Empire State of Mind: “Spaghetti and Coffee”

bill bodkin and kimberlee rossi-fuchs tag team the 2nd episode of boardwalk empire…

Editor’s Note: Each week, Pop-Break’s biggest Boardwalk Empire fans, editor-in-chief Bill Bodkin and senior writer Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs will be examining their favorite parts of the latest episode of Boardwalk Empire.

The Low Down: Gyp Rossetti (Bobby Cannavale) adds fuel to the fire between he and Nucky when he seizes control of the Jersey Shore’s only gas station, which is right on the hooch supply route. Margaret Thompson (Kelly MacDonald) continues her mission of helping the pre-natal wing of the hospital, while he husband continues to knock boots with chorus girl Billie Kent (Meg Steedle). Eli Thompson returns to Atlantic City after a stint in prison, but finds he’s assigned to be the lack of the mouthy bootlegger Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks). Chalk White returns to the show where trouble is a brewin’ with his daughter. Plus, we see the debut of Stephen Root as a shady political figure.

The Body Count: Zero…seriously?

Our Favorite New Jersey Reference: BB: When the sheriff of Tabor Heights mentions Asbury Park as a place where all the action was. KRF: Rosetti’s visit to that staple of the NJ dining experience, the late-night diner. And judging from Cannavale’s barely concealed disgust, ordering spaghetti at a diner was just as bad an idea in the 20s as it is today.

Favorite Performance: BB: “You Can’t Spell Elite with ELI.” Shea Whigam was terrific as the newly released from prison Eli Thompson. The desperation and depression etched on Eli’s faced was as fierce as his 5 o’clock shadow. I think it’s brilliant teaming the deadly serious Eli with the foolishly flippant Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks). I’m really interested in seeing the dynamic between Eli and his oldest boy as well as what the conniving former sheriff of AC has up his sleeve.

KRF: I really missed Chalky in the season premiere, so I was glad to see Michael Kenneth Williams return with a fairly decent chunk of screen time in this week’s episode. Chalky’s always been a dynamic character – menacing, yet measured, calculating, and influential – but last season added additional layers to his character by highlighting the racial and familial subtext in which he operates. For Chalky, his lifestyle is primarily a means to maintaining a more legitimate respectability for the well-bred family who looks down on him, so his daughter’s desire to turn down her doctor boyfriend’s proposal in favor of a romanticized version of her “interesting” criminal of a father is particularly galling. (The dynamic at play between Chalky and Maybell was very reminiscent of that between Tony and Meadow Soprano.)

The Supporting Scene Stealer: BB: CHALKY. I love me some Chalky White. He could make reading a recipe for lemon meringue pie sound menacing and yet the show has done a fantastic job in keeping him human and not a caricature. Michael Kenneth Williams does such an excellent job with Chalky, it’s a shame they don’t use him more.

KRF: Mickey Doyle, who’s gone from an annoyingly cartoonish, Dick Tracy-esque stock gangster to amusing idiot savant. Doyle’s denseness often serves as welcome comic relief and though Sparks’ giggles are still irritating, he imbues the character with enough of a light behind the eyes to indicate that he’s not entirely stupid and is at least savvy enough to know how to ingratiate himself to the more sophisticated criminal minds around him.

The Best Part of The Episode: BB: When Gyp’s ordering spaghetti and meatballs at the roadside diner and makes the waitress explain exactly what the dish is, is hilarious. Cannavale brings such a manic malevolence to this role, it’s just awesome…almost makes you forget about a fair-haired assassin from last season.

KRF: The gas station stand-off between Rosetti and Nucky’s booze convoy was the episode’s strongest moment. Although Cannavale’s Sicilian accent is still a little wonky, I liked his character a lot more this week, as by orchestrating the surprise blockade, he proved himself to be actually quite clever behind the hot-headed, brutish veneer. The scene was tense but rather than escalate into the expected hail of gunfire, remained a bloodless coup and a deft power play by Rosetti that shows him to be a force to be reckoned with, not just some violent thug.

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: BB: I could’ve done without Chalky’s daughter wanting to be more like him. I understand it’s a way to keep Chalky involved in the show, but for some reason I just didn’t feel it like it was important to the story.

KRF: Two episodes in and I’m already bored with self-styled philanthropist Margaret and her quest to improve the hospital’s prenatal care. Regardless of whether she’s using her formidable wits to social climb, swindle her new husband, or champion her latest charitable cause du jour, the former Mrs. Schroeder consistently comes across as joyless, tedious, and overall unlikable.

The Little Thing We Loved: BB: Nucky’s stares. Man, the stories Steve Buscemi’s eyes can tell. Everytime he stared off into the distance when the phone rang at Billie Kent’s apartment, you could see heartbreak, despair, loss, sorrow, loneliness, guilt and a million other emotions flying through his eyes.

KRF: I loved our reintroduction to Eli as he emerges from the New York state prison and the fact that our first glimpse of him comes via the same, behind-the-head camera shot that was used to introduce Rosetti last week and, of course, Nucky in the series’ opening credits, visually creating a parallel between the three men. Eli’s disgust at being greeted by Mickey Doyle was also great and gave us the episode’s best line, as he asks in disbelief, “How the fuck are you still alive?”

Final Thoughts: BB: This was a solid episode, not as dynamic as the first episode, but still really good. The storylines are really progressing here and it’s good to see that the wheels are turning and there’s no filler.

KRF: “Spaghetti and Coffee” was a decent episode for me, featuring some strong moments, but marred by some bits of muddled storytelling (I found the fishbowl exchange to be slightly confusing). As usual, the strong ensemble cast contributed good performances, particularly Shea Wigham and Michael Kenneth Williams, but I’d be lying if I said the likes of Richard Harrow and Al Capone weren’t missed this week.

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