"I need to get my thoughts straight."
The fifth season of Boardwalk Empire got off to a solid, albeit far from terrific, start last week (with "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"), but the second installment was absolutely superb. "The Good Listener" continued with the premiere's obsession with the past, while also highlighting how those who forget it are, as Santayana said, "condemned to repeat it. Or, was it The Propellerheads? It doesn't matter, it's all just a bit of history repeating and "The Good Listener" was all about repetition. Running in circles. A life in crime is a vicious cycle, can one escape the loop before it's closed?
”When will I be home? When will I be home?”
The episode opens with shots of a record spinning superimposed with various other images, two ways that director Allen Coulter makes it immediately clear that this week is about being trapped in the aforementioned cycle, as well as how the past constantly impinges on the present. Both Eli and Nelson/George - my new favorite odd couple - find their histories repeating, as the raid that gets them into trouble with Capone was caused by a cop trying to make a name for himself (Knox) and then Mr. Mueller admitting that he's not cut out for domestic life. The immensely entertaining sequences with the pair are littered with repetitions and nihilistic touches; the bit with the hats in the elevator, Muller's English lesson and 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' only to see the money they killed for lost in the pile. Nothing matters. We're all spinning our tires.
"Paging Mike D'Angelo! Paging Mike D'Angelo!"
The funniest example of the repetition motif in "The Good Listener" comes during the Al Capone storyline with him repeating everything he says, each time at a volume louder than before. And to really hammer the point home, not to mention point out just how powerful the Chicago gangster has become over the last six years, his cronies also repeat everything Al says. The henchmen might as well be parrots. It's great writing on Terence Winter's part, as the characterization of Capone as a loud-mouthed moron is not only historically accurate but also served the episode's themes. The long shot that introduced Elliot Ness and his team was another highlight of the episode, mostly because of the elegance in which the reveal of the undercover agent was handled. And I loved the opening talk about gangster pictures, with the reporter mentioning Public Enemy and Little Caesar as Capone admires his "scarface."
"Were you being good? Were you? Were you? Were you? Were you?"
Like the Chicago crew, "The Good Listener" was also the first time we saw Gillian this season and it's clear that she hasn't had the easiest six years. After getting busted by her 'lover' for murdering the Jimmy lookalike, the remaining Darmody on Boardwalk has spent her time locked up in the 'Booby Hatch.' Surprise! Female criminals were not treated the same as their male counterparts, which puts Gillian in a mental institution instead of prison. The bathroom scene is expertly written and directed, with the ladies gossiping in their tubs like it's some sort of beauty parlor before 'The Good Listener' is turned off by the female guard and the place becomes a nightmare. Was I the only one that thought the exchange between Gillian and the guard was going to include sexual favors? Nope, just tokens of her former life.
”Think you can buy me twice?”
The flashbacks continue to be my least favourite part of the fifth season as this week's journey to 1884 proves as uninteresting as the last. I mean, didn't we kind of already know all of this about Nucky? Or at least enough to understand where he came from and how he got into the underworld? I thought so, but apparently we need to actually witness his backstory unfold and see his sister die, his drunk father treat him like shit and the Commodore step in as a surrogate parent. And we all know how the latter turned out. Just ask Gillian. I will concede that the flashbacks contained possibly the most exquisite shot of "The Good Listener" with the camera framing young Nucky between his two 'fathers' as they leave in opposite directions. It's not the most subtle set-up but very effective in communicating the tug of rope that was happening the boy's head.
”Year in, year out, different dogs, same fucking bone.”
If you needed a scene to spell out this week's themes (or what may in fact turn out the be what the entire final season is about), look no further than the first one between Johnny Torrio and Nucky. The dialogue between the former gangster who only got out because he survived several bullets and the one of the brink of going clean says it all really. But will Nucky be able to take the hint? He hasn't in the first four seasons, why start now? especially when he is so close to being a legitimate businessman. Or so he thinks. But before we get to Nuck on the straight and narrow, it's worth noting that he can still walk the walk when he has to and what better way to send a message to the ever ambitious Meyer, Lucky and Bugsy -than a postcard? And how badass is his new bodyguard? How about the severed ear hole for us to spin into? A nice visual bookend for "The Good Listener."
”The trick is to stay alive long enough to cash out.”
With that nasty business taken care of, back to Nucky's quest to sell booze legally and get out of the game while he's still breathing. After sitting down with one mob boss and before talking to another, Nucky took a 'real' business meeting with a newly formed grain company that is poised to enter the liquor business once the ban is lifted. Unfortunately, only one of the board members seemed at all interested in his proposition. Fortunately, the interested party was Joseph Kennedy. You may have heard of the family. Willy, sorry, William Thompson makes his first appearance this season and his thread belongs in this section because he also seems to want to take the straight and narrow path. Or not. I wasn't quite sure what to make out of his scenes. But I have a sneaking suspicion that he meant what he said in that interview.
"Money never did the dead no good."
The final season of Boardwalk Empire continues with Episode 3, "What Jesus Said," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Created by Terence Winter, the series stars Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Vincent Piazza, Anatol Yusef and Stephen Graham.
Here's a look at "What Jesus Said"...