Seven curse words, at least four racial slurs, and a raft of other insults, ranging from “short pants” and “midget” to “breadstick in a bowtie.” That’s how Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) announces his arrival in Atlantic City, directing his invective at Nucky Thompson, (Steve Buscemi). It’s a feat of virtuosic vulgarity, coming after we’ve already seen him gratuitously murder a Good Samaritan for a perceived slight—and then steal the Samaritan’s dog—so we know he bites as hard as he barks. Okay, Boardwalk Empire, you have our attention.
The show needed Gyp Rosetti. At the end of the second season, it was in the strange position of winding down and hitting its stride simultaneously. It had spent the season beginning to reap the benefits of more than a year of narrative build-up, as we felt fully invested in a number of stories, stories that were quickly developing. Then, just when it could’ve coasted off its accumulated good will and anticipation,Boardwalk Empire raised the stakes instead.
Primarily, it killed off major characters, including Jimmy (Michael Pitt). Now we have to think about the show differently. None of our favorite characters has protected status due to their prominence or popularity, and anyone can go at any time if it serves the greater narrative. (Please, let Margaret Schroeder make it through the end unscathed!) These deaths served other, more plainly narrative purposes: they opened up a vacuum of villainy. Nucky had clawed his way to the top and now looked unopposed.
But if Boardwalk Empire preaches one thing, it’s this: just when you think you’ve solved one problem, there’s another waiting in the wings. Gyp Rosetti’s introduction suggests that he’ll be a scoundrel every bit as violent, wily, and ruthless as we’ve seen before in the series, if not more so. By the second episode of the new season, he delivers on that promise.
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