It's New Year's Eve day and we're hours away from 1923 when the Season 3 premiere of Boardwalk Empire begins. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) must deal with the fallout from last season and we also visit some of the surviving characters, as well as the introduction of a new character. Let's get down to business. Bottoms up!
Gangsters Have Feelings: Right off the bat, we're introduced to a new player in the bootlegging game named Gyp Rosetti (played by Emmy Award winner Bobby Cannavale) and we learn that he has a thin skin. When an innocent citizen stops to help Gyp and his crew change a tire, the Italian gangster isn't sure what "3-In-One" is. Inadvertently offending Gyp, the man responds that it's "oil, what else?" and earns a vicious bludgeoning with a tire iron. This character trait is also revealed later at Nucky's New Year's Eve party when Gyp's conversation is interrupted and he takes offense. Finally, during a basement sitdown to discuss business, Gyp lays a verbal smackdown on Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), calling him a "kike midget" and noting that he's "creeping around like a fucking dentist with the ether," as well as Nucky, referring to him quite observantly as a "breadstick in a bowtie." I think I have a new favorite character.
Nucky Hates Being A Philanthropist, Loves Being A Philanderer: Fresh off of his declaration in the Season 2 finale that he wasn't seeking forgiveness, Nucky continues his nefarious ways by ordering the killing of the warehouse thief who had confessed the name of the man behind it, after giving the thief false hope that he would be released. As if we didn't already know he wasn't as nice a guy as he portrays himself to the public, Nucky's disdainful facial expressions during displays of charity told the story. By the time we see him cheat on his new wife with some floozy from his past, we are simultaneously disgusted and intrigued by this conflicted character. Steve Buscemi has really sunken into the part and provided one of his best performances to date in this episode.
Gangsters Have Feelings, Part 2: As we discovered in the previous season, Al Capone (Stephen Graham) has a young son who is deaf. During a meeting between Johnny Torio (Greg Antonacci) and Dean O'Banion (Arron Shiver), O'Banion asks if Al is deaf because he didn't hear him. Torio points out that Al's kid is deaf and Capone tries to let it slide, but when the meeting adjourns, O'Banion can't help making a crack about Capone's son. Although Torio warns Capone that there's a lot of money at stake and he needs to put business first, Al later pays a visit to O'Banion's flower shop with bad intentions on his mind. Fortunately, it's just at this time that former Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon)—now a door-to-door salesman under the alias George Mueller—enters the store hoping to sell his wares. This leads us to...
Who Knew Van Alden Was Such A Badass?: Sure, he's shown flashes of it before and he even drowned a guy in a simulation of the Christian baptism ritual, but Van Alden has never looked more intimidating than when he walked into that flower shop and unwittingly assumed the role of O'Banion's thug. Quickly seizing the opportunity, O'Banion acts like Van Alden is one of his boys and successfully wards off Capone and his crew. When O'Banion mentions that Al wouldn't want to see what "Tommy" has in his suitcase, hinting that it contains a gun rather than the harmless irons he was trying to sell, Van Alden subtly unsnaps the locks as if to underscore the threat. That scene became one of my favorite character moments so far. The possibility of Van Alden becoming a gangster's heavy in lieu of any other meaningful employment is an intriguing one.
Women Are People, Too: The treatment of women during the time period will obviously be one of the main themes this season, judging from the season premiere. While visiting the pediatric wing of the hospital named for her and her husband as a result of her donation at the end of last season, Margaret Thompson, nee Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald) witnesses a woman miscarry and learns that the miscarriage could have been prevented if women were better educated about their bodies. This followed a scene in which Nucky mentioned to an associate that Carrie Duncan, the first "lady flyer" to attempt transcontinental flight, would be better off spreading her legs than spreading her wings. At the end of the episode, Margaret heads out to the beach to see the historic female aviator take flight and it's clear that equality of the sexes will be her mission this season.
Revenge Is A Dish Best Served With A Shotgun: Last season, Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe) was out to kill Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) and ended up murdering his wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino) instead. In this episode, Manny was preparing to head out and knock off Roland Smith, the man who was behind the theft in Nucky's warehouse. However, just after receiving "a new hat for a new year" from his wife and kissing her goodbye, Manny opens the door to leave and finds Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) on the other side, brandishing a shotgun. Avenging the murder of his friend's wife with whom he was smitten, Harrow unloads the gun in Manny's face. While the performance by William Forsythe provided a memorable character that will be missed, this was a shocking moment that proved how much Richard cared for Jimmy and Angela.
"I'm Your Mother Now": This quote from Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) to her now-orphaned grandson sums her character up. She is a selfish and manipulative woman, likely due to her unfortunate history as a young teenage prostitute, and her insistence that little Tommy should forget his true mother is a perfect example of her destructive influence. This will provoke conflict with Harrow, living in the house with Tommy and Gillian, as he tries to remind the boy about his real mom and what a sweet woman she was. That should be an interesting issue as the season progresses.
Overall, this was one of my favorite episodes yet as it followed up on the surprising events that unfolded at the end of last season. The way that the stories intersect is brilliant, as well as the editing. For instance, when we first see Van Alden banging on someone's door, we see the occupant of the house nervously pouring illegal alcohol down the drain. That's a great misleading shot, because we then find out that Van Alden is merely a door-to-door salesman, no longer a federal Prohibition agent. Without the tragic hero of Jimmy Darmody to anchor the show, Boardwalk Empire has expanded its scope and should prove to be even more unpredictable in Season 3.
FINAL GRADE: A