Episode 9: Belle Femme

We’ve reached a major turning point in Boardwalk Empire. There is no light-heartedness in this episode, and all of the characters mean business. The first major plot point is Jimmy’s return to Atlantic City from Chicago. Nucky’s order for his homecoming was surprisingly successful despite all of Jimmy’s profits in Chi-city (as we see embodied in his expensive suit and new suave demeanor). Nucky finally notices this newfound confidence too when Jimmy doesn’t simply take his orders right off the bat like he used to, but rather begins to negotiate with him. They conclude that Jimmy will stay in Atlantic City to help defend Nucky’s hard-won empire against the recent attacks from the D’Alessio brothers and other opposing gangsters. He will also return to Angela and their son, while Nuck agrees to take care of the federal agents attempting to hunt Jimmy down for the murder in the beginning of the season.

It’s now been made very clear that Rothstein and Lucky are working with the D’Alessio brothers and Mickey Doyle to bring down Nucky. They have robbed his ward boss, raided his casino, and have shot Eli. There’s no telling what they will do next. In this episode, we see them in New York City, devising an even thornier plan to win this gangster war. Rothstein proposes that they import quality liquor from Europe, charge high prices, and use Atlantic City’s port. In order to do this though, Nucky will have to be murdered so that there’s no competition.

Back in Atlantic City, Jimmy devises his own scheme to capture Lucky and get information out of him. Gillian helps her son in this plan when she gives Lucky up after one of their rendezvous together. I was actually pretty surprised that she turned him over, especially since she seemed to genuinely like him. I guess family will always come first.

Jimmy finally has Lucky in his control, but not for long. They don’t even make it outside Gillian’s apartment before Van Alden storms in, arresting them both (but clearly more thrilled that he has finally captured the elusive Jimmy). At last, he has progressive results to report back to his FBI boss with.

I’m pretty astonished and disappointed in Nucky for not doing enough to keep the feds off of Jimmy’s back. Equally astonishing is the fact that I’m actually rooting for the criminals, but more on that later. Anyways, Jimmy is thrown in a jail cell after he gives Van Alden and Sebso zero information regarding the murders or Nucky’s illegal empire, not to mention completely disrespecting the agents. Part of me doesn’t blame him- Van Alden is clearly obsessed with Margaret and Nucky’s relationship. It’s not long before Nucky himself shows up to the cell, privately assuring Jimmy that they’ll figure out a way to rescue him, though not through the legal system, since there’s no escaping the five counts of murder on his head. I can only wonder what he’s implying by this…

Nearing the end of the episode, we finally get to see some relaxation and normalcy. Margaret, looking more attractive and young with every week, attends a dinner with Nucky, where he is attempting to persuade Edward Bayer, a prominent and successful Atlantic City citizen, to run for Mayor. Nucky assures him that it will be a great benefit to his construction business, and suggests that he won’t even necessarily have to worry about running the city, since Nucky and his comrades do all that behind the scenes anyway. Leaving Bayer to maul this over, he and Margaret leave to take a leisurely stroll in the warmer weather on the busy boardwalk, arm in arm.

Sixtus D'Alessio before he steps out from the shadows to shoot Nucky.

Sixtus D’Alessio before he steps out from the shadows to shoot Nucky.

The peace is suddenly disrupted though, when out of nowhere, one of the D’Alessio brothers steps out of the crowd to take a shot at Nucky, attempting to kill him. Luckily, Eddie, Nucky’s loyal butler and assistant, knocks the gun out of his hand, but not before a stray bullet hits a woman in the crowd. She screams and falls onto Nucky and Margaret, bleeding on Margaret’s new expensive dress, as if to suggest to the audience that nothing can stay beautiful and peaceful for long in this place.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s crazy how the writers and directors of these crime television shows get the audience to root for the guys who would otherwise be considered “bad” in real-life society. We know full well that Jimmy is a murderer and Nucky is a corrupted politician, but we nevertheless find ourselves hoping for their success. This might be because the gangster world is presented as a lot more complicated than we usually perceive it to be- there are essentially good gangsters and bad gangsters, such as Rothstein and the D’Alessio brothers. Boardwalk Empire especially reminds me of the earlier television show The Sopranos (which Steve Buschemi also acted in) and also the movie The Departed. In both stories, there exist the same deep complexities where there is no such thing as an ordinary black-and-white or good-versus-evil story. In these stories, everyone is a sinner, just some more than others.

Steve Buscemi in The Sopranos

Steve Buscemi in The Sopranos. Click for more info.

Episode 8: Hold Me in Paradise

As I’ve said before, one thing I have really enjoyed about Boardwalk Empire is how it gives the audience such large glimpses into the past when it comes to major cities like AC and Chicago during the 1920s, the Prohibition Era, and even the politics of the time.

In this particular episode Nucky Thompson travels to Chicago to attend the Republican Convention that takes place before the big presidential election year. We quickly learn that General Leonard Wood is the presumed Republican candidate (someone who Nucky obviously has no respect for when he bumps him out of the Presidential Suite at the hotel), though from our real-life historical knowledge we know that he does not end up as the actual Republican nominee. During a campaign party that Nucky attends to fill in for New Jersey Senator Edge (who Nucky also has some animosity for regarding the roads negotiations that turned sour earlier in the season), he meets Warren Harding, another Republican contestant and his campaign manager Harry Daugherty. Harding is portrayed as slightly scatter-brained (though still well-spoken), and both Nucky and Daugherty agree that “the field has no first-raters and Harding’s the best of the second-raters.” Nucky comes to like Daugherty and realizes that Harding is simply his political puppet. Meanwhile, the audience knows that it is Harding who eventually gets elected president in 1920.

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 1.33.38 PM

Later, Nucky makes a deal with Daugherty. He’ll swing New Jersey’s vote for Harding if Daugherty makes sure that Senator Edge is not on the Vice Presidential ticket. He also learns that he and Harding have something in common- their love of women. Harding has mistresses just as Nucky does, and one in particular, Nan, has had Harding’s child unbeknownst to the public. Obviously, this is hurtful to the candidate, so Nucky offers to take her back to Atlantic City with him in order to remove her from any potential trouble or complexities she might cause. I can only help but wonder what Nucky’s true intentions are here.

Personally, I love this intertwining of fiction and history. So much so, that I occasionally look up the facts of the era in order to determine its accuracy in the show. Nan Britton, Harding’s young mistress, actually did exist, claiming that she had indeed had Harding’s illegitimate child (though it was after the election and not before). Obviously, most of the details portrayed on Boardwalk Empire are mostly fictitious, but the general events, people and places are not, which make the show really interesting. Al Capone and Jimmy Darmondy, for example, were also real gangsters, though some aspects of their lives were exaggerated for the show. I have especially read up on the character of Nucky Thompson, who is based on the real-life Nucky Johnson of 1920s Atlantic City. Apparently, Johnson did not actually kill anyone himself or even run his own distillery as he does in the series, but it is widely understood that he was still heavily involved in the bootlegging industry and closed-door politics nonetheless, even spending some time in jail for tax evasion and other small crimes.

Surprisingly, even some of the show’s details about Nucky are in line with the true man, such as his deceased beloved wife Mabel and the read carnation constantly tucked in his suit lapel. But that said, Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter purposely points out that the character is “loosely” based on the real man, so as to keep the show interesting and allowing him to bring in completely fictional characters such as Margaret.

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 1.26.47 PM

(via GallowayPatch.com)

Speaking of, her part in this particular episode is crucial. It is here where she finally realizes the full extent to which Nucky is involved in the organized crime of Atlantic City. While Nucky is out of town, Eli takes over the money-collecting responsibilities and ends up being shot (though not fatally) by one of the D’Alessio brothers, who promptly takes the funds from one of their most important casinos. When Nucky hears word, he realizes that this is just the beginning of a war between gangsters. Fearing for his secret private documents at his apartment back home, he asks Margaret to go and collect them, but stressing to her not to open his ledger. Though she resists the temptation at first, she finally begins to read it by the end of the episode, thus figuring out that not only is Nucky involved in the bootlegging industry as she knew previously, but that he is the leading distributor of it. Despite her discovery of all of Nucky’s crimes and dealings, I still hope that she doesn’t leave him. Nucky has shown us thus far that not all “bad guys” in society are evil. Most of them have hearts too. Perhaps that red carnation, which Nucky Johnson wore in real life, is a constant reminder of this for the audience.

Episode 7: Home

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 12.42.10 AM

Aptly entitled “Home,” this episode is a bit more intimate than previous ones. Up until this point, we have seen glimpses into each character’s background and family life, but none so private as those we observe here. In one of the first scenes of “Home”, we observe a very old man, revealed to be Nucky and Eli’s father, Ethan Thompson, living in a filthy old house outside of town. Cats and mice are rampant as he grumpily shuffles around the kitchen, eventually losing his balance, falling and breaking his leg. As the two brothers move their father out of the house for good and into Eli’s home, Eli is clearly nostalgic he looks around the place they grew up in. On the other hand, we sense anger and resentment in Nucky, later finding out through his private confessions to Margaret that his father was extremely harsh to him as a child, both verbally and physically abusive (which Margaret can definitely relate to during her previous marriage).

Here’s a clip from this part of the episode to illustrate Nucky’s bitterness towards his father and his childhood: Ep. 7: Clip – Nucky and Eli and Dad’s Dilemma

Though this wasn’t the happiest of tales, I am appreciative in seeing a more emotional side of Nucky. Perhaps his previous condition helps to explain some of his mannerisms in the present. I believe that Margaret would agree with me here. We see her chatting with her neighbor, Annabelle, who we met in the last episode. Annabelle is apparently in a similar situation as Margaret, living off of a wealthy business man as his “concubine” in her terms, but is not his wife. She warns Margaret not to learn all of Nucky’s secrets, but Margaret ultimately ignores this piece of advice, instead opening herself up to Nucky to confide in. Once again, Margaret has shown herself to be a smart and calculating woman, and I believe this will eventually convince Nucky to settle down with her. After all, we see a sense of enjoyment in him as he listens to Ward Boss Fleming talk about his family and his increased annoyance and disrespect for the bratty and childish Lucy, who has now found out about his relationship with Margaret. Things sure seem to be headed in the right direction! It’s funny how Margaret kind of stumbled upon the opportunities presented to her by Nucky. She definitely never intended to end up with him romantically.

Kelly Macdonald

Kelly Macdonald

Just out of curiosity, I recently read about several of Boardwalk Empire’s main cast members online and their personal lives outside of the show. Just like the character Margaret seemed to receive this new life of hers by happenstance, so too did Kelly Macdonald (who plays her) stumble upon the world of acting. According to her Wikipedia page, Macdonald was initially a barmaid in Scotland when she randomly saw a flyer for open auditions for the 1996 British film Trainspotting. She scored the part of Diane, and then her acting career blossomed soon after.

Steve Buscemi, too, also came from humble beginnings, growing up in Brooklyn and even serving as a local firefighter while enrolling in acting school. He has three additional brothers, and heavy Italian roots. It certainly sounds like Buscemi would make an excellent D’Alessio brother!

Speaking of which, those Italian characters also make an appearance in this episode. Lucky Luciano pays a visit to them, and they all make a deal against Nucky. In the previous episode, the D’Alessio brothers had stolen a moderate amount of cash from Nucky, but Lucky suggests they work together to score even bigger funds from the man by targeting one of Nucky’s Atlantic City casinos.

Other noteworthy and intimate events of this episode include:

Our shocking discovery that Angela, Jimmy’s wife and mother of his child, is in fact a lesbian. It as not Mr. Dittrich that she had been romantically involved with as previously thought, but rather, his wife Mary. Mary promises to find Angela a good job in New York City and to get her career as a painter off of the ground. (Interestingly enough, in real life, Aleksa Palladino, who plays Angela, is a musical artist).

Meanwhile, throughout the episode, Jimmy has developed a friendship with a man he meets in the hospital during a check-up. Like Jimmy, Richard Harrow was also in the army, but as a skilled marksman. Though he seems ashamed of his facial disfigurement at first, Jimmy seems to make him feel normal again. They chat about the war, share drinks, and Jimmy even hooks him up with one of his prostitute friends at the Four Dueces. By the end of the episode, the two have become allies, and Harrow snipes the man who disfigured Pearl, killing him just as Jimmy wanted.