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TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire "Bone for Tune," or Life is Personal by Donald McCarthy

I fucking hate bullshit.

This might seem like an obvious statement but judging from most interactions between people I’m starting to think I’m a bit alone in this. Conversations are filled with meaningless statements, if not outright lies. “Good luck” comes out when people don’t really care. “How’s it going” comes out when people aren’t actually interested in an answer. “Everything happens for a reason” is spouted when people have no idea that life isn’t always fair. And don’t even get me started on the plethora of clichés that are uttered when dating comes up. Most conversation is boring and utterly unenlightening.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always responded to Nucky Thompson. He’s a man who just isn’t interested in hearing chit chat or small talk. Right after waking up from a (very haunting and effective) nightmare he gets a call from Margaret who starts off by saying that it’s not her business to pry. Nucky tells her he knows that means she’s going to do just the opposite. It’s a great exchange and one that sets up a major theme in this episode: cutting through the bullshit in life.

We’ve seen Nucky do it throughout the show but here we get a chance to see his subconscious do it. For a while now Nucky has been avoiding thinking about his murder of Jimmy Darmody but now his subconscious isn’t giving him a choice and Nucky begins to suffer from nightmares where he sees a young Jimmy Darmody with a bullet wound just beneath his cheek. In the episode’s opening scene he watches young Jimmy get shot and, in a moving moment, runs to save him even though the gun in Nucky’s hand implicates him in the murder. Nucky probably isn’t ready to admit that he’s regretting what he did to Jimmy but it’s clear that he does. After all, when at church, Nucky hallucinates that one of the choir boys is young Jimmy; with bullet wound and all.

In the past I’ve not been too satisfied with Boardwalk’s dream sequences; they pale in comparison to The Sopranos’ and Twin Peaks’. But this episode’s were a homerun and a lot of the credit goes to director Jeremy Podeswa, a regular directors of Boardwalk and this might be his best directed episode yet. I’ve praised Boardwalk’s direction in the past but this episode is a stand out and I wanted to give Podeswa his due.

Nucky and his subconscious aren’t the only players who aren’t enamored with the petty aspects of life. Our resident wacko Gyp Rosettis isn’t too fond of empty words either. In one of my favorite moments in this show Gyp has a response to the phrase “It’s not personal; it’s just business” that I plan to use for the rest of my life: “What the fuck is life if it’s not personal?!” Of course, as usual, Gyp takes this all a little too far by seeing insult where there is none and setting a man on fire. The latter might be the more extreme. Still, there’s almost something respectable about a mobster who finds no comfort in the idea that there’s honor in a life of crime or societal rules that must still be respected despite the fact that he’s a bootlegger. Nope, Gyp doesn’t want to be jerked around by BS no matter how well meaning it might be.

And then there’s Richard Harrow. After hearing that Mickey Doyle is taking credit for Manny Horowitz’s murder he kidnaps Doyle and brings him to Nucky, ready to set the record straight. Richard isn’t as psychotic as Gyp but he’s just as upset at the idea that lies are floating around.

It’s interesting how so much of the trouble in this episode could have been avoided had people said what they felt or said nothing at all. Nucky’s pathetic goodbye to Gyp would have resulted in Gyp not burning the sheriff. Nucky finally admitting his guilt over Jimmy’s death would’ve resulted in him not being distracted and aloof during virtually every moment of the episode. Mickey Doyle wouldn’t have been, literally, caught with his pants down if he didn’t lie about killing Manny Horowitz.

I don’t find it terribly useful to my discussions to state whether or not I loved, liked, or was letdown by an episode but I have to say that this was one of my favorite episodes of the show so far. Well done, Boardwalk.

Line of the night: “What the fuck is life if it’s not personal?!”

Donald McCarthy is a freelance writer, fiction writer, and SAT instructor. He lives outside New York City. He’s not fond of the beach.