“Boardwalk Empire” Recap: Nucky learns he’s a “breadstick in a bowtie”

“Boardwalk Empire” kicks off season 3 on New Year Eve 1922; sixteen months after Nucky murdered Jimmy. He has to live with his actions and now there’s no going back. “You cannot be half a gangster,” so we’re going to see a transformation of Steve Buscemi’s character. Nucky will head down that tunnel to become a vicious full-fledged gangster. Since he doesn’t believe in God, he feels he’s prepared for the role. So tonight Nucky makes his New Year’s resolution, but it doesn’t sit well with Gyp Rosetti, a touchy gangster with a thirst for bootleg whiskey. Nucky learn’s, he’s a “breadstick in a bowtie,” but I’m moving ahead of myself; lets start from the beginning.

“Resolution” was a bit of a clever misnomer. This season begins with a new set of troubles created by last season’s resolutions. This premiere was just a jump-off point for what is sure to be another explosive year.

The episode opened with someone I didn’t recognize and his goons, presumably a new gangster in town, fixing a bum tire on the side of the road in Tabor Heights, NJ. Ah, the Jersey Shore. Before there was a JWoww, there were gangsters beating innocent old men to death with tire irons and stealing their dogs. Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) seems like a peach!

Soon after, we journeyed to a dank looking apartment to the tune of a cheery soundtrack, only to find Nucky, Mickey (Paul Sparks), Owen (Charlie Cox), and Manny (William Forsythe) questioning a common booze thief. Doyle left the warehouse unattended while he went #2 in the outhouse. Nucky seemed more upset with Doyle, that half-wit, but ordered the thief killed anyway. “Certain people you do not steal from.”

Later, it became clear that much of the episode would center around finding this thief’s accomplice, Roland Smith, who’d been hiding out somewhere in Manny’s territory. Manny, who Nucky had saved from an embarrassing existence as a broke gangster lurking in the shadows of what I believe was a synagogue, had been looking to rise in the ranks. Nucky put a target on Roland and ordered Manny to make the kill on New Year’s Eve. Manny’s response went something like, “But I have to party!” to which “Crazy Eyes” replied something like, “You’re actually friends with Mickey Doyle?” Manny accepted in exchange for the promise of his own booze distillery. He’ll make Nucky richer which obviously spells trouble.

Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) spent the episode putting on her best “philanthropist’s wife” dog and pony show. First, we saw her organizing an Ancient Egyptian-themed New Year’s party to beat the band. Did you know “Auld Lang Syne” means “Long long ago”? Memories of seasons past. R.I.P, James!

Later, she visited the Enoch and Margaret Thompson Pediatric Hospital. You know, the one made possible by all of her generous donations to the church. Wow, did Margaret actually get away with stealing Nucky’s land and donating it all to the church? Absolutely not, but we didn’t learn that until later. While touring the facility, Margaret witnessed a miscarriage with her own eyes (Yuk), it wasn’t pretty.

One of the doctors on hand scolded Margaret for being on the board and not insisting on proper prenatal education.

That awful Gillian (Gretchen Mol) has kept busy since her son was murdered in cold blood. She’s been busy investing his money in what seems to be a high-class hooker service. One of those vivacious young ladies seemed to take a hint of a liking to the ultimate war hero, Richard Harrow, who is thankfully still lurking about. Someone has to properly raise a kid on this show! Who cares if it’s not his! Richard took little Tommy down to the carnival games and put on quite a show at the shooting range there. “And the crowd goes wild! Now leave,” said the game owner. On the way home, Tommy let it slip that Gillian has been convincing him that she is her mother. What a freak show she turned out to be, huh? Richard Harrow was having none of this. He took Tommy home to look at Angela Darmody’s, his friend’s, artwork. Gillian wasn’t too happy about this. She threatened to kick Richard out of the house if he continued to bother Tommy with something as unimportant as the memory of his parents who have been dead a good couple of weeks.

Gillian: “I’m your mother now. Remember?”

Things aren’t looking so good for all of Nucky’s higher connections post-trial. Harry Daugherty (Christopher McDonald) is struggling to keep things together in Washington as the press goes crazy over, say, a roadside shooting. Nucky seems to be the only one sitting tight, in fact. It’s all as simple as alcohol to the highest bidder for him.

Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham) ended up in intertwined story arcs in this episode. Nelson has been making a living as a door to door salesman in order to support his two children. At least, I believe he alluded to two children. I’m assuming he has a boy with his first baby’s former nanny. They’re building a new life away from the illegal alcohol trade. No more bootlegging or Nucky Thompson for this guy! That is, until he accidentally saved a rival of Capone’s from certain death. Dean-O, as they referred to him, had been crossing into Capone’s team’s territory and playing dumb about it. He also made a few unfortunate cracks about Capone’s deaf son. Al out-punned him for sure this week. I’m looking forward to seeing this feud bubble over with Van Alden in the center.

Dean: “You have mozzarella in your ears? Ha!”

Harrow let out all of his pent up “Gillian stress” go in the form of a bullet lodged into Manny’s head. Now, they’re going to have to find someone new to kill that thief Roland. Manny never got around to doing it himself. Redemption for Jimmy and Angela! See, someone remembers you two! That felt like a great victory for Richard, who is sure to play a larger role this season.

Margaret threw a mean party to welcome in 1923. At one point, they even gave out real diamonds as party favors! Unfortunately, it was served with a side of crooked dealings and bad singing. Billie Kent (Meg Steedle) had to throw back a few glasses of champagne before she was ready to perform with Eddie Cantor. It didn’t seem like what she did required any skill at all, though. She should try out for X Factor! Margaret ran into one of the doctors from the center there and thought she’d bring up the idea of educating female patients on their bodies. The doctor was flabbergasted by the audacity of this woman. How dare she allude to negligence after merely witnessing an absolutely preventable miscarriage due to E. coli! Nucky intervened.

Nucky had his own problems to deal with at the party. Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) showed up with his gang from Philly to take part in a deal with the newbie, Rosetti. Nucky doesn’t have time for messy buyers, though. After last season, he’s keeping things simple. He’s decided to only sell to Rothstein, who he knows to be absolutely reliable. Is Arnold the Devil or is he just a perfect gangster? He’s okay in my book. Rosetti was, needless to say, fuming mad to have to buy at a largely inflated price.

Nucky’s announcement to solely sell his booze to Rothstein upsets Rosetti to the point where he calls Nucky a “breadstick in a bowtie” and Rothstein a “smug, kyke, midget.” Rosetti might be nuts, but so far he’s a lot of fun to watch, making the loss of Jimmy tolerable.

After an intense stare down with Nucky, Rosetti eases the tension by saying nobody here can take a joke.

Once the shindig ended, Nucky seemed to inexplicably explode at Margaret for causing trouble with the doctors. He’s only a philanthropist because she forced him to be. Not only does he not sleep at home any longer, he’s sleeping with that floozie, Billie Kent! Margaret closed the episode watching Carrie Duncan attempt to be the first woman to fly across the continent. Maybe there is hope for her yet.

Boardwalk‘s return wasn’t particularly explosive, though it did have its moments.  The show is slow and always has been — it slides over viewers like molasses.  It’s lush, it’s immersive, but it can also sometimes drag.  There was a lot of exposition this week to catch us up as well as set up many things to come, and though there is some historical interest in Al Capone and the Chicago crew (and now by extension, Van Alden), it still takes us far away from the main thrust and home base of the series.  Hopefully this year the interconnectivity between the two towns will come closer together, and it looks like we may get more politics, too.  No point in making too many predictions now, though — let’s just pop open some bubbly and rejoice in the show’s return!

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