'Boardwalk Empire' Recap: Necessary Roughness

In the aftermath of Eddie's death, a familiar face reappears and new alliances are formed

Kelly Macdonald in 'Boardwalk Empire'
Macall B. Polay/HBO
Kelly Macdonald in 'Boardwalk Empire'
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I've never been so grateful for a batshit sex scene between Steve Buscemi and Patricia Arquette in all my life.

And who could've predicted it would be Boardwalk Empire, rather than Sleepy Hollow, that brought on the bonkers this week? But boy, did we need that wrestling-match foreplay in order to enjoy a sweet release from the lugubrious nature of "The North Star." It was a pretty depressing episode, more so than last week's, and that featured a suicide! Eddie Kessler's death hung over every scene like a wet blanket, reminding not just the viewers, but the characters as well, that there is no way the loyal German manservant will be forgotten anytime soon. The long-awaited return of Kelly Macdonald's Margaret was both tedious and anti-climactic, making me wonder if even the writers have no clue what to do with her now that she and Nucky are no longer a couple. And to top it off, Julia Sagorsky's father, Paul, made his first Season Four appearance only to announce that he's dying of cirrhosis. Chalky may not have liked Daughter Maitland's melancholy song choice of "St. Louis Blues" for her Onyx Club performance, but damn if it wasn't a fitting tune for the occasion.

Relive the Worst Acts of Betrayal on 'Boardwalk Empire'

The episode opened with an awkward reunion between Mr. and Mrs. Thompson in New York's Penn(sylvania) Station, just before Nucky headed down to Tampa to move forward with his land deal. The scene seemed forced, as if the writers were desperate to find a way to shoehorn Margaret back into the story. Nucky invited her to breakfast so he could break the news of Eddie's death, most likely because he was seeking comfort, but all he (and we) got was a brief, cagey rundown of the Irish immigrant's life these days: She's dressing much more simply, she lives with her brother Eamonn in Brooklyn, she works "in an office downtown," the children are doing well and she enjoys going to the pictures once a week. Her cold demeanor suggests that even Nucky's reappearance to inform her that an old acquaintance has died is an infringement on her now-stable, crime-free existence. It's still unclear if these two are officially divorced, but what's certain is Margaret doesn't want Nucky knowing where she works, piquing our interest at least somewhat. 

Margaret bows out of the episode just as quickly as she re-emerged, taking Nucky's belated birthday gift for Teddy and sending her estranged husband off to the wilds of Florida and the arms of Sally Wheet, who may not offer compassion and sympathy, but at least she's got booze and can throw a mean punch. Over an evening of alligator fights and much questionable "battery-acid"-tasting liquor, Nucky starts babbling a stream of consciousness to Sally. He's uncertain about the land deal, he wants to build something, oh, and he just lost someone special ("He lived for me," Nucky laments), blah, blah, blah. And that's when Sally, drunk and bored with his whining, proceeds to a) fulfill every audience member's wish and b) engage Nucky in the aforementioned batshit foreplay – she strikes him in the nose, twice! Nucky abandons his whole "I won't hit a woman" rule and wallops her right in the kisser, which, naturally, devolves into a stormy night of impassioned lovemaking, their moans muffled by the sound of thunder. Maybe it was the alligator moonshine, maybe it was spending the night with a woman who doesn't fear him, but all we know is the next morning, Nucky's got a new lease on life. He announces to partners Meyer Lansky and Bill McCoy that "Ms. Wheet" will be handling his affairs regarding the land deal going forward. And it looks like Sally's punches knocked the grief out of him too: When Lansky offers his condolences regarding Eddie, Nucky responds curtly, "That all happened somewhere else."

Too bad Agent Warren Knox doesn't have a lady and a jug of booze to help him forget Eddie. Now that he's lost his sole informant – as well as J. Edgar Hoover's trust – he makes one last go at proving that Nucky Thompson operates a "nationwide network of organized criminals" by going after Eli instead. Winning over Nucky's brother is hardly an arduous task for the duplicitous federal agent: Since Eli has no legal access to the safe-deposit box in which Eddie kept Nucky's cash transactions, all Knox needed to do was perform the innocent "Is there anything I can do to help?" act, and soon enough, he's brandishing his badge at the bank, demanding the contents of a safe-deposit box under the name Edward Kessler, suspected anti-American activist. (Hoover makes a point this episode of the Bureau of Investigation's need to keep tabs on "anarchists" like Marcus Garvey and Emma Goldman.) 

But it's Knox's single-minded obsession to take down Nucky at all costs that just might be his undoing. Eli's initial hunch that Eddie committed suicide because he stole money from Nucky is disproved when he counts the money from the safe-deposit box and discovers it's all there. At least now he knows there were other factors at play, even if he can't make the connection to Knox just yet. Also, Knox's fluency in German (or, perhaps, his superior lying skills – how do we know he, like Mickey, didn't give a false translation? After all, Knox is the only one who is aware that Eddie was a grandfather) led him to make a very serious error in his ruse: Eli, having discovered Eddie's mystery letter, asks Knox (who claims to have just taken a year of German in high school) to translate it. Knox, unable to hide his discomfort, considering he was the one who bestowed said news to Eddie, says it's an unfinished letter to Eddie's son, expressing his joy upon the news that he has a grandchild. The sentiment gets Eli thinking about Willie, who hasn't exactly been communicative with dear old Dad lately, and he breaks down crying. Knox then hands Eli a monogrammed handkerchief – except the initials ("JMT"; Hoover calls Knox "Jim") don't exactly match up with the name "Warren Knox."

Tidbits

Richard has made it back to Atlantic City, and with a dying Paul Sagorsky's blessing ("You got Tommy out of that house. That makes you a hero"), he begins to make amends with a skeptical Julia. On a starry night by the water with the little boy and the woman he left behind, the sharpshooter takes yet another cautious step toward creating the family of his dreams. As frustrated as Julia is with him for abandoning her with a kid for eight months, she admits to Richard that she needs his help, but it will come at a price: "I don't want to do this all by myself. But how can I trust you?" As she starts toward home, Tommy asks Richard if he's coming with them. Without turning around, Julia responds in the affirmative, and Richard takes Tommy's hand. Their future remains ambiguous, which is a much more real scenario than the two of them smooching in the moonlight and Richard dropping to his knee, but it's nice to see Julia has left the door open for him. That's more than we can say for his sister, Emma.

–Nucky and Sally weren't the only ones engaging in rough sex this episode, as Chalky White and Daughter Maitland finally gave in to their long-simmering desire for each other. Dr. Narcisse doesn't appear, but Chalky feels his presence in every interaction with his guest performer, who also seems to take pleasure in undermining his influence regarding her song choices. Chalky finds himself further emasculated by his wife, Lenore, who is none too pleased that he's allowed their piano-playing son, Lester, to be exposed to the Onyx Club's devilish jazz and blues. The only place he can assert his authority at this point is in the bedroom, so he takes great, bodily pleasure in reminding his sultry employee that while she's in Atlantic City, he's in charge – and that Narcisse is nothing but a "N— with a dictionary." (Nice.)

Previously: Better Call Nucky