“Nights in Ballygran” was no doubt the slowest episode of the series to date, but the slowest episode of Boardwalk Empire is still must-see television at this point. The first four were dynamite and chalk-full of intensity. Now that we have the lay of the land, this episode slowed the pace down. The stage has been set, however, and it’s only a matter of time before the first domino falls. Perhaps it already has.
No Fun in America’s Playground
Most of the water cooler talk from BWE this week is a result of Margaret Schroeder desperately trying to catch Nucky’s eye. From baking him soda bread, setting an appointment with him for the Women’s Temperance League, and (unsuccessfully) going to see him privately, Margaret Schroeder works hard to get his attention.
Unfortunately for Nucky, he is too busy to notice. He has his hands full with the Celtic dinner celebration for St. Patrick’s Day. And when he isn’t too busy pissing and moaning about the event itself, he’s denigrating his brother for wanting to make a political speech there. Eli’s feeling greatly underappreciated, and the tension is reaching a boiling point.
Meanwhile, in spite (not because) of Nucky’s dismissive treatment towards her, Margaret ups the ante by going to Agent Van Alden with some information about a beer smuggling operation. She knows Nucky is involved, and she recognizes Ward Boss Neary as the man in charge. Van Alden is quite intrigued, for Nucky is his number one target in the ongoing prohibition investigations.
As the festivities for the Celtic dinner get under way, Nucky reluctantly hands the crowd over to his brother, still demanding to have his say at this event. The effect of Eli’s speech, however, is a debacle, nearly starting a riot between the immigrant Irish directly from the motherland and those born and bred here in America. Considering it’s an election year, I am hard-pressed to believe that this scuffle will not rear its ugly head later down the road.
As the party goes on, Nucky pissed, lecturing Eli to know his audience. As his rage mounts, Eli tells him that maybe one day he’ll get better at this game if he can “learn to lie as good as he does.” Classic Nucky response, exasperated and scathing: “Lie as well as me, you dolt. You wanna be taken seriously, learn how to fucking speak.” Maliciously spoken to his own brother with an icy tone, cold eyes, and unwavering precision and condescension, it’s lines like this that enforce the perception that Nucky Thompson is equal parts baby-kisser and gangster. Buscemi, for his part, straddles this role perfectly.
The party hits another snag when Agent Van Alden and the Feds break through the doors. When some sweaty, fat, Irish lawyer protests, Van Alden knocks him out cold, screams at everyone to shut it down, and issues an arrest warrant for Neary, but not before he menacingly stares down Nucky Thompson.
While Nucky clearly gets the unspoken message, he’s also piecing everything together regarding Margaret’s role in the raid and Neary’s arrest. Upon stepping outside, he sees the Women’s Temperance League singing prohibition songs, Margaret Schroeder staring directly at him. It was only a brief moment, however, before Eli steps up to Nucky and attempts to slug him across the jaw. He’s so drunk, however, that Nucky easily steps aside, clearly not amused. It will be interesting to see whether this brotherly tension dissipates entirely, because it had been building for several episodes.
In the end, Margaret got his attention. He shows up at her house for some late night action, and one must wonder, what is his motivation? Despite his soft spot for Mrs. Schroeder, I personally think he’s merely protecting himself – and his lucratively profitable bootlegging operation – from the Feds.
The Second City is exactly that
While things were slow in Atlantic City this episode, Chicago was even slower, so I’ll save you the trouble of too many boring details. In the wake of Pearl’s assault, Jimmy is taking care of her with orange juice and opium – her face is entirely wrecked. And while Jimmy is the perfect gentleman treating her like a princess, somewhere along the line Pearl realizes her life will never be the same. As Jimmy is washing up, she takes his gun and splatters the room with the inside of her head.
All of that aside, Al and Jimmy discuss how they are going to take down the gangsters that attacked them on their own turf. Considering they are not consulting Torrio, I look forward to the potential shitstorm Capone wants to unleash next week.
The City That Never Sleeps…sleeps
Nothing significant happened in New York City this episode. We see one scene of Rothstein in the barber shop talking to his lawyer. Essentially, we find out that the newspapers have all but named Rothstein as the heaviest of hitters in the gambling world, only he doesn’t “gamble,” so to speak; he fixes sporting events, some on a grand scale, as is implied with his alleged involvement in the Black Sox Scandal in the 1919 World Series.
We already know that Nucky hates Rothstein because he’s a cheat, so this seemingly out-of-place scene merely reinforces Rothsteins smarmy reputation among the seedy world of gangsters and crime lords. No doubt his gambling influence and tactics, if you can call it that, will come into play shortly, or this scene serves no purpose.
• I am interested to know what role, if any, the little people will play in the future. My guess is that Nucky needs a favor, and he turns to Carl to do some dirty work. After all, Carl basically sold out his friends to earn an extra $12. Maybe this isn’t the case, or maybe I missed some other significance, but I have a hard time believing there is not more than meets the eye here.
• Jimmy’s suspicions about Angela schtupping the photographer aren’t baseless, as we see her surreptitiously entering his shop late at night. Jimmy’s mother Gillian must suspect something, however, as she made a very odd offer to raise Tommy on her own if Angela wanted to have youthful adventures. Truthfully, I have no idea what to think of this inclusion in the episode. My only speculation is that this episode was intended to make Jimmy a more sympathetic character.
• No progress on the Chalky situation. He wasn’t even in the episode, which is a shame, because his presence is welcome on all fronts. However, I don’t think this situation just goes away after the finger-cutting incident; there’s too much at stake. I hope to see him as soon as next week.
That pretty much wraps up this week’s episode. Slow and steady, but necessary. The dominos are in place, and there are heaps of storylines that all seem extremely significant in allowing Nucky to keep living the life to which he has grown accustomed. Despite the less than exhilarating “Nights in Ballygran,” I’m sold.
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