Boardwalk Empire Season 3, Episode 8 Review: “The Pony”

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We get back to business this week on Boardwalk Empire.  After last week’s Easter holiday diversion, we are treated to an explosive episode of conniving, shenanigans, and face-mangling.  “The Pony” had me thinking about the way the BWE’s plot is made up of so many fragmented storylines.  They intermingle a lot, but this season more than others—Enoch Thompson is downplayed.  I wonder if they aren’t setting us up to off him at some point, while keeping the show going with an ensemble cast.  I could see moving people like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Nelson Van Alden, and Richard Harrow to the forefront.  I guess we shall see.

The episode begins at Gillian’s fake funeral for the fake Jimmy Darmody.  Richard Harrow sums the ordeal up simply: Jimmy deserved better than this.  And so he did.  We learn that Nelson/George is distilling whiskey for O’Banion, much to his dismay.  Owen Slater is on a day-trip with Margaret to pick out a pony for Emily’s birthday gift.

Nucky et al are understandably surprised when Eddie Kessler brings the news that Jimmy Darmody is dead, and that he drowned in a bathtub in his mother’s house.  Nucky pays Gillian a visit to express condolences that also include a threat.  She throws a drink in his face.  Watch the drink scene closely, as it’s shot and edited really well.  The viewer gets to see Gillian throw the drink and also see it hit Nucky full in the face.  Nice!

Johnny Torio is back from Italy, and surprisingly chill about the news that Al Capone whacked one of O’Banion’s men.  Capone explains that this Joe Miller beat up Jake, and that he didn’t want to bother Torio on vacation.  Torio allows Capone to hash it out with O’Banion.  We don’t know the details yet.  What’s more significant is Torio opining on Vesuvius and Pompeii (without even mentioning that’s where the very BEST favorite Pink Floyd album was recorded).  Johnny Torio is looking old and spent and like he wants to retire.  He’s been grooming Capone for a while now.  It may be about that time.

How bad did you feel for Mrs. Shearer?  Even though it wasn’t that long ago, it’s hard to imagine a time before birth control, when married women had no control over the size of their families.  It seems positively uncivilized.  Margaret is seeing this vividly in Mrs. Shearer and is determined to help her.

Proactive women abound in this episode.  Esther Randolph attends a meeting with Nucky and Gaston Means.  They’re setting things in motion to make Remus the hooch-runner patsy, and bring down Attorney General Harry Dougherty—who, let’s face it—is kind of an ass.  Esther doesn’t like hearing that her bosses and colleagues are crooked.  Esther’s presence is more than worth it when she tells Nucky how she spends her free time:

I like to run naked through the pages of

The United States Criminal Code.

The plan moves ahead, with a meeting arranged between Nucky and Andrew Mellon, played by a fantastic James Cromwell.  Cromwell is one to watch this season, as he is also slayin’ it on American Horror Story: Asylum.  Meetings also take place between Billie and some movie executives.  She gives a great screen test, playing the funny, supporting chorus girl—then called the Pony in industry parlance.  Movie stardom appears to be in her future.  Owen and Margaret have a meeting of their own, and I can’t help but like seeing them together.  When Nucky finally does meet with Andrew Mellon, he winds up being escorted from the premises.

            The man to watch this week was definitely Nelson Van Alden—or George Mueller as he’s known these days.  He hasn’t been sleeping much since the drip of the distillery keeps him awake.  He’s still a wanted killer, a terrible iron salesman, his ex-wife hates him, and he’s got a new wife and two kids to feed.  He recently had to dispose of the body of a man murdered by his wife.  And now he’s got to deal with that prankster asshole Phil.

Even when Nelson was just a humble FBI agent diligently trying to enforce the Volstead Act, he had issues.  He was humorless, joyless, and killed a guy essentially for being Jewish and therefore disrespecting Jesus.  Not cool.  It’s not entirely surprising that Nelson would reach a breaking point with Phil.  Seriously, fuck Phil and his bullshit.  Nelson Hulks out, ironing Phil’s face, smashing equipment, and causing the rest of the office to run for cover in a panic.  He flashes us some Crazy Eyes, puts his hat on, and goes home.  I’d have liked to see him punch the time clock, but you can’t have everything, I guess.  Watch for the stickiness when they pull the iron off Phil’s face.  Yikes!

The next face mangling of the week happens to Gilbert The Sheik, who is found cavorting with Billie and a friend in Billie’s apartment.  Nucky picks a fight with the actor, and cleans his friggin’ clock.  Billie doesn’t care for the violence, the jealousy, or the fact that Nucky only knows how to show love through money.  Money means security to him, so he shares it with the people he loves.  He might instead try not being such a selfish jerk.  When Nucky comes back to Billie with a kiss-and-makeup-annuity, she’s not that in to it.

The rest the episode proceeds at a fast clip.  Gillian buys Lucky out of his share of the brothel. She gets a loan from a new benefactor—in the form of one Gyp Rosetti.  Margaret forgets the lessons of her own health class when she forgets that diaphragms are more effective when inserted before intercourse.  She asks for a diaphragm for her and one for Mrs. Shearer.  Andrew Mellon calls Nucky to tell him that the deal is a go, but that their own intercourse is concluded.

Gillian treats her new partner to some information about her old partner.  Feigning ignorance, she tells Rosetti that Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and Nucky will all be at Babette’s that night, and that Gyp might want to surprise them.  He does.  I imagine the owner of Babette’s was surprised as well.

The episode ends with Nelson selling the surplus booze that his awesome wife has been making.  Nucky and a newly bleached Billie head off to the big meeting at Babette’s.  A schmuck named George Baxter holds them up on their way in while Nucky tells Billie to go inside, that there’s no reason for both of us to suffer.  A snide quip about boring people, or dour social commentary about a enduring a loveless existence?  Maybe it’s implanting survivor’s guilt in Nucky.  Nucky, Rothstein, Luciano, and Baxter appear battered but not mortally injured when Babette’s suddenly explodes.  Billie is not so lucky.  Farewell, Pony!

“The Pony” was a smashing return to classic Boardwalk Empire.  Death, intrigue, violence, suspense, sexy times—it all added up to great watching.  Nelson’s freak-out was a thing of beauty.  I love to hate that ruthless firebug, Gyp Rosetti.  I love the women, and I love hating Gillian.  There was also that great little dig about Rosetti’s daughters this week—”Beauties, just like their mother.”  Ha!  My only complaint: bring back Chalky White!

See you next week!

–Wednes