It is with unabashed joy I welcome Boardwalk Empire back into form this week with a fantastic episode from top hat to bare bottom. But it wasn’t just Owen’s bare bottom and the introduction of Mr. Poofles that made the hour great, though it did set the stage. The pieces on the chessboard are moving into place, slowly, and in the meantime we’re getting a lot of great, small stories. One of the greatest has been the transformation of Eli — a reinvention, really. Eli went from being a bloated and self-important brute who wasn’t smart enough for the crowed he desperately wanted to run (or at the very least run with), and it got him locked up and shunned because of it. He returns humbled, not just with his in family, including Nucky, but with his peers. But him going up against Micky Doyle was not out of ego or hubris but of genuine concern for the operation, and in the end he’s proved correct. That waiting and doing the right thing, even though he had to go up against his “boss,” may be the beginnings of his repaired relationship with Nucky, which both of them sorely need. The treachery was deep, but as Gillian reminded us in the past, “if you don’t have family, you have nothing.” Hit the jump for more on that, and why going to jail is the last gift I will ever give you.
There were a few power struggles this week, with Eli questioning Doyle but also with Doyle second-guessing Nucky. He wasn’t the only one — Owen did the same thing, much to Nucky’s intense annoyance (more on that in a minute). Nucky may be at the top, but he has a tenuous grip. His relationship with Rothstein is rotting away as Rosetti continues to block his shipping route. Moreover, it looks like his Federal friend Stan can’t trust his crooked Philly connection as well as he thought, meaning that Nucky doesn’t have a good line on what the Feds are up to, and it nearly cost him everything. It was a telling scene when he visited the warehouse early in the episode and found Eli, the brother who tried to murder him, along with Doyle who doesn’t do what he’s told, and Owen strolling in late and being looked to for directions over Nucky as the other men muttered. Nucky is losing control, and feeling desperate.
That all played out, tragically, in the Short and Rueful Life of Roland Smith. Nucky shooting Roland seemed to have manifold purpose. Firstly, he reestablished himself as King to Owen, who had repeated “so you won’t have to get your hands dirty” so many times during the hour. It’s true, Nucky had wanted a low profile and used to order hits, not give them. But that was before Jimmy’s death — now, Nucky has gone Full Gangster, and murdering Roland was another way to prove it.
It’s also possible that Nucky killed Roland because he reminded him too much of Jimmy. Jimmy was never that charming and cocksure, but there was something about how good Roland was at what he did, and how he posed a threat to Nucky that may have reminded him of that other relationship. Therein lies the third part — Nucky eliminating any threat to him and his business. He can’t mow down Rosetti (yet) so he takes it out on Roland. A shame.
In a parallel case, we took a short sojourn to Chicago to visit the Capones. Al’s scenes with his son are some of the most completely heartbreaking of the series. It’s clear emotional manipulation, but who cares — it just feels good. Like Nucky used Roland as a substitute for any number of things, Capone took off and killed O’Bannion’s man Joe Miller for picking on Capone’s fat friend Jake. Capone gives Jake a hard time just like he can be harsh on his own son, but when it counts, he stands up for those he cares about against outsiders. Since he can’t do anything about the bully at his son’s school, he takes it out on O’Bannion’s bully. After that release, he’s able to return to his son and shower him with love. Pardon me, I believe there’s something in my eye …
Back to power struggles, the Capone – O’Bannion one is sure to keep going, and may even wrap Van Alden up in it along the way, unless that happened to be a red herring. In other non-Atlantic City happenings, Lucky Luciano was given a lesson in loyalty from Joe “The Boss” Masseria, one of the first major mob bosses in America, and leader of one of the Five Families. Lucky is Joe’s heir apparent because he is the only other Sicilian — he doesn’t trust Meyer Lanskey or Rothstein because they are Jewish. Though he wants a huge cut of Lucky’s profits from sales on his territory, he tells Lucky to consider it “cheap” given how Joe will be there for Lucky when his Jewish friends (“who only think of business, not heart”) turn their backs on him. Lansky certainly looks like he could be plotting something as he gazed at Lucky leaving the room to meet with Joe, but in the end Lucky remained loyal to Lansky as his partner, saying he needed to discuss Joe’s terms with him before committing to anything.
All in all, it was a great, dense episode, though with a few lags (like Meyer and Lucky’s conversation, which was difficult to make out). It brought the show back to life for me, and even though we didn’t see three of its best characters (Richard Harrow, Chalky and Van Alden), it set up some great things to come, giving us a chance to spend some time with Nucky out of his comfort zone and continue to try and piece together, like Owen, his ever changing motivations.
Episode Rating: A
— I laughed at Lucky’s reaction to being told to sit by the window, which Lansky specifically told him not to do! (half as a joke, but …)
— “Go buy a personality” — Nucky to Stan
— Even though the characters of Lucky and Meyer Lansky and Capone (and my favorite) Rothstein are fantastically portrayed, visiting them, or anyone, away from Atlantic City slows the central story down. The pace becomes sluggish, and it can be difficult to keep up with who is selling what to whom, why, and how they’re double crossing each other. Still, I suppose there can be little talk of bootlegging in that era without mention of its biggest players in New York and Chicago.
— I really liked Margaret’s scenes this week even though they didn’t relate much to anything else (and please don’t have an affair with that snarky Doc, Margaret! You have Owen! … sort of). The death of the aviatrix should have an effect on things coming up for her, though, as represented, seemingly, true freedom.
— “What do I know about the ocean? I’m from Yonkers!” — Rosetti’s lackey.
— The naked woman to naked man ratio on this show is all off, so I was really happy to not only see some of that action this week, but doubly so because it was Charlie Cox of all blessed cast members.
— “Let the man do his job, Eli. You’re not the only Sheriff who ever lived.” — Micky
— “You smell like a sardine’s twat” — Capone to Jake
— Phrase of the week: “dry gulch,” a.k.a. an act of ambush with an intent to kill.