Monday, October 11, 2010


Boardwalk Empire No. 4: Anastasia

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.

By Edward Copeland
From the beginning descriptions of Boardwalk Empire, it struck me as a mixture of gangsters and E.L. Doctorow in his Ragtime vein with its intermingling of real and fictional characters, its setting and time period. With "Anastasia," it also has begun to remind me even more specifically of Mad Men as its characters' lives intersect and comment on the historical events occurring at the time.

We start the week again in the Windy City where Jimmy, is asleep in the arms of one of Torrio's working girls, Pearl (Emily Meade). Pearl awakes to see Capone approaching the pair with a gun and a finger on his lips, signaling to her to be quiet. He then squeezes off a shot right next to Jimmy's ear, scaring the crap out of him and causing him to leap out of bed as Al roars with laughter. It's Capone's idea of a funny wakeup call, thinking Jimmy about pissed his pants. Jimmy finds it more disturbing that he could have been killed, especially since all Al needed was the car keys which he takes and leaves. The shot was close enough to leave Jimmy with some temporary deafness and, as Pearl discovers, a nick that caused some bleeding which she takes to treating.

Nucky may be the most powerful man in Atlantic City, but he's not without his insecurities which is why we find him this morning practicing in front of his mirror the speech he plans to deliver for his "surprise" birthday party, a celebration that he's overseeing pretty much every detail of from the guest list to the menu to the how the place settings should appear at Babette's. As Nucky keeps starting and stopping his planned remarks, Eddie interrupts to go over some of the details, including who is to receive invitations. Nucky says to make sure to invite the state's Democratic governor, Edwards. Eddie says he won't come. Thompson says he knows that, but extend the invitation anyway as he expresses disbelief that the state put that asshole Democrat in the governor's office. Lucy interrupts the interruption to announce that she wants to go shopping. Nucky hands her some cash and sends her on he way to get back to the more important matters at hand, such as making sure that U.S. Sen. Walter Edge and Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague be invited, evem though Hague is a Democrat. Be sure to treat Edge like royalty, Nucky implores Eddie, he's the key to getting the road appropriations funds which amounts to $30 million for New Jersey alone and he's not going to miss out on his piece of the pie. The expression puzzles Kessler. "Don't you have pie in Germany?" Nucky asks. "We have strudel." Buscemi really has a gift for blending Nucky's comic and serious sides without ever making it seem as if they belong to different people and Anthony Lacuira's Eddie Kessler almost always turns out to be a comic joy.

As Margaret prepares for work, her neighbor Edith, with Margaret's kids playing on the floor, gossips about the news sweeping the world about the possibility that the Princess Anastasia, the young daughter of the Russian czar's family, might somehow have escaped the Bolshevik's massacre of her family and re-emerged in Europe under a different name. The possibility brings out the romantic in both the single women, the widowed Margaret and the hard-bitten Edith, whose husband took off at some point and who feels that Margaret doesn't discipline her children the way she should and the way her late husband Hans would if he were still alive. Hearing the talk of princesses, Margaret's young daughter asks who is a princess and Margaret tells the girl, "Why you are dear."

Back in Chicago, Pearl tries to convince Jimmy to take her on a jaunt to Chinatown to purchase some opium. He pooh-poohs the idea and suggests she reads his Sinclair Lewis instead.

Nucky calls a meeting in his office of Eli, Eli's deputy Halloran (Adam Mucci) and Ward Boss O'Neill (William Hill) to know why there has been no progress in solving the lynching of Chalky's man. Eli insists he's working on it, but they should be serious: Chalky drives a Packard and lives in a bigger house than the mayor, it's not like he's going to suddenly start voting Democratic. Nucky tries to explain to his brother that Chalky is as essential to their survival as they are to his and Chalky tells his people how to vote and it can't be taken for granted. One hand washes the other's. Halloran makes a bad racist joke about how it would take a lot of suds to wash Chalky's face and Nucky orders him out, telling Eli he never liked him. It's interesting to see that in 1920, when there were people around who still remembered the Civil War, you could start to see the eventual shift of the black vote from the party of Lincoln to the Democrats. Eli decides to put more effort in pursuit of the culprits.

With Jimmy out of the picture, Gillian starts taking her role as grandmother more seriously, even though she flinches at the idea of actually letting Tommy call her grandma. So Angela can have some time to herself, Gillian volunteers to baby-sit for Tommy. Soon after Angela has gone, there is a knock on the door. Gillian answers it and comes face to face with Lucky Luciano. "Mrs. Darmody?" Yes, she answers. He says he's a friend of James, but Gillian says that if that were true, he'd know to call him Jimmy. Luciano persists and asks if she knows where he might find him and Gillian tells him he might check up his own ass. Luciano says she's got quite a mouth on her for a broad. Gillian tells him that she guesses he'd like to shut her mouth up forcefully too, wouldn't he, before slamming the door in his face.

If a black man gets lynched, go to the usual suspects and that's what Eli does, taking his men to interrupt a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, all decked out in their white robes and hoods save the speaker known as the Grand Cyclops (Scott Sowers). The leader of the racists immediately accuses the sheriff of being there to rob them and saying he knows of his reputation for greed, graft and corruption. Eli says he must have him confused with his brother and then orders everyone to remove their "dunce caps." When they do, Halloran recognizes the Grand Cyclops as the man who runs the hardware store. Eli heads to the podium and slaps cuffs on him and leads him down the aisle. One of the other members stand and says that there isn't any law against belonging to the Klan. No, Eli says, but there is one against hanging "darkies."

A Greek bar owner in Chicago meets the bottom side of Capone's foot as he and Jimmy pay him a visit to start setting down Torrio's marker in the section of town known as Greektown.

The Grand Cyclops, whose name is Joseph Earl Dinler, is tied to a chair and being interrogated by Eli. Despite his repeated protests that he had nothing to do with the lynching, Eli tells him that he wishes he could believe him, but he has to be sure and then pulls his purple hood down over his face. Later, when the hood is removed, Dinler finds himself facing Chalky White. Chalky brings with him a leather case which he unfolds, revealing many tools. He explains that he's from Texas and these tools belonged to his father, who was a great carpenter. He built bookcases, anything, all of the highest quality. One day, a white man admired his workmanship and asked him to do a project for him. However, what the man ended up doing with some of his friends was hanging his daddy from a tree. Dinler, growing ever more nervous, asks Chalky what he's going to do with those tools. "Well, I ain't gonna be buildin' no bookcase," Chalky replies. When Chalky emerges later, he tells Eli that it wasn't the Klan. Eli asks him how he can be so certain. Chalky says that when a man sticks to his story past a certain point, you know he's telling the truth. He then hands Eli a handkerchief containing Dinler's finger, complete with his Klan ring.

Madame Jeunet informs Margaret that she will need her to work late that night. Margaret doesn't object, but does say that she'll have to make arrangements for her children. Madame can't help but mention that Rosalie (the previous employee who lost her job so Margaret could get hers) didn't have any children. The reason for the late evening, it seems, is that it is Mr. Thompson's birthday and his lady friend, Miss Danziger, needs Margaret to help her get dressed in something special for a surprise. Margaret asks what the surprise might be, but Madame says that if she knew, it wouldn't be a surprise. Part of Margaret, excited at getting the chance to be dressed up for an event like this, even if she isn't an invited guest for Nucky's birthday festivities, stuffs a pair of fancy undergarments into her handbag when Madame Jeunet is looking the other way.

Capone takes Jimmy out to spend some money on themselves by purchasing some sharp-looking suits to wear for a meeting they've set up with Charlie Sheridan (Frank Shattuck), the Irish gangster who runs Greektown. Capone, ever the hothead, wants to go in and tell him he's out and Greektown belongs to Torrio now, but Jimmy advises a cooler approach. It's never wise to invade a country all at once, but to take it over a piece at a time, Jimmy tells Al. Despite the advice, Capone isn't one who likes the long play or strategic thinking. Stephen Graham, though he's playing Capone at an age where he usually isn't seen, really has been making the part his own. I wasn't familiar with his work, so I was surprised when I looked up his credits to see that he's British, appeared in Band of Brothers and, ironically, played another famous gangster, Baby Face Nelson, last year in Michael Mann's Public Enemies. When Sheridan joins the meeting, he's put off that Torrio didn't show and says he's been running Greektown ever since Big Jim Colisimo was on the scene, though Al is quick to remind him that Colisimo is no longer among the living and Greektown should be considered Torrio's. Sheridan suggests that there must be room for compromise and suggests 10% for Torrio. Capone counters with 25%, which Sheridan accepts. Al can't leave good enough alone though and raises it to 50% and Sheridan says OK and departs. Capone grins, saying he knew he'd cave. A concerned Jimmy responds, "That's one way of reading it."

Gillian's spunk got to Lucky who spies on her at her show. He spends so much time stalking her, that he eventually catches her attention. Before her show that evening, she confronts him, asking him what he wants since he's been following her around so much. She says she has a guess and grabs his crotch and the two share a passionate kiss. Gillian tells Luciano to wait for her after her last show.

Nucky finally shows up at Babette's for his "surprise" birthday party. He feigns shock and joins in the revelry and begins greeting the well-wishers, who include the Commodore, Sen. Edge (Geoff Pierson) and Mayor Hague (Chris Mulkey). The discussion swings around to the imminent approach of women's suffrage, which most of the men think is a mistake, assuming the women have no idea about issues. The Commodore asks Lucy the same question he asked his maid about The League of Nations meeting in Paris. Lucy similarly is stumped, though she says she likes the idea of Paris. Edge says that women just don't have the mind for politics. Later, Margaret arrives, overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour, to deliver the dress for Lucy. Nucky, at the bar getting another drink, spots her, and goes to greet her. Edge and Hague soon join them and bring up the female vote again. Margaret surprises them by saying where she comes from and in most developed countries, women already have the right to vote. Edge says they are just trying to protect women from the hard truths of life. "By denying us the right to take part in it?" Margaret shoots back. She says you'll find that if men don't give women what they want, they'll find a way to deny men something they want. Edge looks stunned, but asks, "Like what?" Instead of giving the obvious answer, Margaret responds, "Alcohol." Nucky seems so impressed that he takes the widow Schroeder for a lively spin on the dance floor. Later, Lucy reveals her surprise when she pops out of a large birthday cake. Margaret looks on wistfully.

At Torrio's whorehouse, a man (Sean Weil) approaches Madam Regina (Susan Varon) expressing an interest in Jimmy. Misinterpreting him, she tells him that they don't service "poofs." He says that's not what he meant. Jimmy just spoke highly of one of the girls. Regina says that would probably be Pearl and calls her over. After the john and Pearl have finished their business upstairs, the man has nothing but praise for Pearl, telling her that everything Jimmy said was true. Pearl says she'll be sure to pass on the message. The man asks her not to be in such a rush that he wants something to remember her by and pulls her into an embrace. Pearl warns him that kissing isn't allowed, but he reassures her that she doesn't have to worry and pulls a blade and slices her face as she screams. Downstairs, a man opens fire, shooting Torrio's man guarding the staircase, to clear the way for the man, who is working for Sheridan, to make his escape. Later, Jimmy tries to visit Pearl, but Madam Regina tells him it's best to let her be for now.

Nucky breaks off from his birthday celebration for a private conference with Edge and Hague. He's getting impatient for word about the road funds. He needs paved highways for customers to get to his hotels and casinos, not muddy back roads. He doesn't see why Jersey City needs pretty roads. Edge tells him that it's a complicated business, but there's plenty of money to go around. "You can't have everything," Edge tells Thompson. Besides, when Edge gets to the White House he'll be able to help him a lot, even with that new Democratic governor. Eddie enters the room and asks if he can get anyone anything. Edge asks for a Pimm's Cup, but Eddie regretfully tells him that they are out, angering Nucky who wants to know why. Edge says it's no big deal that he'll just have a brandy and uses it as evidence to Nucky that you can't have everything. (I'm glad they showed a bottle later because I thought it sounded like Edge was asking for a pimp's cup and I wondered what the hell that was and if he'd suddenly look like something out of the 1970s.) Later, when Edge is back in his office, Nucky sends him a bottle of Pimm's Cup and a note that says, "I do expect to have everything" with the word do underlined.

Mickey gets called before a different assortment of the D'Alessio brothers again, growing impatient for a return on their missing investment and a lack of response to their warning to Chalky. Lou still is there as the brothers' leaders and he's getting more serious with Mickey in regards to the $7,000 they've lost, causing Mickey's nervous laugh to appear a lot less. The two brothers who join Leo on this talk are busy playing barber, with one D'Alessio cutting another D'Alessio's hair. Mickey comes up with a brainstorm, thankfully for his own sake, for a way to make some easy money. One of Nucky's ward bosses makes his collections on a regular basis on the Boardwalk. Same time, same route. He'll be an easy mark to mug at the end of his collections to grab a bundle.

On her way to work the morning after the big birthday bash, Margaret spots a newspaper with a headline announcing that the woman suspected of being Anastasia has been revealed to be a fraud. Later that day, she can see from the shop window Nucky walking and laughing with Lucy. Perhaps no one is who they seem to be or who they claim to be. As Boardwalk Empire is developing, Kelly Macdonald's Margaret is proving to be the most complicated of all the characters, defying your expectations at every turn. Introduced as a part of the temperance movement and an abused wife, she's certainly finding her own voice once she's been freed from the shackles of her bad marriage. Her anti-alcohol crusading isn't keeping her immune from an attraction to the high life, but there will be more changes to come to confound the audience's expectations about Margaret and Macdonald has handled her mysteries beautifully.

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