The Low Down: Eli (Shea Whigham) and Van Alden/Mueller (Michael Shannon) get their warehouse raided by Elliot Ness (Jim True-Frost). Capone (Stephen Graham,) now mad with power, demands they pay back the $20,000 they owe him, so the two scheme that ripping off one of Capone’s own bag men might be a good idea. Johnny Torio (Greg Antonacci) sets up a meeting between Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and Maranzano (Giampiero Judica) as Nucky wants to find out who tried to have him killed in Havana. Tonino Sandrelli (Chris Caldovino), who offed both Joe Maseria and Gyp Rossetti, becomes involved in the entire mess and attempts to ally himself with Nucky in order to avoid being bumped off by Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Lansky (Anatol Yusef). Willie Thompson (Ben Rosenfield) returns and he’s desperately trying to become part of the U.S. District Attorney’s office but it seems his relation to Nucky might hamper that. We finally find Gilliam (Gretchen Mol) who is in an insane asylum and it seems the head mistress wants more from Gillian than just a mental recovery. Nucky’s flashbacks continue as we see the death of his sister, we discover his father sold land to The Commodore and there’s more tension between Nucky and his father.
The Body Count: Nucky’s sister passes in a flashback and then one death caps the entire episode (we won’t give the spoiler just yet).
The High Roller (Favorite Performance): Stephen Graham continues to be one of the best parts of Boardwalk Empire. The entire series could revolve around him and it’d be just as good, if not better, than what Boardwalk itself has become recently. In fact, his story lines in Season 3 and Season 4 were the saving grace of the series many a time. Here, in his albeit brief appearance on screen, Capone is king. Graham, most famous for his role of Tommy in the Guy Ritchie film Snatch, continues to kill it. He has shown every facet of Capone’s character and now we’re seeing the grandiose Capone before his ultimate fall from the big time. Graham is able to give a manic, over-the-top performance without ever straying into the “camp” territory.
The Ace in the Hole (The Supporting Scene Stealer): John Ellison Conlee as the young Commodore. For some reason, I love Conlee’s performance. I think he perfectly captures the essence of Dabney Coleman’s version of The Commodore, but also puts his own stamp on it. Conlee is able to make his Commodore someone whom you both love and loathe (whereas you just loathed Coleman). No scene better captures this than when he discovers that Nucky’s sister has passed. While he truly does feel sorry for Young Nuck, it isn’t until the Sheriff tells him to send something to the family “because they vote” does he feel the need to actually do something kind for Nucky. It’s a very complex situation with The Commodore and Conlee does a brilliant job navigating us through this.
The Little Thing We Loved: The Eli/Van Alden elevator scene evoked a few chuckles and I am really intrigued by the addition of Joe Kennedy (Matt Letscher) to the series. (Yes, THAT Joe Kennedy). The best “little” thing I loved the scene between Van Alden and his wife, Sigrid (Christiane Seidel) — it was classic Van Alden. He’s all blow-hardy and domineering, but as soon as Sigrid lights up her next cigarette (which he just finished chiding her about) we realize Van Alden still has no control over anything or anyone.
The Episode Rolls Snake Eyes When (The Part We Could’ve Done Without): The Gillian storyline came off like a Great Depression-era Skinemax movie. The dialogue was pretty wretched and the “Do you have what I asked for….Only if you give me what I ask for” is the stuff bad porn is made of. I’m ambivalent on the necessity of Gilliam — she was written off cleanly last season, but she also is one of the most intriguing characters in the series, so it might be interesting to see where her character goes.
The Jackpot (Best Part of the Episode): “Hell of a gal, that Billie Kent.” I absolutely love the fact that they brought back an unresolved part from the less-than-awesome Season 3 and finally put a bow on it. The Billie Kent storyline was probably one of the worst Boardwalk Empire arcs (outside of the Marget Thompson character arc of Season 3-4), but this pretty much atoned for those previous sins. Tonino Sandrelli (Chris Caldovino) is such a small character, but he has had a massive impact on the series — betraying and killing Gyp Rossetti (which Luciano alludes to earlier in the episode) and then Joe Masseira in the 5th season premiere. But, we forget he was one of the main players in the boardwalk bombing which killed Billie Kent. When the waiter utters this line to Tonino, after shaking hands with Nucky (seemingly sealing the deal for the two to work together again), it’s Tonino’s kiss of death. It’s a great sequence and when he’s left with a knife in his back with a postcard from Havana for Lansky to see — it’s a classic Boardwalk moment.
Final Thoughts: “Good Listener” was a big step-up from last week’s unfocused and flashback-heavy premiere. The flashbacks seemed to have a little more purpose, showing how Nucky ends up choosing The Commodore as his father figure, despite that man’s inherent crookedness. I think the less-is-more approach with these will definitely be the best approach for the series. The return of Capone and the debut of Elliot Ness was a nice touch and I really enjoy the Van Alden/Eli combination from both a comedic and dramatic standpoint. As long as Chicago isn’t the main focus, I’m okay with a sprinkling in of this storyline. I’m intrigued by the addition of Joe Kennedy to the series (spoiler – he comes back next episode). Boardwalk has historically done a good job incorporating historical figures as special guests into the series like Andrew Mellon (James Cromwell) and J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Ladin), so let’s hope they go three-for-three here. As stated before, the Gillian plot is a definite wait-and-see.
The most important part of the episode was the confirmation (we hope) that the main event of the series will be Luciano and Lansky versus Nucky. I’m 1000% okay this with. Allowing Lanksy and Luciano be the “big bads” of the season is the best way to end the series as both of them are such great characters and it finally allows Piazza and Yusef, the time they deserve to shine as actors.
The biggest concern for the final season is focus. The show has a lot of storylines running right now and with just six episode remaining, can they resolve all of them? Remember, we’ve still got Chalky White and Margaret Thompson out there who were not addressed tonight and Valentine Narcisse is coming back in episode three. The series really stumbles when there are too many irons in the fire, so let’s hope there’s a clear path to the end of this series.
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom