With all due respect to Steve Buscemi, Nucky Thompson is probably the last reason anyone tunes in to Boardwalk Empire anymore (make that second-to-last – I’m looking at you, Paz de la Huerta). His election-fraud story line was interesting for maybe an episode and a half, and the show has wisely turned its focus toward more multifaceted characters like Margaret and Richard Harrow. Ensnared by his legal troubles, Nucky does little more than sit back and watch the action play out around him in “The Age of Reason,” which makes him rather boring at this point. As a result, even Margaret is showing signs of straying. But her inner conflict is still way more fascinating than Nucky’s tiresome, convoluted battle with the law.
He‘s So Dull
In this edition of Corrupt Politicians and the Jersey Gangsters Who Love Them, the prosecutor brought in by Harry Daugherty, Charles Thorogood, succeeds in turning Nucky’s case into a federal charge. But when Nucky’s old rival, Sen. Walter Edge, threatens Daugherty with an investigation of “the bureau of veterans’ affairs” if he doesn’t replace Thorogood with someone who could potentially send Nucky to jail, Daugherty is forced to yield to the senator. In addition to helping bootleggers evade prison, it turns out the attorney general has been pocketing money allocated to WWI vets. Guess Sen. Edge is still miffed at Nucky for screwing him out of the vice presidency last season….
Daugherty doesn’t select a new prosecutor immediately, but now that both their asses are on the line, it begs the question if he’s going to help Nucky or look out for his own interests: “It’s not my fault you have enemies,” he tells Nucky.
But Nucky may have more important allies to worry about than Daugherty. In preparation for Teddy‘s first Communion, Father Brennan informs Margaret that she must go to Confession to “set an example.” And ol’ Peggy isn’t too comfortable with this idea. She spends the episode making Nucky (and us) think she’s tormented over whether or not she should squeal on her lover for killing her husband and his ledger full of shady business dealings. She may be a lapsed Catholic, but she believes in the “sacred trust” between God, the priest and the confessor.
In the confessional, Margaret keeps Nucky’s secrets, but reveals something she’d better hope the priest takes to his grave: She’s falling for Owen Sleater. The scene is done almost entirely behind the partition, and despite her obscured face, Kelly Macdonald knocks it out of the park. She exquisitely conveys Margaret’s desperation to tell someone her feelings, while grappling with remorse for having “impure” thoughts about a man who isn’t Nucky (um, and who exactly in the church considers her relationship with Nucky to be “pure”?). Since we know Brennan is in cahoots with Nucky, there’s probably some nasty blackmail in Margaret’s future.
Yes, Sir, That‘s My Baby
As pleasant as two Lucy Danziger-free episodes in a row were, we knew she’d have to give birth eventually. While she’s stuck delivering her baby all by herself (the only time she gets a pass on the incessant whining), an oblivious Nelson Van Alden is visiting a heavily burned Agent Clarkson, the man injured in Sleater’s warehouse explosion. Clarkson’s delirious accusations of “I know what you did!” combined with a flickering hallway light, have convinced the self-righteous Van Alden that God is punishing him for his wanton behavior. Racked with guilt, Van Alden frantically calls his wife, Rose, to repent: “I have sinned, Rose, and a good and decent man has burned for those sins.” It would’ve been easy for the actor playing Van Alden to slip into caricature here, but Michael Shannon deftly avoids that trap. Shannon makes Van Alden plenty loathsome, but his eyes project years of the character’s anguish that make it impossible to truly hate him.
Van Alden eventually goes home (once Clarkson started teasing, “You ate the pie! I’ll tell Ma!” the Prohibition agent realized that God wasn‘t speaking to him through his colleague), only to find Lucy cradling their newborn daughter in bed. Proving that he has a heart underneath those layers of repression, Van Alden actually ekes out a smile. He leaves to get a doctor, but when he returns with one, Rose is there, tending to Lucy. Call it women’s intuition (or having a brain), but she knew something was up after his panicked phone call. Van Alden plays off his indiscretion by insisting Lucy’s child was a gift for his barren wife, but Rose isn’t taking any of his bullshit, punctuating her wrath by biting his wrist (Go, Rose!). And if Van Alden had bothered to notice the look of sheer bliss on Lucy’s face, he’d know there is no way in hell she’s giving up that baby.
In the aftermath of the Jackson Parkhurst scalping, Jimmy convenes with Leander Whitlock, who, in the space of one meeting, manages to usurp both Nucky and the Commodore‘s place as the rising gangster’s mentor. Although he understands Jimmy’s actions, Whitlock offers some sage advice: “Not every insult requires a response.” He also reminds Jimmy that he could learn from Nucky’s example. The Commodore, like his son, was reckless, but Whitlock remains impressed with Nucky’s tactics, which are to always think ahead. “I don’t see you at any of his fundraisers,” Jimmy points out. “That doesn’t stop me from admiring his skill,” retorts Uncle Junior.
That night on the boardwalk, Jimmy spies Nucky with Waxy Gordon, the rival of Philadelphia butcher Manny Horovitz – along with Horovitz’s associate, Herman Kaufman. He alerts Horovitz (smart, considering Jimmy still owes him a boatload of liquor), who responds by hanging the double-crossing Kaufman by his feet among the carcasses in his shop. Jimmy interrogates Kaufman, with the sinister Horovitz sharpening a knife nearby. Petrified, Kaufman spills to the two men that Nucky arranged to move an offshore liquor shipment into Atlantic City with the help of Arnold Rothstein and Waxy.
With Kaufman no longer of use to them, Horovitz hands a squeamish Jimmy his knife (“He’s injured – that makes him treif,” says the kosher butcher, craftily keeping his hands clean). At least this time Jimmy looked at his victim’s throat as he sliced it open.
On a dark road between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, Jimmy, Horovitz and Richard intercept the liquor – only to discover it’s being transported by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. But instead of engaging in a bloody shootout, Lansky revisits the idea of a partnership. Horovitz is reluctant because Lansky and Luciano work for Waxy, but Jimmy, echoing Whitlock’s earlier wisdom, reminds him “not every insult requires a response. You can’t kill everyone, Manny. It’s not good business.” There’s a little bit of Nucky Thompson in him after all.
Jimmy orders Luciano and Lansky to make their delivery – but suggests they meet up afterward to figure out how to take all of the booze themselves.
Wrap-Up: It’s going to get messy (the trigger-happy Horovitz couldn’t resist killing Luciano and Lansky’s young cohort), but watching Jimmy turn into a fully fledged head of a crime syndicate, on his own terms, is immensely satisfying.
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