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"Okay. Thank you. We'll have spaghetti and coffee."
Last night didn't just have the second episode of the third season of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, there was also a little celebration of television excellence taking place at the 64th Annual Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. And while the bootlegging drama didn't walk any with many trophies (the series did have a hefty number of nominations (including being up for the top prize), director Tim Van Patten was recognized for his work on "To The Lost." A much deserved win for an excellent episode but the last thing we needed to be reminded of before heading into "Spaghetti & Coffee" was the absence of Michael Pitt's Jimmy Darmody. The premiere last Sunday was satisfactory but there was this giant hole left by the actor and one that even newcomer (and Oscar nominee) Bobby Cannavale couldn't quickly fix. Was the second instalment, "Spaghetti & Coffee," any more surefooted and exciting without the co-anchor of the first two seasons?
"Ordinary men avoid trouble. Extraordinary men turn it to their advantage."
The episode opened with an interesting and ambiguous sequence in New York, where a mysterious man drills himself a peep hole before emptying out a fishbowl. An intriguing beginning before shifting gears to Eli as the structural centre (and saving grace) of "Spaghetti & Coffee." I say saving grace because even though Nucky's new relationship is interesting in that it's distracting him from properly handing business, we didn't get to witness any of the development and frankly I don't buy it. Billie (a less annoying but also less complex version of Lucy) is busy with other boys, flirting on the phone and in restaurants, even though Nucky clearly wants things to be exclusive - as exclusive as they can be with him having a wife, but still, exclusive on her end. When he does get up to business, Nucky's storyline is more engaging, especially when we return to the fishbowl and the introduction of Gaston Means.
Means, a corrupt Special Agent (played by Stephen Root), already seems like a great addition to the story even if Boardwalk Empire is slowly getting more characters than it might be able to handle. Case in point, no Lucky, Lansky, Gillian, Richard, Capone or Van Alden (and there are more) in "Spaghetti & Coffee." Anyway, the sequence between Root and Buscemi was one of the better of the evening, seeing how the Atlantic City kingpin operates a little differently than some of the other bosses who blindly accept the corrupt official's fishbowl, I mean, terms. I loved the way they said goodbye, with Means knowing exactly where Nucky is headed, and it's the next meeting with Rothstein where we learn that Mr. Thompson isn't exactly on top of things thanks to Billie's distraction not to mention his self-imposed seclusion for safety. That whole Manny losing his face situation didn't help. Losing his face, how apt.
"Mrs. Thompson aims to keep me on my toes."
While Mr. Thompson is off frolicking with gangsters and showgirls, Mrs. Thompson is continuing on her quest to improve women's health at her hospital. Oh, and there might still be something between her and Owen, even if she's temporarily in control of herself. She does love sharing the story of the woman's bloody non-birth though and it looks like her religious beliefs are increasingly coming into conflict with her efforts to progress the education and health of her sex. I don't expect the acceptance of the St. Gregory's Award, if she can convince (force) Nucky to go, will be a completely smooth affair knowing Margaret's penchant for causing trouble for powerful men. Her visit with Mrs. Sheerer doesn't go all that smoothly (if only the latter knew the former's backstory with Mr. Shroeder) but that doesn't stop our leading lady from following up with the prickly Dr. Mason who finally confirms the it's the 'Catholic' part of the hospital that's keeping the ladies uninformed and at risk.
"Welcome to the family, son."
Even though the second installment didn't feature some of our favorite players, "Spaghetti & Coffee" did see the return of Chalky White to the action and it seems that both he and his daughter have had a change of heart when it comes to Dr. Samuel. Dunn provides some music while the young man asks Chalky permission to marry his daughter and, only after a thorough medical examination, the mob boss welcomes him to the Whites. The only problem is, his daughter is no longer interested in dating, let alone marrying, someone as, uh, uninteresting as the straight laced Samuel no matter what her daddy says. She ends up taking him to one of Chalky's speaks where Samuel is soon the one in need of a doctor after a run in with a drunk. It's a nasty gash and enough to probably scare him away from the family even though Dunn immediately steps in to take care of the problem. It was great to see Chalky and Dunn back in action but there might have been a more exciting way to return than discussion his daughter's marriage prospects.
"Everybody got guns!"
Bobby Cannavale's Gyp may not be enough to fill the Michael Pitt void but I am thoroughly enjoying his volatile antagonist. I especially like the scenes where he compensates for his lack of knowledge with his temper, like it's the other persons fault he doesn't know what a map scale means. After being denied liquor by Nucky last week, Gyp and his gang are hanging in Tabor Heights on the outskirts of Atlantic City which also happens to be the last place to get gasoline before leaving New Jersey. This leads Gyp to look for the sheriff (who does not ride a horse) at the local dinner where he and his henchmen enjoy the titular spaghetti and coffee after his bid for a bit of wine with dinner seems to be snuffed out by the law. I say "seems" because the Sheriff might be full of courage for their first meet but he obviously succumbs to the New Yorker's charms. And guns! Everybody has 'em! He doesn't seem to mind if Nucky hears about this, in fact, I think that's the point.
"There's no one else coming for you."
Eli's storyline not only in the structural backbone of the episode but also the only really emotional part of "Spaghetti & Coffee." Shea Whigham looks incredibly thinned out for his post-prison Eli and he takes a bit of a beating but his events are by far the most engaging of the second week. The opening shots when he's released from jail are stunning and the initial exchange between him and Mickey sets up their combative trajectory. Well, not that combative since Mickey's about as confrontational as a mouse but he does seem to have the upper hand on the disgraced former Sheriff for the majority of the episode until Owen wanders in and spots a good man going to waste. Before that though, Eli has to return home and the way his family welcomes him back is one of the warmest things ever to appear on the usually ice cold series. It was a terrific moment made bittersweet when we realize what the eldest son has had to do to support the family in his father's absence.
Eli has a hard time seeing that his boy's all grown up (despite how proud he is, he doesn't want to face the reality of what he caused), so he builds the two years too late birthday present for Will and tries to stop him from going to work. Unsuccessful, Eli decides to swallow his pride and take the position under Mickey Doyle in order to prove to his family (and himself) that he can support them again. And it isn't long before Owen does the aforementioned wandering and spotting, almost instantly elevating Eli's ranks above Doyle who is left out of the discussion when the shipment for Mr. Rothstein hits the Gyp Rosetti roadblock at the gas station in Tabor Heights. Could this be the beginning of another feud between AR and Nucky a la Season 1? Rothstein was pretty adamant about getting that shipment on time and, well, that just isn't going to happen. Will Nucky be able to convince him Rosetti's to blame? Or does the blame always ultimately fall to the supplier? We'll find out soon cause that booze is headed back to AC.
Boardwalk Empire returns with Episode 3, "Bone For Tuna," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Created by Terence Winter, it stars Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Vincent Piazza and Michael Stuhlbarg.