'Boardwalk Empire' Recap: Women on Top

Nucky discovers a loophole in his election-fraud case, Chalky wages war at home

boardwalk empire episode 4 darmody
Macall B. Polay
Gretchen Mol as Gillian Darmody in HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire.'
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It's a good thing the men who run Atlantic City have a penchant for kinky sex – because their illicit activities are putting Nucky right back in charge. After publicly humiliating the Commodore in last week's episode, Nucky continues his rampage against his detractors in "What Does the Bee Do?" by scoring two major victories. First, he manages to find a loophole in his grim election-fraud case, and second, he destroys the Commodore's (and by default, Jimmy's) stash of liquor courtesy of Irish Republican Army-trained bomb-maker Owen Sleater. And this is all without the knowledge that the Commodore has been incapacitated by a stroke – which was possibly induced by Gillian’s bedroom prowess.

Margaret the Moocher
At Mayor Bader's birthday party, leather-corset-clad prostitutes armed with whips are generously doling out spankings. In the midst of the bacchanalia – and a visit from boxer Jack Dempsey – Nucky's lawyer has a brainstorm when one of the dominatrixes casually mentions they had been brought in from Philadelphia. Turns out, these working girls have been on Nucky's payroll since November, when they were hired to help sway certain voters. A few sworn depositions later, and Nucky is officially in violation of the Mann Act: "It prohibits the interstate transportation of females for immoral purposes," he gleefully tells Margaret the following evening. Margaret is initially just as puzzled as we are over why this is a good thing, but when Nucky explains that now the "election case can be rolled over into a federal indictment," she understands why her benefactor is so excited. Since Nucky is wanted for a federal crime, the attorney general can step in. But given his lack of interest in Nucky's escapades in last week's episode, there is no guarantee that Harry Daugherty will work his political magic, keeping Nucky’s situation precarious.

Which may very well be why Margaret is secretly hoarding money. After informing the household staff that wage cuts will be enacted and asking Nucky for $100 (ostensibly for new clothes for the children), Margaret places the extra cash in an already-fat envelope hidden in her jewelry box. Margaret is probably the most hard-to-read character in the entire series, but that only makes her more fascinating. Her motives have always been questionable, yet every week she's proven herself to be shrewder than any of the mob bosses on the eastern seaboard. Is she trying to bail again? Is she putting away money for her recently unearthed family in Brooklyn? Or is she trying to keep Nucky from losing everything? Her moral conflict is also an integral part of her character, and it’s so exhilarating watching her try to reconcile her conservative upbringing with the decadence surrounding her week after week. She loves her lavish lifestyle, even though it goes against everything she once believed in. And ironically, it's her relationship with Nucky, a criminal, who has spurred her to become a thief herself.

The Commodore and the Showgirl
Gillian is performing a fireside striptease for the Commodore, dressed in a nipple-exposing toga, when the old man suffers a massive stroke. Paralyzed and unable to speak, he is placed at the mercy of Gillian, who is finally able to acknowledge her long-dormant feelings toward the father of her son in the episode's closing scene. Spoon-feeding the Commodore his dinner, she recounts their first meeting, sounding nostalgic at first, but growing steadily more angry as she reveals the details of that night. Gillian may put up the facade that she, the Commodore and Jimmy are a happy family, but she cannot hide her emotional scars from the fact that the Commodore raped her when she was barely a teenager ("Sometimes when I sleep, it wakes me with a start"). And now that he is completely helpless, she refuses to hold back anymore. She slaps her invalid lover across the face. Hard. Over. And over. Until the screen fades to black. It's a scene we've all been waiting for – and it's heartbreaking to watch. The Commodore may be a callous pedophile, but to see him crying and confused as Gillian physically abuses him, unable to fight back, it's impossible not to feel sorry for him, even though we don't want to.

His father’s health aside, by the end of the episode, Jimmy’s future looks pretty bleak as well. After he sells some of his surplus liquor to a menacing Philadelphia butcher, Manny Horovitz, the warehouse holding the booze is then obliterated by one of Sleater’s handmade bombs – an act ordered up by Nucky – badly injuring one of Van Alden’s subordinates who was staking out the place. Jimmy’s already been warned what will happen if he doesn’t deliver ("My icebox is filled with pieces of fellas who try to fuck me over," Horovitz tells him, wielding a carving knife), and with the liquor gone, Nucky’s words to his former protégé at Babette’s last week are now starting to ring true: "I will ruin you."  We also get a good, hard look at the terrorist-level harm that Sleater is capable of. He admits to executing a bomb a week against the Irish-suppressing British back in his homeland, and seems to have no qualms about using his munitions expertise to make a buck.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Chalky
is released from prison, but he soon finds himself a hunted man – not by the Ku Klux Klan, but by the families of the men who were killed in the Klan's distillery ambush. At a community meeting, the bereaved wives and mothers demand something more for their pain and suffering than a "summer clambake and a Christmas turkey." Chalky's emasculation is worsened when his daughter, Maybelle, brings her boyfriend, Samuel, home to dinner. Samuel is a well-mannered, medical-school-bound young man who is everything Chalky isn't. When Chalky notices that his wife, Lenore, made the more bougie duck instead of his favorite, Hoppin' John (rice and beans), he goes ballistic, taking his frustrations out on Samuel. After Lenore apologizes for her husband's "country ways," Michael Kenneth Williams continues his scene-stealing streak by metaphorically verbalizing how threatened Chalky feels. In a harrowing piece of dialogue, he likens the light-skinned, educated Samuel to a house servant – and equates himself with low-level field slaves. Pointing his finger intensely at Samuel, he tells him to stay "inside the house. Pretty clear who the field n----- is." You almost want Chalky to keep getting dragged through the mud every episode because Williams simply eats up every scene in which he has to seethe with fury. Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for Chalky), there doesn't seem to be a dearth of troubles that can befall him.

Wrap-Up: We can only hope that the Commodore’s paralysis and the destruction of his liquor will position Michael Pitt for some long-overdue abundant screen time. Jimmy is in the prime position to assume his father’s control of Atlantic City and take it away from Nucky for good – if he survives Horovitz’s inevitable retribution. On the other hand, no one counted on Nucky’s new hired gun to shake up the playing field. The ruthless Sleater, with his seeming apathy toward human life, poses a grave danger not only to Nucky’s rivals, but to his allies as well.

Last Episode: How Nucky Got His Groove Back