Monday, November 22, 2010

 

Boardwalk Empire No. 10: The Emerald City

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


By Edward Copeland
The oceanside scene is soothing: A young man and woman cling to each other as they stroll along the beach. They seem very much in love. As they separate, you can see that the man is Richard Harrow, when his face was intact, only it must not appear that way to the woman who lets out a terrified shriek. The reverie is broken and we see that scream belongs to young Emily Schroeder who has awoken Richard from his dream on the couch, where he was sleeping without his mask on and she saw the horror of his disfigurement. He quickly puts the mask back on as Nucky and Margaret come running down the stairs. Margaret looks disapprovingly as she picks up her daughter and whisks her away. Nucky just sort of shakes his head. "We are a little on edge here as it is." Since the assassination attempt on Nucky on the Boardwalk, Richard has been staying at Margaret's as their protector. With just three episodes left in the season, we're starting to get answers to more unresolved questions and more twists and Boardwalk Empire is keeping up its pace toward a big first season finish. Two things though set "The Emerald City" apart: a lot of short, quick scenes as opposed to the series' usual scenes of some length and an extended showcase for Michael Shannon. They could have titled the episode "The Last Temptation of Agent Van Alden," except that I'm not certain this is his last or, for that matter, his first. Either way, Shannon excels at depicting all sides of the agent's inner turmoil.


As you would expect, Agent Van Alden and Supervisor Elliott have some questions for Agent Sebso about how it was that his task of taking Billy Winslow to a N.Y. lockup ended with him shooting Winslow to death. Sebso says that Billy had to "make water" and he didn't want him to go on the car seat. "Why didn't you let him?" an angry Van Alden interjects. Sebso admits his bladder was bursting as well, so he decided to pull over to the side of the ride and he unlocked his handcuffs. Elliott points out that he violated standard protocol, but Sebso says that nothing in Winslow's demeanor indicated to him that Billy would do what he did. Plus, Elliott notes, you didn't want to have to unbutton his trousers and pull out his johnson. "So, in service to your modesty, you end up killing our only eyewitness," Van Alden sneers. Ellott warns Nelson that he's not going to tell him again. "I know I fouled up," Sebso tells them, "but killing that prisoner, I know it will haunt me for the rest of my days." Elliott seems to deliberate for a minute or two but then tells Sebso that he acted in self-defense and he's exonerated. Van Alden, exemplified by one of the quintessential Michael Shannon stares, turn his head to look at his boss in disbelief. Sebso is excused and Nelson closes the door and turns back to Elliott who asks if he has any idea what kind of embarrassment this is for the department. "I take full responsibility," Van Alden says. "That's fine Nelson, that's precisely where I place the blame. I told you I wanted numbers." Van Alden still insists that Winslow's confession is a direct link to Nucky Thompson. "Winslow is dead. His confession is useless hearsay," Elliott tells his underling. Van Alden says he can get another crack at Darmody, but Elliott says he's been released for lack of evidence and Thompson's lawyers are swarming like hornets. Shannon is so great at playing Van Alden's obsession, because he can't give it up, insisting that Jimmy committed murder under the direct orders...but Elliott stops him. "For God's sake man, you have bungled this from the start. This is your last chance Nelson. One more misstep and you'll be hunting moonshiners down in the Everglades."

Nucky is having breakfast and reading the newspaper. On the back page is more news of the Black Sox scandal. Margaret asks about how the ratification of the women's right to vote is going and Nucky tells her it's up to Tennessee. Margaret asks why he doesn't seem more excited and Thompson tells her he doesn't want her to be disappointed because the South is not known for forward thinking. Once again, it's interesting to see the Republican Party before its transformation. Imagine it making fun of the South today or embracing forward thinking. Richard comes in and tells Nucky that Eddie is there with the car and he tells him to tell Eddie he'll be there in a few minutes. Margaret asks if this is how life is going to be, with people shooting at him, and suggests that she and her kids go somewhere else for awhile. Nucky tells her not to worry. Besides, he'd miss them too much. "Success breeds enemies," Nucky says. "You'll learn that when women get the right to vote."

Sixtus D'Alessio must have just stumbled when Eddie fired on him because, aside from a large bruise on his face, he seems fine as he, his brothers Leo and Matteo (Al Linea) and Mickey Doyle stand before Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano in New York to explain themselves. "Stock prices over the ticker, race results over the wire, radio will have news reports within minutes of their occurrence," Rothstein tells the room. "It's the age of information and the businessman lives and sometimes dies on its value." The would-be alcohol magnates seem uncertain as to why they are hearing this speech, but as a viewer, who cares? Watching Michael Stuhlbarg get a scene like he does here is an absolute joy. While I loved John Sayles' Eight Men Out and I haven't seen it in years, it's hard now to imagine that Stuhlbarg is playing the same person Michael Lerner played in that movie. Back to the scene. Rothstein asks Mickey if he knows why he's a successful gambler. Doyle says "Because you're lucky?" Rothstein points at Luciano. "He's Lucky. I create my luck. I'm a successful gambler because I never bet on an event whose outcome I'm not certain of in advance," Rothstein replies. Leo smiles and makes a crack about the World Series and Rothstein putting the fix in, but gets no reaction. Rothstein talks about all the research and intelligence gathering he does in advance, while a waiter brings him milk and a slice of cake, which he confirms is devil's food. "Due diligence," Meyer Lansky interjects. "Which brings me to Nucky Thompson," Rothstein says. "A man you said you knew everything about." "How was I supposed to know his chauffeur carried a gun?" Mickey asks. "Have you been listening to a single word I said?" Rothstein said. I believe it's the first time in the entire series that Stuhlbarg has raised his voice as Rothstein and it's both chilling and electrifying. "Sheer and utter incompetence. A woman shot, an innocent tourist no less, and it tipped my hand to Thompson," Rothstein rails. Sixtus said they figured that by doing it on the Boardwalk at night, it would send a message. "Sent a message alright, that you're idiots," Lucky says, joining the conversation. Leo steps up and promises Rothstein that he'll kill Nucky himself. Matteo adds that they will bring him his head if he wants it. Rothstein said that the grandstanding is commendable, but he's less than convinced. Leo asks how they can make it up to him. "Nothing says I'm sorry like money."

In Chicago, Johnny Torrio is holding a meeting with some of his associates about his frustration over missed moneymaking opportunities. Capone is at the bar, giggling with someone else. Torrio tells the men he's talking to that there are at least two and a half million people in Chicago alone, half of them are Irish and half of those dope fiends. With so many looking to drink whiskey and fuck, he wants to know why they aren't making more money. Capone's continued laughter finally gets to Torrio, who asks Al if he is even listening. A Jewish associate of Torrio's, Jake Guzik (Joe Caniano) huffs his way into the bar, complaining that he had to park 10 blocks away, but Torrio says it looks like he could use the exercise. Jake hands Torrio an envelope thick with cash and Torrio tells him they were just discussing how much money is being left on the table. There's a 10-block area without a cathouse or a place to get a drink, Torrio complains. Al comes over, acting subservient, and gives Torrio a cigarette and lights it, only it goes off because it's a novelty cigarette. Torrio is not pleased. "What are you? 12 years old?" "I'm sorry," Al says. "You are a sorry fucking moron," Capone's displeased boss replies. "I thought you'd have a laugh." Torrio throws a glass against the bar. "We're in the middle of a fucking meeting." Torrio apologizes to Jake and tells him he'll see him at his son's bar mitzvah. He then turns to Capone again and reminds him that "This ain't no fucking grade school."

Jimmy and Nucky are meeting in his office when Nucky tells Jimmy that he's seen his share of grotesque, but Richard... Jimmy tells him that apparently it's a big improvement over what it used to be. "Try explaining that to a 4-year-old," Nucky says. "From now on, when he's in the house, tell him to keep the mask on." Eddie enters and tells them Mickey Doyle is there and asks if he should frisk him. Nucky asks him if he's Tom Mix all of a sudden and then tells Jimmy to do it. Mickey comes in and tells Nucky he comes hat in hand, to apologize. He tells them he has partners: The D'Alessios. Nucky slams him against the wall and tells him he should throw him out the fucking window while Jimmy holds a gun at his head. Mickey says he can help. That's why he came. "I'll tell you everything I know." Nucky tells him to have a drink, though Jimmy says he should piss in it. Mickey explains how he owed them money and this is how they saw to get it back, first by putting Chalky out of business, then by robbing his ward boss out on the street. As stupid as Mickey seems, he also knows that they plan to kill him because he knows they are making fun of him, both behind his back and while he's in the room. He also tells them about the ruse Meyer Lansky tried to pull on Chalky and it all stems from Rothstein trying to muscle in on the liquor business. "Isn't ruining baseball enough?" Nucky asks. He tells Jimmy to get Chalky on the phone, but they find that Eddie's on the line. Nucky yells at Eddie to get off the phone and Eddie runs in to say that the news had just come in on the wire: Women can vote.


One of those newly empowered at the ballot box, Margaret, is on the couch, reading The Wizard of Oz to her children when Richard peeks in. Margaret asks Richard if he'd like to join them and reads a section dealing with the Tin Woodsman. Richard points to his face and says, "That's me. The Tin Woodsman. Maybe I need some oil" Margaret's little girl smiles. "Yes, he's from Oz," Margaret tells the children. "Who better to have in our house than the mighty Tin Woodsman?" Richard smiles a smile, completed by his mask.

In his small hotel room, Van Alden looks through his file. He looks at an ad for the Ziegfeld Follies, then he crumples a newspaper clipping of Republican Party activities and stares yet again at the photo of the 16-year-old Margaret. Shannon's creepy glare under the dim lighting is eerie.

Nucky says he knows she won't imbibe, but he hope she doesn't mind that he's about to as he opens a bottle of champagne in their bedroom to celebrate women's suffrage. Margaret decides that since it's such a momentous occasion, she'll join in. "You've caught up with Ireland at last," she toasts. Nucky reminds her that the U.S. is her country as well and reminds her of all the things the Republican Party has done for progress such as emancipation, prohibition and the women's vote. (What happened to that Republican Party? Of course, they did keep the corruption and cronyism.) Margaret says it's because the party saw an opportunity. "A simple thank you would suffice," Nucky says. He asks her to speak for Bader at Sunday's League of Women Voters lunch where Bacharach will announce he's not seeking re-election. Margaret wants to know why Bader should be mayor since he's just the owner of a construction business. Nucky says he could build great things for the people of the city. Margaret is not convinced that this makes him qualified to be a good mayor. Nucky reminds her that Andrew Johnson was only a tailor and he became president but she reminds him that he got impeached as well. She sees he's annoying him and asks what she's supposed to say. Nucky says that it's time for a change and that it's a new Republican Party. Gone are the days of incompetence, cronyism and violence in the streets. Margaret asks what happens to the county treasurer. "Me? I'm not going anywhere." "So you'll control the new mayor just like you did the old one," Margaret says. Nucky denies that he controls anyone. He describes himself as sort of an overseer. For the city's businesses to keep running over the long haul, it needs continuity of leadership. If Fletcher and the Democrats win, they'd be starting from scratch. He reminds her that this isn't a fantasy world like Oz but a real place with real people and to make it run properly, you need to tell them what they want to hear.

Now that the Darmody family has been reunited, they take a stroll on the Boardwalk. Jimmy holds Tommy up to the window of the nurses running the incubators and tells his son that this place is where he and Angela got him, explaining to the boy that they cooked him up in one of those right there. Tommy laughs and crawls down out of Jimmy's arms and tells him he's foolin' him and starts running down the row of shops. Jimmy starts chasing him, but his bad leg keeps him a few steps behind. Angela seems to be legitimately enjoying the moment and lags behind. Jimmy finally catches up with him outside the photo shop and picks him up again. Tommy points to a picture of Robert and Mary Dittrich and says, "That's mommy's kissing friend." Jimmy isn't certain he heard right so he asks Tommy what he just said and the boy repeats it. "That's mommy's kissing friend." Jimmy mumbles "son of a bitch" and puts Tommy down as a still-smiling Angela joins her family and immediately realizes something is wrong. She asks Jimmy what it is and he tells her to ask her son. Inside, Robert is setting up a child for a portrait shoot. As Robert places his head inside the camera, he doesn't see the image of the customer but of Jimmy as he punches him through the camera and proceeds to beat the shit out of him. He picks Robert up and tosses him through the glass of the store's door. Mary comes out from the back of the store and Jimmy warns her not to fuck Robert before going out on the sidewalk and continuing the beating. By now a crowd has gathered, Tommy is bawling in Angela's arms and Angela is pleading with Jimmy to stop. Jimmy makes it a point of telling the crowd that Robert had relations with his wife while he was away at the war, which Angela tells the crowd isn't true, but Jimmy continues the beating.

Margaret comes downstairs when she hears a knock at the door. She's surprised to find Agent Van Alden on her doorstep. He asks if he can come inside and she says of course. As he enters, Richard steps into the hallway from a backroom. Van Alden shows his identification and explains that he's a federal agent and he needs to speak to Mrs. Schroeder privately. Harrow says he'll be out back with the children. Van Alden and Margaret adjourn to the living room where Margaret takes a seat. Van Alden says he'd like to show her a photo and see if she can identify the girl and then brings out the picture of the 16-year-old Margaret. Margaret asks if this is meant to be some kind of joke. Nelson says he doesn't find it funny in the least. Margaret says it's the photo they took of her at Ellis Island. Van Alden says when he looks at this girl he sees hope, yearning, a promise of a new life, a promise of America. "What happened to that girl, Mrs. Schroeder?" "Am I to be deported?" Margaret asks, "because I am a citizen of this country now." Van Alden tells her that she is consorting with a murderer, the man who killed the father of her children. "That's not true," Margaret responds. "It is true. He's a panderer and a criminal," Van Alden says in his usual tone, then Shannon does an almost imperceptible shift to a side of the agent we haven't seen before: Lovesick puppy dog as Van Alden sits next to Margaret on the couch. "Your life doesn't have to be like this and I know you don't want it to be," Nelson smiles. Shannon, well-matched with an acting partner as talented as Kelly Macdonald, watches as Margaret gets stern and peeved. "You don't know me at all." With his smile growing creepier and creepier, Van Alden tells her that he can see into her soul when he looks at her picture every night and grabs her hands, which she quickly pulls away. She stands and gets away from him, accusing him of entering her home under the pretense of official business when his true intentions were obviously quite different. The lovesick puppy dog is gone and the proselytizing pit bull returns, accusingly asking her if this the life she wants. "I can offer you salvation." Margaret tells him to leave. Van Alden turns to exit, but before departing he turns to face her again and shouts, "I came here to save you, not from prosecution, but from the fires of hell that will surely await you should you fail to repent."

Torrio and Capone show up for Jake Guzik's son's bar mitzvah. Torrio tells Al to find them seats while he goes to pay respects to Jake. As Capone sits down, he removes his cap and a rabbi sitting in the row in front of him tells him he must put it back on. Al tells him that if he kept his hat on in church, someone would box his ears. The rabbi says in the Jewish faith, they wear yarmulkes because God is above looking down. He asks the rabbi what this ceremony is all about and the rabbi explains that at age 13, it marks a boy becoming a man. Capone says that makes sense since 13 is when they send you to reform school. The rabbi tells him he should really wear a yarmulke. He's a man: he should wear a man's hat. Capone looks more thoughtful that we've seen him before. Maybe he is too old, not just for the cap he wears, but the silly jokes he pulls. He's married and has a deaf son to worry about. He wants to go somewhere in this business, and this is not a business where you can afford to become a liability.

Jimmy arrives late for the meeting Nucky is holding with Chalky for Mickey to fill him on "Michael Lewis." They ask about Jimmy's bandaged hand, courtesy of his savaging of Dittrich, but he says he slammed it in an icebox. They are going to have Mickey set up another meeting between Lansky and Chalky and this time Chalky should accept any deal that gets offered so they can get as many of them in one place as possible. Chalky asks Nucky what he is going to do with Rothstein. "I'm going to make him the richest corpse in New York."

Sunday arrives and with it the League of Women Voters meeting and the occasion of Margaret's big speech. First, Mayor Bacharach makes the announcement of his retirement from politics and then he introduces her. Nucky asks her ahead of time if she's nervous, but she says she's not really. He says he was the first time he had to give a speech, but then he got so used to it, he could sell snake oil. Margaret seems to be looking at Nucky with suspicious eyes since her encounter with Van Alden. At the beginning of her speech introducing Edward Bader and endorsing him for mayor, she admits to being flattered and terrified when asked to give this talk. She tells the attendees that Bader is a builder, which makes sense for someone seeking the office of mayor. "Where other men see an empty lot, he sees a hospital. Where other men see an overgrown field, he sees a school for children," Margaret says. "Most importantly, where other men see shop girls and chambermaids, he sees voters." After much applause, she introduces Bader and takes a seat behind him on the platform. She stares into space as she watches Nucky and Ward Boss Neary chatting and laughing about something and not paying attention to anything Bader says.

Torrio comes down the stairs at the whorehouse to see Al Capone standing, looking quite serious and, as if he'd taken the rabbi's advice, he's ditched the cap for a sharper looking hat. Torrio asks him what he's doing. Al says he wanted to apologize for the novelty cigarette. He's right. He needs to get serious. Torrio tells Al that he brought him there from Brooklyn for a reason. He thought he saw something in him. Look at Jake Guzik. Three years ago, he was running a cathouse and now look at what he's made of himself. Capone tells him the brewery's distribution is a mess, but he thinks he could fix that, if he gave him the chance. Al tells him he's ready to be responsible for his actions.

Chalky is regaling Sixtus, Matteo, Mickey and "Michael" about his history with Nucky and how he first met him when he was making collections for the Commodore when the Commodore ran the town. One day, the Commodore himself came in and told Chalky he had bad news: He was going to have to start paying 7% of what I was making to him. Chalky tells them he was shocked, because for the three years before that he'd been giving Nucky 12%. Meyer/Michael says that Rothstein doesn't do business that way. Chiseling your partners doesn't pay off in the end. He also tells Chalky that they aren't interested in the "piss water" he's peddling, they want the real stuff. He asks if he can part with 500 cases a month. "You know I can, Mr. Lewis," Chalky says, emphasizing the name. Lansky apologizes for the previous ruse, but that was before Mickey told them how unhappy he was with Nucky. From now on, he'll be their Atlantic City contact. "Play your cards right, and you'll have a Packard for every day of the week," Matteo adds. Michael K. Williams beautifully plays Chalky in that moment, resisting the urge to explode since Matteo just revealed his involvement in the lynching of his driver and stays on course. Meyer and Chalky shake hands and Lansky says they'll send trucks and men the next day. Chalky, however, can only keep the anger down for so long. He walks slowly toward the garage doors and says, "One more thing." He then turns around holding two guns. "How do you know I drive a Packard?"

After nightfall, Angela makes a trip to the photo shop and finds Mary. She said she went to the hospital first, but she'd already left. Mary says that Robert was knocked out by the morphine. Angela asks about his injuries and learns that Jimmy gave him five broken ribs, a broken nose and a fractured jaw. Angela apologizes, but Mary takes the blame. She says she should have left Robert months ago because she doesn't love him. Mary suggests that Angela get Tommy and the three of them run off to Paris. She says a boat leaves every month. She paints a romantic picture of Tommy learning to speak French along the Seine and of getting to dance with Isadora Duncan. Robert would be fine and get over her. She asks if Jimmy has ever been violent with Angela and she says no, not yet anyway. The lovers make tentative plans for their escape.

Halloran drops Margaret off at her home and she thanks the deputy. He says perhaps you'll be thanking me as sheriff come November. Richard comes into the living room to close the curtains and Margaret tells him she feels she owes him an apology for how harshly she treated him at first because his affliction frightened her. "I can be disconcerting," Harrow says. Margaret says you should judge a person by what's on the inside. "I can't do that," Harrow says, "Why should you?" Richard says that sometimes he forgets about his face and he'll pass a mirror and not be able to recall who he was before. Jack Huston as Richard Harrow has been a great addition to an already rich ensemble. It's a shame he came on so late in the series' run that we didn't get more of him. (For those wondering if he had a connection to the famous Huston acting-directing dynasty, he is Tony Huston's son. Tony wrote The Dead. This also makes him John's grandson and Anjelica's nephew.)


Van Alden's spiral (and Shannon's tour de force) continues as he shows up at a speakeasy, not to raid it, but to be a customer. You can feel his unease as he approaches the bartender who asks what he can get him. He orders a whiskey and downs it with a followup order of "Again." As he gets his second glass, he spots Lucy Danziger sitting alone across the room. With trepidation, he approaches her and asks if he can join her. "Sure. Why not?" He offers her a cigarette, which she takes and he lights. "What's your name, handsome?" she asks. "Nelson." She asks Nelson to buy her another drink.

Nucky and Jimmy arrive at Chalky's where Lansky, Matteo and Sixtus now sit bound on the floor while Mickey leans against a post. Nucky pulls Chalky over to ask him what happened. The idea was to get as many of them in the same place as once as they could. There are still four other brothers, not to mention Luciano out there. Chalky wants to know why he didn't tell him that they were the ones who lynched his driver. Nucky says they hadn't confirmed that until now, but Chalky says it didn't take him long to confirm. Lansky asks Nucky if he could speak to him for a moment. He tells him that even though he's not that familiar with him, if he lets him go, he's certain he could talk Rothstein into an accommodation. Nucky says Rothstein has made his bed. "And you fellas can die in it," Jimmy adds. Tough talk when he ain't in the room, Sixtus mumbles under his breath. Jimmy asks him what he said. "Thought you heard me. I said you, Mr. Thompson and this coon here could all go fuck each other," Sixtus barks. Jimmy pulls out his gun. "Tough guy. You gonna shoot me for mouthin' off?" Sixtus asks defiantly. "I wasn't going to," Jimmy says, "but you kinda talked me into it" before unloading one into his head, blood and brain splattering on his crying brother Matteo's face. One of Chalky's men asks what to do with the body and Chalky says to leave him out by the dock with the other garbage. This sets Matteo off who tells Chalky, "When my brothers come back, they're gonna string you up higher than they did that other coon." Chalky picks Matteo up off the floor and shoves him against a post and proceeds to choke the life right out of him until he falls limp to the floor. With two of his compatriots dead, Lansky looks even more nervous. Nucky approaches him and unties him. "You can go now and please tell Mr. Rothstein what you saw here tonight." We only saw Leo and Ignatius sign life insurance policies with Rothstein but at the last meeting in New York, Sixtus and Matteo were both there, so I bet Rothstein made them sign policies as well. I wonder if he did and he just got $1 million richer, provided they find corpses.

Van Alden and Lucy have ended up back in his hotel room where she's riding on top of the agent quite energetically. He turns her around and starts vigorously taking her from behind, presumably to hide the scars of his self-flagellation. After he finishes, he crumples up in the corner of the bed, clutching his stomach as if he's about to throw up.

After his busy night, Nucky returns to Margaret's house late and is surprised to find she's lying in bed, still awake. He says election business kept him away. She doesn't comment on what's on her mind. She does climb out of bed and just stares at herself in the mirror as if she's suddenly uncertain about everything in her world.


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