Boardwalk Empire Watch: Belle Femme

“Belle Femme” is, in my opinion, the most well rounded episode of the series thus far. Good development on many fronts, as some loose ends are tied up and the general direction of the story moves forward. Now that Jimmy is back in Atlantic City, BWE is turning up the heat.

Eli is still bedridden after being shot, and his debacle at the casino is affecting more than the police department’s effectiveness; with elections forthcoming, the opposing democrat mayoral candidate – squeaky clean and calling for change – is rousing the city with charges of corruption. Not exactly easy to refute, considering Eli is the sheriff, and he was making a collection from an illegal casino.

Upon returning to his office with Deputy Halloran, Nucky surprisingly finds Jimmy helping himself to some coffee – apparently his Western Union message got lost in transit. Halloran – whom Nucky has never liked – is dismissed while Jimmy and Nucky talk business, and by business I mean killing the D’Alessio brothers, whom Eli and others have identified as the culprits of the casino robbery.

Jimmy’s a changed man after going to Chicago – he seems to be entirely content being Nucky’s hitman, but he demands Nucky’s respect. And it’s not like Nucky has a choice; he’s asking Jimmy to do all his dirty work, and because of that – like it or not – Jimmy has the power to call a lot of shots. Do I think this will cause a problem for Nucky? No, but I also think it’s an interesting change in the character of Jimmy – in the first episode, Nucky told him to reach out and take things for himself; he finally has, and you can see it in every action he takes. Calm, cool, and confident.

Meanwhile, Rothstein is busy meeting with the D’Alessio brothers in NYC. We finally here what Rothstein wants: to monopolize the market on high-end whiskey in America, none of that rotgut whiskey that Mickey used to make. Atlantic City is the perfect port for the boats to come into, but the only problem is Nucky, whom Rothstein feels is greedy and unreasonable. He might be right, but makes for great a great character, and to me it seems he’s just as greedy and unreasonable. Hilariously, he makes the brothers and Mickey a deal that they can run the show in Atlantic City if they sign a life insurance policy on themselves – an incentive for them not to screw things up. Assignment number one: put a bullet in Nucky Thompson.

During all of this, the self-flagellating Agent Nelson has just been informed that Jimmy Darmody is back in town. Furthermore, that his colleague – Agent Sebso – hid the intercepted telegram saying that. Despite his given reason for hiding it, one must wonder why he really kept it from Nelson, who’s furious and thinks that by arresting and charging Jimmy for murder, they can get him to rat out Nucky Thompson.

The following morning, Jimmy gets a call from his mother, and we can already see what’s happening. Cut to her apartment, where she’s in bed with Lucky Luciano, the man sent by Rothstein to kill her son. One of the three best scenes of the episode, Jimmy walks in, throws coffee on Lucky as he screams and reaches for his gun…which Gillian has already procured. With camera angles from Lucky’s POV and unyielding conviction in Jimmy’s voice, we have no doubt that Jimmy is serious about taking “ a ride to some place they won’t find you.” I’ll give it to Lucky, he manages to hold his own despite the situation…until he gets to the stairwell, that is, and tries to bargain for his life, telling Jimmy everything about the D’Alessio brothers being backed by Rothstein and the hit out on Nucky.

Considering Luciano is a character taken from history, we can pretty much sum up that Jimmy ain’t gonna be killing him on tonight’s episode. Apparently they don’t call him Lucky for nothing, either, because right then Nelson and Sebso ambush Jimmy, arresting him for five counts of murder on the night of January 17th.

As they investigate him, Jimmy sticks to his story and never waivers, having full confidence that they have nothing on him. That changes, however, when he passes Billy Winslow – the decoy from the car accident that night – and he puts two and two together, realizing that Billy has sold him out.

When Nucky visits Jimmy in jail, Jimmy tells him about the D’Alessio brothers and the connection to Rothstein and Luciano in their attempt to take a stake in the liquor business. Regarding the five murder counts against him, Jimmy is terrified. He mentions calling his father, as if he could help. This definitely piqued my interest, making me wonder who his father is, what he does, his relationship with him, and if said father will make an appearance in the future – why else mention him? Regardless, Nucky tells Jimmy that he’s taking care of things – that the legal system is not the best way out of this one.

When Agent Sebso suggests moving Billy Winslow to an NYC prison – where Nucky can’t reach him – I immediately figured there was going to be an ambush to kill Billy. Maybe I should have, but I did not expect Agent Sebso to be in on it. In the best scene of the episode, Agent Sebso looks at Billy as they are stopped on the side of the road and says, “You really shouldn’t have done that…You lunged at me…Tried to commandeer my gun…That’s why I had to kill you.”

This entire time, it’s important to note that Nucky has been trying to solve the problem of Eli’s absence during such trying times – personally and politically – so he goes to see the Commodore. Finally we understand this relationship, as the Commodore alludes to the deal that he and Nucky struck long ago, which put him in jail for five years while Nucky ran wild. That’s why Nucky owes him so much. The Commodore suggests Nucky get rid of the incumbent republican mayor – if the people want change, make them think they’re getting it – but put one of his own in there. He also tells Nucky he must get rid of Eli, who can’t help them now. Nucky hesitates – it is his brother – and this might be a point of contention going forward.

For the time being, Nucky has appointed Deputy Halloran, who swears loyalty through and through, as interim sheriff. I don’t question his loyalty; I question his competence. As for the republican mayoral candidate, Nucky plucks seemingly upstanding citizen Edward Bader and courts him to run. Bader is the owner of a construction company, and Nucky tells him that together, they could build Atlantic City everything it could ever need. I’m sold, but Bader needs to think about it.

As Margaret and Nucky leave the party and exit to the boardwalk, something is not right. Despite their talk of killing Nucky earlier in the episode, I didn’t think this would come to fruition right away. Not unlike how they ambushed Nucky’s collector, one D’Alessio brother distract Nucky while another pulls out a gun, aims, and fires at Nucky’s chest, missing only because his butler barreled down the gunner at the last moment. As Nucky is on the ground with Margaret, who’s covered in blood from the bystander who got hit, the butler picks up the gun, aims it at the fleeing D’Alessio brother, and shoots him in the leg. Does he get away? We don’t know. The show ends with Nucky looking terrified about the assassination attempt and worried about Margaret’s well being, but perhaps more so than anything else, absolutely stone cold pissed off, ready to kill.

Other Thoughts/Plot Points: • Margaret was busy this episode, and though I didn’t mention it above, I do feel it’s important. With the help of Madame Jeunet, Margaret learns that she does have a lot of power with Nucky. Furthermore, Nucky indicates that because she is such a good orator, she has a lot of power of others as well (he has asked her to court the women’s support for the upcoming election). At the end of the episode, she has listened to both Jeunet and Nucky and satisfying found that both are right, as she has effectively played both of them. Perhaps she is a match for Nucky after all. Hopefully her damned morals don’t get in the way.

• Naturally, things are hairy at home for Jimmy, and Angela seems discontent that he’s back. Actually, her every look appears as if her life is falling apart. Jimmy’s suggestion to have another child does not help this.

• Furthermore, Jimmy’s return seems to have signaled a falling out with the Dittingers, the married photographers with whom she sleeps (a threesome in the 20s…who’d have thought?). Needless to say, Angela’s storyline is immensely boring, and I wonder what purpose she serves going forward. Hopefully she’ll surprise me.

• While I am eagerly anticipating the war between Rothstein and Nucky, I find Rothstein to be a one-dimensional character. It seems that every time we see him, all he does is gamble and speak in awful one-liners (i.e. “Reputation takes a lifetime to build, and only seconds to destroy” or “…bars between you and the monkeys”). I realize Michael Stuhlbarg obsessively researched Arnold Rothstein before filming commenced, so I’m not blaming him – I just want some sort of depth for Nucky’s nemesis.

• I wonder if Jimmy’s father is the Commodore, and that’s why Nucky tries to take care of Jimmy so much.

• Despite the gun aimed at Nucky, I was never worried he would get shot. Despite being an amazing scene, I wish there was more suspense there.

That’s all for this week; I got a little longwinded, but I feel it’s necessary. “Belle Femme” struck the perfect balance between character development and plot movement; the bar has just been raised for the last three episodes of season one.