Walking the Atlantic City boards this week, David Chute is only mildly annoyed.
The show should be generating a lot more suspense, at this point, as Nucky Thompson’s enemies (a significant percentage of them driven by long-festering family resentments) move to choke off his sources of supply (with help from the Coast Guard) and chase off his customers (Jimmy’s buddy Al, in Chicago, may have helped out with this, although ambiguity remains).
The problem comes into focus when Stephen Graham’s peppy and oddly likable Capone visits the Boardwalk and gives the sluggish proceedings a temporary jolt of energy, like a visitor from the much livelier gangster movie that’s being shot on the soundstage across the street. When Nucky asks Al how his boss, Johnny Torio is handling the competition, the response, with a wolfish grin, is “We’re killin’ ‘em.” That’s’ the Chicago way. The Atlantic City way, as defined by Jimmy, is “a political coup,” a restorationist movement to put Jimmy’s sleazy dad, the Commodore, back on the throne. And it's a bit of a snooze.
When Al looks over at Jack Huston’s half-masked Richard Harrow, and with another of those grins suggests that “Frankenstein, here” could “drill a hole in [Nucky's] his noggin,” Harrow’s response -- “I won’t do that,” matter of fact and firm, in that wonderful damaged whisper -- is a sure fire conversation (and fun) stopper.
Apart from Nucky’s lobster-tossing tantrum at Babette’s, the central narrative line of the season -- the conspiracy and his response to it-- has consisted almost entirely of muted whiskey-sipping conferences in leathery dark rooms. All the best scenes in this episode focus on side issues.
Charlie Cox's Owen Slater choses sides and shows some swashbuckling flair in a nice scene that suggests he's being groomed to go head-to-head with Jimmy.
And there’s a terrific scene with Stephen DeRosa’s Eddie Cantor that hints at the professional standing Paz de la Huerta’s Lucy may once have had, before she opted for the cushy path and moved into the Ritz with Nucky. Now bulbously pregnant by Van Alden, and sequestered as a one-person baby farm to deliver to the agent and his wife the child they can’t have on their own, this character, who previously seemed either a vicious twit or simply a joke, is acquiring some real pathos.