This week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire is all about obtuse metaphors, as we charge into West Wing-calibre instructional tales and illustrative analogies. The episode’s title comes from a story/joke that was old even in the nineteen-twenties, so you can stop telling me it now, dad. A man is floundering out at sea, and refusing the help of the eponymous boats and lifeguard, citing God’s protection. When he drowns and reaches heaven, he’s all ‘what’s the deal, heavenly bro?’ and God’s all ‘I sent you two boats and a lifeguard, what did you expect?’ This is also an episode about the prudence of trusting in your own responsibility.
In the pre-credits there are big shout outs for Owen, Chalky and Esther Randolph, so I guess we can expect plenty from those guys! Nope! They get about a sum total of a dozen lines. But oh my goodness the next episode features Nucky in Belfast, which I presume will be like Tintin in the Congo but with Irish. Can’t wait.
So Nucky is having highly suggestive dreams about his childhood involving his father and a baseball mitt and his bullet-catching hand. Perhaps that will come up later! Later= next scene, when Eli is subpoenaed and the ensuing kerfuffle gives their father a fatal heart attack. Fathers: emotionally significant.
Speaking of bad fathers, here’s Jimmy talking to Al about that assassin he sent who was somewhat deficient in the assassining stakes. But oh no! Angela has heard everything and now she knows he is a totes evil gangster where once was only overwhelming circumstantial evidence.
And I hate to bang the being a grossly negligent father drum for so long, but here is my pick for Father of the Year 1922, the recently de-Lucy-ed Agent van Alden, who has hired a Swedish nanny to look after little Abigail, who he begrudgingly grants $18 and one Sunday off per month. Again, Michael Shannon’s face is probably my favourite thing about this episode. Keep on muggin’.
Al has already been given an earful from Torrio about the botched hit on Nucky and his questionable dealings with Jimmy; at the horse-racing track Lucky and Lansky are given full goings-over from Rothstein about their hand in the business. He laments the smell of manure in his stables because he is unable to say anything with only one meaning. Also, the number of folk in the Resent Jimmy club is mounting.
Speaking of, Angela heads to the beach to strike up a totally innocent friendship with a novelist from San Fransisco who is charged with indecent exposure of her knees and will totally not end up rekindling Angela’s preference for women artists at a little shindig for artists who throw suggestive dreams and naughty words around like it simply isn’t no thing. If you’ve seen this scene from Mad Men you can guess where this is heading. Hint: neither tragedy nor drug abuse.
Part II of What Are You Talking About, Main Character is Horvitz, who comes to berate Jimmy using a charming story about taxiderming a deer for someone who hadn’t shot it. Jimmy responds with ‘I’ve eaten venison,’ which is certainly in the same ballpark but I’m not sure how the cogs mesh on that one. Anyway, later he will throw Micky Doyle off a balcony at Babette’s to prove a point about their business relationship, because Jimmy is cold blooded.
No time for that now, there’s a secret meeting happening! Round III of Analogy Theatre, Rothstein holds forth at length about his gambling habits and their relevance to Nucky’s problems regarding Jimmy, murder, the like. Basically, wait until you get an opportunity, then ‘bet big.’ Or murderise your enemies as soon as you can.
Nucky also takes this to mean get serious about being a father to your surrogate family, and in his scenes asking Tommy to call him ‘Dad’ and the absolute belter when he hands Atlantic City over to Team Jimmy – because did I mention that he has stepped down as Treasurer and will almost certainly play no further role in this story, omg - Buscemi flexes his acting muscles as he hasn’t since the start of this season. Not to mention, of course, his breakdown at his father’s wake. Go Steve! Speaking of that scene, Eli is blubbing up another storm there, it’s like they discovered Shea Whigham could cry on demand and are milking those lachyrmals dry.
With about ten minutes til full time, Chalky bowls in and is given a free hand to call the black workers’ strike he’s wanted since very early in this season. I’m guessing that things are now fine for him at home and that he’s regained the necessary standing in his community to call such a strike because there is no discussion of either. Personally I am calling a strike until we get more Chalky.
Nucky’s last action this week is to tell Owen he knows exactly what he’s been up to with his ‘friend from Ireland’. Owen: sweat bullets. But it’s okay, Nucky is talking about bitter internecine civil conflict in Ireland! Phe-yew! Owen lives to dog around another day.
This was by far the tightest episode of Boardwalk Empire in some time: close to all the action is back in Atlantic City, the thing trips along at a decent pace and suffers none of the chronological ambiguity from last week. I suspect the Belfast plotline might take away a little of that trimness, but if it’s all part of Nucky’s grand plan to ‘bet big’, I am all in. Full house. Trip eights with King kicker. Cards.
Tune in next time for some good old-fashioned gangster fallout! What’s next for the folks on the Boardwalk? Give us your two cents in the comments.