TV Review: Boardwalk Empire 3.4, “Blue Bell Boy”

Rating: If Nucky Thompson was losing his grip over the dealings of Atlantic City last week, he reaffirmed them with...

Chris Morgan

Contributor

Rating: ★★★★½

If Nucky Thompson was losing his grip over the dealings of Atlantic City last week, he reaffirmed them with a bang with this week. Plagued by visions of Jimmy throughout his church visit, it seemed that his guilt was getting to Nucky, putting him on Billie Kent’s sofa like a man with no place else to go. When he and Owen take a visit to find Roland Smith’s storage house, the arrival of Waxy Gordon’s men puts Nucky, Owen and Roland in a pressure-pot situation as they hide in the basement overnight. Tensions are already clearly evident between Nucky and Owen, as he sees his young protégée being deferred to more than Nucky himself. Perhaps he sees Jimmy’s ghost in every corner now, expecting every younger man working under him to turn on him, but he certainly isn’t in the business of taking chances any more.

Twenty four hours in the basement with Owen and their prisoner Roland at first seem to hint that they may have found a young man worth recruiting on their hands. Just nineteen, Roland is clearly a smart-mouthed, resourceful young crook capable of taking care of himself. As he points out to Nucky, he is clearly wise to the comings and goings of local criminals, taking their loads without a hitch. Having talked his way through the night, Roland gets a symbolic offering of a cigarette from Nucky when the coast is clear, just after it seems Nucky’s agreed to take on this young free-loader, he puts a bullet in the back of his head. Owen’s reaction to Nucky’s cold-bloodedness is as surprising to us as it is to him. Owen certainly seemed to think Roland would get let off hook, despite having witnessed Nucky murder his own adoptive son when he shot Jimmy. The message Nucky was giving Owen here was very clear, and it’ll be interesting to see how Owen, who has become somewhat cocky in his new role, reacts to it.

In Chicago, Al Capone becomes the unlikely father of the year when learning of his deaf son’s beatings at school. The duality between Al’s friend Jake and his son, both suffering an affliction neither of them can control, was the perfect mirror for showing Capone’s soft side. When Capone enacts revenge on one of O’ Bannion’s men for beating on Jake, it’s obvious his true anger is directed at those who bully his son rather than his friend. The scene where he tries to “toughen” up his boy by asking him to hit him only for his son to break down crying tugs at heartstrings. Again, the pathos in this show always comes from the characters you least expect it of.

I may be going out on a limb here, but after three seasons, I’m frankly still struggling to see where Lucky Luciano and Lansky’s relevance comes in to the show. The only times I enjoy watching them are when they’re on screen with Rothstein. Without him, they’re two buoys without a rope. I keep expecting their storyline to come into its own, but it just hasn’t happened yet and I’m beginning to wonder if it ever will considering Boardwalk Empire takes place in the early 20’s and Luciano’s true rise to power didn’t come until the thirties.. The upside is, Lucky’s exchange with Masseria was a solid scene full of tension, and I was just as anxious as Luciano was.

I have a feeling Eli is going to become this season’s unsung hero, much like Richard Harrow was the season previous. He’s been shunned by Nucky since returning from prison, and not without good reason – let’s not forget Eli conspired to have his brother killed, but I’m a firm believer that prison has humbled Eli. I think he genuinely just wants to be a good brother now, and has finally learned his place. After Mickey Doyle’s catastrophic decision to send the booze up through Tabor Heights despite Nucky’s express orders, Eli is looking very much like the Cassandra of the situation – seeing clearly the repercussions of events whilst being ignored by all around him. I wouldn’t be surprised if before too long Eli were running Doyle’s liquor operation instead.

This episode was all about fathers and sons, paternal relationships and the young surpassing the old. Just like Jimmy learned last season, biting the hand that feeds can have terrible consequences, whether the hand belongs to family or not. Nucky has fully embraced his gangster role now, taking Jimmy’s “half a gangster” speech to heart. I’m wondering who else is going to be in Nucky’s cross-hairs as the season progresses, but I’m certainly hoping it isn’t Owen.