With 'Sunday Best,' Boardwalk Empire displays the proverbial calm before the storm in an exceptional episode (and that's not a hurricane Sandy reference), proving there's still plenty in these characters that's not only surprising to them, but for the audience as well.
It's Easter Sunday, and most everyone is celebrating it in his or her own unique way. In a rather fantastic opening, Eli (Shea Whigham) begins the day by hiding Easter eggs around his yard for those in his brood who are still young enough to be concerned with such things, and the two his brother is bringing along on a long overdue visit to the more modest Thompson house. Eli has been campaigning for more responsibility (and forgiveness) from Nucky (Steve Buscemi) by showing his loyalty during the recent Tabor Heights debacle, so inviting his older brother and his family over for dinner is an attempt to appeal to whatever maybe left of Nucky's sentimental side.
The two sit on the porch as Eli struggles to find common ground with Nucky, at first attempting to talk shop and then discussing how he promised his wife June (Nisi Sturgis) he wouldn’t drink until later. As it turns out, the lack of alcohol really keeps his head clear. But there's a lot of insight into the Thompson clan, as Eli recalls how their mother would put out three red eggs (a traditional prize in their family Easter egg hunt), while Nucky recalls how their father would keep all the money usually awarded to those who found said red eggs. Later, June tells Margaret (Kelly Mcdonald) about Eli's feelings toward his brother, and that Nucky basically has a good heart. All this sharing about feelings prompts Margaret to unload about Nucky's affair and his criminal dealings – which June diffuses with her joy over the pineapple upside down cake Margaret brought.
Meanwhile, Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) is taking Tommy Darmody out so that Gillian (Gretchen Mol) can have the day to herself – tending with personal issues, and what not. The two briefly discuss where Richard is headed and Gillian is adamant that her son not be around any rough language, so, naturally, Richard makes sure to take the young boy to the home of a man recently seen in a drunken bar fight. Of course, Richard's really interested in seeing Julia Sagorsky (Wrenn Schmidt), and is willing to suffer through a meal with her father, Paul (Mark Borkowski) as a means of doing so.
As Julia explained, her father was crushed by the death of his son, and since then has taken to releasing his rage on anyone close by, or a child who happens upon the shrine to the deceased Sagorsky boy. In that regard, Paul's hard to get a bead on; one moment, he's berating everyone at the table, and the next, he's handling the issue of Tommy's request to go to the bathroom with a stern, but seemingly kindhearted reminder to "aim that pistol straight into the bowl." That kindheartedness evaporates quickly after Paul discovers Tommy playing with his late son's toys. Richard swoops in and removes Tommy from the situation with a blunt threat to kill the old guy, and then manages to get Julia to come out for a bit with him and Tommy.
Basking in his glory, Richard walks along with Julia as she explains how she's used to her father and that Richard probably shouldn't threaten to kill him again. This grants the normally quiet Mr. Harrow an opportunity for a few hilarious lines regarding how her Easter dinner was a disaster, but that he'd had a great time. It's tough to say whether this is going anywhere, or if the Julia/Richard outing will simply be a one-off adventure, but whatever it is that lets her understand her father is the same thing that allows Julia to speak with Richard on such a human level - and to do things like set him a plate in a separate room so that he can dine without concern of what the others might see or think. Richard's grand day out culminates with a photographer assuming the three are a little family unit and taking their picture. It's a simple photo capturing Richard's good side that could easily be seen as a husband, his wife and their child – which couldn't be further from the truth. Naturally, Richard returns home and pastes the photo into his scrapbook of perfectly imagined families.
While Richard and Tommy are out, Gillian welcomes unfortunate Indiana native and James Darmody look-alike Roger (Billy Magnussen) over for supper, a nice hot bath and "rather a lot" of heroin. It was inevitable that the young man would fall prey to Gillian, and all of this probably could have been handled off screen – given everything else that was going on in this episode – but it at least demonstrates her willingness to do whatever it takes in order to see that her business succeeds. And, in a way, perhaps this serves as a way for her to finally close the book on Jimmy.
Gillian's not the only one dealing with business, however. Gyp Rosetti, who it turns out is a lot like Adam Sandler's character in Punch Drunk Love, is spending the day with his mother and his sisters berating him while an associate tells him how the Tabor Heights ordeal has left Gyp without men or money at his disposal. Gyp resigns himself to an angry outburst inside a church, bemoaning his station in life before beating a priest and taking all of the church's collection money as payment for Joe "The Boss" Masseria (Ivo Nandi). Turns out, Joe's fed up with Rosetti; he can't control him, and he can't rely on him, so he's ready to wash his hands of the temperamental Sicilian. That is, until Gyp appeals to Masseria's dislike of Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and promises his boss a war that will have people calling him "king."
There're many appeals in 'Sunday Best,' and one that actually manages to go over. After coming home and attempting to teach his wife how to juggle, Nucky's appeal to Margaret is met with her telling him "it's too late," both in the hour and their relationship, so he does the next best thing and calls his brother. Nucky tells Eli he appreciates how he handled things in Tabor Heights and promotes him to running the warehouse with Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks). The question now is: with the war coming, did Nucky just put his brother on the front lines?
Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with 'The Pony' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview of the episode below: