Sunday’s episode of “Boardwalk Empire” was uncharacteristically calm. It even had a somewhat insipid title: “Spaghetti and coffee.” But don’t be fooled. The writers merely are setting up the scenes for what promises to be several explosive showdowns.
The show opens with disgraced former Atlantic County Sheriff Eli Thompson leaving prison after a two-year stint. He is greeted by none other than Mickey Doyle, who informs Eli that he’s now working for him. “He (Nucky) sent you,” a disgruntled Eli says flatly to Mickey, but guys just out of the joint don’t have much choice. Besides, he’s got a lot of mouths to feed.
Last week, Nucky announced he was cutting his bootlegging business back to one person: Arnold Rothstein in New York. This didn’t sit well with fellow New York mobster Gyp Rosetti, who always makes you feel like he’s got a shaky finger on the trigger of a gun, even if he isn’t armed. He is an out-and-out psychopath who can explode at the mere hint of a slight.
Nucky, meanwhile, is blissfully enjoying himself with his mistress, Billie Bent, holed up in her shabby New York apartment. We haven’t been privy to how he met Billie, but there are some hints thrown our way; the mysterious phone calls she receives; Nucky removing the blade from the razor in her bathroom; Nucky seething with jealousy as Billie flirts with another man; and Nucky uttering such moon-struck phrases like, “I’d stay here forever if I could.”
While Nucky is cocooned in the tiny apartment with his lady love, however, his world outside is imploding. We all knew that Gyp was not going to take Nucky’s decision lying down. Indeed, he cleverly scouts out the route that the Atlantic City gang will be taking to New York. He finds the last and only New Jersey gas station before reaching New York. It’s in Tabor Heights, halfway between the two states.
When Mickey’s gang makes their trek to deliver Rothstein his “goods,” they encounter the new proprietor of the gas station – yep, it’s none other than Gyp. He holds the key, literally, to Mickey’s passage to New York. Gyp knows that Mickey’s gang won’t be able to finish the trip without gassing up. And so he denies them any gas.
This is where actor Bobby Cannavale (Gyp) is at his best. He growls with a grin and shouts to Mickey’s man Owen Sleater, “You’ve got a gun? I’ve got a gun. He’s got a gun. He’s got a gun. Everybody’s got guns!” Everyone is on the same playing field.
Gyp gleefully spills the gasoline from the pumps onto the ground. It might as well be blood. Mickey’s gang turns around and heads back to Atlantic City. There is no way this will end well.
There’s a tense moment or two as Mickey’s gang debates its next move. Realizing that their people aren’t exactly skilled in the pugilistic arts, they back off. This is not good, especially since Nucky has already shelled out $40,000 to a corrupt U.S. Department of Justice official for protection.
Back on the home front, Margaret is beaming at the idea that Nucky is scheduled to be awarded the Papal St. Gregory the Great award for his “philanthropic” ways. He chafes at the idea of receiving the award, especially since it was his wife, not he, who gave his riches away to the Catholic Church. Nucky has decided not to attend the ceremony, a clear snub to his wife. But Margaret will not be so easily deterred. She intends to get him there one way or another.
Things are popping on Chalky White’s home front as well. When Samuel, a young suitor, a doctor in training, comes to ask Chalky for his daughter, Maybelle’s hand in marriage, Chalky initially is wary. But he warms to the idea of having a doctor in the family, and that night tells Maybelle she will marry the young doctor. Maybelle has different ideas and an ugly father-daughter spat ensues. Maybelle wants someone “interesting” like her father. Samuel and Maybelle meet at a club to talk things over – but Samuel’s face is slashed in an unprompted altercation. It is only when blood is spilled in front of her that she rethinks her decision. “You interested now?” Chalky bellows at her.
And then there’s Eli’s home front. He’s been away two years in the slammer. “I’m home now,” he tells his oldest son Will, who had to quit school and go to work to support the family. “I’m getting back on the horse.” Alas, Eli soon finds out the boy he left behind has now become a man. I can’t wait to see how this story line is going to develop. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from “Empire,” it’s that the writers love familial strife.
Oh, and the title of the episode? “Spaghetti and coffee” is what Gyp and his companion order at a diner while they scout out the bootlegging route to New York. Yes, it is that simple.