Boardwalk Empire Watch: A Return To Normalcy

Nucky Across the Board(walk)

With elections looming, tensions are high in Nucky’s camp. Or at least they’re high for Nucky. The last few months have taken a toll on him, both fiscally and personally, and he’s direly concerned about the future. He’s got his hands full all over the place, and with the papers projecting a democrat victory in the mayoral race, he loses patience with his henchmen as they try to figure out how they are going to rig the election for a Bader victory.

Chalky being Chalky, he plays his hand strong, milking his influence with the black vote for all it’s worth. On this note, Nucky and Chalky are great together – both are ruthlessly looking out for themselves, but they both also have a seemingly immense loyalty to one another, perhaps because they recognize in each other a respectable counterpart in the game. Whatever it is, I’m happy that Chalky and Nucky have each others’ backs when push comes to shove.

We next see Nucky at the currently recovering Commodore’s home with Jimmy, Gillian, Sheriff Halloran, and Gillian. They are interrogating the Commodore’s housekeeper, who has allegedly been poisoning the Commodore with arsenic. Not surprised that the writers twisted this after last episode's muddied conclusion on Gillian’s role in this, but I guessed incorrectly. The housekeeper admitted to it all, and Nucky, strange as it may seem, gives her money and tells her to go very far away. In return, she gives him her book. While we never find out what he sees when he opens it, I am convinced that it is something that will come back to haunt the Commodore in the next season. I feel like Nucky was having the housekeeper spy on him, if not putting her up to the arsenic poisoning altogether.

When Torrio calls Nucky on the phone, he asks for a meeting the following day with Rothstein -- just to talk. The scene on the road somewhere in the middle of New Jersey is fantastic. All the heavy-hitters of the show are on screen at the same time: Torrio, Capone, Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Jimmy, and Nucky. Rothstein has asked to meet to try and negotiate with Nucky to end the war and help him out. Rothstein wants Nucky to pull some strings and make sure he doesn’t get indicted for fixing the World Series. When Nucky says that can be arranged, Jimmy pitches a micro-fit--he doesn’t quite understand how Nucky’s world works just yet; he’s just the muscle right now. In exchange for Nucky’s cooperation, he wants $1M cash and the location of the missing D’Alessio brothers. Rothstein accepts, saying that all bad blood is nullified on all fronts. From the look of Jimmy towards Lucky, I have a feeling this might not be entirely over --or it will at least cause a problem between Nucky and Jimmy down the road. Again, this scene was awesome--and too short, as far as I’m concerned. I could have watched the heavy-hitters cut it up all night.

After this meeting, Nucky calls a press conference, where he says that Eli--the former sheriff--has worked tirelessly since January to find the killers from the night in the woods. That while the murders may have happened under the Republicans’ watch, it has also been resolved--Hans Schroeder is dead, and now his compatriots, the D’Alessio brothers, have been caught as well…and conveniently already dead. He tells the citizens of AC that if they want to keep the city safe, they need to vote Republican on election day. The cut-up of Nucky’s speech with the montage of Richard Harrow, Jimmy, and Capone killing the remaining D’Alessio brothers is quite memorable, cinematically and visually. All the murders were disturbing in their own way: Harrow’s absolute coldness, Capone’s casual picking up of the apple, and Jimmy slowly slitting that guy’s throat. Ouch.

As the election results come in the next day, it’s clear that the Republicans have won--not just the mayoral office in AC, but also Warren G Harding for President. In the midst of this celebration, Eli expresses to Nucky that he’s still hurt by what has passed between them. We’ve seen this tension since the beginning of the series--Eli feels like Nucky does not appreciate him--and Nucky should be taking it more seriously. However, he brushes it off and tells Eli that he shouldn’t be so pissed, especially after his cut of Rothstein’s money. “Blood is thicker than water,” Nucky tells him, but Eli wonders why it has to be his blood.

As soon as Bader gets the word that he’s the new mayor, Nucky’s plan of action is taken. Bader immediately “accepts the resignation” of Halloran and re-hires Eli Thompson as Sheriff of Atlantic City. Still, Eli doesn’t seem satisfied.

Meanwhile, Jimmy’s been sulking in the corner, getting drunk. When he makes an aggressive comment about Nucky--something about pimping his mother out – to a fellow politician, Nucky drags him aside for a few words. All in all, Jimmy just wants to know that Nucky cares about him; for all intents and purposes, Nucky has been the closest thing to a father that Jimmy has ever had, but right now he’s feeling like Nucky was only nice to him because he was doing his job for the Commodore, not because he loved him. Unfortunately Nucky does not realize this, and he tells Jimmy that he’s not his father, so Jimmy walks away, telling him to stop acting like he gives a shit, since that’s the case. Now, not only is Eli looking surreptitiously mischievous, but Jimmy seems equal parts a malcontent.

Instead of taking Nucky’s advice and going home to his wife and kid, though, Jimmy goes to his father’s place, where Gillian is caring for him. When left alone, however, the Commodore begins to talk to a drunk Jimmy about his discontent with Nucky. He doesn’t feel like Nucky has made things square since getting out of jail. Nucky owes him – they were caught up in some voter fraud and election rigging, and somebody had to take the fall. Considering his political reputation had taken a huge hit and at the time Sheriff Nucky Thompson’s had not, the Commodore took the fall. The Commodore goes on to talk to Jimmy about why Nucky brought him back from Chicago to begin with, and how Nucky only made Jimmy think he’d gotten a good deal in the process.

What does all this mean, exactly? The Commodore wants to take back Atlantic City from Nucky, and he wants to do this with Jimmy. When Eli walks through the door, we can see where this is going. Obviously this is a major storyline for next season, but I can’t see Jimmy turning his back on Nucky – who has been a father to him where the Commodore never has.

Margaret Schroeder: Machiavellian

When Margaret finds out that Nucky had a son that died just after birth, and his wife shortly thereafter died as well, she goes to see Nucky; she knows there is more to the story. She demands his audience, and Nucky tells her the story about his son and Mabel’s demise. He was the newly elected Treasurer and, as such, was very, very busy. When he finally got the courage to pick up his tiny son after a week, he could tell that he had been dead for a few days, yet Mabel had still sickeningly taken care of him. Nucky knew she had lost touch with reality, but he didn’t know how bad it was. A month later, she slit her wrists with Nucky’s razor. Margaret is torn up by his story, and she sees the kindness in Nucky’s heart. It’s obvious that she has genuine feelings for him, and when she asks how he can do what he does now, he says, “We all have to decide for ourselves, how much sin we can live with.”

Despite their candid talk, she leaves, with every intention of leaving AC for good. However, when eating the barnbrack cake she baked for All Hallow’s Eve, she bites into the rag that was baked into the cake. Superstition says that the person who gets the rag is destined to be destitute. You can tell by the look in her eyes that she’s terrified about this idea, what it will do to her children, etc. She’s pondering her options…

Unsurprisingly, she shows up at the election celebration gala, where she seems like a new woman, confident and at peace with the sin she must live with. First she asks Nucky for a drink, quoting his own words about celebrating good news with champagne. Second, tells him that her kids miss their “Uncle Nucky.” And when the cable comes through that Warren G. Harding is the new POTUS, she and Nucky kiss after hearing his acceptance speech imploring for a “return to normalcy.” I’m happy for Nucky, and I think this union will serve him well in the near future. It’s obvious that he will be facing problems with the Commodore, Eli, and Jimmy, yet he fully trusts Margaret, as he said many times in the past, more than anybody else in his circle.

Other Takeaways/Thoughts

• Agent Nelson resigns from his position in Atlantic City. His supervisor wants him to change his mind, but he says there is nothing there for him now. His wife is none too happy about this and his plan to become a partner in his uncle’s feed business. He tells her that God will give him a sign if he’s to stay in AC. The last we see of Agent Van Alden is when he eagerly anticipates Margaret Schroeder in his office, only to see Lucy instead, whom he finds out he has impregnated. Perhaps his time in AC is not quite over…

• On the homefront, Jimmy has been giving Angela the silent treatment after her near-elopement with Mary. However, after a much-needed heart-to-heart talk where Jimmy opens up to her slightly about the war and it’s effects on him, they seem to be headed in the right direction. He tells her that he used to dream that she was sleeping next to him, and he could feel her long hair on his face. When Angela comes home to a postcard from Mary, however, she seems to long for what she’s lost. Upon Jimmy’s arrival, she walks out of the bedroom with a very short haircut – she cut off the very thing that helped Jimmy get through a lot of the bad times at war. She knows what she has done, and he knows that she knows what that means to him as well, but neither say a word about it and he merely walks out the door for now.

• Great line by Lucky Luciano to Rothstein: “The advice [to bargain with Nucky] is free. You pay us because we get our hands dirty.”

• I thought it was hilarious how Capone shut Luciano up at the boss meeting, telling him to quit it with the stupid jokes. He really as learned his lesson, I guess.

• I wonder on whose side of the table Gillian will fall: the Commodore’s or Nucky’s?

As the last five minutes of season one wind down, the song is perfect. “Life’s A Very Funny Proposition” plays, as we see a montage of all the major characters of the show. Nelson is alone, reading a book. Eli, Jimmy, and the Commodore are talking, about what we can only imagine. Gillian sits, drinking and smoking, deep in thought. Luciano and Lansky tying up loose ends in Chicago. Harding’s girl naively dreaming about her future with Warren. Rothstein on the phone with Atlantic City as the money arrives for Nucky. Jimmy waking on the beach alone, smoking, deep in thought about Eli, the Commodore, Nucky, and Angela, no doubt.

The lasting image, though, is Margaret and Nucky standing on the boardwalk, looking out over the ocean on Atlantic City. Neither one of them look to certain about the future. In fact, both look rather puzzled about what lies in wait down the road, both politically as well as romantically.

Thankfully, this last episode tied up most – if not all – of the overarching questions going into it. That being said, it definitely teased us with a few new wrinkles going forward for season two. Sadly, we’ll have to wait to see it, but I look forward to it. In my opinion, there isn’t a better show on television.