What a terrifically weird episode of Boardwalk Empire. I really just kind of want to leave the review there, but I’ll press on. “The Milkmaid’s Lot” could have been called, less eloquently, “Urrybody Gone Crazy,” but it worked. It set up a great turn for the last few episodes of the season, and meanwhile, did a lot of character building and world-exploration. This season of Boardwalk was more or less advertised as being about Nucky as a man apart. Many times throughout these episodes we’ve heard Nucky (or seen, through dream sequences) Nucky’s alienation, from his brother Eli, Margaret, his associates and his political cronies, and we’re finally seeing where it leads. For more on the Fall of Nucky, hit the jump.
Perhaps the best way to help remind us that Nucky is actually the protagonist of the show was to knock him down a few pegs. Last week Nucky was acting like a petulant brute, attempting to control Billie, beating up harmless actors and continuing his reign of arrogance and petty behavior. After the blast at Babbette’s, though, Nucky (though still irritating) became just plain pitiful. He was helpless and confused but still willful and stubborn, an unfortunate combination.
The blast and the war with Gyp that it escalated took a funny turn — not funny ha ha, but funny like Mad Anthony Wayne. Turns out, Gyp doesn’t have the backing of The Boss after all, which is good for Nucky since his gangster coalition of Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Waxy Gordon, and some folks called Peg Leg, Frankie and Wild Bill Lovett didn’t materialize as planned. Out of respect they gathered, Arnold told Nucky calmly, but that’s as far as it’s going to go.
So here we have Nucky and Gyp set up for a face-off, just the two of them. Gee, I wonder who will prevail? But the outcome isn’t the thing, it’s how it will go down and what it will mean when it’s all over, for Nucky’s business and for the new enemies he’s made with this broken alliance. Not to mention where things will go with Margaret, who is primed for flight.
Did Margaret think of that hummingbird earring as a kind of talisman? It represented both freedom and captivity, and despite her supporting Nucky unequivocally during his concussion (and, saint-like, taking the brunt of his crazy) she has made a plan for herself to run away with Owen (I doubt this will ever happen, but like those two I’d like to believe it anyway). Most importantly, Margaret — who has always understood Nucky better than he gives her credit for, and is her own pillar of strength despite everything — gives him a necessary pep talk before his meeting, snapping him out of his cycle of self-pity and telling him to take charge. After all, this life wasn’t foisted upon him, he chose it.
Margaret has been inching back towards being In The Know all season since she completely washed her hands of things at the end of last. Will this cause Nucky to have a renewed interest in her now that she’s back to being more of his partner again? Does Margaret even care?
On Gyp’s side of things, his takeover of the town of Tabor Heights was a risky one. Would even the woman running the Bible Camp be bought off by gangsters? Couldn’t someone just, I don’t know, leave and try to bring in the police or something? Then again, who knows better than the residents of Tabor Heights how corrupt the police can be? For them, perhaps $200/mo is just a fine price over not, you know, getting gunned down in the street (Historical footnote: $200 in 1922 is roughly $2500 in today’s money).
I still don’t like Gyp, I think he’s one-dimensional and clearly a one-season irritant that, the quicker he’s disposed of, the better. But in “The Milkmaid’s Lot” for the first time he nearly seemed on top of things. Is this The Boss’ influence? He didn’t kill the Sheriff, he just beat him up. He called Nucky to taunt him, but didn’t get upset when Nucky hung up on him. Him stealing the Mad Anthony Wayne captain’s hat was a nice flourish, and it appears that his Last Stand against Nucky may be more complex and interesting than his attacks earlier in the season.
Leftover from the last two seasons are the continuing stories of Richard Harrow, Tommy and Gillian (and in the “everybody is crazy” theme, Gillian remains true to herself). Gillian, taking no responsibility for Tommy in the least (except when is convenient for her) and punishing Richard for things I don’t really understand, blames him when Tommy is traumatized thanks to some mean whores. Gillian seems both jealous of Josie and resentful of Richard, and I don’t have the time or inclination to unpack that. But she is mean and unfair to him, like a wicked stepmother, and he bears it quietly and with grace much like Margaret does.
In Margaret’s way, he’s also cultivating a side-relationship with Julia, and I loved the twist that they weren’t dancing because of Richard — in fact, he’s a great dancer who actually has a bit of theatrical flare. The kiss was fantastic, as was the bit of lipstick that was left on his mask. Margaret may want to flee Nucky with Owen, but Richard seems destined to flee Gillian with Tommy, and godspeed.
Another successful episode that stayed close to just a few characters and remained on a narrow path. Boardwalk is finding its focus again, and is the better for it.
Episode Rating: A
— The George Remus arrest was one of my favorite little moments, especially when Esther replied to him in the third person as well. He sure did sell out Jeff Smith quickly, didn’t he?
— Emily’s birthday was so cute (minus Nucky’s intrusion, which kinda made it The Worst). He called her hummingbird, didn’t he? Another crossed wire …
— “The Gyp(sy) is on the phone” – Teddy. What if Teddy kills Gyp? I’ll laugh for days.
— Harrow totally knew that was a rhino waiting for a train, duh!
— “I’m not as complicated as you” – Owen to Marg
— “Expansion, cooperation, profit, peace” – Nucky. He’s not Stringer Bell though, and his coalition seems doomed.
— “We’ve living in a hotel, they don’t allow horses. Even small ones” – Margaret