Spoiler alert: Do not read on unless you've seen Season 3, Episode 5 of "Boardwalk Empire," titled "You'd Be Surprised."
There are debates to be had about whether "Boardwalk Empire" has taken a step back this season and whether Nucky Thompson's latest adversary Gyp Rosetti is capably filling the void left by Jimmy Darmody's departure without devolving into self-parody. But now is not the time nor the place to indulge in those big-picture arguments.
Now is the time for us to revel in the violent and sexual craziness that serve as "Boardwalk Empire's" climactic exclamation points. "You'd Be Surprised" was all about strangulation and misdirection, and featured three genuine "Holy shit!!" moments that combined to make it the best "Boardwalk" episode so far this season.
To briefly recap: Rosetti is into auto-erotic asphyxiation! Van Alden killed another guy! And wow, did that last scene shootout scene reach "Taxi Driver" levels of intensity.
The "Boardwalk" writers relied heavily on smoke and mirrors in the episode, twice making it seem like Rosetti was ticketed for death only to have him narrowly survive. They also played up a feud between Nucky and Arnold Rothstein, neglecting to give the audience a heads-up that a double-cross against Rosetti was in the works.
Speaking of Nucky, "Boardwalk's" bootlegger-in-chief continued his streak of baffling personnel moves, dispatching the fearsome Chalky White to take care of his most pressing problem ... convincing a renowned song-and-dance man to take a role in his girlfriend's play. Really, Nuck?
To keep track of all the deals, deception and death, click through HuffPost TV's weekly "Boardwalk Empire" gangster rankings below:
This episode began and ended with scenes of Gyp Rosetti engaged in auto-erotic asphyxiation sex with the red-headed waitress from the diner -- a sexual proclivity that might have something to do with his crazy outbursts of anger. Both times, it looked like that's how he might go out. The first time, he nearly strangled himself to death, and later, he barely escaped being shot by a Rothstein assassin posing as a paperboy, who took out four of his men. In between, Rosetti got duped by Rothstein, who led him to believe he was willing to throw aside his alliance with Nucky to buy from Rosetti directly, even though his supply and shipping operations are totally unproven. With both sides suffering casualties, the war between Nucky and Rosetti is officially on, and may extend to two fronts, as Rosetti is aligned with Rothstein's and Luciano's rival Joe Masseria in New York.
Rothstein may be growing irritated with Nucky's lack of focus -- he read him the riot act about "failing to deliver" and called him out for spending too much time with Billie Kent -- but he's still a risk-averse businessman. And after taking Rosetti's measure in a sit-down in Tabor Heights, Rothstein concluded the simple-minded hothead would not make a reliable business partner. He changed direction and organized a hit against Rosetti, using information he learned in the meeting about his paper delivery to send Luciano and Lansky's young friend to take him out. Unfortunately, he wasn't savvy enough to hire an experienced shooter.
With his liquor business in crisis, Nucky again spent an ungodly amount of time and energy focusing on something completely trivial: strong-arming Eddie Cantor into joining his side-girlfriend Billie Kent's fledgling play "The Naughty Virgin." Instead of enlisting Chalky White, Richard Harrow or Owen Sleater to help with the Rosetti hit, he let Rothstein send his guy, while Nucky sent Chalky to deal with a song and dance man. His sloppiness continued later in the episode when his wife Margaret caught him and Billie red-handed in the lingerie shop after he told her he'd be out of town. He apologized to Margaret for "showing bad form," but at this point he owes "Boardwalk" viewers, and his business associates, an apology too.
"Boardwalk's" writers used more storytelling misdirection with Van Alden, using his paranoia to make it seem that his criminal past as an prohibition agent had followed him to Chicago. His boss got a call from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, but it turned out to be about his tax return, not about that time he drowned his partner in a river. And when the prohibition officer who tried to extort a bribe from him at the raid dropped by his apartment to complain about an iron he had sold him, Van Alden's wife knocked him silly with a rolling pin, which left him no other choice but to smother him to death, a technique he's an expert in by now. He stopped by O'Banion's flower shop after he did the deed to ask him for help disposing the body. It can't be too long before he's working as a goon for O'Banion, going up against Capone and his crew.
Michael K. Williams' Chalky White has been criminally under-utilized by "Boardwalk's" writers this season, but you hoped they were saving him for some brutal and pivotal return to action. As it turns out, he was called into duty to intimidate a stage actor into joining a bad play. Presumably, this photo sums up Williams' reaction to hearing that his character would be wasted with this silly storyline.
The young gun who failed to finish the hit on Rosetti is currently being called "Benny" on "Boardwalk," but he'll grow up to be legendary Jewish mobster "Bugsy" Siegel. He's been asking Luciano and Lansky for a larger role in their operation, and even though he fell short in his first big test, he inflicted significant damage on Rosetti's crew and showed impressive guile just to get out of that building alive.
Margaret gets massive gangster points for reacting to catching her husband with another woman by handing her a flier advertising her women's health class. She added an additional burn later when she asked Nucky, "Is she in need of rescuing too?" Also, did anybody else pick up on that longing look she gave the doctor leading her class after meeting his fiance? We appear to have a candidate for Margaret's next affair.
He got to speak in a meeting with Rothstein, and Nucky thanked him for his input, a baby step of progress for the repenting former sheriff. It can't be long before he takes out Mickey Doyle and assumes a more prominent role in Nucky's operation.
Harrow wasn't even in this episode, but let's use this space to indulge in a completely speculative theory that Jimmy's former compatriot might be called into action by Nucky to take out Rosetti. That would certainly be a totally awesome crowd-pleaser, and the Gangster Rankings are now actively rooting for that scenario to happen.
Poor, sad Gillian. After a tough talk with her accountant Dominic Chianese -- again, sporting excellent mutton chops -- she learned that her Artemis Club isn't making enough money to pay for the improvements she wants. To her credit, she realized it's time to ditch the upscale trappings and run a good ol' fashioned whorehouse. She's also apparently in denial that Jimmy is dead, still writing him letters and refusing to have his death officially declared, which she would need to take legal ownership of the Commodore's mansion and get the necessary credit for a loan. She'll probably just manipulate Luciano or Rosetti into giving her the money anyway.
Nucky's girlfriend may not be a gangster, but she makes the rankings this week so we can kick this theory around. Could this innocent actress end up as a casualty in the simmering feud between Rothstein and Nucky? They patched over their mutual frustrations in this episode, but let's connect some dots: 1) Rothstein is pissed that Nucky's so distracted with her, 2) Rothstein owns the building she lives in, and 3) Something has to happen that would make this storyline make any sense.
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