Whoa. I knew that Boardwalk Empire had complicated plot lines (it is, after all, about gangsters), but I was NOT prepared for what happened in this episode. So many important things were revealed, definitely setting the stage for a dramatic finale of Season 1. Let’s tackle these huge issues one at a time…
First of all, the Commodore is Jimmy’s father! All season, we watched as Nucky paid visits to the commodore of Atlantic City. We get a sense that he had once been what Nucky is now: powerful, influential, and corrupt. The commodore is an older man who has settled down into his lavish lifestyle, often reminding Nucky that he was the one who put Atlantic City on the map in the first place. There are several brief scenes throughout the season where the two discuss the city’s political future together, and the Commodore actually seems to have more authority. Yet, we’ve also observed him gradually getting sicker with some sort of disease, preparing Nucky for his eventual absence and death.
Listen to what Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter has to say about this important part of the episode here.
I should have figured out that the Commodore was Jimmy’s father when Gillian calls and informs her son that his father is sick and he must visit him on his deathbed. But I only finally made the connection when Jimmy physically walks into the Commodore’s bedroom. Prior to this episode, we knew nothing about Jimmy’s past family life, only that his mother was young when she had him and raised him alone. Little did we know that she was the Commodore’s prostitute as a teenager, making him Jimmy’s (much older) dad.
To make matters even more shocking, we find out that Gillian has been poisoning the Commodore! When Jimmy goes to visit his father’s deathbed, he eats a biscuit and vomits soon after. Thinking it was the result of the emotional and heated discourse between the two (they certainly have a strained relationship), Jimmy thinks nothing of it. However, the Commodore’s doctor runs several medical tests and finds arsenic in his system, while Jimmy finds a can of the poison hidden in the trash bin. No wonder Gillian has been paying regular visits to the Commodore, she was killing him slowly in order to get his inheritance. But keep in mind- he is not dead quite yet.
Meanwhile, Agent Sebso is working with Nucky! We know that Sebso purposely killed the only witness to Jimmy’s murder and then lied about it to Agent Van Alden, but we weren’t exactly sure why up until this point. Our suspicions are confirmed when we see him calling Nucky from a telephone booth- he is concerned that Van Alden will find out the truth. Nucky assures him that the deal has been finished and no one will know, meanwhile urging him to take up a federal post in another location.
But Sebso never gets the chance to do this. Filled with overwhelming anger and distrust towards him, Van Alden actually murders Sebso by drowning him in a river, all while a church group watches in horror. They were under the pretense that Van Alden was baptizing him, not killing him. It’s official- Van Alden has gone off the deep end. He has become completely obsessed with destroying Nucky’s empire, becoming crazier and more desperate with each episode. The writers of Boardwalk Empire certainly know how to get us to side with the criminals in this series; they simply make the “good guys” detestable.
And finally, in the most surprising move yet, Margaret leaves Nucky! Discovering that Annabelle, her friend and neighbor, once had an intimate relationship with him has set her over the edge. It seems as though all of her insecurities about her arrangement have finally spilled over, leading her to reveal to Nucky that she knows Eli killed her husband and that they are heavily involved in the liquor business and other illegal activities. The two have a major fight and Nucky storms out of the apartment. Fuming, Margaret collects her belongings and the children. The next time we see the apartment, it is empty along with Nucky’s heart.