In our most recent “Short Commercial Break” podcast, fellow co-host Michael Cresci and I spent a good chunk of time discussing how Boardwalk Empire is a good, well-done and entertaining television series that lacks something that would put it in a class of great television. What is it lacking, exactly? Maybe it’s that Nucky serves as the shows central character yet has never been its most interesting one, or that the show tries to dedicate too much time to too many characters that are disconnected from one another. This episode showcased why Boardwalk is a ultimately a very good show, but is not without its problems.
In “Blue Bell Boy”, we see another installment in which Nucky and his crew try to figure out a way to move the alcohol that they have from Atlantic City to Arnold Rothstein in New York. The problem? Gyp Rosetti, the easily irritable and unpredictably dangerous antagonist has taken control of the gas station in Tabor Heights. Apparently this is the only place that anyone can get gas from AC to NYC and the cars wouldn’t make it without stopping to fuel up, so in order for the shipment to be complete, Nucky’s delivery squad would have to stop and hope for the best. Now I wasn’t alive in the 1920s, but I have to imagine some form of gas can had to be invented by then, right? If so, then this is either or a major misstep by the writers or we have to believe that NOBODY in Nucky’s crew would think of this solution. Regardless, this storyline seems to be the same each episode, and it had been wearing a little bit thin on me, but Rosetti’s ambush on Nucky’s crew (because Mickey Doyle disobeyed Nucky’s orders to take an alternative route) seems to have opened the door for some progress in this plot. For as unpredictable Gyp has been, his story has been pretty stagnant.
Nucky has now become much more of a gangster than a politician. He kills young Rowland Smith for stealing his alcohol, something he wouldn’t have done himself in seasons past. Killing Jimmy changed him, and while he is more hardened to personally killing someone now, I don’t know if Nucky would have killed Rowland had he still thought he was only 15 years old. There’s a big difference between shooting a 15 year old boy and a 19 year old man (you have to give Rowland credit for recognizing this and lying about his age).
It was good to see the Al Capone subplot this episode and his scenes involving his deaf son were emotionally powerful. But as much as I like seeing Capone, do we really need to at this point? He’s an interesting character, but right now he’s not tied to the main plot or Nucky at all. While several of Boardwalk’s minor characters are compelling to watch, it will feel like a waste of time if they don’t tie back in one or another (take Van Alden as another example). But it is still early in the season, so only time will tell.