'Boardwalk Empire' blog: Episode 3, 'Broadway Limited'

"Poor bastard." -- Eli Thompson

It was a game of "Who Wants to Be the Most Sadistic."

The arrival of the near-dead victims of the woods shooting throws the Thompson brothers into acts of violence. But for all their antics, the bros were out-violenced by the rivetingly brutal Agent Nelson Van Alden (left).

I kind-of want to look away whenever Van Alden appears on screen. Michael Shannon is brilliant in this role, so far the most complex in the series. Behind a mask of contempt and ultra-religious veneer is a man of utter ruthlessness, anger and hatred.

We saw a lot V an Alden behaving badly in this episode. Oh, and we also saw a brutal doctor's visit for Lucky Luciano.

The shocking survival of one the shooting victims (yes, that would be his stomach falling out) worries Jimmy (right), who's responsible, and Nucky and his brother. Nucky wants to make quick work of the guy -- he tells his brother Eli, the sheriff, to help nature along -- but Van Alden wants to speak with the victim, too.

But Eli gets to him frst. And why "gets to him," I mean "tries to smother him with a pillow." He almost succeeds, but Van Alden steps in and breaks things up. Later, the Good Sadistic Agent returns with a phony warrant, puts the shooting victim in a car and tries to take him to New York.

He's dying on the road. The Agent's sidekick tries to keep him alive with a slap and a quick "Who shot you?" but they end up having to rush into a New Jersey's dentist office to try to keep him alive long enough to reveal who was behind the shooting.

After being revived with with cocaine -- "It's an anesthetic" the dentist says calmly -- the victim perks up long enough to curse Van Alden in Yiddish (translation: one of the most vulgar screw-yous" you can think of and pretty much unprintable.

Van Alden doesn't like that. So he sticks his hand into the guy's stomach wound. Several times. Yeah, not fun to watch. But it does the trick -- the victim fingers Jimmy for the shooting before he dies.

And then Van Alden proceeds to quote the Book of Revelations after the dude dies (the funniest line of the night: One agent's response to the Biblical antics -- "Isn't he Jewish?"

Despite his, um, evilness, I'm thinking Van Alden is the richest character on and off the Boardwalk.

So Jimmy's in trouble. With everyone. Rothstein wants Lucky Luciano to kill Jimmy and find out the identity of the other shooter (that would be Al Capone). Jimmy's common-law wife is not content with his shenanigans. And his mom is unhappy that Jimmy seems lost in the world. "He's a shell," she says.

And Nucky is pretty much done with him. So he banishes Jimmy from Atlantic City. It was a sadly touching scene, with Nucky reminiscing about a young wide-eyed Jimmy who had dreams of the presidency. Now, all Nucky can tell Jimmy is to get lost.

"I used to think you'd own the world one day," Nucky tells Jimmy. "You did everything right. And then..."

It's enough to make Jimmy want to cry. The Nucky-Jimmy relationship is another interesting aspect of "Boardwalk Empire." Beyond the bootlegging and showgirls and period dress, there's alliances and families and teetering-on-the-edge friendships.

I've already begun to wonder if Jimmy is Nucky's son. We got a little glimpse into their past here. Jimmy's mom Gillian urges Nucky to keep his promise to keep her son out of trouble. And it's clear Nucky has been involved with the Darmodys for a long time.

When he's dismissing Jimmy, Nucky mentions Jimmy's "dad," but I wonder if his real father is Nucky himself. What do you all think?

For now, Jimmy's out of there. Onto Chicago. And probably onto a life of crime, reteaming with Al Capone. But will Luciano catch up with him, too.

In other "Boardwalk" news, we got a wider look at Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams, left), who is now in the bootlegging business with Nucky now that Doyle is out of the picture. Perhaps this is unfair, but I see a bit too much "The Wire's" Omar in Williams' portrayal. Yes, they're both in crime, both gangsters. But Chalky talks like he's very much in 2010, not 1920. He says f---er and motherf---er so much that Nucky even asks, "What's 'motherf---er mean?"

It's not that I wanted Chalky to do the Lindy Hop and joyfully throw in many a "23 skidoo," but he seemed a bit too modern for me. I like him though, and I'm sure we'll see much more of him in the future, especially now that one of his workers was lynched and the words "Liquor Kills" were etched on his car.

And what's going on with Margaret? She's a little low on cash, but Nucky has pulled through and given her a job, working in a fancy French dress shop at the Ritz (Does Nucky want to keep an eye on her?). Margaret has a boss from hell and also must help out annoying customers, like Nucky's girlfriend, Lucy. Seems like when Lucy's not spilling yogurt on her nude chest in front of Nucky, she's harassing clothing store employees with her annoying accent. Good times!

One big question: What's going to happen  to Jimmy's family now that he has split? Will they also reach out for help from Nucky? It's not like Nucky's busy with anything else. But one interesting thing is how Nucky tries not to get his hands dirty. He's got other people doing his dirty work for him: his brother, Chalky and previously Jimmy. Will he help Jimmy's family in return?

And with the gangsters closing in on his empire, just how long will it be before he bloodies his own knuckles?

Finally, just how rough was Lucky's doctor visit to take care of his gonorrhea? The doctor's instruments looked like they were from a Spanish Inquisition tool kit. I didn't expect it to be a simple outpatient procedure, but it took "poked and prodded" to the next level.


The road to nowhere:
The episode's title refers to the "Broadway Limited" train line that Jimmy takes to Chicago. And that book he's reading on the trip? "Free Air" by Sinclair Lewis, about a road trip. And freedom. Nice touch, writers.

Best historical cameo: Eddie Cantor, who sung a nice rendition of the not-so-much-a-ballad "The Dumber they Come, the Better I Like 'Em."

Most heartbreaking moment: When Margaret's daughter asks when her baby is coming, the baby Margaret lost when her husband beat her, she replies, "The stork must of gotten lost." Yeah, I would've whipped up a brisket and potatoes for her also, just like her neighbor offered.

Mixed morals: After basically murdering the shooting victim with his hand-in-the-stomach action, the agent yells at his subordinate for reading someone elses mail. OK, then.

Best understatement: Sheriff Eli's "Poor bastard" remark about the shooting victim, commenting on his post-suffocation gasps.

Best phone etiquette: Nucky, who throws in a "Righty-O!" after he donates $1,000 to the Boardwalk "baby incubator."

A new "Sopranos" connection: Recognize one of the gangsters who bailed Mickey Doyle out of jail? Leo D'Alessio is played by Max Casella, who was Benny Fazio in multiple "Sopranos" episodes.

Photos by HBO