode that you immediately jump to the next episode if you’re watching on DVD. [B-]
Bits and pieces:
- A showdown seems to be brewing between Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and his eldest daughter, Maybelle White (Christina Jackson). Her suitor, the well-respected and educated Samuel Crawford (Ty Michael Robinson) is itching for her hand in marriage, but Maybelle isn’t ready and isn’t so sure she’s in love with the mild-mannered Samuel. But Chalky is seeing things otherwise, telling her that she should be jumping at the chance to marry this promising young man -- who can provide her a life most gangsters cannot -- and when push comes to shove it appears as if she’s going to lose.
-- Played by Erik LaRay Harvey, Dunn Purnsley, Chalky White's ex-adversary and now new right hand man, may not have a lot to do right now, but the toothy and hot-headed character (and actor) is always electric on the screen. Later in the episode when Maybelle makes an ill-advised decision and invites Samuel to her father’s seedy club, the young doctor-in-training gets his face slashed by a patron. Purnsley, understanding the magnitude of what Samuel means to Chalky, pummels the hood who cut Samuel with fierce brutality. We’re hoping somewhere down the road, Purnsley, a career-criminal from Baltimore, gets a chewier storyline.
-- Nucky’s jealousy is starting to show with his latest mistress Miss Billie Kent (Meg Steedle). While they have a don’t ask don’t tell policy, Nucky is immediately irked at the appearance of a man’s shaving razor in her medicine cabinet. Later in the episode, when he visits Arnold Rothstein on business, he asks him to fix the radiators in his mistresses’ apartment; the reasons of which are immediately transparent to the canny New York businessman. The purpose of Nucky’s visit is to glean info about Gaston Means, but as Rothstein says, “the protection is valuable and the cost is insignificant overall.” Rothstein, on the other hand, is still trying to find out who killed their business partner Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe) and takes some pleasure in ribbing Nucky for being ever so off his game with a delivery calendar mishap.
- Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), now living as George Mueller in Chicago as a door to door salesman, is the butt of jokes at his work, but otherwise his storyline isn’t going very far at the moment.
- With Eli’s eldest son Will now old enough to work, some kind of standoff seems to be imminent between the father and his son, now distant and aloof since Eli's jail stint. Eli is shown in the episode building a plane that he sent to Will as a birthday present two years ago. The present had been gathering dust, unopened. A highlight of the episode is Shea Whigham himself, who has lost a significant amount of weight since last season to portray a man jailed for two years, and the physical transformation is emotionally affecting as well. Eli is now working for Mickey Doyle and helping run the booze that Gyp Rosetti stymies. And while now a lower-level worker, it appears that Eli’s past history as a Sheriff still makes him much more valuable than the average thug.
-- Nucky cooks his mistress Billie bacon and eggs and talks about how he used to cook for his siblings. This dish will be a theme that echoes throughout the season.