‘Boardwalk Empire’ Final Season Discussion: ‘The Good Listener’

Senior Pop Culture Editor
09.15.14 39 Comments

“Year in, year out: different dogs, same f*cking bone.” Nucky’s never had his “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in” moment because he’s never allowed himself the opportunity to get out. If his unnecessary flashbacks this season have proven anything, it’s that he came from nothing, and he’s not going to stop until he has everything. And even then, he’d probably still keep going, like a musician who knows once he quits touring, he’s as good as dead. “The Good Listener” might as well be called “Nucky’s Lament.” He’s the old dog fighting for the aforementioned bone. While he’s talking to a bunch of stiff old men who want nothing to do with him, Capone’s boasting about his celebrity in a room full of admirers, an Luciano and Lansky are conspiring to take care of their Atlantic City problem.

It’s a good plan, right up until the minute Tonino (one of Gyp Rosetti’s lieutenants) rats on them in the hopes of getting on Nucky’s good side. It doesn’t end well for him.

“The Good Listener” is your typical episode two. Less exciting than the premiere, more setup with hopefully exciting payoffs along the line, etc. But what made it atypical was the man, the myth, the legend: no, not Al Capone, but Nelson Van Alden. Look, a lot of critics have wondered why Michael Shannon’s still on the show, but so long as Van Alden’s hissing at a pitiful looking Eli (#TrueDetectiveSeason2), talking to dogs in elevators, and replying to his son’s serious questions with, “Is this a joke?” I’m totally on board with him being the aggravated cockroach that survives the war. Because an earless war is coming, at least between Nucky and Luciano/Lansky.

Speaking of people who have been around for longer than anyone could have predicted: Gretchen Mol is a great actress stuck playing an indifferent character. She’s back where she began — a helpless prisoner held hostage by an authority figure — except now she’s living in a facility for the criminally cuckoo. It’s truly uncomfortable to watch, though I will admit her fake-out encounter with the female administrator, who seemed to be demanding a sexual favor but instead wanted fashion advice, kept my attention. But again, that has more to do with Mol’s commanding presence than anything having to do with poor Gillian, who could really use a win. “I need to get my thoughts straight.” Good luck with that.

Ultimately, this episode (and whole season) is about Nucky. He’s always been the light that the show’s moths gravitate toward, forever hanging there while they bounce off him, and as long as we get more Leaving a Message Nucky, and less Talking to Willie Nucky, that’s not a bad thing. Also, more Prezbo.

Boardwalk Empire laughs at the idea of having too many great character actors on a single show, and adds Jim True-Frost as Eliot Ness and Matt Letscher as Joe Kennedy.

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