Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Review “You’d Be Surprised” – I’d Beg to Differ

I somehow always manage to forget that Leander Whitlock is portrayed by Dominic Chianese, also known as Junior Soprano. He looks damn near unrecognizable as Whitlock but that voice gets me every time.

As I watched this week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, it became very clear to me that I no longer know what this show is about or perhaps I’ve never known what it is about. Sure, the show is about the corruption of bootleggers stemming out of the Nucky Thompson-controlled Atlantic City. From that basis, we got a great story about a deeply troubled war veteran who only appeared to come home from the war in the physical sense. We saw how that affected his relationship with his mentor/father figure who was dealing with his own internal struggle as he wanted to be everyone’s favorite trusted politician while reaping the spoils of various criminal enterprises. There were other entertaining back stories with characters based on larger than life prohibition-era gangsters including Luciano, Lansky and Rothstein.

As this week’s episode opened up with Gyp enjoying oxygen-deprived sex play, I wondered aloud “what the hell am I watching?” Seriously.

I’m not ready to proclaim the show a mess but I am growing concerned week after week about story lines that feel repetitive and don’t appear to be moving in any particular direction. Correction, the fictional story lines lack direction. As someone who loves historical documentaries, I know exactly where the historically-based plots are going. I know who Masseria is.

The show’s scattered direction is salvaged by great performances by a cast of talented actors. To begin, I truly love Michael Stuhlbarg’s portrayal of Arnold Rothstein. After last week’s Tabor Heights debacle, Rothstein said what many of us have been thinking for several episodes – “Nucky, get your head out of your ass, get your butt out of Billie’s bed and at least pretend like you give a crap about your bootlegging enterprise.”

Michael Shannon also gives a brilliant performance each time he enters the screen as George Mueller (or Agent Van Alden). We finally got a little more development this week as Mueller turned to Dean O’Banion for assistance with disposing of the dead body of a federal agent. Mrs. Mueller is such a better companion than the former Mrs. Van Alden. She knows that her husband has secrets and rather than judge him, she went balls out to help him protect them. How awkward was that murder scene?

I will never be a fan of Gillian Darmody but I cannot deny that Gretchen Mol masterfully portrays this character who manages to come off as powerful, self-assured yet insecure all at once. Although I’m always a fan of seeing Dominic Chianese appear on Boardwalk Empire, I wondered what the point of his conversation with Gillian was at the start of the episode. It all came together at the end as we saw Gillian writing a letter to Jimmy, thus confirming that she’s still trying to hold on to the hope that her son is just off on one of his long trips and will some day reappear. Sorry, Gillian. Jimmy’s gone on a one-way trip from which there is no return. Although with all of the random story lines currently taking place on Boardwalk Empire, I wouldn’t be shocked if they threw a zombie or two in the mix.

I’ve long been a fan of Steve Buscemi and counted him among a group of underappreciated actors (including Dean Winters) who were long overdue for their own show. Not even Buscemi, however, is salvaging Nucky Thompson for me right now. Indeed, I was not thrilled with Thompson for killing Jimmy but beyond that, I just really find myself not giving a crap about what happens with him. Unless he’s sharing screen time with Rothstein or Harrow or Milky Chalky, I find myself resisting the temptation to fast forward through the scene.

After such a dramatic ending to the second season, I was hoping for something more engaging with this character. He’s got trust issues – got it. He likes showgirls – got it. He wants the riches of bootlegging without really getting his hands dirty – got it. He’s got a bit of a Captain Save-A-Ho complex – got it. Now show me something I haven’t seen or at least something outside of these well-explored contexts. I initially thought Billie would be a refreshing change from Lucy and I now find myself equally annoyed for an entirely different set of reasons – mostly boredom.

Bobby Cannavale is another actor I’ve admired since his days on NBC’s Third Watch. He did an excellent guest spot on Nurse Jackie recently and as such, I was really excited to see him join the fray on Boardwalk Empire. Unfortunately, Gyp has been more of a parody of a gangster who showed a flash of brilliance when he took up residence in Tabor Heights. I have no idea why we needed to see his sexual activities – I suppose it is the same reason we were privy to Luciano’s struggles with a sexually transmitted disease in the first season of Boardwalk Empire. Admittedly, I’m not sure what the point of that was, aside from me thinking of it every time I see Gillian Darmody and remember all the sex they had while Jimmy was away. Don’t even get me started on our peek at “little Bobby” on last night’s episode.

Here’s hoping Gyp’s connection to Masseria and Bugsy Siegel’s botched murder attempt will make for more interesting episodes.

I can’t believe that after a much desired reprieve from her obnoxious ways, we actually saw Madame Jeunet again. And with the uncomfortable run-in at Belle Femme, Margaret has come full circle. Speaking of characters I could do without – Eddie Cantor. I find him so annoying but kudos to Eddie for planting the Lucy Danziger seed with Billie.

After spending much of this review ranting about the aspects of Boardwalk Empire that grind my gears, I must take a moment to profess my love for the dynamic duo of Dunn Purnsley and Chalky “don’t call me Milky” White. I could totally watch a show with Chalky, Dunn, Harrow and Mueller. I have no idea what it would be about but I suggest “Nukcy Who?” as the title of the show.

What did you think of this week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire? Sound off below!