I think a fitting subheading to this week’s Boardwalk Empire episode would be “You’d Be Surprised … at just how wrong things can go for everyone.” Could anyone have been more disappointed with their lot by the end of things? Nucky seems to be having the worst of it (well, arguable Gyp had a pretty rough night, but more on that in a bit), and the walls seem to be closing in on him from all directions — his home life is a mess, his mistress doesn’t behave quite how he wants her to, his crime syndicate is falling apart at the seems, and on the fringes of the story, Nucky’s powerful political friends are facing federal investigation. It’s just the kind of world where a man can’t even complain about a faulty iron without getting bashed over the head, dang it. For more on that and how my secret is tape worms, hit the jump.
No one had a good week in Atlantic City, but I’ll start with Margaret since I neglected her last time (despite a great episode and a great arc this season). Margaret kind of went off the rails last year when it came to her dogged penance after her daughter stricken with polio, something that she seemed sure was tied to Nucky’s nefarious dealings and her support of them. Margaret floated through the last part of that season in a fog, and ended things by doing Nucky a great financial wrong by turning over his land deeds to the church in a spectacular display of Catholic guilt.
The ties that Margaret severed with Nucky with that action have never been repaired, and the two seemed to operate well enough staying out of each others’ way, until “You’d Be Surprised.” Up until this point though we have had no indication of what either one thought about the future of their relationship. Was divorce an option? Did either of them really think they could move past their troubles? Did either of them really want to? Perhaps Margaret shouldn’t have been so surprised to see that Nucky had a mistress, though she handled it with as much class as anyone could possibly muster (handing Billie the flyer about the women’s clinic was a nice touch). Margaret freezing Nucky out of the children’s’ lives as well though spells even deeper trouble for the pair, and puts Margaret’s future in a tenuous position. It’s worth noting as well that her commitment to penance seems to be slipping, because she seemed to enjoy her flirtations with Doctor Mason until it was revealed he had a fiancée. She seemed miffed, too, that Owen has taken her hint to not pursue her anymore, even though she clearly wasn’t really ready for it to end. Bottom line though, Margaret has had her moments as a strong female, and as a manipulatively weak one, but she is stronger and better than ever now.
Of course, not everything is rosy for Nucky in his affair with Billie, either, as we’ve seen endlessly over the course of this season. Margaret astutely points out that Nucky is not comfortable in a relationship where he can’t save someone (as he did for her), and it’s clear that his desire to make Billie’s life easier is met with caution from her (and complete resistance from Eddie Cantor, who had a great line about Billie not knowing about Lucy and “the next one won’t know about you, either”). Nucky is feeling completely out of control when it comes to almost all other aspects of his life, so controlling Billie seems to be a comfort for him. I can’t see it lasting for long, though. As was said of Billie, “that’s one spirited little filly.”
Elsewhere, Van Alden had relationship problems of his own this week. Though his wife is exceptionally understanding, that’s largely based on her being convinced of his innocence. He’s been on the precipice of chaos since he ran away from Atlantic City, and he, like Nucky, is losing his grip on control. He was primed to think all was lost when his boss confronted him about his tax returns, but his paranoia could not match that of his wife, who not only beat their neighbor over the head repeatedly, but offered calmly (like any good wife should) to hold down his legs while her husband suffocated him so they could dispose of the body. Ooops! He just wanted a refund on that piece of crap iron. Oh well.
Of course, that freakish series of events was essential in throwing Van Alden into the arms of O’Bannion, which seems to suggest a slow movement towards union regarding the Chicago, New York and New Jersey stories. Back on the East Coast, Nucky and Rothstein decide that Gyp is a problem that must be done away with sooner than later, even if that would cause an exceptionally strained relationship between Rothstein and Big Joe (who we saw Lucky meeting with the week before). Rothstein uses Lansky’s boy for hit on Gyp, and in his chaotic fervor, predictably kills everyone except the one person he really needed to. Now the shit has really and truly hit the proverbial fan, because Gyp is naked, bloody, and pissed.
Not only did we get some great payoff in “You’d Be Surprised,” but it set up even more action for weeks to come. Though not as explosive or heart-wrenching as last week’s fare, this episode still delivered. And hopefully some of our favorites have better luck with things next week.
Episode Rating: A-
— Chalky! And what a fantastic scene for him to return in. Cantor’s performance was so unbearably uncomfortable, but I liked how that was enough (no violence needed) to make him do Nucky’s bidding, and that decision (to force him) may come back later to haunt Nucky.
— So I’m confused … Gillian doesn’t know Jimmy’s dead? Unfortunate. I like that he has not been forgotten by the writers, and that his ghost still haunts. Gillian had some great scenes this week too, particularly when she started turning her girls back out on the street with steely grit.
— Of course Gyp is into autoerotic asphyxiation.
— “I’ve got an uncle L’Chaim-ing in Sing Sing!” – Cantor
— My friend Jen pointed out last week that she liked seeing Margaret and Doc Mason as friends and allies, not as lovers, and I agree. Hopefully they can remain that way. Also, I really love it when Margaret talks frankly about vaginas.
— Mellon, Means, Doughtery … the whole political plot is just in its nascent stages now but looks to play more of a role in coming weeks.
— “Why did I ever leave Ohio? I can’t remember who I’ve lied to or what lies I’ve told them, and I can’t keep any of this money straight!”
— “You expect me to start a war? In New York? Where things actually matter??” – Rothstein, giving me chills.
— I’m always campaigning for more full frontal male nudity (hey, it’s only fair!) but this week was not exactly what I had hoped for. Probably the least sexy way to see Bobby Canavale‘s penis imaginable. Still, good on him for committing fully to it!
— It was a small moment, but I really loved the scene where Lucky and Owen have to sit and listen to Rothstein and Nucky (mama and daddy!) arguing in the other room.
— “The iron man! Must be a pressing issue” – O’Bannion, part-time comedian.