Monday, October 18, 2010


Boardwalk Empire No. 5: Nights in Ballygran

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

By Edward Copeland
After last week's episode, which raised Boardwalk Empire and specifically the character of Margaret Schroeder to an even higher level of excellence, this week begins finding Margaret awakened from a sound sleep with her two children by some unidentifiable noises coming from the garage behind her home. As she wipes her sleep-filled eyes and starts to fix herself some coffee on the stove in her walking but still slumbering state, she tightens a robe around her nightgown and looks outside her window to investigate. She's mildly shocked as to what she sees: A truck unloading barrel after barrel of beer as men discuss how they must hurry to get all the alcohol dyed green in time for St. Patrick's Day.

While the great majority of those of Irish descent in Atlantic City anticipate the impending holiday fondly, Nucky complains about it to his brother Eli as they ride down in his hotel elevator. Eli says their father believes it's because Nucky hates being Irish, a claim Nucky denies. He loves being Irish, but he hates the spectacle of St. Patrick's Day when all the Irish get drunk and morose and end up either fighting with each other or crying. As far as Nucky's concerned, he's hoping for snow. The brothers sit down at an outside table in the lobby and a waiter brings Nucky coffee and asks if he wants any breakfast, but he declines. Eli, however, gets bent out of shape because the waiter ignores him entirely. Nucky says it's just a courtesy because he lives there, but Eli has even more on his mind. He wants to give a speech at the St. Patrick's Eve Celtic dinner. Nucky tries to discourage him, but Eli believes the reformers are trying to vote him out of office so he's been reading up on Dale Carnegie and feels he has to do it. Nucky adds that this year's dinner has been moved up to 7 p.m. because last year some of the Civil War vets started nodding off and snoring. As he's preparing to depart, Margaret arrives with a gift of soda bread for Nucky. He thanks her, but blows her off and tells her to give it to the bellhop and he'll be sure to get it, but he's late for a meeting. Margaret moves along. Eli asks what's up. "My life is complicated enough." When Margaret is out of their sight, she throws the soda bread away in a way that reminded me of the time Carmela dumped the dish she made for Father Phil on The Sopranos when she saw him flirting with Rosalie Aprile.

The midgets who entertained with their boxing matches aren't too happy about the approach of St. Patrick's Day either. Each year, Nucky hires them to dress up as leprechauns for the Celtic dinner and the drunken Irishmen can get rough with them and they find it humiliating. At least with the boxing matches, it's a show with someone who is their own size, but at the dinner, the inebriated Irish of normal height can get rough and most of the little people aren't in the mood to play this year. Enough is enough, they say. One of them though, Carl Heeley (Nic Novicki) speaks up with a suggestion: What if he can get them a raise? The other men want to know how much he is talking about. Carl suggests that he can get Thompson to double their pay and give them each $10 for the night's work. It changes the mood of the locker room immediately. One man even asks someone to bring him his "fucking shillelagh" and the others are suddenly more than willing to endure some humiliation if the price is right. Carl tells them he'll go see Nucky about the increase in wages.

In Chicago, Jimmy is doing his best to take care of the disfigured Pearl, whose fondness for opium has only escalated since her injury. Though it's a different century and decades later, the color scheme of the whorehouse and the old-style drug addiction did give me Deadwood flashbacks. Jimmy discovers an empty bottle of laudanum in her sheets and Pearl begs him to go to Chinatown and get her some real opium because it's so much better when she can smoke a bowl. He gives her some orange juice, but she asks for more painkiller and he indulges her a little, though she begs him for more. "It isn't a milkshake," he tells her." Later, Torrio comes by for a visit and sees her condition and summons Jimmy to the hallway. The boss tells Darmody that if she were a horse, they'd shoot her. She has to go, he's not running a hotel and her whoring days obviously have come to an end. Jimmy offers to cover what she made in a day. "$100 a day?" Torrio says. "She made that much?" Jimmy replies surprised. "She did," Torrio tells him and he gives Pearl until Friday to find somewhere else to be.

Perhaps inspired by what woke her that morning, Margaret pays a return visit to the women's temperance league, though since Prohibition has gone into effect, attendance has dropped greatly. Mrs. McGarry welcomes her back, expressing concern that her absence had indicated that she had been ill. No, she explains, she had just been busy working at a job. Mrs. McGarry tells the women how flagrantly the law is defied and how the local authorities lack the ability or the inclination to enforce it. Another woman reads a letter from a relative in another state telling of how neighbors were brewing their own while yet another woman tells of all the places that openly serve booze, some disguising it in coffee cups. Margaret speaks up and tells of what she saw out her window that morning. Mrs. McGarry says that is what she is talking about. One of the women suggest they start marching again, but Mrs. McGarry believes they need new tactics. Margaret suggests seeking help from Mr. Thompson. "The sheriff," one woman says sarcastically. "No, Enoch Thompson. He's been a great help since my husband passed." Mrs. McGarry likes the suggestion and tells Margaret to try to get a meeting with Nucky.

At a New York barbershop, Rothstein meets with his lawyer, concerned about another newspaper report about possible fixing of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox players. The story doesn't mention Rothstein, but it bothers him just the same. His lawyer tries to allay his fears. He tells the gangster that if you get horse shit on your trousers, you don't rub it off when it's wet, you let it dry and then you brush it off, nice and easy. The problem, Rothstein tells him is that it's months later and it hasn't dried yet.

Eddie enters Nucky's office and informs him that Carl Heely has come to see him. The name rings no bell until Eddie lowers his hand to indicate a short person and then Nucky realizes who it is. Carl comes in and, after having some difficulty climbing into Nucky's chair, tries to make some small talk, Nucky cuts him off and asks him to get to the "by the way." Carl doesn't get his meaning. Nucky explains that people come every day asking for something and they always start by asking about his health, his family, even his goldfish, but he's a busy man and he needs him to get to the point. Carl tells him that he and the other guys need to be paid more for the Celtic dinner. Nucky immediately refuses. Carl explains that $5 a man isn't enough to suffer that sort of humiliation. Nucky doesn't see what's so humiliating about dancing a jig as a leprechaun, especially since they beat each other up every night. It's just show business. Carl persists, pointing out how the men at the dinner are twice their size and when they're drunk, they get rough. Prohibition means there won't be any booze, Nucky tells Carl. "C'mon Nucky, Carl says, "I only look like a child." Carl tells him he wants $10 a man, but Nucky speaks fast and comes up with a figure that puts Carl in an awkward spot and saves him money. Instead of giving $80, he'll give Carl $68, but he can tell the guys he only got a $2 raise out of him and he can keep the extra $12 for himself. Carl feels funny about the deal, but he takes the money anyway because Nucky is rushing him out for another incoming meeting: one with Margaret and Mrs. McGarry. Margaret asks Nucky if he enjoyed the soda bread. For a moment, Nucky can't recall what she's talking about, but then he lies and says, "Yes, it was delicious." Mrs. McGarry thanks Thompson for seeing them and then urges Margaret to tell her story. She relays what she saw that morning. A stoic Nucky says she must have been outraged and he can just imagine how uncomfortable she must have been at his birthday party. Margaret explains to Mrs. McGarry that she was making a delivery for Madame Jeunet. Thompson tells Mrs. McGarry that alcohol may have been served and champagne consumed. Surprisingly, Mrs. McGarry says that she's certain that his friends only drink in moderation. "If they drink at all," Nucky lies again. He tells the women he'll report the incident at the garage to the sheriff immediately. They both thank him, Margaret especially, though he emphasizes to her that it's not a personal favor. Later that night, as Margaret prepares to go to sleep with her children, she hears the noises from that garage again. She's pissed. She goes out and asks the man unloading the barrels what he thinks he's doing. He says they have to hurry and get these unloaded and dyed for tomorrow night's Celtic dinner. Recognizing the anger in her eyes, the man calls for his boss, Alderman Neary, who greets her politely as Mrs. Schroeder. He tells his men to keep the noise down: People are trying to sleep. Did Mr. Thompson not speak with you today, Margaret asks Neary. At a loss for words, the ward boss offers a taste of the beer for Mrs. Schroeder, which is, of course, the precisely wrong move.

The next day, Margaret, still steamed, waits in the lobby outside Nucky's office with others waiting to see the county treasurer. She watches as Neary goes in and she can hear the loud and uproarious laughter going on inside. Soon, Eddie emerges to tell everyone that Mr. Thompson will be unable to see anyone because he is especially busy. Margaret asks if he knows she's been waiting but all Eddie can do is give her a wistful look of apology. Margaret moves on, but Nucky won't be pleased with her next stop: She heads to the post office that still serves as Agent Van Alden's headquarters since it's the only federal building in close vicinity. Van Alden is sticking colored pins in a map of the Atlantic City area when he spots Margaret. Her presence surprises him as does her announcement that he always said to come if she had information. Van Alden tells Sebso to roll down his sleeves, put on his suit jacket, get Mrs. Schroeder a chair and block the door. Margaret tells him of the barrels in the garage. He asks if she could make an estimate and it's fairly precise: 93. He sticks another pin in the map. Margaret wants him to shut it down now. Children can see it. Shannon gets to give one of his best speeches of the series so far, explaining that the pins represent 117 sites where alcohol is being stored, distilled or sold with impunity. Unfortunately, they don't give him the resources to shut down even a small percentage of these as the liquor comes by sea from the Caribbean or Canada and gets mixed, sometimes with poison, by men who place no value on human life. Sometimes the victims are involved, other times they are innocent men such as a baker's apprentice, referring to her late husband. "Are you trying to be cruel?" Margaret asks Van Alden. "No, just honest." Margaret, amazingly, has grown angrier than she was before she got there. Van Alden tries to stop her. "Are you going to arrest me?" she asks. "Have you committed a crime?" "I've been lectured a great deal by men who speak boldly and do nothing," Margaret spits at the agent. Van Alden asks who lectured her. "Neary." Flipping through some books, Van Alden asks, "Alderman James Neary?" She says she doesn't know his first name. "He works for Mr. Thompson."

In Chicago, a drugged-out Pearl has removed her bandages and wandered down to the whorehouse bar to see if anyone wants to dance. Capone yells for someone to get her out of there and Jimmy comes to her rescue. Back at Jimmy's former Atlantic City home, Gillian again is doing baby-sitting duties for Angela so she can go out to see her friend. Tommy already has passed out on the floor. Gillian tells Angela how rough it must be on her, raising a kid on her own for a man she's not even married to and who may never come back. Angela said Gillian faced a similar situation, but Gillian says she always had the other girls in the show to pitch in. When he was young, Jimmy never lacked for female attention. She's still young, Gillian tells Angela, she should be free and then raises the prospect of letting her raise Tommy. Angela is shocked and says there is no way she'd give up her son. Gillian tells her to forget about it right now. She doesn't want to be late for meeting her friend.

The time for the Celtic dinner. the traditional St. Patrick's Dau eve event, has arrived and we meet the Thompson patriarch (Tom Aldredge, veteran theater actor and Carmela's father on The Sopranos) who is very hard of hearing and very loud. Currently, he's shouting about the absence of his younger son Eli. The festivities begin with the Irish tenor Duncan O'Connor (John Treacy Egan) singing "Carrickfergus" from whose lyrics "nights in Ballygran" come and bringing the the dinner guests either to tears or to singing along. Following the song, Eli finally shows up and his father asks where the hell he's been. He blames trouble with the kids at home. He immediately reminds Nucky of his intention to speak. Nucky tries some last minute discouragement to no avail because by then Mayor Bacharach (John Rue) has introduced Nucky to say a few words. Reluctantly, he announces that his brother, the sheriff, has a few things he would like to share with the guests. "Oh great, now this one's gonna talk," their father shouts. Eli takes the podium nervously and shows few signs that Dale Carnegie has done him much good beginning, "Friends, Romans, Irishmen..." He then mentions that as they celebrate their patron saint, St. Patrick, who drove the snakes out of Ireland, he should have driven the English out and that it wasn't a potato famine that starved their people, but Cromwell, before he starts going on a diatribe about the Troubles currently afflicting their homeland and mentioning Irish freedom martyrs, some of whose names he unfortunately gets wrong, prompting mocking from the crowd who say, "What do you expect? He was born in the states." Soon, a full-born loud and raucous debate has broken out over who has helped Ireland more and, with a nod from the Commodore, Nucky shuts it down by standing and saying, "Let's hear it for Sheriff Thompson" and leading a round of applause before immediately segueing into "And here come the little people who've been to the end of the rainbow and brought back their pots of gold."

Back in Chicago, Jimmy still tries his best to comfort and care for Pearl. He tries to get her to eat some soup, but she shows little interest. Opium remains the only sustenance she craves and she encourages Jimmy to try it so he'll appreciate its allure. He declines, but he crawls into bed next to her and holds her, trying to calm her with stories of his childhood. Pearl leans up to him and asks for a kiss. There's a brief moment of hesitation, but Jimmy complies. Pearl tells him he needs to get himself cleaned up, so he'll feel better and Jimmy agrees. As he rises, Pearl tells him that, by the way, her name is Tally. "Hello Tally," he greets her, before going down the hall. As he shaves and does other hygenic duties in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror, he suddenly hears a shot. He dashes down the hall, now crowded with everyone, to his room to find Pearl dead on the floor. She's put a bullet in her own head. Jimmy cradles her corpse as one of the other whores screams.

As the Celtic dinner has broken off into mingling, Nucky tries to talk sense to Eli in the aftermath of his disastrous speech, telling him that there's a time and a place for these things and you have to know your audience. "These kingmakers are judging you every second," Nucky tells his brother. "Maybe someday I'll lie as good as you," Eli responds. "It's lie as well as you," Nucky corrects him, telling him to learn proper English. Eli blames his drunkenness and then asks why Nucky isn't sloshed before remembering that this is the only day of the year that Nucky doesn't drink. Their conversation gets interrupted by a loud ruckus at the door as Van Alden leads a cadre of his armed men in a raid on the room. A bearded man stands in front of Van Alden and asks him if he knows who these men are and reminds him that the Volstead Act does not prohibit the mere consumption of alcohol. He no sooner says he is an attorney than Van Alden knocks him to the floor.

Van Alden marches straight to the head table and looks Nucky in the eye. Buscemi's facial expression says it all. You know he wants to explode, but he's keeping it all bottled up for his own good. "I have an arrest warrant," Van Alden announces, for "James Neary." He then looks at Neery. "Are you James Neary?" Neary admits that he is and Van Alden lists the charges relating to the garage and both Nucky and Neary know that Margaret Schroeder must be behind this. Van Alden tells the attendees that the assembly is over and that the establishment will be shuttered and everyone must disperse in an orderly fashion as Neary is led out in cuffs. As the confused guests make their way outside, they are greeted by the singing of the Women's Temperance League holding a banner. Prominent in their members is Margaret. As Nucky and Eli stand on the steps of the chained establishmet, Eli's full bitterness shines through and he takes a swing at his brother, though he misses by a mile. Nucky asks what that was for and then tells Eli to go home. Eli in turn asks Nucky where he is going.

I wish I was in Carrickfergus
Only for nights in Ballygran
I would swim over the deepest ocean
Only for nights in Ballygran
Oh but the water is wide and I cannot swim over
And nor have I the wings to fly
I wish I could be a handy boatman
To ferry me over my love and I

The song returns in the series' first musical montage, a technique that can get really overused in TV dramas but seems somewhat fresher here, perhaps because of the unknown song being employed. It shares brief glimpses of the various characters at crucial moments, the lyrical ending will lead to a denouement many might not have expected to occur so soon, but it's showing the series continuing its ascent in the realm of memorable dramas. In the montage, we see Angela as she approaches the photo shop and someone opens the door for her and she smiles; in Chicago's Chinatown, Jimmy lays down and smokes an opium pipe for the first time; back home, his mother Gillian stares at herself in a mirror, examining her face and eyes for signs of aging; Eli's wife helps hold her husband's head as he keeps tossing his cookies into the porcelain throne; federal agents bust open the beer barrels at Neary's garage as Van Alden watches with satisfaction from his car as the green beer floods the pavement; Margaret once again lies in bed with her children when there is a loud knock at her door. As I alluded to last week, the past two episodes have really belonged to Kelly Macdonald and she shares the powerhouse ending with the actor at the door, Steve Buscemi. Margaret asks who it is and he responds, "It's Nucky." She lets him in. "Margaret, I don't have time for games and I have no interest in them," he tells her before sweeping her into an embrace and they begin a round of passionate lovemaking against the wall of her entryway.

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