I’m beginning to feel I should recap Boardwalk Empire geographically. Nucky tells Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette) that when he was just an Atlantic City crook he was happier. Times were simpler then, and back in the first season. From its Atlantic City roots, the show has sprawled out to Chicago, several New York burrows, Wisconsin and now Tampa. Forget a boardwalk empire, it’s a national one! Still, whatever Nucky’s trip to Tampa lacked, it was made up for with Richard’s continued stay in Wisconsin. Hit the jump for why “anybody who says money doesn’t buy happiness doesn’t know where to shop.”
This season of Boardwalk continues to improve, but then again I’m always biased towards episodes that keep the focus on just a handful of characters, allowing for some development and forward motion in their personal stories more so than criminal or political action.
“Acres of Diamonds” was about reaching into new territory: Nucky looks to expand operations to Florida, Narcisse gets into the heroin business, Gillian tries out a life of legitimacy, Richard buries his gun, and Willy Thompson experiments with girls and bootlegging.
Let’s start with the main man, though. Nucky is adrift. He mentioned Teddy and the others are in Brooklyn (Margaret living with her family, presumably?) but there’s no other mention of her. Nucky is melancholic and bored. He has little time for courtesy when it comes to anyone, from an old friend to the “bloodsucker” Skeeter Walsh. Not that these people are deserving of friendly attitudes, but Nucky is bitter, and it shows.
Speaking of that old friend, that’s Bill McCoy. Don’t remember McCoy? Don’t feel bad. He’s a ship’s captain and rum runner who has made a great profit in the Prohibition days, and in the first season got Nucky involved in booze (he has also been a long-time supplier for Arnold Rothstein). McCoy and Nucky are not friends — Nucky has made sure to keep him at a distance — but the two have done favors for each other a number of times. Most notably, it was thanks to McCoy that Nucky was able to have Gyp Rosetti taken out to end last season, and McCoy also stood by Nucky and refused to service the Commodore’s businesses when the Commodore and Jimmy tried to form a coup.
Nucky predictably doesn’t have any loyalty towards McCoy despite their long-standing relationship, though he is right to question the security of the land deal that will be surrounded by legitimate developments. Once he’s changed his mind though, McCoy deals with the issue of having killed the “alligator” Tucker, who had set the deal up. More tangled webs Nucky shouldn’t be involved in.
However, it does suggest we’ll be seeing more of Sally Wheet, who provides the kind of straight-talk Nucky needs to hear. She doesn’t need saving, either, which is a nice change. Both Sally and Emma are examples of strong women characters starting to populate the show, which is, again, a welcomed change (and also shows the lost potential of Margaret’s character to develop into a power player. There’s still hope!)
“Acres of Diamonds” featured two emotional interludes that showcased how great Boardwalk can be. In a show that tends to not look back, this episode was very reflexive within the series. McCoy’s return was one example, but Richard heading home was another. He leaves Wisconsin this time not afraid that he can’t shake the horrors of war, but with the hope perhaps that maybe he can. Emma shooting Carl Billings brought Richard’s two worlds into a collision. Her comment that he needs to call himself into account could make for an interesting turn for the show’s most emotionally deep character.
Gillian, a character I have railed against for several seasons, found a shred of relevance again through her association with Roy Philips. The night they went out (to Chalky’s club, a nice way for those worlds to overlap), Gillian was faced with two reminders of one of her worst offenses: when she seduced and later killed Roger, the boy she met on the boardwalk one night after Jimmy’s death. Roger was from Evansville, just like the man and his wife from A&P, and later Gillian was confronted not only by one of Roger’s friends from that night (no doubt wondering if she could shed light on his disappearance), but is also brought up her prostitute past. A little heroin seemed to do the trick for now …
Heroin is another thing tying the season together. The New Yorkers are all involved with it, and Narcisse pulls Purnsley aside to suggest to him it is a way to keep the weak (like Chalky, Narcisse says) down. Narcisse is a quiet villain, which is a relief after the bombastic nature of Gyp Rosetti last year, and his motivations are far more interesting given his desire to raise up the “Libyan” people (as he calls African-Americans). He’s a more dynamic character than Nucky has ever faced before.
“Acres of Diamonds” was a great episode that was a building block for some of the political schemes and emotional setup, but at the same time, it provided a number of nice moments that had episodic resolution. No surprise: series creator Terence Winter wrote this one.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Whatever happened with the custody battle over Tommy?
— McCoy: “He’s looking forward to meeting you.” Nucky: “Most people are, until they do.”
— It must be on purpose that Nucky has not even referenced Margaret or spoken her name, because that is some deep denial.
— How great was it that Emma’s sand and gravel beau called Richard “Rick”? And then Richard made a joke??
— The scene when Richard removed his mask and turned his face to the sun was beautiful. Such a loaded series of moments for him in this episode.
— Death by machete. No thanks.
— “Shit flows downhill, don’t matter where it stops” – Chalky to Purnsley. Is Purnsley only pretending to double cross Chalky? He says Chalky isn’t his friend, and he is pissed that he’s being punished, but he has always been fiercely loyal and protective of Chalky ever since their prison stint.
— Looks like Chalky might have a love interest. Here for that!
— Chalky: “The white folks seem to like her.” Narcisse: “That would be important … For you.”
— “You don’t have a code. You’re just stupid.” – Carl Billings.
— Personally, I loved the interlude with Willy Thompson. Great period piece stuff at the university (and it made me sad again for Jimmy’s lost potential). His interaction with Mickey Doyle seemed to foreshadow something sinister in the future, although perhaps not. The whole vignette, from Mickey letting him have the booze, to him standing up to Doris, to Henry humiliating him later, was all pretty predictable stuff, but was still nice.
— “Don’t let the door hit you in the brains” – Mickey.
— Patricia Arquette really could be a bar owner from Tampa in that era. She nails the vibe.
— “When men make themselves into brutes, it is fair to treat them as brutes.” – Narcisse