Empire State of Mind: “You’d Be Surprised”

bill bodkin and kimberlee rossi-fuchs get surprised…

The Low Down: Nucky gets caught up in the world of Broadway and leans on his old pal Billy Cantor to help Billie’s career along. Meanwhile Van Alden is still reeling from his near arrest in the speak easy. Meanwhile it looks like Rothstein’s patience has run out with Nucky and he might start working with Gyp Rossetti.

The Body Count: Four — Gyp’s sleeping buddy, the newspaper boy and two of Gyp’s men.

Our Favorite New Jersey Reference: We get shut out again. –BB

There were no new geographic nods to the Garden State this week, but Arnold Rothstein’s scathing dressing-down of both Nucky and his home state, calling New Jersey “a state I have little interest in or affection for” in comparison to New York, “where things actually matter,” is a classic snobbish sentiment no doubt familiar to anyone who calls New Jersey home. –KRF

Favorite Performance: This one might be a little out of left field, but I’m going with Gretchen Mol as Gillian Darmody. The cracks are finally beginning to show on her near perfect porcelain skin. Last year she was the ultimate puppet master, manipulating all the men in her life to dance to her tune. Now, she’s up a creek without a paddle, spiraling out of control. Her brothel is failing, she’s lost control of Luciano, she still believes Jimmy is alive and she’s got no money. Her scene writing the letter to Jimmy was some of Mol’s best work to date. –BB

With the episode’s action focused on a number of divergent plot threads and no one character getting a particular meaty storyline, it was tough to make a call on best performance this week, but I’m going to go with Michael Shannon. From his pained and transparent feigned laughter when trying to fit in with his coworkers to his oddly chivalrous way of asking his wife to “avert your eyes” before he strangles the FBI agent, Shannon’s Van Alden (aka Mueller) is so tightly wound, rigorous, and straight-up strange that he’s just fascinating to watch. More importantly, this week saw some crucial developments for the character, as his grim, yet determined visit to ask O’Bannion’s help in getting rid of the agent’s body represents the major, definitive step in Van Alden’s inevitable crossing over to the dark side. –KRF

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Eddie Cantor (Stephen DeRosa). Cantor has always been one of those characters who pops in and out of the Boardwalk Empire world never staying longer than a flamboyant song. Here, he’s one of the main cogs in the machine and we finally get to see more of him as an emotional character than just comic relief. The scene where tries to sing in front of Chalky is classic. –BB

As Chalky White’s right-hand man Dunn Purnsley, Erik LaRay Harvey was the stand-out this week in that fantastic scene in Eddie Cantor’s hotel room. Harvey delivers his lines with a menacing purr that’s simultaneously terrifying and hilarious and his coolly threatening demeanor served as the perfect foil for Cantor’s silly, theatrical foppishness. When Purnsley requests Cantor perform “something funny,” the shaken Cantor can’t even wring a smile from the two men, but Purnsley’s withering, icy stare had me laughing pretty hard. –KRF

The Best Part of the Episode: The rise of Benny Siegel (Michael Ziegen). For two seasons we’ve seen the motormouthed Siegel be a much ado about nothing character until tonight. His bloody massacre in Tabor Heights was phenomenally executed. Siegel’s demented glee after murdering four people only added to the insanity of the scene. Following this with the bloody overheaded tracking shot of Gyp walking through the carnage, was fantastically done — minus the penis shots of course. –BB

Nucky’s brutally honest and pragmatic conversation with Margaret after their awkward encounter in Madame Jeunet’s shop was one of the episode’s quieter moments, but powerful none the less in that it captured just how strained their relationship has become. When Nucky apologizes not for being unfaithful, but for practicing “bad form” by not being more discreet about his affair, it’s his first open acknowledgement that their marriage is now basically in name only. Furthermore, his thinly veiled threat that she should ask herself “some practical questions” about the state of their marriage effectively creates a tacit agreement that she’ll look the other way and play the dutiful wife in order to sustain the comfortable and connected lifestyle that being Mrs. Thompson affords her. –KRF

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: Autoerotic asphyxiation. Really? I never needed to see that on television ever. And while the ladies might enjoy it, I don’t need to see a tracking shot of Gyp Rossetti’s half erect junk. –BB

This week’s subplot regarding the federal government and its enforcement (or lack thereof) of the 18th Amendment, though finely acted (it’s always good to see James Cromwell) and with obvious potential to cause trouble for Nucky down the road, felt superfluous and somewhat muddled. As the show has shifted to become more of an all-out gangster story, the workings of the political machine have been given short shrift so when scenes like this are suddenly included after a few weeks absence, they often feel somewhat murky and poorly explained. Worse, these scenes came across as a bit dull. That’s a shame because the potential for drama is there and the law can serve as just as menacing and compelling a rival as a mad-dog gangster (consider the FBI’s bugging of Tony’s house and downright victimization of Adrianna on The Sopranos, for example), but I feel the show has done a poor job of building any interest in these threads so far. –KRF

The Little Thing We Loved: “Lucy Danzinger. Ever heard of her? The next one won’t know a God damn thing about you either.” A brilliant line from Eddie Cantor. –BB

I loved that Margaret stopped to hand Billie the women’s clinic flier before storming out of Madame Jeunet’s shop – such a refined, lady-like way of calling Billie a slut. –KRF

Final Thoughts: “You’d Be Surprised” was an interesting episode as it gave a lot of screen time to the bit players of Boardwalk Empire. Eddie Cantor, the politicians, Gillian Darmody, even the returning Leander Whitlock (Dominic Chianese of The Sopranos). I felt Nucky getting caught by Margaret was a little less impactful than I hoped however the Cantor arc and the final shoot-out were fantastic. –BB

“You’d Be Surprised” was a far-flung episode that covered a lot of ground, from poor Eddie Cantor’s predicament to Bugsy Siegel’s stunning and bloody assassination attempt on Gyp Rosetti. The episode featured lot of great scenes that worked independently, but really didn’t form a cohesive whole and, at this stage in the season, it’s still hard to see how and where all these disparate plot threads will tie together. –KRF

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1 COMMENT

  1. I was not at all surprised that Gyp Rosetti has a “kinky” side. And I personally would love to see more of his junk, but at full mast! 🙂

  2. The Chalky scene was perhaps the funniest in series. I am happy it got some love. Dunn is one of many seldom used gems this show has to offer. Loved the review.