Steve Buscemi's on-screen resume is filled with unique and interesting characters, most of which the Brooklyn native has nailed.
He's done the same with Boardwalk Empire's Nucky Thompson. We've seen Buscemi capture the typical qualities of gangster with ease, from business dealings to killing, from comforter to cold killer. This week, Buscemi adds a completely different element: concussed, confused, and vulnerable, as Nucky Thompson recovers from an explosion that killed his girlfriend, Billie Kent, courtesy of Gyp Rosetti.
Buscemi walks through "The Milkmaid's Lot" in a haze, mixing up names, losing hearing, balance and/or his temper at any given moment. He deals with bad eyesight and a loud ringing in his ears as he tries to manage the chaos and impending threat from Rosetti and Joe Masseria. It doesn't go very well.
He demands focus on Emily's birthday, apparently oblivious to the fact his life is in danger despite the fact he and the family are forced into hiding in a hotel. When the party occurs, Nucky causes a scene, unbeknownst to him, and passes out.
While Nucky attempts to rediscover his sanity -- a plot line brilliantly created and executed, particularly in light of new research on concussions and the impact in mainstream society and sports -- his wife Margaret, and bodyguard, Owen Slater, plot a lovers escape. Kindred spirits from Ireland, the two work up enough courage to try and leave, "as soon as we're able."
Their rendezvous is broken up by Nucky, who brushes the scene off. He then, perhaps looking down at the pit of his loneliness and seeing the bottom getting close, states that Margaret belongs by his side even while discussing business, a first for the relationship. Nucky doesn't hold back at all, despite the obvious effort from Eli and Owen to keep their language politically correct, saying, "When the meeting's over, Joe Masseria will be a dead man, Gyp Rosetti won't have anyone to protect him, and I'll wear those f***ing dago's guts like a necktie."
It doesn't go according to plan, despite Nucky's strong effort under duress. Arnold Rothstein delivers the news that none of the other bootleggers will back Thompson's fight against Rosetti and Masseria. Thompson is left standing in the meeting room yelling "Arnold" as the crew walks out, leaving Nucky in his most familiar position this season: alone.
Now, he'll have to contend with Rosetti's mob, who just took over Tabor Heights after brutally beating the new police chief, but kept this one alive for now, while bribing the rest of the town to keep quiet. He takes down their names and addresses, leaving the inevitability of classic Italian-mob firebombing for those who don't participate, and lets the town know how it's gonna be from here on out: "Bible camp's cancelled."
It may have been cancelled in the sub plot of the episode, too. Richard Harrow takes his new love interest Julia Sagorsky to a dance, dancing and getting a kiss on the mask in front of the crowd. Tommy, Jimmy's son who Richard looks after, then sneaks into one of the rooms in the whorehouse, causing a scene.
Another scene was the arrest of George Remis, who was chased around his house in a robe still yelling in the third person. Esther Randolph, the brilliant lawyer now working with Nucky, was there for the arrest, and after Remis yells about receipts kept, she quips, "Randolph would be very interested in seeing them."
But that was it for the characters of less importance. Unfortunately, we still didn't get much Al Capone or Chalky White, though that seems likely to change as the war between Nucky and Rosetti enters the middle rounds.