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'Boardwalk Empire' Recap: Firestarter

Nucky battles haunting memories while extending an olive branch to Gyp

September 30, 2012 10:05 PM ET
boardwalk empire nucky margaret
Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Thompson and Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in 'Boardwalk Empire.'

There's only so much you can cram into an hour of television, and given that Eli's and Chalky's reintroductions got bumped to the second episode, it's not entirely astonishing that Nucky's nightmares over Jimmy's death didn't spring up until "Bone for Tuna." So, it's official – Nucky still has a semblance of a heart. And it's a heart that's desperate for nurturing and attention, because the only time Nucky is able to relax is when Billie returns from an unexplained absence. But I'm just not sold on the idea that he's in love with her yet. I think he likes that she takes care of him; as if he's still searching for that elusive mother figure he thought he found in Margaret

Inner Visions

This isn't the first time Nucky has been plagued by vivid dreams and sleepless nights featuring a boy – except now he's being haunted by a young version of Jimmy (instead of himself), who keeps popping up sporting a bullet hole beneath his left eye. And the female telephone operator in his dreams has taken to quoting Jimmy as well: "The only thing to worry about is when you run out of company."

Nucky manages to pull himself together to meet Gyp in Tabor Heights so they can address the Sicilian's recent coup involving the town's police force. He refuses to let Gyp intimidate him, and even calls him out on his overly sensitive demeanor: "You're a man who can find an insult in a bouquet of roses." But despite his more recent willingness to pull the trigger on his enemies, Nucky's attitude remains more of the "you catch more flies with honey" mentality. He offers Gyp a night in Atlantic City as his guest, and a full month's supply of liquor. After that, Gyp is on his own. The Tabor Heights sheriff, who has been lured back to Nucky's side, suggests Gyp heed Nucky's warning to "leave these nice people alone."

Gyp accepts, and the two men dine in a private room at Babette's that evening. Things are going well: they bond over poor childhoods; Gyp toasts Nucky – "Alla nostra buon fortuna" ("To our good luck") – until Gyp offers to take his new friend over to Gillian's brothel. Nucky repeatedly declines the invitation, right up to when he drops Gyp off at the Commodore's converted mansion. It's there Gyp notices the uncomfortable gaze between Nucky and Gillian, so he does what anybody in Boardwalk Empire would do – he uses them as pawns in his own game. He starts working Gillian, getting her to open up about potential allies (looks like Eli is going to be his next target). But Gillian is no dummy. She'll only reveal information that can help her in the end, so I'm sure whatever she told Gyp was carefully calculated.

Nucky opts to spend the night at his house, so the entire Thompson family can put on appearances the next morning when he receives a special honor at the church for his philanthropy. But instead of reconnecting with his wife, Nucky chooses to wear out the telephone wires searching for Billie. At church, the Thompsons present a façade of marital bliss, but the under-their-breath dialogue tells a much different story: "What do they say on Broadway?" quips Margaret. "The show must go on." It's no wonder her husband hasn't been inside a church since they swapped vows, because the visions of a bullet-hole-marked boyhood Jimmy (this time as a member of the choir) are a constant reminder that even Nucky can't hide his sins from God.

During the post-service refreshments, a thoroughly spooked Nucky runs off to call Billie for the 4,576th time, while Margaret slickly tricks Dr. Landau (who chastised her for the idea of prenatal care at St. Theresa's Hospital on New Year's Eve) into opening a women's health clinic. Rule to the wise: Blatantly lie in front of a Catholic bishop so the bureaucratic doctor standing in your way has no choice but to honor your request. And do it in your most sugary-sweet bitch voice if possible ("Only a touch [of the modern]!"). Margaret's "fuck you" glares after she proclaims Landau the impetus behind the clinic are positively golden. (Hey, Margaret, did you write this? Because it reeks of bitterness toward ill-informed old white guys who claim to be experts on women's bodies.)

That evening, Gyp arrives at Mickey's warehouse to collect his booze. But when Owen passes along Nucky's message of "buon fortuna" (reading from a notebook that says "Bone for Tuna"), Gyp is once again insulted by his associate's pomposity. On the ride back to New York, he ignores his driver's small talk about the movie Nosferatu (a possible anachronism here, as Nosferatu wasn't released in the U.S. until 1929) and proceeds to tear into Nucky for rubbing his power in his face: "Scrawny Irish prick," he seethes. "I need his blessing to make my way in the world?" I would love to know what the hell happened in Gyp's past that made him the most thin-skinned man in New York. And I'm sure the sheriff of Tabor Heights is wondering the same thing. When he stops off to greet Gyp and his convoy while they're (what else?) gassing up, he selects the two worst words possible as a sendoff: "Good luck." Gyp douses the sheriff in gasoline, reneges on his agreement to stay out of town – and tosses his lighter onto the policeman's fuel-soaked body. The blank expression on Gyp's face as the engulfed sheriff writhes in agony just goes to show that this guy is completely unpredictable, and even several benevolent gestures won't stop him from putting you on his hit list.

While Gyp is turning Tabor Heights into his own chemistry set, Nucky orders Eddie to drive him to New York, because he's fed up with Billie playing hard to get for two days straight. But he's delayed by an unexpected visit by a sniveling Mickey – who waddles into Nucky's office with Richard pointing a gun to his head. Apparently Mickey was spreading the rumor that he killed Manny Horvitz in a feeble attempt to build up his street cred.

"A man's death is no laughing matter," says Richard, effectively confessing to Manny's murder instead. Now off the hook and thinking twice about passing himself off as a terrifying thug, Mickey departs, leaving Nucky to continue the interrogation. The war veteran assures Nucky that he killed Manny only to avenge Angela. "Jimmy was a soldier," Richard grumbles. "He fought, he lost." Richard knows that Nucky is the one who offed his friend, but he promises that because the Thompsons have only shown him kindness, they are safe from his marksmanship. But there's one more thing nagging at Nucky: his guilt. After Richard reveals that he's killed 63 people, Nucky asks, "Do you think about any of them?" Richard, an expert on the subject, reminds Nucky that there's no such thing as a heartless killer: "You know the answer to that yourself."

Nucky, perhaps not absolved of his crimes, but certainly more accepting of his actions thanks to Richard's wisdom, arrives at Billie's dark, deserted apartment, and for the first time in days, falls asleep. He awakens to the sound of bacon frying in the kitchen, where a bathrobe-clad Billie is cooking breakfast. We still have no clue where she's been, but at this point, Nucky is so relieved to see her that it doesn't matter. "You're not alone anymore," she says as he tenderly rests his head on her shoulder.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Aside from Sigrid's constant encouragement in the bedroom (cooing "You're the handsome salesman Number One!" is her version of foreplay), Van Alden is still having a rough go of it in Chicago. His colleagues think he's a wet blanket, and even when they persuade him to join them at a speakeasy, he orders a near-beer and avoids conversation with everyone. After spending almost two years busting speakeasies, Van Alden is constantly looking over his shoulder, unable to relax. It's just as well, because as luck would have it, he does get arrested in a raid, listening to a Prohibition agent recite the same spiel he repeated ad nauseam in his old job. Van Alden is panicked that his cover could be blown, especially when the agent recognizes him. Turns out he's just a neighbor, so he offers Van Alden a deal: pay him the fine directly (and by "fine," he means all the cash in his wallet) and the arrest won't go down on his record. So much for hanging with the boys after work – now that one of the local feds knows his face, there's no way Van Alden is going within 100 feet of a liquor purveyor.

Wrap-Up The "breadstick in a bow tie" has done a bang-up job of substantiating that he's still a force to be reckoned with in the seedy underworld of bootlegging. This is going to come in plenty handy in the coming weeks, now that Gyp has proven that he's an erratic psychopath who likes to play with fire.

Previously Roadblock

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