It's New Year's Eve on "Boardwalk Empire," and 1923 is already off to a predictably shaky start.
If last season ended with a bang -- RIP, Jimmy Darmody -- tonight we have quiet menace, giving way to brutality.
Thanks to the recent addition of Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), a new danger lurks in the Garden State. Although Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (series star Steve Buscemi) squelched the threat of young Jimmy (Michael Pitt) by putting a bullet in his head in last season's finale, there's growing concern among his enemies and colleagues alike that Nucky is growing too powerful.
- When: Tonight at 10, HBO.
- Starring: Steve Buscemi, Bobby Cannavale, Kelly Macdonald.
"Maybe," says a member of his political circle, "it's time you dismounted from that high horse."
Rosetti is champing at the prospect. In the mold of sociopaths such as Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas" and Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men," it doesn't take much to bring a simmering Gyp to violence. He's an equal-opportunity thug who preys on bystanders and gangsters alike: In the season opener and in future episodes, there's no guessing what kind of innocent remark or gesture will set the guy off.
It's a delicious development.
The early episodes of "Boardwalk Empire" are about power struggles and violence but also about the struggles of family. Nucky and Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) are ringing in the new year with a lavish, ancient Egypt-themed party, while Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) is now running the Artemis Club with the help of her late son's right-hand man, Richard Harrow (Jack Huston).
She's also playing mommy to her grandson; let's hope she does a better job this time around. Conveniently overlooking how much Harrow loved little Tommy's deceased parents, she bristles when she discovers him showing one of Angela's paintings to the tyke.
"I'm your mother now, remember," says Gillian primly, before returning to run her house of prostitution.
Things aren't much smoother in the Thompson mansion. Nucky has his sights set on more than importing illegal booze. No longer the county treasurer, he's looking to expand his empire in other ways.
Between his new ambitions and old alliances, as well as the bedroom pursuit of a young singer, he hardly has time for Margaret.
Never one to take rejection lightly, Margaret has payback and projects of her own. Her latest cause is the pediatric hospital wing made possible when she signed over her husband's property to the Catholic Church in Season 2.
"Boardwalk Empire" tended to drag at times last season, but the series redeemed itself with that spectacular twist at the end. Creator Terence Winter, who wrote tonight's opener, has said Jimmy's death was planned from the pilot.
Killing him off was a bold move, but it allows other new players to emerge. And Eli Thompson, Nucky's brother (Shea Whigham), will be returning from prison soon to discover just how big a price he'll pay for crossing family.
As for falling, well, let's just say it's been a tough 16 months for Michael Shannon's former hard-case FBI agent, Nelson Van Alden.
So while Nucky and friends raise glasses of the good stuff to a new year and a new season, the rest of us can settle in with a cup of bathtub gin. It's going to be a bloody ride.
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published September 16, 2012 4:00 AM