A modestly paced episode puts several pivotal characters on the slow boil, setting up some major conflict ahead this year.
The theme of change continues this episode in the opening moments, as we watch a goldfish being transferred from a bowl into a glass of water. For the briefest of moments, it is left gasping for air in a waterless sink, unable to adapt to this new environment. An incredibly apt analogy for a group of characters that have undergone some momentous transitions of their own in the last few months, not least of which is the new depth of gangster that Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) has sunk to. In Spaghetti and Coffee, his power-hungry arrogance comes back to bite him.
This episode follows the consequences of Nucky’s decisions in Resolution, primarily cutting off his liquor supply to everybody but Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). This gives New York/Sicilian gangster Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) cause for action, and is something that will shake Nucky out of his complacency. It’s a very comfortable place at that, primarily between the sheets with his new mistress, entertainer Billie Kent (Meg Chambers Steedle), one of the few women whose lives don’t revolve entirely around Nucky. His wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald) continues her quest to get better conditions for women at the Catholic hospital. Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) gets a visit from his daughter’s would-be suitor, and the winds of change carry the recently incarcerated Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham) back into the waiting arms of crime.
This quieter, but no less powerful, episode comes to us from writer Howard Korder, who last provided the surprising and powerful second season’s penultimate episode “Under God’s Power She Flourishes”, once again examines the demons and dark underbellies that torment the main souls in this superior drama. Case in point is his concentration on the African-American Chalky White this episode, who was last given his greatest moments in last year’s “Ourselves Alone”. That episode, also written by Korder, demonstrated Chalky’s understated power in the city, which ultimately culminated in the city-wide strike. Here we finally get more of a glimpse into his family life, and more specifically what makes him tick. His daughter doesn’t want to get married to the ‘nice’ doctor courting her, despite Chalky’s insistence, mostly because she doesn’t think he is as “interesting” as her father. When violence unexpectedly erupts, and the depths of what her father does is partially revealed, Chalky quips “He interesting enough for ya now?”
Less interesting is Margaret’s minor arc, which effectively puts her on the back foot. Having been given some magnificent character building moments in the previous year, especially those concerning her estranged family, her ultimate faith-based triumph came in the final episode by giving away Nucky’s land rights to the church. Here she is desperate for a voice, with her pleas falling on deaf ears at the hospital and perhaps a too-obvious-at-this-point romance being set up with the argumentative young doctor who sees things differently to the hospital.
What defines Spaghetti and Coffee more than anything is its deliberate absences. Aside from the palpable hole left by Jimmy Darmody’s departure, we also don’t see his mother (Gretchen Mol) in this outing, nor is the compelling Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) to be seen. Gyp Rosetti sets himself up as this season’s villain, effectively strangling Nucky’s trade route for liquor through a power play gamble that works. Nucky’s failure to anticipate this comes partly from pomposity and partially from his distractions: the aforementioned Kent, but also Harry Daugherty’s fixer Gaston Bullock Means, played with creepy glee by familiar face Stephen Root. As Nucky has power meetings with Rothstein, the rug is being quickly pulled out from under him. This episode might be briefer and more restrained than most, but one thing is for sure: a war is coming.