The season premiere of “Boardwalk Empire” was as lush and well-acted — and as weirdly uncompelling — as ever. Perhaps we’ve watched too many period gangster dramas, at this point, to be easily enthralled by a show that takes a staunchly traditionalist approach to the genre.
However, as we noted a couple of weeks ago in writing fondly about A&E’s contemporary Western “Longmire,” which hasn’t been the subject of brow-furrowing essays but often makes us happy, the comfortable familiarity of genre stories is hardly a drawback for the people who nestle into them. A shot of a ’30s roadster idling in the snow, a sit-down peace conference at which a large bag of money and all the legends are present (Rothstein, Luciano, Lansky, Capone), even just the tapping of an unfiltered smoke on the cover of a gleaming cigarette case — it doesn’t take much more than this to ignite a warm glow in the breast of an aficionado.
Mostly a house-cleaning episode, punctuated with a series of grimly efficient Richard Harrow rub outs, clearing up some old business, but the best scenes open up new possibilities.
In the absence of Michael Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden, Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) emerged in just a couple of scenes as a blandly smooth-faced sociopath, second cousin under the skin to Jesse Plemons’ conscientious Todd on “Breaking Bad.”
And Michael Kenneth Williams’ Chalky White, partnered with Nucky in the AC’s new hotspot, The Onyx Club, pays a heavy price for a strange act of managerial perversity. He has made a factotum (the episode’s magic word) out of the posturing blowhard (Erik LaRay Harvey’s Dunn Purnsley) whose spirit he seemingly crushed, without raising his, voice, in a terrific jailhouse sequence in season two. (“Purnsley be done.“) The ticking time bomb finally explodes in a scene in which a berserk Purnsley shreds with a broken bottle the neck of a rep from the Cotten Club, a pet project of the New York mob. We end up feeling that Chalky, who rarely puts a foot wrong, may have revealed a tragic flaw in the pleasure he takes in subjugating a fallen foe.
New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum has given us the perfect set-up for a non-alcoholic TV-watching game, tweeting as follows on September 5: “There is a scene in the season finale of ‘Newsroom‘ that was the worst scene in all of ‘Newsroom,’ which is its own special achievement.” Didn’t ID the scene in advance, of course, because that would be unethical. So now, in addition to wondering who at ACN will be left standing, or shacked up, or broken up, after the Genoa dust settles, we will also have the fun of trying to spot the scene that is Nussbaum’s worst-ever. No prizes.
Next week’s “Breaking Bad,” picking up right in the middle of an unresolved all-out gunfight, will be directed by young feature ace Rian Johnson (“Looper”), whose past contributions to the series include the minimalist classic “Fly.” (In the current “New Yorker,” in Tad Friend’s excellent profile of Bryan Cranston
, Gilligan names Johnson’s upcoming episode, “Ozymandias,” the series’ best.) I’ve heard some grumbling to the effect that resorting to a shoot-out to eliminate characters (probably) and clarify the line of succession is somehow not worthy of this great series — which to me makes it a forgone conclusion that this is not exactly what’s going to happen. Thus far in the program’s endgame, every major development has been to some extent an ingenious surprise. We look forward to more of the same.
Supposedly, creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan personally designed the astonishing chemical barrel packaging for the”Breaking Bad Complete Series Blu-ray set that goes on sale November 26. Special features include a two-hour “Making of” documentary. We would almost trade that in, however, for a chance to get our hands on the off-brand Lego-esque construction set that enables children of all ages to build scale models of Walt and Jessie’s industrial meth lab and of their RV. “Outrage” has been reported, but we believe it is misplaced. There can be no denying that that brown camper is an icon of global pop culture on a par with with the Tardis. Well, almost.