“You’d Be Surprised,” Sunday’s aptly titled episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” certainly proved to be true. We sure saw more of Gyp Rossetti than we ever expected, and other characters revealed more about themselves, though in far more demure fashion. This show is turning darker by the week—the unexpected is now the norm. And all of it makes for riveting viewing.
Although everything on the BE menu this Sunday was a winner, I have to begin with Eddie Cantor, memorably played by Stephen DeRosa. What a trooper. Here he is, leaned on by Nucky to breathe life into a dog of a show—a vanity project—and he sucks it up, lights up those banjo eyes, and goes out to entertain his public (though you have to ask yourself, if this show has an Irving Berlin score, how bad can it really be?). The best performances, however, were those turned in by Messrs. White and Pursley, whose minimalist approach could certainly teach a stage director or two.
And speaking of pros, I relished James Cromwell’s surprise appearance as Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. What a superb actor he is—how economically he conveyed the man’s distaste for enforcing a law he personally disagrees with, as well as the disgust he feels for Attorney General Daughtery and the futility of the Volsted Act. No wonder Jess Smith is sweating—between senatorial oversight and the scheming Gaston Means, he’s got a lot to worry about.
In other news, it’s evident that Nucky is going to suffer greatly over Billie, who has bad end written all over her. There’s so much Charles Foster Kane and Susan Alexander going on here. At best she’s a cute little flapper—a saucy ingenue, not a leading lady. Yet here’s Nucky bankrolling a show for her, something that even she doesn’t want him to do. There’s a dark side to her: the young lady seems awfully fond of the sauce even by Jazz Age standards, and there’s a lot she’s not telling Nucky. And after the failed attempt on Gyp Rosetti, she’s a great candidate for the crosshairs. I sense tragedy looming.
I’m of two minds about Margaret. The do-gooder side of her drove me up the wall last season and into the current one, but now that she has an antagonist in the censorial nun monitoring her classes (hard to believe it’s Rebecca Luker under that wimple), I’m beginning to like her again. Where her mess of a marriage will lead is anyone’s guess, but my money is on Dr. Mason. The introduction of his fiancée was so gratuitous I felt the anvil hitting my head on the way down.
On the business side of things, I have to say Rothstein is an incredible shrewdy. He has a palpable distaste for Nucky, yet he knows Nucky is still a better bet than Gyp Rosetti. Gyp may own Tabor Heights, its police force and gas station (not to mention the diner and every waitress in the place), and block any liquor armada at will, but Rothstein knows how crazy this man really is. He’s all-seeing. Given his prudishness about Nucky’s relationship with Billie, you can imagine how Rothstein feels about Gyp’s little autoerotic asphyxiation routine (and you can bet the ranch that Rothstein has made it his business to know). The execution scene, with teen-age Bugsy Siegel posing as a newsboy, was wonderfully operatic in scope, ending with that menacing Gyp glower as his men lay dead around him. Bravo.
But the biggest shock of the night came when Van Alden learned that his meek little Swedish wife swings a mean rolling pin (but what a gallant husband he is—“Avert your eyes”—as he delivers the coup de grace). Agent Coughlin, that poor Prohi, who evidently had no idea whatsoever that Van Alden was a rogue agent, lost his life just by standing up for his rights as a consumer. That’ll learn ya. Now he’s going to end up as fertilizer in Dion O’Bannion’s garden. Given Dion’s smile at Van Alden’s request for help, I suspect the latter won’t be peddling irons much longer.
I think this one may have just turned the season around.