The season openers of returning shows often deflate the spirit. There’s always a lot of hype, and rebuilding momentum is tricky. This is especially so when there’s been a major game change, such as the elimination of a leading character. So I had my fingers crossed when “Boardwalk Empire” aired its third season opener on Sunday. I saw, I mulled it over, I rolled it around in my brain a bit.
I’m here to report that “Boardwalk Empire” is definitely back.
What a brew we’ve got going now. Nucky has a new antagonist in Gyp Rossetti, who, after beating a poor schlub to death with a tire iron, steals his cute wire-haired terrier and later manages to insult every gangster attendee at Nucky’s basement pow-wow (I loved when he called Nucky “a breadstick in a bow tie.” Very descriptive). Gyp is pure id, but at least he’s an equal opportunity ethnic slurrer, even in the face of Arnold Rothstein’s put-down smirk (Michael Stuhlbarg, will you marry me?). What a set of conflicting impulses—at least he gave the pooch to Margaret for the kids, because God knows what he would have done with it otherwise.
Nucky and Margaret. Verrrry interrresting, as Arte Johnson used to say. I wasn’t at all surprised he has a new mistress, but it seems he and Margaret aren’t even living under the same roof anymore, at least not full-time, since he appears to have moved back into the Ritz-Carlton. And Lillian “Billie” Kent, the new gal in town, is going to be fun to watch. She’s got that great flapper look, and she knows which end is up—she’s no Lucy Danziger. By the way, I loved the “Old King Tut” number that she and Eddie Cantor performed at the New Year’s Eve party (choreography by Broadway veteran Patricia Burch). Tut-mania was definitely in full swing after the 1922 discovery of his tomb, and would be influencing pop culture well into the next decade.
The plots this episode managed to set spinning are absolutely tantalizing. I’m so glad we’re seeing Dion O’Bannion taking on Al Capone, and even looking to become Van Alden’s boss. Talk about a sales career doomed to failure: how would you feel if you saw Nelson’s kisser on your doorstep? Shudder. Nucky will soon have problems on a number of fronts in addition to Gyp Rossetti, what with his Washington connection, Harry Daugherty, about to go down for Teapot Dome, and his top money-maker, Manny Horvitz, wiped out by an avenging Richard Harrow. I can’t see Nucky putting Mickey Doyle in charge of his booze business—maybe Chalky White or even Eli?
And lest we forget: Gillian and Richard. Now there’s a combination guaranteed not to end well. Granted, her high-class bordello, in the Commodore’s old mansion no less, would need a bouncer, but this arrangement raises more questions than it provides answers. The business is evidently owned in Jimmy’s name since that’s how she’s signing checks, but does she honestly think he’s still alive, or is this just a fiction to help her run things? At least she’s paid for Richard’s new mask—no more doggy teeth marks from his suicidal visit to the woods—but we’re already aware that the price may be too high. Despite her not-so-veiled threat, he’s not going to forget Angela and you wonder how much Jimmy filled him in about life with Momma. The ending will rival grand opera, I’m sure.
Once again, the show-runners got all the little things right: the crystal set Chez Thompson, the heroics of fictional aviatrix Carrie Duncan, the New Year’s Eve return of the same little people who wanted more pay to work as leprechauns at the St. Paddy’s gala in Season 1. The continuity is excellent: Angela’s haunting portrait, shown by Richard to Tommy, is the same one she was hanging when she asked him to pose for her in Season 2. And every sighting of George Remus, he of the third-person reference, makes me giggle like mad.
I was not disappointed in the slightest.