'Boardwalk Empire' Recap: Spring Awakening - Rolling Stone
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‘Boardwalk Empire’ Recap: Spring Awakening

On Easter, Nucky and Eli take steps toward reconciliation, while Gillian’s new lover makes a splash at the Artemis Club

gretchen mol boardwalk empiregretchen mol boardwalk empire

Gretchen Mol as Gillian in 'Boardwalk Empire.'

Macall B. Polay

During one of the four Easter lunch scenes that took place in “Sunday Best,” Eli‘s wife, June, talked about how spring is a time for growth. But by the holiday’s end, it was still winter for Nucky and Margaret‘s stagnant marriage, with Margaret rebuffing her husband’s attempts at cordiality. The day wasn’t a total loss though: After a heated heart-to-heart with his brother, Nucky decided to promote Eli from the workers’ line to co-managing the warehouse with Mickey.

With Nucky’s drama taking a back seat this episode, we were able to get some much-needed insight into Gyp‘s home life and the basis for his unrestrained anger. Richard came one step closer to gaining the loving family he’s always fantasized about. And Gillian accepted Jimmy‘s death – at the expense of her boy toy, Roger McAllister.

The Juggler

Nucky and Margaret put on a strong family front in order to spend the holiday at Eli’s house, but the simmering tensions spill out shortly after Teddy and Emily join their eight new cousins for an Easter egg hunt. Margaret confides in June about Nucky’s infidelity and his criminal activities, and continues the existential crisis she began voicing in last week’s episode: “I feel the life is being pressed out of me.” June, who first met Margaret that day, responds the only way 1923 housewives knew how, by avoiding the subject entirely: “You brought pineapple upside-down [cake]!” Over in the garage, Nucky and Eli share a stilted drink; neither successful at masking his resentment. Eli feels he’s been punished enough, whereas Nucky doesn’t know if he can ever forgive his brother for conspiring to kill him. And they’re both right. But it’s Eli who’s reached a breaking point. After last season’s brawl in the conservatory, after all the betrayals, he’s tired of living in fear. He brandishes a gun, and tells Nucky to put a bullet in him: “Get it over with, ’cause I know you will, sooner or later, and I’m sick of waiting for it.” As I’ve stated before, Eli has never been much of a sympathetic character, but the way Shea Whigham’s voice cracked on the word “sick,” I’m willing to believe he is genuinely remorseful for forsaking his brother. News flash: Nucky doesn’t pull the trigger.

The day picks up when everyone gathers in the living room for the Thompson Family Amateur Hour, featuring Eli’s daughter playing the saw, Margaret chirping a tune from the old country, “Tell Me Ma,” (garnering a sweet smile from her husband) and Nucky himself reciting a snappy comedy routine while juggling Easter eggs (very impressive, Mr. Buscemi!). But it’s only a brief reprieve for Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. Once home, Nucky makes a concerted effort to reconnect with his wife, offering to teach her to juggle, but she declines, citing the long day – and the reality that their marriage is beyond repair: “It’s too late. I’m sorry, but it’s just too late.” Nucky is crestfallen, but at least he’s able to salvage one broken relationship that day: He calls Eli to commend him for being “the only smart one in the bunch” the night of the Tabor Heights massacre – and awards him the position of warehouse manager.

Grazie, Signore

In Manhattan, Gyp doesn’t have much to celebrate, considering the hit his business took when Nucky and Rothstein retaliated in Tabor Heights. Already in a sour mood, he sits down to Easter lunch with his family in a cramped tenement – the antithesis of Nucky’s and Rothstein’s posh digs – and it’s here we see why he’s in such a bad mood all the time. He’s a man in a family of two teenage daughters, a meddling mother-in-law and a dumpy, nagging shrew of a wife who slaps his hand if he reaches for food before saying grace. No wonder this guy feels emasculated. That afternoon, Gyp is in church, unleashing his fury on the one responsible for his never-ending sorrow: God. In a monologue that breathes hellfire, Gyp screams, spits and cries out to the painting of Jesus on the cross, pleading for answers as to why he can’t get ahead. Why must he be Antonio Salieri to Nucky’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? “Put it in front of me, then take it away. Why would you do that? Just to screw with me, what kind of sick fuck thinks that way? I’m supposed to trust you!” And when God doesn’t answer, Gyp goes after the next best thing – he punches a priest who dared interrupt his soliloquy, takes the bag of collection money and demands whatever else is left. Gyp’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day continues at a meeting with Joe Masseria, who gives his protégé a dressing-down for starting a war with New Jersey and announces he’s cutting Gyp loose. But Gyp begs the mob boss to reconsider, reminding him that, like Masseria, he’s from the old country, and he can help keep his business from being overrun by “heebs and micks and backstabbing fucks that don’t respect where they come from” (Rothstein, Nucky and Luciano, respectively). Gyp promises that if Masseria provides the money and manpower, he will see to it that they win the bootlegging war once and for all, ensuring that Masseria won’t just be “Joe the boss, but Joe the king.” Flattery gets you everywhere, so Masseria gives his blessing.

Bed, Bath and Beyond

Easter is a slow day at the Artemis Club. But even though there’s not much money to be made from customers, Gillian takes advantage of the empty house in order to secure a much-needed financial windfall. While Richard takes Tommy to the home of his new friends Paul Sagorsky and his daughter, Julia, Gillian treats Jimmy-lookalike Roger to a day of unbridled pleasure. She feeds him both an Easter meal and half-truths about her background as a “lonely widow.” Lunch leads to sex – first on the dining-room table, then in Gillian’s bed – with Roger’s pillow talk consisting of questions about Gillian’s late husband. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that she starts describing Jimmy as opposed to the Commodore (“We knew each other since we were children, though I was older than he”), but it’s still cringe-worthy. When Gillian truthfully answers what happened to her “husband” (“He walked out the door one night, and I never saw him again”), Roger surmises he might not be dead, but Gillian is quick to change the subject, suggesting a soothing bath. She leads him, blindfolded (wearing the Commodore’s monogrammed robe), into a luxurious marble bathroom, and proceeds to wash him – like a mother bathing a son rather than a lover, which sounds about right. The warm water works its magic, and Roger begins to drift away, until he notices a needle in his arm. He bolts up in terror, but it’s too late for this poor soul from Indiana. Gillian shot him up with enough heroin that he becomes a slurring mess before he can even try to save himself. She is able to drown Roger with nary a struggle, and once she drapes Jimmy’s dog tags around his neck, she has what she needs to lay claim to the house and the holdings of the Commodore’s estate: a body. It’s too bad Richard didn’t take Gillian at her word when he asked how she was feeling at the start of the day. (“Murderous” – she was feigning menstrual cramps.) But I can’t blame him for his choice of Easter activity. The romance that is slowly blossoming between him and Julia Sagorsky is worth the death of a character that had as much personality as a mailbox. If Richard had stayed behind, he never would have gotten his picture taken on the boardwalk with Julia and Tommy, giving him that much-coveted “family” photo to paste inside his scrapbook later in the evening. His happy memories are promptly snuffed out when a melancholy Gillian stops by his room to inquire about his day, only to admit, for the first time out loud, that her “son is dead.” But there’s no time for Richard to comfort his friend’s mother – or to be like, “Yeah, I knew this a year and a half ago, mother-lover” – because a female shriek heralds the discovery of Roger’s lifeless body.

Wrap-Up So now we know Gillian was aware of her son’s death – she just refused to accept it – but what became of Jimmy’s remains? Did she and Nucky make a deal to keep quiet about it?

Previously Mr. Thompson Goes to Washington


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