The past is coming alive on Boardwalk Empire, and not just through Nucky’s flashbacks. As things begin to take a turn towards the end for the series, Nucky is confronted not only by how his experiences and choices as a young boy shaped his future, but how things like his relationship with Margaret also changed him. The business of being a gangster is changing, too, with the new guard (led by Lucky Luciano) is looking to squeeze out the old, one way or another. As Lucky tells Al Capone, his vision is to have the Italians unite and run things. “Nucky Thompson ain’t Italian,” Capone opines regarding Atlantic City. Lucky assures him: Nucky is being taken care of. Hit the jump for what that means, and why “I haven’t blushed in 40 years.”
As predicted, Nucky’s hazy smile at Margaret’s appearance didn’t last long. But the way “Cuanto” told the story of their time spent together was a lovely, if heartbreakingly realistic, assessment. Margaret is there for help regarding the shared problem of Caroline Rothstein, and is up front about the details of it. There’s no need to play games anymore, as she points out to Nucky when he was telling her jokes and trying to schmooze her. She saw through the fact that the only reason his attentions were on her in such a way was because he was jealous of Joe Kennedy’s flirtations, and wanted to reassert his dominance. When she tells him to cut the shit, more or less, he becomes sour and cold, which is more like the Nucky we currently know.
The progression of that night, from the dinner to the drunkenly honest discussions, to that kiss on the boardwalk like old times, all felt genuine. Somewhere, somehow, there are still feelings. Nucky admitted he wanted to save Margaret to make himself seem like less of a bad guy, while she felt like she could alleviate him of his loneliness by helping him exist in his wealth. And despite the years and everything that’s happened in between, Nucky still sees Margaret as needing saving, and she still sees him as lonely. “Maybe nothing changes,” Nucky says.
The flashbacks in this episode also set the stage for Nucky in his later years, by illustrating the origins of the chip on his shoulder, angry at how the other half lived while he and his family lived in poverty. Him breaking in with Eli and lounging in the bath was one thing, but what happened after Mr. Lindsay took them to his house for dinner was quite another. It showed Nucky what his heart truly desired, which wasn’t just wealth, but a loving home. The picture of it moved him to tears, and he also saw that you could be, like Mr. Lindsay, a man who was one way at work and another at home. Seeing an opportunity to rid his family of his violent and abusive father, he essentially asks Mr. Lindsay to arrest — or even “take care of” — his father. It’s a choice that, clearly, has had implications for the rest of his life.
Except now, Nucky will still kill, but Margaret’s assumption that Nucky would kill Caroline Rothstein to fix their problem was wrong. There are parts of Nucky that are looking to be legitimate, but business dealings like the one with Joe Kennedy falling through make that difficult. And to make matters worse, his business interests in Cuba have taken a terrible turn not only because of unrest that’s leading to a halt in cane sugar production, but also because Sally was killed.*
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Capone (who is connected to Nucky through the rum deal) runs amok like a drunk monkey. Lucky appears and wants to talk business, and while they both play nice (more or less), Capone spits in his direction after he leaves, preferring to spend time in the company of cocaine and yes men. Occasionally, he also likes to bludgeon one or two to death.
Mueller/Van Alden also had a tense moment with Capone when Lucky called him out as a fed (remembering back to 1921 when Van Alden had arrested him), but Capone ultimately allowed the fast-talked (while soiling himself) Mueller to live because he turned the suspicion and “disrespect” back on Lucky. Mike, one of Capone’s lackeys, is actually a current agent and mole, and now that he has the information on who Van Alden is, it will be interesting to see how that plays into the final episodes of the series (and what legacy Van Alden, who has undergone the biggest transformation of any character, will leave).
“Cuanto” was a more energetic hour than “What Jesus Said,” and still revealed so much when it came to its characters. It was restrained in terms of scope, focusing mainly on a small cast, but that allowed some very necessary (and very satisfying) moments of drama and revelation. What it also continues to show is how Nucky’s world has fallen down around him. Without his money, without his wife, and without his lover (and even without his brother or business partners), who is he? Nucky is not one to go down without a fight; as his flashback showed, when he wants something, he will risk everything to have it.
Episode Rating: A-
— * = Boardwalk has a horrible determination to kill off all of its best characters, doesn’t it? Jimmy, Owen, Richard … and now Sally, probably the only truly independent and smart woman the show has ever had. Margaret is conniving in some ways, but she has always lacked the confidence that Sally had. Also, she’s never had any leverage. I knew Sally was probably going to die in this episode after her first meeting with that shady man, but the way it happened still surprised me for a moment. Nucky’s reaction to this will be telling.
— “Did you do something wrong? No? Then don’t walk into a room like a question mark” – The Commodore.
— The flashbacks have some of the most beautiful filmic scenes, like Eli and Nucky lying on the dirt after their fight, and then later sitting on the beach. I also liked how their house seemed so realistic for their situation: shabby and worn.
— Margaret teaching Archie to speak better English was a nice little scene that shows how she’s always trying to help where she can. I think that in the wake of Sally’s death, Nucky may reach out to her. On the other hand, their parting was in many ways perfect. But I agree with her that he’s up to something.
— Margaret calling Nucky a bastard twice and telling him to shut up were golden.
— Indoor plumbing, boy howdy!
— “We’ve had all the fights were going to have” – Nucky, who is a little proud of how Margaret has managed her life without him.
— “You’re what’s wrong with Cuba” – Cuban captain to Sally, who is just trying to do her best (while all of the other white people flee).
— “You can rule by fear, or you can rule by love” – Capone. Or you can put guns in people’s mouths and bludgeon others to death with figurines, too.
— R.I.P., Sally.