Boardwalk Empire” never did completely live up to its potential, but at the same time, it’s better than a lot of other shows we could be watching. True, it isn’t nearly as strong as the criminally overlooked “Treme,” but as always, the good shows get the attention, while the great ones get discovered after the fact.

Thankfully, every now and then, even the good shows can be great, and “Boardwalk Empire” may have been last night. Read our review to find out why. . .

The Players:

  • Director: Ed Bianchi
  • Writer: Steve Kornacki
  • Cast: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston

Episode Title: “What Does the Bee Do?”

The Commodore suffers a severe stroke, potentially compromising the power of Eli and Jimmy. Nucky seeks the help of Arnold Rothstein when he can no longer bring liquor into Atlantic City through his own ports, and discovers a way to deal with his legal troubles when his lawyer devises a plan to make his case federal. Chalky, in the meantime, must deal with an angry community that blames him for the deaths of their loved ones, and Richard opens up to Angela.

The Good:

  • Gillian: Gretchen Mol’s performance as Gillian has always been captivating, even though it is difficult to tell whether it is brilliant or inherently flawed; the character always seems to be subtly divorced from reality, forgiving heinous offenses but clearly concealing some quality of herself. Well, she let a little of that out last night when she violently slapped the helpless Commodore, all the while reminding him of the crimes he committed against her while she was only a child. It’s a powerful scene, one that has been a long time coming.
  • Richard: When Richard Harrow was introduced last season, it seemed like the writers would treat him with the sensitivity that his character deserves. Sadly, up until now, he seems to have been stuck in the role of the sub-human killer, the man whose facial disfigurement mirrors the state of his soul. When Angela sketches him in this episode, we get a greater glimpse into that soul; the scene features some of the strongest writing and acting this show has given viewers thus far.

The So-So:

  • Nucky’s case: Despite the fact that Nucky was in real legal trouble since the start of this season, viewers have never quite felt that there was anything to worry about; the whole plot seemed to lack any real sense of urgency. So, on the one hand, it is good that a new development arose to move things further along, but on the other hand, if Nucky really is going to get off as easily as it seems he will, then whatever drama the writers tried to milk out of this situation will be wasted.
  • Margaret: Margaret doesn’t get much to do this episode, and while it is “nice” that she secured some money from Nucky in order to give bonuses to the maids, it doesn’t reveal much about her character, aside from the same old conflict she’s had since the middle of last season: her inability to reconcile her old life with her new one.
  • Chalky: Chalky has never been given as much to do in this show as he deserves, and while last night’s episode seemed to allow him more screentime than usual, it still didn’t add up to all that much. His character seems like a constant teaser from the writers, who appear to be promising us that he’ll play a major role someday. Well, we’d like to see him get involved sooner rather than later. Michael Kenneth Williams is a great actor, and he deserves a character to match.

Overall:

See how there isn’t a section for “the bad”? That’s because there wasn’t much to complain about in this episode. Sure, some characters got less time on the screen than we would have liked, but those are minor issues which will hopefully be addressed eventually. There were enough moments of brilliance this week to justify concluding that this was a very strong episode.

Rating: 8.5/10

“Boardwalk Empire” airs every Sunday night on HBO!

What did you think of last night’s episode?