Every now and then, we have to dispense with the silent introspection and get down to the meat and potatoes of storytelling. Well, kind of, at least. “Bone For Tuna” still had a lot of Nucky staring off into the middle distance, but more on that in a bit. What tonight’s episode did primarily was show us the direction the story’s taking. And in that direction lies Gyp Rosetti, who’s fragile ego is going to cause all sorts of problems for Nucky going forward.
Gyp is still pissed that Nucky won’t sell him the rum he demanded in “Resolution,” so he’s decided that until he gets it, he’s going to shack up in Tabor Heights and block off any of Nucky’s other shipments that might be trying to get through. Nucky’s a man with obligations, so in the interest of business, he’s decided to sit down with the man, try and hammer something out so they can all get back to making money. And for a few minutes, it looks like it’s gonna work. Nucky agrees to sell Gyp the rum, with the stipulation that it’s the only shipment he’s going to get. And Gyp says he’ll back out of Tabor Heights. Great. Let’s all go get smashed and laid. Right? Wrong. The thing about Gyp is, he doesn’t just want Nucky’s rum, he wants a seat at the table. He wants to be treated like an equal when he’s with Nucky, Rothstein, and Torrio. So it’s not good enough that Nucky’s sell to him, Nucky also needs to be there to hand him the stuff, and to see him off. When he’s not, Gyp sees it as a horrible breech of protocol. And when Owen dares to tell him good luck – buona fortuna, or bone for tuna – in Italian no less, Gyp’s ready to raze Atlantic City, then salt the earth so that nothing grows there ever again. Ever.
So Gyp goes back to Tabor Heights, and not only is he staying, but he sets the poor fat bastard sheriff on fire, too. That’s just mean. And Nucky, who seems to be suffering from one perpetual migraine this season, will like it none too much.
Of course, even before the unfortunate incident between Gyp and Owen, we saw Gyp sweet talking Gillian, trying to learn a little more about her history with Nucky. So, he obviously has other shenanigans in the works, the whole “bone for tuna” thing just exacerbated them.
But Nucky didn’t steal the spotlight entirely this week. We also saw Van Alden narrowly avoid arrest. Then he got laid. And Meyer Lansky shot a guy.
But anyway, back to Nucky. While we got a lot of pure plot stuff tonight, we got a good look at Nucky’s lingering feelings over the Jimmy Darmody killing. A year and a half later and Nucky hasn’t shaken it completely off. That’s alright. Any excuse the show needs to get Nucky and Richard in a room together to discuss these issues of the soul is fine by me. When Nucky asks Richard if he still thinks about the people he’s killed, Richard tells him he already knows the answer to that. So you have to wonder if any of this is going to get any easier on Nucky. The show’s tagline this season is “You can’t be half a gangster.” But can you go from being a gangster to not being one? Or do we have a Tony Soprano situation where The Life is The Life, and Nucky’s just too set in his ways to ever get out of it?
It’s always been interesting to me to compare Nucky to Margaret in this way. Nucky likes the lifestyle – the money, the power – but it took him a while to really get his hands dirty. Margaret has no qualms about getting her own hands dirty, lying and stealing from those close to her – that was a nice bit of business with the priest at Nucky’s knighting – but she’s disdainful of the material possessions Nucky’s life has brought her. Anyway, think about that and what it means for their relationship (and their eventual reconciling, I’m betting), and we’ll talk more about it next week.
Until then, can we please get back to Al Capone? We can skip over Van Alden and his wife having sex. It’s cool.
I don’t know if this is what “Spaghetti and Coffee” set out to do, but I thought the episode had some interesting things to say about family relationships inside [PrisonMike]The Life[/PrisonMike].
In a perfect world, TV shows do the things they do because the storytelling demands it (it sucks, but Nucky had to kill Jimmy). But there are also more practical reasons making their own demands**. This week we saw Eli walk out of prison after the year and a half stretch Nucky told him he’d have to serve at the end of last season. And I imagine that was part of the reason season three picked up where it did. Shea Whigham’s a great actor, and the show wasn’t going to sideline him for an entire year.
**(You see this sort of thing crop up in other shows, too. Game of Thrones fans will probably have heard executive producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff say that, going forward, their goal isn’t to adapt the books exactly as they’ve been published, but to take George R.R. Martin’s story and adapt it in a way that’s best suited to television. I’m sure a not insignificant part of that is because characters like Tyrion Lannister don’t appear in A Feast for Crows (the fourth book and theoretically the show’s fifth and sixth seasons) at all. And really, if Game of Thrones had to go an entire year or two without Tyrion, what’s the effing point?)
So Eli’s back, and maybe I’m wrong (probably), but I can see what’s happened between him and Nucky playing a big role this season. Eli’s always been the man handling things behind the scenes not because he wanted to be, but because that was the roll Nucky forced on him. He’s tried breaking out of that mold. We saw him preparing his speech to the Celtic Dinner in “Nights at Ballygran,” trying maybe a little too hard to show everyone that he was smarter and more eloquent than they were all giving him credit for. That didn’t work out very well for him, and neither did his plans to go against Nucky. There, the men he was taking his orders from both ended up dead, and Eli ended up in prison. Now that he’s out, he’s got this do-it-or-don’t-do-it-I-don’t-really-care vibe about him. He knows he has to work under Mickey because he’s got a family to feed and no other prospects. The sting of that whole situation’s probably worn off somewhat in the past year and a half, at least enough so that he sees its necessity without getting too pissed off. Eli made a lot of enemies as sheriff, and he knows it’d be better to work inside Nucky’s sphere of influence than outside it. So he’s just gonna keep his head down, make some money. Not what he envisioned for himself, but he can deal with it.
What I think will really stick in his craw will be his standing with his family. We saw that, while he’s been away, his son’s been forced to drop out of school and take a job, which kind of puts him on funny footing as far as providing for everyone goes. He’s got some work to do to get back into that father figure role. Right now he’s more like the uncle living in the garage. All this can go one of two ways. He can quietly plot his revenge, or he can show everyone that he’s actually worth something, and play an important cog in Nucky’s machine. I’m betting on the latter. The Eli we saw tonight is quiet, wrestling with the decisions he’s made (or rather, the consequences of those decisions), but still focused on what he needs to do to get back up on his feet, as distasteful as that may be. This stands in contrast to the Eli we’ve known, full of bluster and mostly pissed at his brother.
On the other side of town, we see Nucky shacking up with Billie Kent. I was actually a little surprised with how predictable their relationship played out this week (especially after how big a surprise it was that they were together in the first place). Billie isn’t a one-man kind of girl, which is obviously what Nucky’s looking for. I think the contemplative looks he kept giving that ringing telephone were the biggest hint that this split between him and Margaret is only a temporary one.
Finally, we checked in with Chalky White, and saw that his daughter’s boyfriend wants to propose. I guess he’s into the whole self-punishment thing, because he knows what a whackadoodle family the White’s are, and all the crap he’d be opening himself up to once he became a member of the family. And apparently Chalky’s all too eager to take advantage of him, telling his daughter that having a doctor in the family’s going to help them. I don’t know what to make of the way the guy shook Chalky off to help the guy who had just cut off his face. Maybe he won’t be as easy to control as Chalky thinks. Considering how little we’re seeing some of these characters this season, I’m sure we’ll know how everything turns out five or six seasons from now.
Eli’s a family man and has always been a family man. Many of Nucky’s relationships have been superficial, but he’s realizing now that that’s just not cutting it anymore, and needs something deeper. And Chalky, while I’m sure he loves his family very much, isn’t afraid of using them for his own purposes. It’s easy to see the split between Nucky and Margaret and Eli blowing over, but I’m not sure where things with Chalky are headed. Although I can’t imagine the show spending any time on it and not intending to pay it off somewhere down the road.
I’m not sure where a show like Boardwalk Empire ends, as compared to a show like Breaking Bad. It isn’t a show that has a definitive “end,” so unlike Breaking Bad, which will probably end with Walt’s death (we’re all thinking it), Boardwalk allows us to drift in and out of these characters’ lives, months or even years down the road.
“Resolution” picks up on New Year’s Eve 1922, a year and a half after the events of season two and exactly three years after the series premiere. Nucky seems to have taken Jimmy’s admonition that “you can’t be half a gangster” to heart, and when we meet him he’s in an empty apartment building with Mickey Doyle and Manny Horvitz, questioning a thief who stole alcohol from one of their warehouses. After calming the guy down and getting him to give over the name of his wheelman, Nucky tells Manny to put a bullet in the guy’s head. So maybe Nucky hasn’t completely balls-to-the-wall with the whole gangster thing. But at least he’s dropped the whole “I’m a businessman” pretense.
But whenever we see Nucky and Margaret alone, it seems they’ve dropped one charade for another. As you might have suspected, Nucky’s still pretty pissed about all that land Margaret handed over to the church at the end of last season. And as soon as the last guest has left their New Year’s party he’s in her face, throwing the whole thing in her face again (like married couples do). At the end of the episode we see that their relationship has gotten much worse than heated arguments, with Nucky sleeping at the Ritz while Margaret stays at home. We also see that Nucky’s taken a new concubine, Billie Kent, who’s a friend of Eddie Cantor. Billie and Eddie perform at the Thompson’s New Year’s bash, but it’s not until afterwards that we discover how she probably got the gig.
So not an ideal situation for Margaret. But it’s not like she’s sitting at home all day every day, kneading her hands and furrowing her brow. She’s settled into her role as a philanthropist, touring the hospital the church used the land for. Although we do see her and half the show’s characters following the story of fictional aviatrix Carrie Duncan, the first woman to fly nonstop across the continental US. At the episode’s end we see Margaret standing on the beach, one of several who have come out to watch Duncan fly overhead. The symbolism is about as on-the-head as you can get. Duncan is a woman who’s breaking barriers in a way Margaret can’t.
Outside of Nucky and Margaret’s not-marriage, several other things have changed, and I enjoyed the way the show didn’t try and explain them all, choosing instead to let viewers catch up and figure things out on their own. We’re introduced to Gyp Rosetti, one of the new season’s main antagonists. In some of the show’s promo material I heard Rosetti referred to as someone who can’t take a joke – which is kind of funny considering that’s what he accuses everyone else of – and the writers definitely set that up in the very beginning. When Rosetti’s car gets a flat tire, a good Samaritan stops to offer some help, saying that he’s got some “three-in-one” in his car. When Rosetti asks what that is, the guy says, “Oil. What else would it be?” So Rosetti does what any reasonable person would do and beats him to death with a tire iron. It’s in these over-the-top meltdowns that Rosetti really reveals who he is. At the New Year’s party, when Nucky announces to his gathered underworld guests that from now on he’ll only be selling liquor to Arnold Rothstein, and not Rosetti, he flips, going around the room and insulting everyone who may have been sympathetic to him or maybe offered some help.
Across town, we see Gillian – now the madame of a high-class bordello – carrying on as if life were nothing but rainbows and sunshine. There’s always been something off-putting about Gillian, and that wasn’t helped last season when we discovered just how far her, ahem, relationship with Jimmy went , but this whole thing with Tommy and trying to convince him that she’s his real mother just feels dirty to me. Then there was her veiled threat to Richard after he tried reminding Tommy about who his parents really were. So, I guess we can chalk him going out and shooting Manny’s face off up to pent-up frustration. But you have to ask yourself, if Richard killed Manny because of Angela, can Nucky be far behind?
We also check in with Van Alden, living just outside Chicago and making his living as a door-to-door iron salesman. It seems that, in the past year and a half, Van Alden’s married his German au pair and the two have had another child. You’d wonder how Nelson could possibly be able to fit into the show’s story this season until you see him cross paths with Al Capone, who’s visiting a flower shop owner who earlier in the episode was making fun of Capone’s deaf son. In Boardwalk’s first episode, Nelson referred to being a Prohibition agent was “godly work,” and I imagine he’ll be drawn back into the fight, whether or not he has a badge backing him up.
I’ve read a few articles lately praising Boardwalk Empire for its acting, writing, set design, and everything else, but lamenting the fact that it doesn’t really seem to be about anything. I have to say I disagree, and partially blame that perception on the endless comparison between Boardwalk and that other HBO crime drama, The Sopranos. While The Sopranos dealt often with more existential issues (watch the show’s last scene between Tony and Uncle Junior to see what I’m talking about), Boardwalk Empire deals with the circumstances that led to creation of Tony’s world. While I see The Sopranos as an analytical drama, I see Boardwalk as more structural. Neither show fits perfectly into those definitions, there’s a lot of overlap between the two, but both are as good as the other. I admit that I haven’t sat down to watch The Sopranos since it went off the air in 2007, so I may go back and realize I’m full of crap, but right now I consider Boardwalk Empire to be one of the best shows on TV. And there are times when I enjoy it even more than I do Breaking Bad. I know. I’m sorry.
In any case, Boardwalk Empire seems to like Boardwalk Empire. The show knows what it is, and has I’d say from the very beginning. It knows what it does well and this feels like a season beginning in a place that’s very sure of itself. And if tonight’s premiere was any indication it’s going to be a great year for the show.
We knew this was coming. We knew it was coming for quite a while, in fact. But actually watching it happen was so much worse than I had imagined. Stuck in a room — I imagine not too far from Princeton — and having gotten news of Angela’s death, we watch as Jimmy takes a heroin-induced trip down memory lane. Flashing back to the days of his doe-eyed youth, when he and Angela had little to worry about besides 17th century literature and keeping the noise down while they were screwing so Jimmy’s landlady wouldn’t hear. Ah, nostalgia!
We’re introduced to one of Jimmy’s professors, who takes a break from the Dead Poet’s Society after Jimmy gets into a bit of a scrape with a classmate to let him know that the two of them are cut from the same cloth. That while everyone else at the school comes from a life of privilege and entitlement, people like them,”need to be clever.” Little does Jimmy know that his professor is just another in a string of father figures who’s going to let him down. Which he does in spectacular fashion by hitting on Gillian when she drops by the school to visit. When Jimmy’s mom turns him down, he gets a little violent and, well, that’s not the sort of thing Jimmy can just let go. Like he said, people from his neck of the woods tend to come out swinging, and that’s exactly what he does here. His professor gives him the first punch as a freebie, tells him that he understands and if Jimmy walks away now he’ll forget the entire thing ever happened. But Jimmy’s not done swinging yet, and that closes the book on his days in the Ivy League.
Of course, none of this is reason enough to call it a night, and both Jimmy and his mom throw a few back before heading home. And as she stumbles out of her clothes, and drags Jimmy into bed with her she says, “There’s nothing wrong with any of it!” And that closes the book on the days when Jimmy hadn’t had sex with his mother.
He. Had. Sex. With. His. Mother. I would wonder what sort of value system this guy grew up with, but he’s already in college. We know that Gillian’s a little more… hands on, in her parenting style. But Jimmy knows things like this aren’t normal. Still, he’s grown up having weird shit like this forced on him. And I wonder how much that played into the idea that going up against Nucky was going to be quick and (relatively) painless. Making a huge, life-changing leap like that. After all, that night with his mother, and learning just a few hours earlier that Angela was pregnant drove him toward making another big change in his life: joining the Army and being shipped off to Europe.
The episode did a lot of cool things, weaving Jimmy’s flashbacks and the sound of Angela’s voice, telling him that she had to go now — both literally and figuratively, now that we know what we know — into what was going on in the present day. Eventually, Jimmy cleans himself up and comes back home. In my review of last week’s episode, I said that once he found Angela, Jimmy would have to explain her death away to those who knew her. Well, the only one looking to explain things away is Gillian, who’s already got the story cooked up in her head, about moving away to Paris to live with friends. Jimmy sits, distracted, as Gillian says that a month from now, Tommy won’t even remember who she is and that just tears it. Jimmy’s out of his chair, choking Gillian and telling him that he’ll remember. And then the Commodore’s out of his chair, stabbing Jimmy in the back with that spear he was weightlifting with or whatever in the beginning of the season. Jimmy pulls out his knife and stabs his father in the stomach. And Gillian, always one to turn a negative into a positive tells him to finish the job and that’s the end of the Commodore.
This is some craziness, huh? Almost makes you forget there was a rest of the episode that went along with it. But, the world of Boardwalk Empire is vast, and while Jimmy was playing out his version of Oedipus Rex, our other characters were watching their carefully laid plans go awry.
My absolute favorite had to be Van Alden, who for a moment looked like he had come to the realization that he had made some poor decisions in his life. Killing Agent Sebso, keeping Lucy locked up in his apartment. He had accepted that what he had done was wrong and was ready to face the consequences. He signed the divorce papers. He was giving Esther Randolph more information. He even turned down Mickey Doyle when he offered him a piece of the Boys’ takedown money. And then Nucky’s butler (I guess?) tells Nucky about this one time about a year ago, when this crazy Prohibition agent drowned his partner in the river in front of his congregation. This is great news! Now, Van Alden can’t testify at Nucky’s trial. He’s going away for murder! And right when they’re slapping the handcuffs on him… BOOM! Gunshot in the leg! He’s running out of the building and… no one makes a move to stop him? Well, after he took that shot I guess I wouldn’t be trying to chase him down, either. There was so much of this season that felt as if the writers had no real idea of where they were taking the character. And if he’s going on the run in season 3, then it’s entirely possible they still don’t. But I like where all this is headed. Crazy Van Alden is the best Van Alden. At least that’s how I feel right now. It’s also entirely possible I’ve jumped back and forth on which Van Alden is the best Van Alden.
And finally, we’ve got Nucky, or should I say Margaret. Who’s of course due for another serious discussion with Nucky about all the crap he’s involved in, about how he murdered her husband, and how she’s just not sure if she’s cut out for this kind of life. Except this time she almost slips about her night of unrestrained passion and unbridled enthusiasm with Owen Slater. And there’s always the possibility that her guilty conscience will move her to testify against her man. After all, she has been subpoenaed, so who knows what’s going to happen. We’ve now entered ENDGAME, and I fully expect the finale to throw all sorts of crazy crap we didn’t see coming in our collective faces.
Things are not looking good for poor Nucky Thompson. Sure, his trip to Ireland was a success. He returned to the Motherland with 10,000 cases of Irish whiskey, has flooded the market and sent Jimmy’s business into the crapper. But does any of that matter when the man is staring a prison sentence in the face? Actually, yes. Nucky’s lawyer tells him he’ll probably be sentenced to five years but would only serve around two. So having a nice chunk of change to come home to would be nice. That is, of course, assuming Nucky could get someone to watch over his affairs while he was away. Someone he could trust who wouldn’t spend the entire time trying to push him into a corner, turn him into the next Commodore.
So everything’s relative. Especially when you consider how bad things are going for Jimmy, who rapidly seems to be losing the confidence of almost everyone around him. From the Commodore** and his political cronies to Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Now that Nucky’s got the town flush with hooch — and not the bathtub gin pee water stuff they’re cutting with what they got from George Remus — Jimmy finds himself sitting on another warehouse full of booze. Nucky’s still running around doing knows what (well, we know but Jimmy doesn’t). Chalky’s labor strike is still going strong, and unless Jimmy can deliver the Klan boys who shot up his warehouse, he’s got no plans to call it off. And on top of all that, Manny Horvitz is out, looking for some payback. But one thing at a time. Right now, Jimmy needs to concentrate on selling all this booze. Lansky says they should all take a piece back to their own cities and sell it there. But Atlantic City’s already stocked, and Philadelphia is Manny’s town, so Jimmy’s forced to pack things up and head back to Princeton, his old alma mater. Wait. Princeton?! Muhaauahaaaa…
(**So I guess the Commodore’s on the road to recovery? I didn’t think we’d ever see him out of that wheelchair. Oh well. He definitely had the funniest scene of the night. After a few false starts, finally telling Jimmy to hike up his dress and show everybody his… ahem… you know. That. Down there. Thaaat’s right. That.)
One thing Boardwalk Empire has taught us is that when it rains, it pours. And crap continues to rain down on Margaret. Emily’s polio is just as bad as she feared, so of course it’s because of her greed, selfishness and willingness to stand by silent while Nucky goes through with all of his nefarious shit. After talking with her priest, she gets the idea in her head that she can buy her way back into God’s good graces, and maybe do something for Emily’s condition, too. So she donates a pile of her jewelry and the money she’s been taking from Nucky to the church, and receives a big pile of disappointment for her troubles. I guess that if anything could make a person reconsider a life of crime, it would be their child contracting polio, but I’ve seen these past few episodes as such a step backward for the character. Wrestling with a tough decision — in this case, supporting Nucky and his life of crime — is a good thing. Wrestling with it for years and years, or season after season, gets a little old.
UNLESS (and this is kind of a big unless), this struggling is going to lead to bigger things plotwise later on. If Margaret finds Nucky’s misdeeds just too much to shoulder, she could testify against him, and the ramifications of that decision could lead to all sorts of chicanery in season 3. That sort of struggling I’m okay with. Struggling for the sake of troubled looks and staring off into the middle distance… what does that bring to the table?
But while we’re talking about poorly handled character development that’ll turn out to have big consequences later, let’s talk about Angela, BECAUSE WHO SAW THAT COMING?? Shows with casts as big as this one often lose characters in the shuffle, so we all kind of smiled politely when we saw Angela do things like screw around with the photographer and his wife, cut her hair, and go to what’s her name’s big gay beach party, knowing that all of it would amount to nothing much. But now she’s head. Shot in the head on top of her dead lover, which Jimmy’s going to find and have to explain away. And how big of a question is it going to be that this was Manny’s doing? Jimmy already knows that Nucky would never touch Angela, so who else could have done it? And what’s his response going to be? We saw him flop around like a dying fish when Capone and the boys brought up the possibility of killing Nucky so we know that playing hardcore offense isn’t really Jimmy’s thing. So what’s he going to do? Are there such things as horse socks? Is anyone listening to me?
When things get this tough, look this bleak, it’s important to take a breath and try to single out the good things in life. Find that silver lining. And in this week’s episode that silver lining is… Agent Van Alden’s divorce? Yes. As it turns out, Rose’s petition for divorce and note to her husband, kindly asking him to “please attend to this as soon as your activities allow,” may be the most cheerful thing the show has given its viewers to glom onto this week. Hopefully things will get downright cheery next week when Nelson’s Dutch nanny runs off with his kid, or Deputy Halloran has a brain aneurysm and dies.
Jimmy’s really starting to piss me off, you know? Last year, when we saw him living in Johnny Torrio’s bordello, learning the ins and outs of being a gangster, I liked him. He was a nice kid, that Jimmy. Taking care of Pearl after she got her face cut. Blowing Sheridan’s head off. Now, though, he’s turned into kind of a brat. So I felt no small amount of pleasure as I watched his plan to get rid of Manny Horvitz — all because he doesn’t want to pay him the $5,000 he’d OWED — blow up in his face. And it turns out Manny’s really got some stones on him. After getting clipped in the shoulder with a sawed-off shotgun, he smashes and pulls his attacker through a glass door, wrestles him to the ground and smashes him in the head with a meat cleaver. The look on his face after finding the box of matches in the guy’s pocket with “Atlantic City” stamped on the side does not bode well for Jimmy Darmody. And not only because Manny coming after him is just one more on a laundry list of problems this guy’s got. It was Meyer Lansky who suggested to Jimmy that if he didn’t want to deal with Manny anymore, he could just pay the guy and he’d be gone. But that wasn’t the route Jimmy wanted to take. This, after waffling on the decision to put out a hit on Nucky a couple of weeks back. Whatever business is being done in Atlantic City is obviously a pretty big slice of the pie, and if Jimmy is seen as being weak, or if his decision-making comes off as a little erratic, how long will it be before Lucky, Capone and the others start thinking about taking their business elsewhere, or withholding support when Manny comes knocking on his door.
Because loyalty is something these guys talk a lot about, but gets thrown out the window pretty quick once it gets in the way of business, as we saw with John McGarrigle during Nucky’s trip to Ireland. Nucky made the trip across the Atlantic to offer the Irish a deal: a thousand Tommy guns (and if you’re going to introduce a gun, you better find a way to use it) for ten thousand cases of whiskey. Seems like a no-brainer, until McGarrigle says that the British are offering a truce and that their war may be coming to an end. Well, that was a decision the other members of the cause didn’t particularly support — Owen Slater included — and as Nucky’s being driven back to the shipyard we see a bullet being put in poor Mr. Garrigle’s head. But Nucky doesn’t need to worry. The Irish have decided that they’ll take his guns, and give him their whiskey. My biggest problem here is the conversation Nucky and Owen have once they get back to shipyard. Nucky asks him how long he knew McGarrigle, and if he knew what was going to happen to him. Owen knew McGarrigle since he was 17 YEARS OLD (sure, we don’t know how old he is now, but more than a few years have passed by), and didn’t try to do anything to save the guy, because hey, he wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind. Nucky’s answer to this: “I don’t like secrets.” One, yes you do. You’ve been keeping them from everyone since the series started, and probably for a while before then, inside Terrence Winter’s head. Two: WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT SECRETS?! I’d be much more worried about Owen “not being able to change anyone’s mind” and putting a gun to the back of my head. Especially when that burning in his loins for Margaret just gets to be too strong. You’ve got to watch that burning in your loins. It’ll getcha.
Speaking of Margaret, things has been a bad couple of weeks for the poor woman. First, her brother tells her to get lost and never to come back, and then her little girl is diagnosed with Polio. Watching the doctors give Emily that spinal tap was one of those scenes you kind of have to grit your teeth to get through. This is an interesting development, as it puts Nucky in a tight spot and forces him to ask how committed he is to taking care of Margaret and the kids (as he’s obviously not leaving behind his more nefarious affairs to take care of them, as he said in last week’s episode). What I don’t like about this is what it says about where the show may be taking Margaret. This is something she holds herself responsible for, as we hear her whisper to Emily in the children’s ward. So I’m wondering if we’re in for another bout of “should I be involved in this huge criminal enterprise or not.” You know, it’s not a bad thing to have characters ask themselves these sorts of questions, but eventually they should decide whether they’re in or out and just stick to that. Take Walt from Breaking Bad, for example. Cooking meth, getting mixed up with Tuco and then Gus, these were all decisions he struggled with. But the deeper he got, the more sideways everything went and eventually he admitted to himself that shooting drug dealers in the head and poisoning small children was just something he was going to have to do to survive. Yes, I’m sure he still asks himself questions about whether he’s doing this himself or if he’s just a victim of circumstance, but at the end of the day, I think he realizes where he is and prefers to keep a safe distance from questions of moral ambiguity. This is where Margaret needs to be. At the beginning of the season, she seemed like she had made the turnaround and was there to support Nucky. Now it seems like she keeps going back and forth. She’s a strong woman and a good character and this is a problem the show shouldn’t be giving her at this point.
But polio and Margaret’s conscience aren’t the only problems Nucky’s going to find once he gets back to the States. It looks like Chalky’s taken his advice and engineered a strike. And his partner in crime is none other than Dunn Purnsley, who got his ass handed to him when he found himself sharing a jail cell with Chalky in “Ourselves Alone.” Scenes like we saw tonight, with the kitchen staff — egged on by Purnsley — having finally had enough of their poor work conditions and wrecking the kitchen while their boss cowered on the floor are one of the many reasons I love this show. But it looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer to see exactly how this plays into the bigger picture of Nucky taking things back from Jimmy and the Commodore. It seems like the season is building toward an appropriately big finish, but in the end I have a feeling Nucky getting back in the driver’s seat isn’t going to be that big a thing. Jimmy doesn’t seem cut out to be grand poobah, as an understandably uncomfortable Mickey called him tonight. He seems much more comfortable listening to the wireless with Richard (really wish they had been able to do more with that boxing match), making out with women who look like they may be coming down with something.
So who took the jam out of Jimmy’s donut? With Nucky out of the picture, he’ll be the King of Atlantic City. This is supposed to be a good thing, but Jimmy’s walking around all pissed off, chain-smoking and throwing people off balconies. Is this guy ever happy? The way I see it, there are three possibilities:
1. Jimmy feels like this victory over Nucky isn’t deserved. Nucky’s still alive, and with all the money he’s got stashed away he’ll be able to afford a very comfortable retirement. So after all this back and forth between the two of them, Jimmy hasn’t really won; he hasn’t taught Nucky any lessons. This is a war he could afford to stop fighting; a decision not available to Jimmy. The shooting, the Feds, it’s all grief he doesn’t need, so he’s even happy to be getting out. And yes, we know he’s not really getting out. We’re just looking at things from Jimmy’s perspective.
2. Jimmy’s a cool guy, but everyone keeps harshing his mellow. Nucky’s gone! This is a big day for Jimmy, and all he wants to do is knock back a few drinks and soak in the moment. But there’s Manny Horvitz, smiling and laughing but still reminding Jimmy about the $5,000 he owes him every chance five minutes. And there’s Eli, who’s all sad and drunk because his dad’s dead and his brother doesn’t love him and he’s telling Jimmy that Nucky may be gone, but he’s not gone gone. He’s smarter and more ruthless
and much better looking than Jimmy, so don’t believe any of this “I’m done” BS, because it’s just not true.
3. Jimmy is bipolar. If Nucky’s not treating him like a big boy, Jimmy throws his lot in with the Commodore and tries to have him killed. If Nucky comes in and says, “You know what? I’m done. See ‘ya in the funny papers, boys,” he gets drunk and throws Mickey Doyle over a balcony. Everyone hates the guy you have to walk on eggshells around, right? Everyone hates being thrown over balconies.
My guess is that it’s a mix of all three. Except maybe the bipolar thing. I don’t know. Were there bipolar people in the 1920s? In any case, Eli’s right. Nucky is smarter. And it made Jimmy seem all the more naïve to take Nucky at his word when he told them all he was getting out of the game. I mean, you all saw him playing that game with Margaret and the kids, right? You heard Teddy say, “You move, dad.” And you heard Nucky say, “Yes it is,” with a bit of that old fire in his eye. Whenever people get all squinty-eyed and nod slowly, you know something’s in the works. And it all starts in… Ireland? Not sure how all that’s going to work. I only know that it will be bloody. And that it’ll involve those 3,000 crates of Tommy guns, because you don’t just have one of your characters say, “Man, got 3,000 crates of these things just laying around. Anyway,” without planning on doing something with them.
Since its beginning, a large part of Boardwalk Empire has dealt with the Jimmys of the world, the Al Capones and the Lucky Lucianos, coming up and slowly pushing out the guys they studied under. Nucky did it to the Commodore (although those circumstances were slightly different), and now Jimmy’s doing it to him. At least now Nucky, Torrio, and Arnold Rothstein are wise to what’s going on, that the pups have grown fangs, as Nucky says. And that was a nice bit of business, seeing Rothstein talking to Lucky and Meyer Lansky and knowing that everything they were feeding him was complete BS. Now we’ll see what they do with that information. Apparently Nucky’s going to fight back. Rothstein talked about how he likes to wait, bide his time, then strike only when he’s certain he can win (although, with such real world figures as Rothstein, Luciano, and Lansky, we need only to peruse Wikipedia to see how everything there shook out). And Torrio… Well, Torrio’s old. And we got the sense he didn’t care much about Al’s extracurricular activities. And it’s not like these guys are going to go in it together. They’re all slaves to their own self-interests. So, for right now, let’s focus on the coming bloodbath between Nucky and Jimmy. That’s where the smart money’s at.
There’s a lot of good television out there these days. Yes, there’s also a lot of crap to wade through, but some of the best shows in the history of television (or shows) are being produced right now. And because there’s so much of it, if a show isn’t grabbing us right from the start, it’s that much easier to throw it to the curb. Boardwalk Empire is one of those shows. And when people started watching and saw that it wasn’t The Sopranos, a lot of them tuned out. I think Shakespeare put it best when he said, “Sucks for them.”
Boardwalk has had some good episodes in the past. Some really good episodes. But I don’t think any of them have done as good a job at showing how [danielcraig]expansive[/danielcraig] a show this is. And no scene did that better than the one with Jimmy and his brain trust, who get together to discuss how they’re going to push their bosses out and take over their business. All my thoughts about this are a little scattered and disjointed, so hopefully I’ll be able to keep them semi-coherent.
First off, Jimmy, Luciano, Lansky, Capone, I love all these characters, so just seeing them all in a room together kind of makes my socks roll up and down. Even Mickey, who for some reason I like even more when he’s not portrayed as a complete idiot. You had to feel a little sorry for Eli, coming in late the way he did to find the big boys club having started without him. He pulls out a chair for himself while the rest of the group sits in these big leather monstrosities. I thought that after the shitstorm that rained down on him last week, he might be content to sit there while the adults talked, but when everyone begins arguing over how to handle the Nucky situation, he pipes in with his solution: “Just kill him!” That’s an option Jimmy’s obviously very unenthusiastic about pursuing, which Eli sees, and won’t let up on. This is Jimmy’s surrogate father they’re discussing, but to everyone else (including Eli, after last week’s episode) he’s a problem standing in their way, and putting a bullet in his head would be the quickest way to get rid of him. Eventually he gives in and gives the order. Someone will come down from New York and take care of it. Throughout most of the show, Eli has always been such a downtrodden character. No one takes him too seriously. He knows it, and it fuels an anger that seems to never leave him. It’s always simmering there, just below the surface. Anyway, I thought him forcing the topic in front of the group, where he knew something would get done about it, was uncharacteristically forceful of him. I liked it. Anyway, I thought the whole scene was a sort of microcosm for what Boardwalk Empire has become. People talking, making plans, accumulating wealth and power.
While all of this is going on, Margaret’s in New York, reconnecting with her brother and his family, who we first found out about in “A Dangerous Maid.” I thought the way that episode handled that whole side of Margaret’s life was a little clumsy, and made it a little unclear what exactly was going on. And I guess just throwing everything out there like this episode did might confuse a few people. Since hooking up with Nucky, Margaret’s kind of been alone in the world. It’s true that Nucky’s opened up to her more than anyone else, but he’s still got his business (which Margaret’s only slightly involved in) and his philandering. So reconnecting with her family is something Margaret needs. But when she gets there, she finds that while her sister-in-law and nieces are welcoming, her brother doesn’t forgive her for the trouble she got into as a girl and sends her back to Atlantic City, telling her no one knows her here.
In his own review of this episode, Alan Sepinwall voiced his understanding of the criticism that the show doesn’t do enough to flesh out its characters. He mentions the scene showing Margaret standing in that alleyway in Brooklyn, life bustling around her, and mentions that for a moment he was more focused on the production values rather than what was going on inside her. In this instance I disagree. I think that scene — which I thought made Boardwalk’s world seem so much bigger — really accentuated how alone she felt in the middle of that crowd, many of whom I’m sure also came from Ireland.
It wasn’t the apple in the tree, but the pair on the ground that caused all the trouble. If that scene hadn’t of given us an idea of what Margaret was feeling in that moment, we need have only waited until she came home, finding Owen Slater alone. Maybe it’s because he’s Irish and he’s not turning her away. More likely it’s because she angry and upset doesn’t give a damn at that point. Before they get down to it, Margaret says that once it’s over they’ll never speak of it again, to anyone. Yeah, I’m sure that’ll work out well for them. Especially when Slater finds out his boss was getting shot up when he was supposed to be protecting him.
But while crap continues to rain down on most of our characters, things are looking slightly better for Agent Van Alden. Well, better if you look past a few small problems. Rose has gone to Milwaukee to stay with family, and who knows if she’ll ever come back. Assistant Attorney-General Esther Randolph, who’s taking on Nucky’s case, has set up shop in Van Alden’s office — in his desk, actually — and pushed him off into a corner. Lucy’s had the baby, meaning she’s held up her side of the bargain and wants the money Nelson promised her. And now that she knows he doesn’t have it, she’s left him with the baby and split. But not before telling Nucky about his situation, which he offers Van Alden a way out of. The feds are coming after him, and if Nelson would be willing to pass along to Nucky everything he hears in that office, he’ll get a nice little payday. And for just a bit, I thought Nelson was going to take Nucky up on it. I actually would have liked to see it. I thought it would have been a great reversal for the character. But it just wasn’t in the cards. Now that Nelson’s stuck alone with the baby, someone who relies completely on him, he realizes he has to be a better man. So he takes all the information he’s gathered on Nucky and his operation, takes it to Randolph and tells her happy hunting. And all that’s as it should be. A corrupt Van Alden would have been fun to watch, but the character’s always been at his best when he’s the straight-laced Christian zealot. Not sure if all of this is going to make him as central to the story as he was last year, though. I’m interested to see where they take the whole thing.
In the episode’s last minutes, while Nucky and co. are at Babette’s, promoting the boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier, Jimmy approaches him, hands empty, and gives him a short goodbye/warning/I’m not sure what it was: “Doesn’t make a difference if you’re right or wrong. You just need to make a decision.” And Nucky barely has a second before Capone’s assassin raises his gun and takes his shot. Like I said, we know Jimmy didn’t want to kill Nucky, so I don’t know if maybe he was trying to warn him. Either way, gone are the days of interrupting lobster dinners. Nucky’s really going to have to hit back. Just one more thing on the list, considering everything else he’s going up against.
There are thematic episodes of Boardwalk Empire and there are plot episodes of Boardwalk Empire. For those of us who care more about things like feelings, the show threw us a few bones this week. When Margaret takes Teddy to be interviewed before his first confession, the priest tells her that when Teddy confesses, so will she (because it’s all about setting a good example). Now, one would imagine that Margaret would be in a position to confess all sorts of things. And for a while it looks like what Nucky called his and Margaret’s “shared history” is weighing pretty heavily on her conscience.
It was actually a nice little slight of hand the show pulled on us. Making us think that it was Nucky’s misdeeds that had piled up to a point that was making Margaret reassess her spot in all this. But once she finally gets into that confession booth, we find that what she’s really upset about is her feelings for Owen Slater, who’s been showing up at the house quite a bit lately, and who very clearly has affectations for Katy. And while Nucky remains blissfully unaware of all this, Owen knows the score, and realizes why Margaret’s been so short with Katy. Margaret asks him if he’s made a habit of toying with women. He says he hasn’t made a habit of it, but I wonder if he’s doing it now. Taking that broom from Margaret, letting his hand rest on hers for juuust a moment too long seemed to say an awful lot.
But while Margaret’s only worried about her THROBBING PRIMAL URGES, Nucky’s also taking pause and thinking about what kind of person he is. He obviously gives a little bit of weight to what George Remus said during their phone call. Maybe Nucky is greedy. Or maybe he’ll stick $20 in Teddy’s bible and call it even.
Much of “Age of Reason” was given to setting up what we’re going to be seeing the rest of the season. The Commodore may be sitting on the sidelines and Jimmy’s booze stockpile may have been blown all to hell, but he’s as determined as ever to go after Nucky. Although for some reason it seems like he keeps getting set back, and every time we turn around it’s like he’s just now getting started. Anyway, it’s time to get things started since Jimmy’s got Leander Whitlock in his corner. Whitlock is a mean old bastard from way back, and is trying to teach Jimmy to be angry but still be smart, rather than go off half-cocked and do something he’s going to regret. Case in point, Mr. Parkhurst. Whitlock knows what Jimmy did there, but past how it might affect Jimmy’s long-term plans, he seems cool with it. He knows what it takes to win, and know that Jimmy knows, too. Again, Jimmy just needs to be smart.
And being smart may not include involving Gillian in all the ins and outs of they’re planning. She’s a real wild card in all this. When Whitlock asks to speak with Jimmy alone, she gets in one last dig before leaving, telling Jimmy, “I know you’ll tell me everything,” and kissing him on the lips. Jimmy says that’s just something she does. But Whitlock, along with the rest of us, know that that’s not just something a mom does to her twenty-something son. Something’s not right there. And as they go on I’m wondering what other crazy crap she might trot out in front of everyone.
Speaking of women who are slightly bonkers, Lucy finally had her baby. You had to feel a little sorry for her, going through everything alone while Nelson’s off hating himself at the hospital with Agent Clarkson. But leave it to Lucy to make as beautiful a thing as childbirth just as disgusting as, well, everything else she touches. But the real fun starts when Nelson comes home with a doctor and finds Rose helping with Lucy and the baby. She takes all that about as well as you’d expect. Surprisingly enough, Nelson’s assurances that he did what he did for Rose doesn’t do anything to make her feel better. I suppose something like this had to happen, and I admit that Nelson is crazy to the point that watching this carefully laid plan of his blow up in his face is kind of satisfying. I just hope that all of what we’re seeing somehow plays into the season’s larger story, because right now it seems like Nelson’s off in his own show.
So things seem to be going a little better with Nucky’s case. After figuring out a way to gets the feds involved, it’s only a matter of finding a prosecutor to come in and half-ass things. And for a little while, things seem to be going according to plan. That’s until Senator Edge pays a visit to Harry Daugherty and threatens to derail his new Veterans Bureau unless he fires Nucky’s prosecutor and brings in someone who will really go after him.
And it looks like things aren’t going to get any better for him, at least in the long term. After working out terms with Rothstein for bringing in booze through Philadelphia and then into Atlantic City, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky are ambushed moving a shipment in the middle of the woods by Jimmy and Manny Horvitz. But rather than kill each other, they’re able to come to an agreement: Jimmy and Manny will let Luciano and Lansky through. They’ll let Nucky and Rothstein have their booze money, and they’ll go in together and sell heroin. Whitlock told Jimmy that not every insult required a response, and Jimmy’s decided to forgo this one for a bigger payoff later. “Can’t kill everyone,” Jimmy tells Manny, “not good business.” Last week, Nucky told Jimmy he didn’t think he understood the rules of the game they were both playing. But now, it looks like Jimmy’s starting to play on Nucky’s level.
Over the years HBO’s original series have turned into a genre all their own. Whether they’re about the mafia, convicts on death row, kids living in the Baltimore slums, or 20s bootleggers, they’ve turned into fascinating character studies. And even in this golden age of television, they’re of a quality that’s rivaled by very few others.
But screw all that hoity-toity crap. Sometimes we just want to watch fat guys get clobbered in the face with wrenches and old men in wheelchairs get scalped. Drama is good and everything, but videogames have conditioned me to want blooood! And tonight’s episode did not make me regret all those horrible videos I’ve watched online one bit.
We may have been guessing at the details a little bit, but it was easy enough to see where Jimmy would be headed by the end of the episode. We find him at the dedication ceremony of a Memorial Day *cough* memorial, unexpectedly called out by Nucky to get up in front of the good people of Atlantic City and read out the names of local soldiers killed in the war. This was a little like Nucky blowing Jimmy’s $3,000 on a roulette bet in “The Ivory Tower.” Jimmy wants to play in the big leagues, and Nucky — a seasoned vet — enjoys rubbing his face in a world he doesn’t fully understand. But Jimmy’s learned a few things in the last year, and when he gets up he speaks with just the right amount of inspiration and humility. He didn’t fall on his face like Nucky may have expected him to, so he gets to do a nice little victory lap.
But it isn’t long after that Jimmy’s put squarely in his place when he’s faced with a roomful of the city elders, including Dominic Chianese and his massive sideburns. They know that something’s wrong with the Commodore and they’re right pissed about being put out 70 grand since Jimmy’s warehouse was bombed. Jimmy and Eli have to pretend like it’s business as usual, although Eli’s a little more eager to smooth things over than Jimmy is. This is where we see how out of his depth Jimmy really is. Just like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, he’s an up-and-comer who’s finding those who came before him more and more useless. But all that aside, the hierarchy must be respected, and when Jimmy makes a crack about being thrown out of their yacht club, Mr. Parkhurst takes his cane and beats Jimmy over the head with it. Well, that tears it, and Jimmy storms out with Eli at his heels, looking like he’s about to have a stroke himself.
While Jimmy goes home to regroup, Eli goes to Nucky’s to beg forgiveness and for a way out of the mess he’s made for himself. For a moment and almost despite himself, it looks like Nucky’s going to give in. But he’s got one condition: Eli’s got to get down on his knees and kiss Nucky’s shoes, you know, on the count of him being a f**king piece of s**t. Well, that tears that, and Nucky and Eli throw down on each other right there in the middle of the conservatory. And Eli almost comes out on top, but he’s thwarted at the last second by Margaret and an unloaded shotgun. After she’s thrown Eli out of the house, she looks at Nucky and asks, “Is this to be our life?” Really? Is this not a conclusion she came to months ago? I thought this was a great if for no other reason than to just see the guys finally go at each other. Even last season, when things were more or less pleasant between the two of them, you got the sense that there was really no love lost between the two. The thing with Jimmy and the Commodore has just given them an excuse to do something they were probably going to do anyway. And the whole thing was great for Steve Buscemi, who’s a fantastic actor but can come across a little wooden at times.
When we next see Eli he’s at home getting plastered in his garage with his son. When George drops by, he’s got to put on the same song and dance, telling him that no, nothing’s wrong with the Commodore. Eli’s got that junkie itch so it doesn’t take long for George to see through the ruse, and when he makes a ruckus Eli takes a wrench and beats him to death with it. As horrible as all that mess is, I wonder if this is the kick to the hindquarters Eli needs to start being proactive. He hates the fact that Nucky’s been there all his life, pushing him along. He resents people like his father — and maybe everyone else in AC — for thinking he’s a nobody who only got where he is because of his brother, and when he finally makes his break, all he does is trade one master for another. There he is, standing right behind Jimmy and the Commodore. Well, now that the Commodore’s out of the game, and Nucky certainly won’t be welcoming him back, Eli’s got his back in a corner. And maybe that’ll force him to actually go out and do something. After he buries George, that is.
I think we should all take a couple of moments to silently reflect on how much we love Richard Harrow, and how our lives are happier and somehow fuller ever since he was introduced to the show. Ever since it popped up a few weeks ago, I was wondering what the writers were going to do with Richard’s scrapbook. Obviously, something like that is kind of disturbing on some level. But after Richard’s scenes with Angela these past two weeks, I realized that it was much more sad than it was disturbing. Richard wasn’t looking at those pictures and thinking about how he’d like to add a lock of Angela’s hair or some of her skin to the collection. He was looking at those pictures and imagining a better life for a himself. Maybe one where he didn’t ditch his sister in Wisconsin. What he sees in those magazines, and even the picture Angela sketched of him (despite the bond it seems to have created between the two), reminds him of what an outsider he is, and it’s just gotten to be too much. So Richard heads out into the woods, apparently to kill himself. Although I guess that can be debated, as most people who take off into the middle of nowhere with no intention of coming back probably wouldn’t pack a lunch. But whether he’s serious about it or not, he ends up with a gun in his mouth, but is interrupted by a dog who runs away with his mask. The dog leads Richard to a pair of men roasting squirrels, and an afternoon spent in their company, along with some well-chosen words about these woods being for living not dying and don’t you catch my meaning are enough to convince Richard that, at least for one more day, life is worth living. But before heading home, he stops by Jimmy’s to ask his friend and boss if he would fight for him. Jimmy says he would — to the last bullet — and I’d like to believe he would. To celebrate his new lease on life, Richard and Jimmy head over to Mr. Parkhurst’s, where they accost the old man in his study and scalp him. Richard certainly seems reinvigorated. If you’re gonna do something, might as well do it right.
So the moral of the story is, the smart money’s always on Jimmy and Richard. While Eli runs back to Nucky and then takes to murdering his friends, they get their heads in the game and slice people’s scalps off. After watching the Commodore have his stroke and Jimmy’s warehouse get blown to pieces, I really thought the house of cards he had built for himself was falling down. But Jimmy wants to be a player, and when the game doesn’t work for him he goes out and changes the rules. And while Nucky can think on his feet and improvise much better than people like sad Mr. Parkhurst, he’s still going to have to watch himself.