Season premiere review: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ – ‘Resolution’

“Boardwalk Empire” is back for its third season. I reviewed the first half of season 3 as a whole earlier in the week, and I have specific thoughts on the premiere coming up just as soon as I go to the flea circus…

“Oh, but before you do, put a bullet in his fucking head.” -Nucky

Like the very first episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” “Resolution” takes place on New Year’s Eve. It’s a time on the calendar that, as the title suggestions, people make promises to themselves and others about what the new year will hold. More often than not, we are lying, to ourselves as much as others. We are not going to stick to that diet, not going to devote more time to charitable causes, not going to improve the six things about our lives that make us miserable. But it feels nice for a day or two to be able to pretend that we can.

In the case of the “Boardwalk Empire” ensemble at the start of season 3, the deception and self-deception are both so ingrained that the holiday is almost unnecessary. These are characters who are already putting on one front or another, just trying to get by.

We learn by the end of the episode(*) that Nucky and Margaret’s marriage is at the moment something for the public only, and that in private, Nucky still hates Margaret for giving away the land parcel (which the church used on the hospital), while she resents being married to this hoodlum. (At episode’s end, she runs out to the beach to watch a woman fly away in a manner that she can’t.) Nucky even has to pretend that he doesn’t know showgirl Billie Kent (played by Meg Chambers Steedle), when she’s been his mistress for a while and gets to put on a show for all of Nucky’s rich friends on New Year’s Eve.

(*) Though was anyone genuinely surprised by this? Given what both of them did in the season 2 finale, I assumed there was going to be some kind of estrangement, even if the two kept putting on a happy face for others.

Elsewhere in Atlantic City, Gillian is publicly (and knowing her, perhaps privately) in denial about Jimmy’s death, while she’s simultaneously convincing Tommy that she’s his mother. (Richard is too afraid of being cast out into the world – and away from his best friend’s son – to stop her from brainwashing the kid, but he at least takes some comfort from killing Manny, the man who murdered Angela.) In Chicago, Agent Van Alden is now using the George Muller alias full-time, selling irons (loved the slow-dissolve montage of Van Alden futilely going from house to house), and if he and Sigrid aren’t legally married, they’ve had a child together to go with the one that Lucy abandoned. And when Van Alden inadvertently walks into the middle of Al Capone’s attempt to kill rival Dean O’Bannion, O’Bannion cleverly pretends that the hulking ex-fed is muscle there to protect him from Capone.

Even Gyp Rosetti, our new antagonist, is pretending. He wears fancy suits and tries to move in Nucky’s fancy circles, but he’s really just a shaved ape who is painfully aware of how little he knows and quick to anger at any innocent comment that reveals the depths of his ignorance. Hence the murder of the poor good Samaritan who was just going to get some oil.

That murder, followed quickly by the scene where Nucky orders the death of one of the men who robbed the warehouse, suggests a more explicit move into gangster territory for both Nucky and the show, but the rest of “Resolutions” dips in and out of that. Nucky meets with Harry Daughtery and continues to deny that he’s fully embraced the criminal lifestyle. (He’s even wearing a shoulder holster now.) We spend a good deal of time with Margaret at the hospital, where she comes face to face with a poor, undereducated pregnant woman – who could have been Margaret herself a few years ago – as she bleeds in the lobby. And before Nucky goes downstairs to take care of business with Rothstein, Gyp, and the other wiseguys, we first have to bask in the obscene wealth of Nucky and all his friends, who wind up clawing over more gold when Eddie rolls out the treasure chest. The distance between the haves and have-nots is very, very clear.

“Resolutions” is a very assured premiere. Though I have some issues with how the show deploys the huge supporting cast in later episodes, this one makes good use of nearly the whole ensemble (other than the absent Eli and Chalky, who get their turn next week), establishes what the conflicts are, etc.

I’m curious, though, how everyone feels about the first episode of the post-Jimmy era of the show. A lot of people (myself included) were concerned with how the show would feel without Michael Pitt limping around and pulling out his trench knife. In this one, I didn’t feel his absence too terribly (in part because the Gillian/Richard part of the hour was so focused on discussing him), but your mileage may vary.

What did everybody else think?