The law can be a real nuisance sometimes.
But, if you're Willie Thompson, all it takes is a quick phone call to Uncle Nucky, and within the space of an episode, the man has Saul Goodman'ed your ass out of any rap sheet. If you're Eddie Kessler, however, a man who unfortunately picked up nothing from his years serving the law's biggest bullshitter, a single entanglement with the authorities can cause you to star in two of Boardwalk Empire's saddest scenes to date.
Tonight we said auf wiedersehen to one of Boardwalk's stalwart characters, Nucky's right-hand man, Eddie. Unlike many of the faces who have departed Atlantic City via gunshot or knife (Jimmy Darmody, Angela Darmody, the Commodore, Gyp Rosetti, Owen Sleater), Eddie's death was dignified and of his own free will, which only made it all the more heartbreaking to watch. He's been there since Episode One, whether behind the wheel of Nucky's snappy blue Rolls-Royce, serving as the rare instances of comic relief or literally taking a bullet for his employer. And all the thanks he gets is an abusive interrogation courtesy of Agent Knox and a reprimand from Nucky for allowing him to go out in mismatched socks. Faced with an untenable situation at the close of "Erlkönig" – he was forced to sell out Nucky to Knox in order to avoid deportation back to Germany, only to learn that promotion or not, he's still just a servant in Nucky's eyes – Eddie commits suicide.
It really is a shame that after spending three and a half seasons on the sidelines, Anthony Laciura's most shining moments end up in his Boardwalk swan song. He leaves his indelible mark on the series not so much when he jumps out the window of the Hotel Albatross but in the scene with Brian Geraghty's sadistic Agent Knox, who uses his knowledge of German and of the Goethe poem "Der Erlkönig" to finally break the tenacious Eddie. Turns out that like most of his Atlantic City acquaintances, Eddie's got a bit of a checkered past himself: Because he stole money from his previous department-store employer, and was accustomed to "checking out the wares" of his lingerie-counter colleague, the only thing Eddie has waiting for him back in the fatherland was a willkommen from the Hanover police and the disgrace of his sons. Knox tortures Eddie by reciting "Der Erlkönig," a tale of a father ignorant to his son's pleas for rescue from the terrorizing Elf King, driving Eddie to sobs and leaving him no choice but to start talking. Unable to handle the pain of having shamed his children, the loyal manservant rats out his employer, revealing he was at the train station to give money to Ralph Capone – "because it's what Nucky told me to do." As Eddie shuffles out of the room a shattered man, Knox warns that this won't be the last time they talk, which only makes his suicide all the more inevitable and tragic. He leaves behind a giant unanswered question in his wake, however: What was in that letter he wrote just before he took leave of this earth?
It was refreshing to see Nucky back doing what he's best at this episode – working the system to his advantage – except that Willie is such an unlikable character and his story line several notches short of riveting that I was way more interested in watching Anthony Laciura choke his way through "Der Erlkönig" than Steve Buscemi give speeches stolen from Don Draper. ("Whatever occurred, it's over. And every now and then you'll think about the terrible thing that happened to a boy whose face you can't quite remember. I promise you can live with it.") Needless to say, after Willie was taken in by Philadelphia police following the death of his Temple University adversary Henry Gaines, Uncle Nucky was on the scene, coaching his nephew on the art of believing your own lies and setting up Willie's roommate, Jesse Pink – erm, Clayton as the scapegoat. Whether Nucky likes it or not, Willie's part of the family business now, so the one thing Nucky is going to do is make sure he succeeds where he failed with Jimmy. Nucky repeats his insistence that Willie graduate from college, and schools him in a lesson that he only learned a couple of years ago: "The only thing you can count on is blood. The blood that's in your veins and the blood that's in mine." Within hours of Nucky's departure, Clayton is summarily arrested, and the coed who started the Willie-Henry rivalry in the first place, Doris, is weeping Willie's arms. I think the Geto Boyz said it best, "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta."
–Apparently Gillian never got the memo that heroin-withdrawal-induced propositioning of a judge in chambers tends to hurt, not help ones chances at getting custody of her impressionable grandson. Not to mention that once she scores a fix (from Atlantic City's newest drug runner, Dunn Purnsley), showing up high as a kite at said grandson's school with an Abba-Zaba and subsequently scaring the shit out of Tommy only awards you a Julia Sagorsky shade-throw and a forced removal. But don't count her out just yet – Roy Phillips has taken a shine to this lost Bo Peep (Dunn's nickname for Gillian), even after he uncovers her heroin paraphernalia. Roy admits he's got his own demons ("I know about weakness, and I know about sin"), coaxing Gillian to open up about her transgressions. But we only get the tease of "I've done the most awful things." Will Gillian finally come clean, or is she spinning yet another fantasy to lure in another wealthy gentleman?
–It's April 1st, 1924, Primary Election Day in Cicero, Illinois, and Al and Frank Capone have placed Van Alden in charge of a crew positioned outside of the Western Electric plant, whose mission is to coerce the workers to vote Republican. Except the Capone gang is vastly outnumbered by the armed workers, which only incenses Al further. A violent melee ensues, culminating in the historically accurate death of Frank Capone, who goes out in a Bonnie and Clyde-style hailstorm of bullets. It was pretty crafty how the Boardwalk writers worked Frank's real-life death into the fictional Van Alden story line, though. Van Alden, fed up with Al's firecracker tendencies, was just about to shoot the hotheaded gangster when Frank began to pull his gun on the meddling former Prohibition Agent. It was only the arrival of the Chicago police, who opened fire on the crowd (and Frank) that allowed Van Alden's life to be spared. Van Alden may still be alive, but he's in plenty of danger now that Al is out to avenge his fallen brother.
Next week: Margaret returns after a five-episode absence!
Previously: House of Cards