Monday, October 25, 2010

 

Boardwalk Empire No. 6: Family Limitation

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along. Hopefully, next week's recap will be timely, but HBO is cutting it close with sending out the next batch of screeners and I have two doctor's appointments this week, one of which sometimes leads to infection, and the usual M.S. fatigue issues to deal with, so it will be a struggle to watch the Oct. 31 episode and write the recap and have it ready to post as I have the others which I got far in advance of the series' premiere.


By Edward Copeland
With "Family Limitation," we've reached the sixth episode of Boardwalk Empire's premiere season, precisely the halfway point. Additionaly, director Tim Van Patten has taken the job behind the camera for the third time in the show's short history and he's produced what may be the most memorable opening sequences since Martin Scorsese's pilot and his own second episode depiction of Big Jim Colisomo's Chicago funeral. A crane shot on high gives the viewer a wide view of the series' incredible Boardwalk set before moving downward and closing in on a corner where the Cafe Beaux Arts stands. Ward Boss O'Neill exits the establishment and crosses off a name in a long list of names in a notebook while adding a substantial amount of cash to an already bulging pile. As he stands there, one of the D'Alessio brothers, I believe Pius (I have as hard a time keeping them straight as Mickey Doyle does) addresses him as fatchops and asks if he has the time. O'Neill asks him what he says and Pius says something else disparaging and spits in the alderman's face before taking off running. Despite the ward boss's age and girth, he chases the young man at a good pace, captured n slow motion offering even more of a view of the fabulous set until he reaches a section the separates the Boardwalk from another part of Atlantic City and another D'Alessio brother appears and knocks O'Neill down with a blow to the head and takes his collections. You almost want to rerun the sequence again on slow play, just so you can examine the details on that fabulous set and admire Van Patten's setup once again.


Lucy Danziger may not be the apolitical Christine O'Donnell of 1920, but she has good instincts and she's been smelling Nucky's attraction to Margaret Schroeder probably long before he did. So, during one of their usual raucous romps in bed, Lucy literally assumes the role of jungle cat and marks her territory: scratching Nucky's chest so violently that she draws blood. She wants to make damn sure the other woman remember there's someone else and that she hold proprietary interest.

If Boardwalk Empire has a theme, in the way that David Chase said The Sopranos' point was to show that people don't change, then Boardwalk Empire seems to be week after week showing that there is more to people than meets than eye or, to use another cliche, don't judge a book by its cover. All of its characters seem criss-crossed by contradictions, none more than Margaret as we've discovered in the last few episodes. Margaret though hardly is the only case of someone who defies appearances. Last week, we saw Mrs. McGarry, the temperance crusader, excuse the drinking of those in Nucky Thompson's class, and she surprises us again when Margaret visits her for advice. Margaret tells her that a man has made her an offer. Mrs. McGarry asks if it is of a financial or sexual nature and Margaret responds yes. McGarry says there are words for that kind of woman, none of them flattering, leading you to expect what she will say, but the she turns (and does so wonderfully in the hands of the great Dana Ivey). Margaret tells her it will help provide for her children. Mrs. McGarry tells Margaret that the reason she lives in Atlantic City is that a man from Standard Oil paid her husband a large sum of money for oil on their Pennsylvania property. Her husband took the money and built a large, oceanfront mansion in AC. Six weeks later, he was dead of influenza and she sold the estate, moved into a smaller home and uses the money for causes she's passionate about, such as women's suffrage, which is just one state away from ratification. "The ballot box will free us," she says. Mrs. McGarry then recommends that she read a book she has and hands her Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger, dealing with birth control methods of that time. "Do as you see fit," Mrs. McGarry tells Margaret. "You owe no one an explanation."

Nucky and Lucy aren't the only couple in Atlantic City having a vigorous round in the sack. Lucky Luciano and Gillian are giving a bed quite a workout. As they take a break, Luciano expresses his gratitude to Gillian, telling her that no woman has been able to give him as much pleasure as she has in quite some time. Gillian thinks he's just trying to flatter her and brushes off his compliment but Luciano tells her he's serious. He confesses that a couple of years ago he had an "affliction" down there and ever since, he's had a difficult time getting any woman to hold his "wood." Given the evidence she's been experiencing, Gillian still finds his words doubtful. Honestly, Lucky insists, she's the first woman to keep the lead in his pencil in a long time. Their reverie is interrupted by the phone. Luciano answers to find Rothstein on the other end. Luciano wants to know how he knew where to find him. "I have a crystal ball Charlie, I see everything," Rothstein tells him. "For example, I see you aren't wearing any trousers." Lucky laughs and asks if he can call him back later. Rothstein wants to know what the progress is on the James Darmody situation. Luciano tells him he can't really discuss that at the moment. He's with his wife right now. "No you're not Charlie," Rothstein tells him. "You're with his mother." Luciano's jaw drops as Rothstein ends the call.

O'Neill, sporting a helluva shiner, is discussing his mugging with Nucky and Eli in Nucky's office. They agree it has to have been someone who knew his routine. O'Neill mentions that the kid had a "dago" look to him. Eli chimes in that the Italians don't respect the rules. O'Neill is steaming to get some guys and take care of the thugs himself, but Nucky insists that he let Eli handle it and tells him to go put a steak on the eye and dismisses him. Once he's gone, Nucky laments to Eli that he can't believe this could happen on the Boardwalk, just a few steps from his own office. He then asks if Luciano still is hanging around. Eli doesn't know who he is talking about. "Rothstein's greaseball. Have you seen him?" "He comes and goes," Eli responds. "I've had other fish to fry." Nucky suspects that Luciano either was behind it or knows who was and tells Eli to bring Lucky to him. Then there is a weak knocking at the door that Nucky can barely hear. Finally he says come in and Eddie enters. He chides him for not knocking like a man, but Eddie says he didn't want to disturb him. He brings a message from Jersey City Mayor Hague. Hague says he's been waiting at a hotel for a meeting for three nights and if he doesn't see Nucky tonight, he's leaving and Nucky should be reminded that, "There are many roads to Rome but there will only be one through New Jersey." Nucky tells Eddie to set up a dinner with Hague for that night.

Jimmy's showing off for a crowd in the club at Torrio's place with a large knife playing what I've always known as mumblypeg where he stabs the knife into the table between each gap of his fingers of one hand at ever-increasing speeds. When Capone sees what he's doing, he expresses concern for an accident. "Didn't you ever play five-finger fillet over there?" Jimmy asks. "No, we were too busy winning the war." Al tells him that Torrio is coming. Johnny joins them, complaining about a cracked molar. He tells the two that he's going to sit down with Sheridan and get out of Greektown. Capone gets livid. Torrio says he wants to get him into a war, but he doesn't need the money or the aggravation and tells Al to go clean the car. He then turns to Jimmy, and asks him if he's smart at all. Jimmy says he understands him not wanting a war, but if he retreats, what kind of message does that send?

Supervisor Elliott pays a surprise visit to Agent Van Alden's makeshift offices at the Post Office. Van Alden apologizes for the disarray of the office, saying he'd have tidied up if he'd known he was coming. That would defeat the purpose of a surprise inspection, wouldn't it? Elliott tells his underling before asking him what he has for him. Van Alden mentions the report on Nucky Thompson he was preparing to send. One of Elliott's men jokingly comments that it looks as if they have plenty of stamps for it. He says he's linked Thompson to much of the illegal alcohol business, but Elliott wants numbers. Elliott needs bottles brokens by the thousands, seized stills and boats. Van Alden mentions capital crimes. Elliott asks what capital crimes and Van Alden brings up the five murders in the woods and the death of Hans Schroeder. "What is your obsession with this Schroeder?" Elliott demands to know, mentioning that Van Alden had requested the immigration file on Mrs. Schroeder. "I'm just being thorough sir." Elliott hands the file back to the agent. "I need numbers, stills. You are a Prohibition agent, not Bulldog Drummond."

As Nucky and Margaret lounge in bed after an early afternoon encounter, Nucky takes her to task for trying to sound "American." He wants an "Irish lass," Margaret suggests. "Perhaps I do," he replies. Margaret wonders what her neighbors are going to think and Nucky tells her they won't be her neighbors much longer. She notices the marks left by Lucy on his chest and ask how he got those. Thompson claims they were from a hunting accident. "Who was hunting whom?" she asks. She then leaps out of bed at a speed that makes Nucky question where she was going, but she says she'd be back. Margaret heads to her bathroom and takes the copy of Family Limitation off the shelf and turns to the page showing how the disinfectant Lysol when mixed with water could be used as a post-coital contraceptive. Who knew? Life in the Roaring Twenties.

Jimmy accepts an invitation for dinner at the Capone household and the cramped apartment seems even more claustrophobic with the family tension between Al's Italian-speaking mother, his Irish wife and his sadly quiet boy who sits in the middle of the kitchen floor playing with a toy as his father routinely calls him a dumbbell. Al's wife Mae (Marcella Lentz-Pope) expresses sympathy to Jimmy over Pearl's death, saying how awful it is that she was run down by a streetcar like that. Capone says that he's gonna talk to that streetcar driver to be more careful and gives Jimmy a wink and a smile. He asks his mom to make some coffee and she says in Italian, referring to Mae, that she supposes that stupid cow doesn't have arms. "I may not speak Italian, but I know what stupido means," Mae says. Al asks Jimmy how many sausage links he wants. Jimmy asks for one; Capone says he'll give him three. Mae says he's a grown man, he knows what he wants. Al pushes his son with his foot, startling him and tells him it's time to eat before Mae picks him up and puts him in his chair. Jimmy says he has a kid about his age. Mae asks if he looks like him but Jimmy says no, he has dark eyes like his mother, but he definitely has a mind of his own. Al says, "I bet he answers when you call him" and then demonstrates and repeats his assertion that he's a dumbbell. Capone's mom trips over the toy, causing a huge noise and a mess and Al and Mae get up to check on her and clean. Jimmy notes that the boy doesn't notice a thing. He starts snapping his fingers next to the boy's ear and gets no response. Al notices what he's doing.

At Madame Jeunet's shop, Lucy pays a visit under the pretense of shopping, but much as her fingernails did to Nucky's chest, she's there to face Margaret and further mark her territory. She describes in great detail the type of sheer undergarment she's looking for to Madame Jeunet and then says she wants to see how it looks — pointing an accusatory finger at Margaret. Reluctantly, Margaret, Lucy and the underwear disappear to the dressing room where Margaret slowly disrobes. Lucy asks Margaret if she wears a bra. Margaret says she has tried them, but finds them uncomfortable. Lucy advises she try again. She says Margaret is saggy and you can tell she's had children. "You look like the kitchen help," Lucy spits. "A quickie bent over the table." "He doesn't seem to mind," Margaret shoots back. Lucy finally gets around directly to Nucky, telling her that the thing you have to realize about him is that he was raised a good Catholic boy and every once in a while, he becomes convinced that he is going to go to Hell. However, Lucy continues, all I have to do is this — as Lucy spreads her legs and shows her private parts — and he's "not so Catholic anymore." Margaret proceeds to tell her a tale about when she was a girl in Ireland as she puts her dress back on. "When I was a girl in Ireland, a raggedy man would come around every spring with a little Bantam rooster. He'd trained it to peck out 'The Mountains of Mourne' on a toy piano hung off his chest. Well, the first year he came, we, all of us, the girls in that place, we thought it magical. The second year, we laughed behind our hands at the odd man and his tatters, and the third year we didn't even go, because 'The Mountains of Mourne' was all that little rooster could ever do," Margaret tells an increasingly bored Lucy who asks if her story has a point. Margaret says it does: "Maybe your cunny isn't quite the draw you think it is." Margaret then storms out of the dressing room, curtly telling a confused Madame Jeunet that she quits as she leaves the store. The next thing we see, Margaret and her children are being helped out of Nucky's Rolls by Eddie as they move into their new three-bedroom home, where each child has their own room, there is a master bedroom, a fully-stocked kitchen and a telephone so Nucky can call. Margaret asks Eddie if Nucky treats him well. He answers in the affirmative, that Mr. Thompson is a very nice man.

Eli hauls Luciano into Nucky's office and gets grilled about stealing in Nucky's city. Luciano denies any knowledge of what he's talking about. He tries to get cute and Nucky purposely provokes him but before Luciano can leap over the desk and strangle Thompson, Eli has his nightstick around Lucky's throat. After a few brief moments of struggle, Luciano relaxes. He again stands by his story that he had nothing to do with the mugging. He's been too busy with a woman, he grins. Nucky says that if he's referring to Gillian Darmody, that is her business, but that Luciano should be warned that in his relations with her, he should treat her with the utmost regard. The meeting gets loudly interrupted by the sound of vigorous hammering on the door. Eddie comes in and Nucky asks what the hell he was doing. Eddie says that he told him he need to knock more manly. "You don't have to take the door off its hinges," an impatient Nucky says, wanting to know why Eddie is there. Eddie relays the news that Mrs. Schroeder is quite pleased with her new accommodations. Nucky dismisses him and then returns his attention to Luciano to make sure he understands how things work in Atlantic City. Luciano says he does, straightens his jacket and leaves.

Aside from his dinner out, Jimmy has been keeping to himself mostly since Pearl's suicide. He's sitting at a desk sending some cash back to Angela when one of the other girls drops by, trying to get him to join the party. Jimmy says maybe later. The girl does say Pearl left something in her room and returns his copy of Sinclair Lewis' Free Air.

Supervisor Elliott's talk about Van Alden's obsession with the Schroeders must have fallen on deaf ears because Van Alden returns to Margaret's old house but gets no answer when he knocks on the door. The agent can't see anything either when he tries peering in the windows. Margaret's former neighbor and baby sitter Edith, even bitchier than we've ever seen her before, steps out on her porch with a cigarette and tells the agent that she's gone. He asks if she knows where. She says she's probably off somewhere drinking champagne, given the hours she keeps and as much as Edith had to look after her brats. Edith also adds that the late Hans was a "saint" who always brought day-old baked goods to her. She asks if Margaret has done something wrong. Van Alden stays mostly quiet, just listening and asking. Edith tells him that all she knows is that a little while ago a blue limousine came and picked up her, her kids and all their stuff and drove them away. The agent inquires as to whether the limo happened to be a Rolls-Royce and Edith confirms that it was. He asks if there is anything else she can add. "Yes. She's a whore."

Torrio, accompanied by Capone and Jimmy, venture into Sheridan's territory to discuss the Greektown situation. As soon as the three walk in the door, Sheridan's men search them. Al gets his feather ruffled, complaining that that wasn't part of the deal. Sheridan says he wasn't the one who asked for the meeting and if he wanted to kill them, they would have been dead before they walked in the door and in case they are concerned, Sheridan is packing. Torrio succeeds in keeping Capone on his leash and the three men go to leave their coats with the pretty blonde hatcheck girl. Sheridan says to tip her good. Jimmy leaves a gratuity and thanks her politely. She genuinely smiles and the men adjourn to an adjoining room with tables and a bar. In the room, Sheridan makes a wisecrack about the violence, but then agrees to give Torrio a three-block section of Greektown. He also apologizes about Pearl. Jimmy, who seems to be in a world of his own, says that she was only 18. "What we gonna get sentimental now?" Sheridan says. Torrio tries to keep everything on an even keel and Sheridan apologizes for Pearl, though Jimmy thinks Liam, the man who sliced her, should apologize as well. Sheridan says he just told Liam to pick out a whore to make a point. It wasn't personal. Torrio says that everyone should agree that things got out of hand on both sides and they should just have a drink to settle things. Then one of Sheridan's men spots Jimmy's knife sticking out of his boot and the guns come out. "I thought you searched him!" Sheridan shouts. Jimmy apologizes, claiming he forgot he had it on him. Sheridan puts it to his throat. "Maybe I'll leave a mark and next time you won't forget." The handle intrigues him and he asks what it's for. Jimmy explains it's called a bonecrusher and it's for cracking walnuts. Everything settles down again and the meeting ends. As the men descend the stairs, Torrio mentions that he has to go to the head. Sheridan goes to get his coat. He asks what happened to the hatcheck girl, who has been replaced by a brunette. She says she's on a coffee break. Capone gets his coat, then Jimmy. Jimmy winks at the girl, pulls out his piece and opens fire. Al whisks out a shotgun and joins in the bloodbath. Torrio reappears and tells them to finish up. Jimmy goes up to a wounded Sheridan and tells him, "I guess you agree Greektown is ours now" before blowing his head off at point blank range and retrieving his knife. The three men hop into Torrio's car and get away.

Nucky and Margaret have their first tete-a-tete in her new house. The ringing of the phone startles her. She says she doesn't know if she'll ever get used to that. Nucky asks Margaret if she'd like to go see Hardeen with him. He's Houdini's brother, but he's just as good, Nucky insists, and show people can be fun. Margaret asks if he does tricks like his brother. Nucky says watch how he escapes from the dinner check.

In Chicago, Torrio's gang throw a private party celebrating their victory and Johnny compliments Jimmy's strategy saying that this "mick may be worth keeping around." Capone obviously doesn't enjoy someone else being Torrio's golden boy, even for a day, so he starts ribbing him about the morning wakeup call the other day as well as his service and injury in the war. It doesn't seem to bother Jimmy, but Al certainly is someone who can dish it out but can't take it. Jimmy teases him about his "hand-to-hand combat with the Kaiser" and being part of the Lost Squadron. "They were so lost, they thought Brooklyn was in France." The room laughs. Al does not. Still, Jimmy wonders if Capone should be someone to fear so it's not unreasonable when he's in his room later and hears two knocks on the door with no reply when he asks who it is to answer the door slowly with gun drawn. When it is indeed Al, Jimmy demands that he show what he has in both hands. Capone resists, asking if they aren't friends. Jimmy responds that they are accomplices. Finally, Al shows that his hands are bearing steaks wrapped in salt. Jimmy lowers the gun and lets Capone in. Capone, after explaining the best way to care for and cook the meat, tells Jimmy that it wasn't right the way he treated him in front of the guys. It made him look bad. As he's preparing to leave, he softens a bit and admits his son's deafness, telling about how he plays the mandolin and sings, but the boy can't hear. He'll place his little fingers on his throat and he can feel it, but he doesn't understand. Jimmy tells Al to take him to a doctor but Capone says it is in the blood and there's nothing that can be done. Jimmy says new things get discovered every day and he just has to keep hoping and trying. The entire episode really gives Stephen Graham his best showcase yet and presents the most well-rounded portrait of Al Capone.

Mayor Hague finally gets his dinner with Nucky, who asks him how much of a headache the Democrat is going to give him over the road money. Hague just smiles and continues to enjoy the meal. He asks what they are doing later. Nucky, knowing he's planning to take Margaret to Hardeen, asks if Hague wants to see Hardeen with him and his lady. Hague doesn't want to be a third wheel. "I can find you a girl," Nucky promises. "Only one?" Hague asks. At Margaret's, where a woman already has arrived to watch the children, Margaret receives a phone call from Eddie. She asks if she had the time wrong but learns that business came up and Nucky has to cancel. Apparently, Hague wasn't joking about just one woman. We later see him, sandwiched between two women. There's also a naked woman singing and playing the ukelele. Another woman kneels at Nucky's feet, about to please the Atlantic City powerbroker. As if he'd been eavesdropping on what Lucy told Margaret earlier at the shop, Nucky tells the girl, "I try to be good." When the sexplay has subsided and Hague and Nucky sit alone drinking, Hague tells Nucky he'd be wise not to put all his money on Senator Edge because he's a secret partner in a bathing company based in Jersey City. Thompson asks why Hague is telling him this. Hague says it's because guys like Edge come and go, bosses like him and Nucky, they are here to stay. Margaret, depressed that her evening has been called off, gets a surprise visit from a neighbor named Annabelle (Megan Reinking) and her daughter. She saw she had a sitter and her man had a last-minute opening, so she was wondering if she could leave her kid as well. All the "concubines," as she refers to the mistresses, stick together and help each other out. She asks if this is the three bedroom. Margaret confirms it. "Some fella must be sweet on you." Margaret isn't very talkative. The last time we see her. She's sitting in a mostly dark living room, just staring.

As Boardwalk Empire has developed, it's become clearer and clearer that Agent Nelson Van Alden does not fit the mold of your standard, straight-arrow lawman. He's no Eliot Ness and Michael Shannon's performance has been layered wonderfully, only letting the viewer see a little more of the inner Van Alden a little at a time. In the pilot, he appeared to be merely a pious Prohibition officer, telling Jimmy Darmody that it's "a godly pursuit" when he tries to recruit him as a federal officer. In the second episode, "The Ivory Tower," when he meets with Nucky, he echoes the Atlantic City powerbroker when he says that he supposes he marches "to the beat of a different drummer himself." After that, we saw him kidnap a dying man and when the man insulted him in Yiddish, shove his hand into his gutshot belly to get the answers he want. With the past two episodes, through his actions and his boss's own words, we're starting to see he might have as an unidentifiable an obsession with Margaret Schroeder as Nucky did before Nucky actually started sleeping with her. At the end of this episode, we see the equivalent of a married, tortured Catholic masturbating to his image of the once virgin(?) Margaret. At his apartment, Van Alden examines Margaret's immigration file, the one Supervisor Elliott wanted to know why he even needed. As he does it, he cracks his knuckles even louder than Eddie hammered on Nucky's office door the last time. The agent becomes fascinated with a photo of Margaret when she was 16. Van Alden turns the photo of his own wife face down, takes off his shirt and moves over to his bed where he methodicaly lays down a towel, removes a belt from a suitcase and turns it into a lash, places the photo of young Margaret where he can see it and proceeds to self-flagellate. Given the look of the marks on his back, this is not a new procedure for Van Alden. The guttural sounds Shannon emits almost echo like gunfire.


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