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Boardwalk Empire Watch: Family Limitations

Following last week’s necessary but rather slow character-introspective episode, Boardwalk Empire came back this week with guns drawn, literally and figuratively. In the strongest episode of the season, we see plenty of action in Atlantic City and Chicago. “Family Limitation” had it all, and it is absolutely my favorite episode thus far.

Atlantic City:

Considering Nucky has his nose in everybody’s business, there’s a lot going on this episode. First, he wants to find out who beat and robbed his collector on the boardwalk. Eli suggests the Italians might have done it, but Nucky wants to talk with Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who’s been in town laying pipe to Jimmy’s mom, thinking she’s Jimmy’s wife.

When Nucky brings Lucky in for a sit-down, he manages to give Lucky the idea that things in Atlantic City are out of control. Sure, he tells Lucky that it’s his town, his boardwalk, and his ocean. The only problem is that Luciano has no idea why Nucky is pissed. Nucky’s misdirected anger at Luciano, combined with Mr. Kesslers untimely interruption, gives Lucky the idea that things in Atlantic City are chaotic. When dismissed, Lucky mockingly says, “Thank you very much for showing me how it’s done here.” In BWE’s strongest episode, Nucky appears at his weakest to one person with whom he cannot afford to do so. I think this comes back to get him sometime in the future, but we will see.

While all of this has been going on, Margaret Schroeder has been debating the unspoken offer that Nucky has made her: he will take care of her and her kids if she will be his “Irish maiden.” We see Margaret arduously battling her conscience, but in the end, she takes the offer, quits her job (in style, no less!), hoping/believing that Lucy’s one-trick pony will not be enough for Nucky. Bold move by Margaret, and I’m pulling for her and Nucky, but this ends poorly – she’s a homemaking Irish woman with two kids while he’s a gamesman, in every sense of the word. As she begins to meet her “concubine” neighbors, she begins to realize what exactly she has become. How she reacts to this next week, I have no inclination, one way or another.

Lastly in AC, Frank Hague is in town to discuss politics and the public-funding situation for roads. Nucky wants roads to more easily access NYC and Philadelphia’s flourishing booze market, essentially, while Hague, the mayor of Jersey City, wants the money for his own endeavors. Nucky wines and dines Hague all night, standing up Margaret to do so, and in the end it pays off in information. While Nucky thinks that Senator Edge is his ace in the hole, Hague tells him that Edge is a silent partner in a construction firm in Jersey City; this is news to Nucky, and big news at that. Obviously the Senator will want to line his own pocket. The most interesting exchange of the episode occurs here when Nucky asks Hague why he’s telling him this, and Hague replies, Guys like Edge will come and go, but bosses – like us – we’re here to stay.” Now there’s a rational, long-term thinker, and I like it.

Chicago:

Watching Jimmy in Chicago, I can’t help but think that Nucky would have been best served to keep him around to be his muscle. That being said, Jimmy’s gone, and we see that he at least has left a part of his heart in AC, for he’s sending an envelope full of money to Angela, the mother of his son.

But let’s not get too sentimental, because Jimmy and Al are about to unleash fury on Charlie Sheridan and his Irish crew after the fallout regarding Greektown and Pearl. Torrio wants to back down and retreat, but Jimmy advises not to show weakness; instead, he proposes they sit down with Torrio and come to “an understanding.” That understanding is shooting them full of bullets and leaving them for dead, taking Greektown by force and setting a precedent in Chicago: don’t mess with Johnny Torrio’s crew.

Everything seems to be falling into place for Jimmy in Torrio’s crew with the exception of his relationship with Al. We’ve already seen Al hang him out to dry once before when Jimmy needed money to pay Nucky, but this time Al is on the outside looking in, and he doesn’t like it. Jimmy is getting all the credit and praise for the takedown of Sheridan while Al is feeling unappreciated and undermined, and he begins to resent Jimmy’s success, similar to what we were seeing last week with Eli and Nucky.

When Al visits Jimmy in his room, the tension has built so much that I didn’t know what was going to happen; I would not have been surprised to see Capone go after Jimmy and try to kill him, but instead he brings him his steaks and asks him over for dinner. Through this gesture, Capone apologizes and makes sure Jimmy is on his side, because their “buddies.” However, Jimmy was spot on when he phrases it as “accomplices.” This story arc could be interesting, as Jimmy seems to be on the fast track with Torrio while Capone is an unpredictable loose cannon that plays by his own rules most of the time.

Other Thoughts/Takeaways:

• Rothstein is growing impatient with Lucky Luciano; he wants Jimmy dead. When he informs Lucky it’s actually Jimmy’s mother with whom he’s fornicating, the confused, awe-struck, and bewildered look on his face says it all.

• Agent Nelson is getting creepier and creepier. His boss is less than enthused about his work in AC and wants more cold, hard evidence of bootlegging and less document chasing on Margaret Schroeder.

• Considering the situation with Senator Edge and his vested interest in Jersey City construction, I anticipate Nucky flexing some muscle power in the coming episodes – perhaps at the ballots come the election? – in an attempt to send a message (at the least) to Edge.

• Original reviews of BWE expressed concern about Buscemi’s ability to play the alpa-dog gangster, intimidating and dominating when he needs to be. Thus far, he has played the part perfectly, and tonight’s shakedown of Lucky displays why Buscemi is the perfect actor for the role. Not only can he display machismo when needed, but he can accurately portray unintentional weakness in a character desiring to manifest strength.

• The scene transitions in the show are clever, if not too obvious at times. For example, after Mr. Kessler tells Margaret that Nucky is “a very nice man,” a pissed Nucky is vociferously interrogating Lucky Luciano, saying, “I treat people as gentlemen until shown otherwise.” This is just one of many not-so-subtle, meaningful, and sometimes ironic transitions.

• Still no Chalky White sightings, but we’re getting closer; with Nucky on the prowl for those responsible for robbing his collecting agent, it’s only a matter of time before he pieces together that Mickey and the Italians are behind the rifts on his homefront.

In closing, “Family Limitations” was the best episode of the series to date. We saw a lot of character introspection with Margaret, Nucky trying to keep all his ducks in a row but seemingly failing on every front (Luciano, Margaret, and Hague), and Jimmy, one hell of a gangster in the making, being both brains and brawn in Chicago. Give me more episodes like this, and we’re looking at a classic series in the making.