Boardwalk Empire "Two Imposters" Review: War Is Coming

Boardwalk Empire S03E11: “Two Imposters”

With good shows that have dozens of characters (too many, really) and sprawling storylines like, there is typically the expectation that by the end of the season, everything is going to come together in some visible, meaningful way. Boardwalk Empire is a show that has, at times, put this rule to the test because it just has so many characters and stories that it is damn-near impossible to make everything fit.

And more importantly for me, the show has occasionally struggled to not only make everything fit, but also to make everything matter. As a viewer, I have trouble believing a show when it spends a great deal of time ignoring—or worse, doing something stupid with—multiple characters and stories, only to pivot at the end of a season or arc and basically attempt to say that ignoring them was part of the plan all along. Characters sometimes get lost in the shuffle, and storylines sometimes get dropped; there’s no need to try to gussy it up with tacked-on reverence.

Because of the distracted nature of its lead character, Boardwalk Empire has fairly regularly entered this problematic territory. Although the focus on Jimmy paid great dividends last season and allowed the show to mask some of the sloppy Nucky stories, it ultimately led to Nucky “getting the win” nonetheless. One reading suggests that Jimmy’s death was telegraphed by his prominence throughout Season 2, but I would note that the show could have done a better job of making Nucky more central to Jimmy’s journey before the admittedly powerful ending. In any event, even though “Two Imposters” was another fine—and sometimes quite thrilling—episode, it also brought up similarly troubling developments.

I think it's fair to say that Boardwalk has again failed to keep certain characters—most notably Chalky, Eli, Van Alden, and Capone, and maybe to a slightly lesser extent Owen and Richard—within the orbit of this season’s main stories. I've enjoyed Van Alden’s Illinois odyssey, and both Capone and Richard have been part of some wonderful individual moments, but for the most part, the above characters have been underutilized. For some of you, this might have resulted in an even more frustrating Season 3 because the show has been so enchanted by whatever the hell is going on with Nucky in a given week, but even for someone who likes Nucky, I can see issues with the show’s balancing act.

“Two Imposters” was an episode that, in many ways, remedied this obvious ailment. We knew that with Owen gone, Nucky wouldn’t have very many people to turn to, and even then, he had at least charred his few remaining bridges. And yet, here he was, getting an epic amount of help from his dedicated servant Eddie and a hideout and safe passage from Chalky—the guy he not only confused for a slave but whose business proposal he squashed with substantial might thanks to the overly helpful Eli and the suddenly-in-Chicago Capone. Nucky went from having his back against the wall to having a little militia at his disposal.

Let me say that many of these developments led me to offer small fist pumps, a reaction that Boardwalk Empire rarely gets out of me (it’s just not that kind of show). The opening moments of the episode, with Nucky and Eddie escaping Gyp’s killing squad largely thanks to some legitimate badassery (dare I say full gangstery?) from Nucky, was one of the best moments in the show’s history. The calm-before-the-storm atmosphere in the hotel was very creepy and uneasy, and the proficiency with which Nucky took care of business was damn impressive. And the episode’s other bookend, with Eli showing up with both Chalky’s men and Capone, was simply cool. That line from Capone—“I need a shower, some chow and then you and me are going to sit down and talk about who dies”—is going to be used in the show’s promo reel from now until the end of time.

Obviously, it is promising that so many of Boardwalk Empire's disparate characters and elements are coming together at the end of the season. Television has the ability to make “people joining forces” scenes very satisfying, and “Two Imposters” was filled with them. Heck, that's basically what the whole Nucky-Chalky story has been, just in an extended fashion. Moreover, this episode went to great lengths to make these reconciliations and new allegiances seem purposeful to the season’s overall storyline: While he decided to help Nucky, Chalky did so begrudgingly because he knew that Nucky had ignored him for far too long and just recently shut down his club idea. There's been a lot of discussion about what Chalky means to Nucky and how the latter has misused the former, which anyone who has watched the show this season knows is totally true. And you could make the argument that the show already took reconciliatory steps with Nucky and Eli’s relationship a handful of episodes ago, so Eli bringing Capone into the picture was positioned as an earned moment as well.

Still, I don’t know if I’m totally convinced of what the show is selling. I see what Boardwalk Empire is trying to do here in that all of Nucky’s distractions and weird choices have alienated him, so if he hopes to fight back against Gyp, there must be some groveling—or at least some recognition of error. That is the right way to go, and "Two Imposters" put in a strong effort toward making that work. Within the context of the episode, it did. However, the show can’t just not use Chalky for a half-dozen episodes, then bring him in at the end to be reluctantly admirable and cool and write it all off as character development for Nucky. That sort of writing bothers me, and even when individual moments come together like they did here, I hate that I can see the writers almost retroactively saying, “See, there was a reason we left all those interesting characters out of the picture!”

What all this does, though, is set the stage for one hell of a finale, one that should be bigger, bloodier, and more explosive than anything the show has done before. The last few episodes have shown that Nucky is a much more compelling character when he is forced to fight, and at this point, Gyp is donning his full villain swagger. His decision to move Nucky’s desk out of the Ritz and his weird fascination with Gillian and her business showed us as much, and gave Bobby Cannavale great material to work with. I hate to say that Boardwalk Empire is a much better show when it is doing simple and familiar gangster stories that involve lots of blood and guns, but it certainly seems that way right now. Let’s say that the series is definitely better when it has a narrower, immediate conflict that must be resolved with violence. Can’t wait for the finale.



Notes


– Capone’s appearance on the east coast is especially great because it almost certainly means that Van Alden is with him. Right? Please tell me I’m right.

– Gillian threw Richard out of the mansion because she is a jealous and troubled business woman, and she'd just had her operation usurped by an even more troubled individual. I predict that Richard will also get involved in the Nucky-Gyp conflict, and that most of the bullets in those guns he was preparing will end up in Rosetti’s men.

– No Margaret this week (for the first time in a very, very long time) and I wonder if she might be gone for some time into next season as well. Boardwalk Empire didn't have any time to grieve Owen’s death, which was a little unfortunate.

– Luciano got arrested for dealing heroin to a cop because he wouldn’t listen to Lansky, who has grown to follow Rothstein’s patience doctrine. It's too bad Luciano is based on a real guy who didn’t die until the 1960s, because this character feels played out.



The Gangster Power Rankings, Week 11

Lots of new blood this week. No pun intended.

1. Gyp (previous rank: 2): Nucky got away and Chalky convinced him not to start any more trouble out there on the beach, but Mr. Rosetti is definitely riding high right now. However, he’s also in a unique position to be toppled based on all the people below who are plotting against him.

2. Chalky (previous rank: N/A): He chose to be the better man by helping Nucky and saving Eddie’s life, despite the big monetary reward out there if he didn’t. If he doesn’t play a major role in the finale, I don’t understand this show.

3. Nucky (previous rank: 5): Did you see him shoot his way out of that hotel suite?

4. Eddie (previous rank: N/A): Taking a bullet in the gut for your boss is the textbook definition of loyal.

5. Eli (previous rank: N/A): Going to Chicago and bringing back Capone for a small war is probably the best thing Eli’s done in two years.


Comments (58)
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Gyp Rosetti has been the main and most interesting character among the bunch despite his love for violence, Margaret should disappear more often and yeah about the Chalky Whites disappearance most of the season is a bit tad for the writers and i hope he plays a major role in the Finale. Another gangster under used in the show is Arnold Rothstein and should be given more material to shine than the useless Luciano, Lansky and Margaret.

PS: Nucky was really amazing in the hotel scene and subsequent hospital scene, it is surprising to see him so accurate with shotguns and such unless he's been practicing all this time.
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Chalky is the man.
Eli finally did something useful without being told.
Gyp is a great villain.
Nucky knows his way around a shotgun.

I get your gripes with the show but none of it feels forced. Which I prefer. Rather have that than always keeping up with each character in every ep. That would lack character depth.
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Can't forget about Richard Harrow. He loves Darmody's kid. He is about to go Rambo on Gyp's men.
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Loved the review, but you forgot Rothstein in the list of forgotten characters throughout the season...He is far to extraordinary of an actor to have been left out the way he was for Nucky's blonde escapade...a sad creative choice
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Fantastic episode and it felt kinda sweet of Nucky to protect Eddie against all odds.
And no Margaret YYYIIIOIPPPEEEHHHH HOOOHHAAAA HOOOOOOOOO!!!!!(dancing around the desk)
On the other hand she should have get the door at the Ritz hotel.
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Completely agree with the lack of Margaret makes for a better show. The Lori Grimes of BE.
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Strange thing: when they are operating on Eddie, and Gyp is outside screaming for Chalky, he sais: "Paging mister White". Isn't that a bit strange in the 'thirties?
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"Pages" were young servants, boys. The term has been around since the Middle Ages, at least, when they were helping knights into their armour. In the 1920s they were bellhops going round the hotel looking for guests who were called to the phone or somewhere. The modern telecom-paging is just a derivative of that.
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Well, that explains it! Thanks!
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Ah, good point! Like Pod was Tyrion's page.
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Yep, I though that too!
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Well spotted. While tripping from being strangled by prostitutes, Gyp has obviously experienced visions of the future of telecommunications, lol.
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"I hate to say that Boardwalk Empire is a much better show when it is doing simple and familiar gangster stories that involve lots of blood and guns, but it certainly seems that way right now"

Except for a brief descapcio preceding the conclusion of your view, I found your article articulate, deliberative, insightful, measured, astute and exteipertaneous.
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I like Margaret!! There. I said it. (but her storyline could use a boost).
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Yeah I get you. A boost over the cliff.
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:')
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Mr. White is the man. Nothing else to say.

It always surprise how much people underestimate how dangerous Richard really is. You would think the minute anyone seems a ex-soldier walking around with half his face gone, they would say something like "Boy, that's one tough son of a gun! Wouldn't want to mess with that cat!" But no... everybody thinks they can just walk all over Richard. Somehow, something tells me he will end up walking off me Tommy, to raise him with his new-found love, away from Gillian's craziness. Mark my words, this is going to happen.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: can't believe it is the same Lucky Luciano who will be the head of the Mafia in a decade or so... Truly, it's a freaking miracle that kid haven't been killed yet. I get how Capone became Capone, but him? Complete mystery.

Whatever happen during "Margate Sands", I hope this season's events will forever change Nucky enough, so that he'll never reverse back again to the unfocused, childish dumbass he was most of the season. And, if he doesn't... well then, time to kill him off. He seriously do not deserved to have survive these last twelve episodes, but, by the grace of God (and Terence Winter), "Boardwalk Empire" is ultimately his story. But, if he again stops realizing how dangerous his profession is, he should the death is so righteously deserved. Really, it's no surprise that Rothstein was so disgusted with him toward the end of their relationship - I think most of us feel the same.
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Luciano is one part of the Lansky/Luciano duo: two very different guys who are inseparable - like the Laurel and Hardy of the mafia. On his own, sure, it would be a pretty useless character, but as a duo it was working quite well, I thought.
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about the raising tommy with julia, that's kind of obvious he was thinking about that. ever since that photo and Gillians irrational behaviors. Wouldn't be surprised if it happened like that, really.
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Happily for Nucky, this means Richard will eliminate many of Rosetti's men as he retrieves the boy. Again, a contingency that is quite convenient for Nucky. But at least it's all in-character, not just in terms of Richard's past, but also in that he has already been shown to be totally indifferent to Nucky despite what happened to Jimmy ("Jimmy fought and lost"). If he still harboured a grudge against Nucky over that, then the whole outcome would look considerably more implausible.
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I think Chalky might think Nucky is a better choice than gyp, he could turn on Chalky and leave him with nothing. At least he knows he can (maybe not in this season) kinda depend on him. Or well, know how he works anyway.
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You guys love Chalky.
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He was so cool talking to Gyp like that. didn't bat an eye.
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Great review! Richard looks like he is going to step into the forefront next week.
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yep. Stephen has the 'shit eating grin' thing down to a tee! :-)
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Luciano and Margaret are dull as dishwater. With any luck, we'll never hear from either of them again after this season concludes. I seriously need a break from Kelly McDonald's goofy expressions and Vincent Piazza's scuzzy "I suffer from ALL the STDs" mug.
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If they go off of history Luciano will be on the show till it ends unless they write out the New York storyline which I highly doubt they will. But yah his character has gone a bit stale lately maybe he picks things up next season.
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I said this in my review. The show is hamstrung a little bit with Luciano. I think they might give Margaret a break. She's not necessarily needed right now, though Kelly M. is tremendous on the show.
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Next week is gonna be awesome, as we say in SA its gonna be a serious "skop, skiet en donner" (translated theres gonna be alot of kicking, shooting, beating people up - it just sounds so much better in afrikanns :) )
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To me, the character Nucky works only if he has a small populist streak that is well tucked away beneath the relentless and ruthless self-interest. If, when he does nice and generous things for working (or slave) class people who have it as rough as Nucky had it as a kid, self-interest and ruthlessness occasionally coincide with a genuine desire to help, to change something (and the fact that we always have to keep guessing when those coinciding instances are, greatly improves the story, of course). This doesn't mean that Nucky isn't corrupt and greedy - of course he is - but that he is something else at the same time, and it redeems him in some limited way. In other words, I see him as a kind of Huey P. Long figure (for those who get that reference).

This episode is very useful in that regard. Sure, Nucky has no one to turn to but Chalky, so he does, but it is not just self-preservation driving him here; he genuinely realizes now that giving Chalky his club was something he should have done even without the war (and either way he will still profit from it - "get it back later", like he says - but that is not the point nor does it invalidate the good it will do). For that reason, as a character Nucky will now stand or fall depending on whether he will keep his promise to Chalky, as far as I am concerned.
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Good points. I think you're right, but I also want to wait and see with how the show moves forward after this. Only time will tell us about what Nucky will do for/with Chalky after.
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Right, events can yet conspire against the project of a 'negro club' on the boardwalk. In that case, the answer to the question of what really motivated Nucky would be deferred again, like it has been in many separate cases already, and they could continue to toy with the ambiguity of it. I could certainly live with that outcome.
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Great episode all round. I agree with you that it is certainly one of the best of the season. I do have to say that I disagree with what you said about the show being betting when it's about having problems that are then resolved with violence. While I totally agree that the violence in this show is entertaining and satisfying, I don't want it to be overdone. This show is very much like the Godfather, in that most of it consists of people sitting down to meetings and talking. People are constantly doing deals, establishing alliances, and just generally plotting. And there is also the large moments spent talking about life, love, childhood, and all that important emotional stuff that makes us human and so on. There is a much smaller amount of time spent on people killing other people. And again, while I really do enjoy shootouts and betrayals and assassinations and all that, I think that this formula is what makes Boardwalk Empire such a great show. The more violence there is at the end of these negotiations and interactions, the more predictable it becomes. That one scene in Season 1, where Capone, Torrio, and Jimmy completely kill that rival gang after a meeting, works so well because most of the meetings in this show end without violence. This made the meeting shocking and immensely satisfying. If more meetings ended with a massacre or a shootout, then we would start to expect them lurking around every corner. No, less violence means that the violence that does happen will mean that much more.
Now, I do see where you're coming from in that when Boardwalk Empire doesn't really kill people off, and just adds more and more players who are probably going to be villains, this does tend to blur the goals of the show. It is hard for anyone to rise up as the winner of a situation when all their enemies are still alive and ready to strike back at a moment's notice. So, in that sense, it would be nice if more of the minor villains got killed off sooner, since that would make the direction of the show clearer.
But maybe that's the point of all these storylines that don't end in murder. If this season had focused more on what we now know are the important storylines, then it would be more obvious where the show is headed. Instead, many of the events in the last couple episodes have been genuinely surprising. Much like in True Blood, which is a similarly chaotic show, a somewhat jumbled grouping of plots makes it difficult to see where each respective season is headed. While it has been clear for a while now that there would be a big showdown between Gyp and Nucky, up until the end of this episode it has been difficult to know exactly who would stand on either side of the line between these two gangster titans.
Right now I wish that when I wake up tomorrow a week will have passed and the finale will be ready to watch. Next week's episode is certain to be the biggest and bloodiest showdown we've seen all year. And with Jimmy's death last season, pretty much everyone except for Nucky could die. I mean, obviously Gyp is going the way of the Dodo, since these seasons end with all of Nucky's enemies getting blasted to Hell and back, but still, most of the players' fates are up in the air. So yeah, I like the formula that this show has. It makes shocking moments more shocking, showdowns more showdowny, and character deaths more meaningful. I'm pumped.
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Thanks for the response. I think that you make some fair points. I don't WANT the show to only be thrilling when people are getting killed, and I obviously like the show most weeks anyway. But it tends to meander around a lot and then suddenly BOOM, before calming back down. That can be an effective approach, but the show is so sprawling at times that it doesn't work as well.
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Yeah, fair point. I think at this point Boardwalk Empire has one of three paths to choose. 1. It can be like Game of Thrones and have several characters but have most of them connected together in one or two major stories. 2. It can be like True Blood and have several characters that (along with a few other people) have their own little stories going on, and then all of those stories either conclude or come together for a big finale. Or 3. It can create a combination of these two and switch back and forth between seasons.
The last two seasons the show chose the Game of Thrones route. Season 1 focused on the dispute between Nucky and Rothstein, culminating with Rothstein partnering with Nucky and giving up some of his associates. Season 2 focused on the coup within Nucky's organization, culminating in a major purge. This season, however, has had two major focuses: the first being the dispute between Gyp and Nucky, and the second being the government indictments and the dispute between Nucky and Harry Daugherty. While these two major storylines share a common thread in that they deal with Nucky feeling abandoned and alone, in that people are turning on him and he has to find his own way, they are fairly unconnected.
I think that in the past, Boardwalk Empire didn't need to worry about what path it chose with major storylines, because there weren't so many characters. But, you're right, the show is very sprawling. New characters are added much faster than old characters are killed off. And unlike shows such as Person of Interest, who can juggle a large number of villains and allies by having characters disappear for several episodes on end, most of the gang bosses in Boardwalk Empire are starring characters, so you don't really want them to just drop out of the storyline for five episodes at a time. I still maintain that the Godfather approach, mostly conversations between powerful gangsters with necessary and exciting violence cropping up unexpectedly, makes Boardwalk Empire a great show. However, as you said, the show is sprawling and there are so many characters now that it's hard to make teh Godfather formula work as well. Basically, in this upcoming season finale there needs to be a bloodbath. Lots of people need to die. In the second season we had the Commodore, Angela, and of course Jimmy die, and Lucy Danziger just awkwardly disappeared never to be seen again. In this season, Owen is the only main character to have died thus far. So yeah, people need to die.
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Richard lining his guns up on the bed... unforgettable tv gold. Then Stephen Graham stepped up to the plate and delivered the best line since, "Say. My. Name." Best episode of Boardwalk Empire so far.
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loved that scene as well! especially out of a box where it said sth like us army. like a boss.
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I'd be interested to know what you think of shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones, Cory. I much prefer the way Boardwalk Empire deals with its many characters and story lines compared to them. True Blood and Game of Thrones try so very hard to force every single character and storyline (the good and bad) into each episode that both character and plot development are completely lost because only five minutes of time can be spent on each plot thread.

Boardwalk's more minimalist approach, in which it doesn't feel the need to cramp everyone and everything into one episode, not only allows more time for plot development and characters, but also allows audiences to appreciate characters more because they aren't overused.

I do see where you're coming from about Nucky this season though, his character seems to be in a holding pattern, and I found it most apparent this episode that he was oddly reserved. I wanted so much more from Nucky being on the ropes!

That being said, I can't honestly say there's any other characters or plot lines I would have rather focused on this season. Capone's and Luciano's respective business deals work well in the small snippets they're given to us in, but I don't think I would be able to handle much more of their characters. And yes, perhaps I would like to see more of Chalky and Van Alden, but as I said not overexposing them allows audiences to appreciate their characters and story lines all the more when they are shown. That's why I think Boardwalk Empire is able to avoid the problems True Blood and Game of Thrones have, despite having just as many characters and story lines.
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Hmm. True Blood and Game of Thrones do take somewhat similar approaches and obviously represent the bad and good of that kitchen-sink take. I see what you're saying with BE, so perhaps it would work just a little better if there weren't SO MANY characters or locations. It's a bit past capacity and when it decides to focus so intensely on a few characters like it has this season, the storytelling approach is more obviously strained.
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I don't think it too convenient at all for Chalky or Capone to come to Nucky's aid. For Chalky, his motivation is the club, which Nucky promised him once he gets AC back. For Capone, its probably a new deal with the bootleg supplier, since Nucky said he was gonna sell only to Rothstien in the beginning of the season( which started this whole mess). They are business men, and an opportunity has just presented itself. And aside from all that, Gyp is an unpredictable psychopath, so they'd rather deal with a devil they know...
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Possibly. But even if all that turns out to be the case in the next episode, a bit of foreshadowing of Capone's actions would have been preferable...so it can still be seen as a symptom of the character being a little too disconnected from the main storylines.
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One thing that supports the review's line of criticism: in the same way that Chalky's loyalty seems a bit too convenient for Nucky, why is Capone so eager to come to his aid all of a sudden? The whole season he doesn't show up in Atlantic City, yet suddenly he roars in there with all his men and a huge grin on his face (whereas all the gangsters who actually had active dealings with Nucky dropped him like a hot potato)? I find Eli's powers of persuasion too weak to explain this, and while Capone is certainly a psychopath who might be eager for bloodshed, it still seems too convenient.
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I think Capone wants to go big. He is tired of beign a Torio's gun.
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I imagine they'll be revealed. Hopefully.
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Perhaps Capone's motivations will be revealed in the next episode?
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Thanks for the prompt review of this episode not everyone does it this quickly. I think this was the best episode of the series if not in the top three. It had everything I had been hoping for and I bet next week’s will be even better. I think your being a little too harsh on the show although I don’t like them ignoring Chalky, Capone etc I think the slow burn this season has brought up makes it even more rewarding to see them hopefully take down Gyp. I’m really excited to see Richard back into action again next week finally! But I am a little worried he might die a hero’s death because Boardwalk has a habit of killing off compelling characters. I hope he kills Gyp and Gillian but will see. Next week will be epic that I do know.
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he's gonna save cute little Tommy from weird grandma Gillian :))
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This was a great episode. And no Margaret was the icing on the cake!!
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No Margaret is the FOUNDATION of a great Boardwalk episode!
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I think people don't like Margaret because her storylines aren't as flashy as ones like Gyp’s or even Gillian and she's not really the innocent character we rooted for in season 1. I still like her and love the acting of Kelly Macdonald and as I’ve said in my post I think the slow burn will pay off with her maybe next season or maybe next week. It’s probably a camera trick in the preview but it almost looks like Richard is pointing a gun at her? I’ll have to look at it again but she does look stunned at something.
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That is what I like the best about M, that in her own way she is more similar to Nucky - morally compromised but a penchant for redemption - than she cares to admit. It does not make for a very exciting character, but all the hate is over the top, and she really is a necessary mirror image of Nucky.

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What's up with the hate for Margaret?
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I'll explain: Margaret is a self righteous hypocrite. She stands there on her high horse and judges Nucky, when she is a lying cheater herself. Plus, her storylines are always the worst, most boring things in existence. Remember when she yelled at her son for lying, and he really wasn't. She is AWFUL.
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