Monday, November 01, 2010


Boardwalk Empire No. 7: Home

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

By Edward Copeland
Believe it or not, as we reach the seventh episode of Boardwalk Empire's 12-episode season, I have seen the opening credit sequence for the very first time. The music seems an odd choice, given that the series takes great pains to use period music elsewhere. I digress. On the episode itself, "Home," most of the characters are choosing either to follow or go against their instincts or whether or not to share secrets. Thematically, it's a fine idea, but except for a very nice storyline involving a burgeoning friendship between Jimmy and a disfigured World War I vet, I found this to be the series' most disjointed episode and a real disappointment after a several episode run that raised it to a new level of excellence.

Though Boardwalk Empire ostensibly is set in Atlantic City, it seems as if more often than not, we begin most episodes in the Windy City and "Home" is no exception. We see Liam, a survivor of the late Greektown boss Sheridan's crew and the man who scarred the poor Pearl, sitting down at a diner for his usual breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs. A cop sitting at the counter notices him and goes to make a phone call. On the other end of the call is Capone who tells the officer that he's a credit to the force. Jimmy, currently suffering from intense leg pain from his war injury, is stretched out on a couch in an adjoining room wishing that the doctors had just amputated the limb during his military service. "Should have let 'em cut it off," he moans to Capone when Al comes in and opens the curtains and brings him the good news, that his cop has learned that the man who sliced up Pearl takes his meals at a place on the north side and seems to be a creature of habit when it comes time to have breakfast. Jimmy's pain prevents him from registering much emotion at the news at locating the man who ultimately led to Pearl's suicide.

Given the luxury in which Nucky Thompson always surrounds himself, even though we've caught a glimpse of the humbler dwelling that his sheriff brother Eli and his family resides, it's quite shocking to see the squalor that the viewer finds the hateful Thompson patriarch Ethan in. You'd suspect the good Catholic boy would take care of his father, but Ethan's shuffling around an absolute disaster of a kitchen, fighting with the cats that seem to have overrun the place. "Get back you little son of a bitch," Ethan shouts at one of the felines. "Don't make me use this," he adds, brandishing a fireplace poker. The armchair psychologists in all of us can already start to analyze some of what goes on inside Nucky's head when we see this. He will spend untold amounts of money putting up a woman he hardly knows and her two children in plush surroundings but he lets his elderly father exist in the filth here. Ethan's footing finally gives way and he takes a bad tumble and hits the kitchen floor hard in what appears to be a particularly bad injury to his leg. The old man yells out for help, but of course no one is there to hear his cries. Tom Aldredge, the great stage actor who could get grumpy as Carmela's dad Hugh on The Sopranos, is turning out to be a real S.O.B. here.

Jimmy ventures to the local veterans' hospital to check in to what is causing the sudden leg pain. The doctor can't find anything, complimenting the fine job previous surgeons have done on his leg. This doesn't please Jimmy who wants to know why it's suddenly causing him so much distress. The doctor suggests that the screws in the femur could be a problem and Jimmy jokes, "So you're saying I've got a screw loose" but the doctor doesn't get it. Nerve damage also is postulated, but the doctor seems more interested in other matters, asking how Jimmy's been sleeping and where he works. (Jimmy lies and says Bell Telephone.) The doctor says another doctor has developed a test for all who served in the war and that it might prove helpful for both Jimmy and the nation. He calls it a "personal inventory." Jimmy agrees to take the test as he spots a poster and repeats its slogan: SET A HIGH STANDARD FOR A CLEAN AMERICA. Jimmy also notices another veteran who appears to have lost most of the right side of his face in the war sitting on another cot. His right eye is gone as well as most of the face below it while a tin face mask sits on the cot beside him.

Nucky arrives at his father's house to find Eli and Deputy Halloran helping Ethan on to a stretcher. The old man upon seeing Nucky's arrival spits out something to the effect of "Look who decided to show up." Nucky tells his father he got there as soon as he heard. Eli says he phoned his office but they said he was with his lady friend. "Lady friend?" Ethan coughs. "Who's that? Mabel?" "Mabel was my wife, dad," Nucky responds. "You know that." Halloran removes Ethan from the scene and Eli promises his father that he'll see him at the hospital. Eli immediately begins grilling Nucky about the wisdom of dating Margaret Schroeder, who became a widow under "pretty tragic circumstances." Nucky assures his brother that she doesn't know anything and she never will. Taking in the disarray around him, Nucky says he should check and see if there's a spot in a nursing home for Ethan. "You can't do that," Eli protests. Nucky asks if he's supposed to cough up money for a private nurse for him. Eli volunteers to take him in. Nucky asks about Eli's kids, but Eli insists his kids love Ethan, though given his own childhood experiences with the man, Nucky finds that hard to believe, something that goes unsaid but is expressed purely through Buscemi's facial expressions which have exhibited discomfort from the moment he stepped back into the house where he grew up. "Suppose it is time to sell it," Eli offers. Nucky says he's thought of fixing it up before, but he's got a better idea. Ward Boss Damian Flemming has just had another child and will likely have more, so he'll just give it to him as long as he fixes the place up himself. "Let some decent family make a home of this shitpile," Nucky says. Then he spots a toaster on the window ledge. "Cost me $9 and he never plugged it in."

We find Chalky comparing two different whiskey labels and he's not happy. They don't even stick, he complains to his underling. The man who made the labels has offered to knock $50 off his price, his associate informs Chalky. "I don't care if he pays me. I can't use this shit," Chalky declares. At that moment, there's some rapping at his front door accompanied by a voice asking for Chalky White. They let the short white man in the cap in cautiously, making sure to give him a search. The man says he comes from the boro of Manhattan in New York and asks if this is indeed the Chalky White he's heard so much about. Chalky says he is and asks what he wants. The man says his name is Michael Lewis (Anatol Yusef) and he has a business proposition. He gives Chalky a story about if a man went into Gimbel's and purchased a coat, it would set him back nearly $13. Chalky says he's not in the clothing business. Lewis says he understands, but he would be interested in acquiring 1,000 cases of what he does sell. "Cut out the middleman," Chalky smirks. He asks if he may approach. "You may stay where the fuck you standin,'" Chalky says, adding, "Your momma know you out wearing your daddy's Sunday suit?" Lewis says she does not and she also doesn't know about this and passes Chalky's way $10,000 in cash. Chalky returns the money and relays the message, "You tell Nucky Thompson it's going to take a lot more than $10,000 to get me to fuck him over." Lewis says you can't blame a guy for trying and exits the establishment.

Nucky invites Damian Flemming (Victor Verhaeghe) to his office to offer him the gift of his childhood home, but before Nucky can deliver the good news the meeting is interrupted by a despondent Lucy, wondering why he won't return her calls. Thompson tries to get her out of there quickly, promising her that they'll talk about this later but Lucy wants to know what Margaret has that she doesn't have. "She's a fucking shop girl." Lucy tells Nucky she wants to go the pictures, that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde just opened. Again, Nucky reassures her that they'll talk later and Eddie steers her from the room. Thompson returns his attention to Fleming and apologizes for the disruption. After some brief small talk about Fleming's growing family and how cramped his place must be, Nucky makes the offer. He tells Damian he should take his father's house. Flemming says that would be great, but he couldn't afford that. Nucky says he's not asking him to buy it, it can be his. All he has to do is fix it up. An overwhelmed Fleming tells his unofficial boss that he doesn't know what to say. "How about thank you?"

Lucy and Eli aren't the only ones questioning what Nucky is doing with Margaret, Margaret herself confides to her new neighbor and friend Annabelle that she doesn't know what Nucky wants from her. Annabelle makes a gesture toward the bedroom, but Margaret says, "Besides that." Annabelle turns the question around and tells Margaret that the more important thing is what she wants from him, but Margaret isn't sure about that either. "He won't marry you," Annabelle tells Margaret. Margaret says she doesn't expect him to. She just wants some certainty. "I've been with Harry three years now," Annabelle tells Margaret, "and the only certainty I've got is stashed under a floorboard in her bedroom. $4000 worth of certainty." Margaret mistakes this to think that Harry pays her, but Annabelle corrects her misunderstanding, telling her that rich men tend to be careless with their money and she grabs loose bills here and there. Margaret admits that she doesn't think Nucky is over his wife. Annabelle asks if he's said anything, but Margaret says no, it's just a feeling she gets. Margaret's new friend tells her that she learned, not from Harry, but her previous lover, that it's best to let them keep their secrets to themselves.

Mickey Doyle and the various D'Alessio brothers are sitting around playing cards when they get two unexpected visitors: Lucky Luciano and his friend Meyer Lansky, whom we met earlier passing himself off as "Michael Lewis" to Chalky. Lucky gets introduced to Mickey and one of the D'Alessio's tells him in Italian that if Mickey didn't owe them money, they'd slit his throat. Luciano tells Doyle that he told him that Mickey is a real swell guy. Lucky asks the brothers how many times they think they can knock over Thompson's bagmen until Nucky bites back. The brothers brag that it was easy pickings and they picked up three grand to get them started toward the alcohol business. Lucky informs them that they owe Arnold Rothstein for the privilege of their moneymaking operation. Leo D'Alessio asks when Rothstein had any say in what happens in Atlantic City. Is Luciano really implying that Rothstein is willing to back them? Lucky says that he is, if they prove they are capable, and asks if they've heard of Lolly Steinman's. One of the brothers thinks it's a bakery, but Luciano corrects him that it's one of Nucky's casino and when they cash out on the weekend they usually have about $150,000 in cash. Rob that and perhaps they can go into business together.

An FBI agent calls in Agent Van Alden to speak to a young man who has been arrested in an armed robbery. Van Alden asks what that could have to do with him and the other fed said the man got so scared of the possibility of prison time, citing a sick mother, he asked for someone from Atlantic City, saying he had a story to tell. Van Alden and Agent Sebso enter a room and meet a nervous young man with blond hair named Billy Winslow (Chase Coleman), the man who served as the decoy with the overturned car when Capone and Jimmy robbed the booze shipment. Winslow asks if Van Alden can help him and the Internal Revenue agent tells him that if he agrees to testify, he'll use his influence the best he can, but he'll need to know the names. Winslow tells Van Alden he had no parts in the killings and they weren't supposed to happen and when Van Alden asks why they did, Billy says he'd have to ask Jimmy Darmody or the other guy whose name was Al. Van Alden's face breaks into a wide grin.

As Jimmy sits on a bench reading at the veterans' hospital, awaiting his turn at taking the "personal inventory" test, the disfigured veteran he spotted before passes him and takes a seat on another bench. The man (Jack Huston) asks Jimmy if he likes to read. Darmody looks up from his book and says he does, but it's a "bunch of malarkey" holding up The Tin Soldier by Temple Bailey. Jimmy asks the man if he'd like a smoke, but he says that isn't possible, pointing to his face mask. Jimmy gets up and joins the man on his bench, introducing himself and learning the man's name is Richard Harrow. Harrow holds up Tom Swift, which he said his sister sent him. He used to enjoy fiction, he tells Jimmy, until it occurred to him that fiction is all about people having a connection to others, which they really don't. Jimmy doesn't disagree. He asks Richard if he's hanging around to take the crazy test too and Richard says he is and that it really is for them to get inside their heads so they'll know how to make them fight better for the next war. Jimmy tells him just to lie, but Richard says he finds it hard to do. Richard then unzips the bag he's carrying, revealing a German marksman's mask. He says he gets nervous if he's away from it for too long. Harrow waited in a blind for three days for the German to lift his mask and when he finally did, he squeezed off a shot and hit him one inch below his left eye. Harrow was an expert sniper during the war. When a nurse calls Jimmy's name, he says that he left. A couple of names later, she calls for Harrow, but Jimmy holds him back and says he left too and tells Richard that he should give lying a try now. Harrow passes the test and the two new friends leave the hospital together. Michael Pitt, who has grown more assured as Jimmy with each episode of Boardwalk Empire, and Huston really provide the most compelling points in this otherwise herky-jerky episode. While some twists prove interesting, even insightful, the rhythm of this installment seems really off except for the scenes between Jimmy and Richard. Granted, this is an ensemble series juggling many characters and stories, but I found myself wishing they'd spent the entire hour on Jimmy and Richard.

While Jimmy's instincts were correct to suspect that Angela was engaging in some hanky panky with a proprietor of the photo shop, it turns out he suspected the wrong one as we find out that it isn't the Dittrich husband that she's sleeping with, but the wife, Mary. I guess Jimmy might be Tommy's dad after all. However, the scene contains some dialogue that makes me think that either I wasn't paying close enough attention to something or that a crucial part got cut. Angela makes allusions to Nucky having spotted them, though Mary assures her that he doesn't suspect anything. Angela reminds her that Nucky Thompson didn't get where he is by being naive and she needs his money to keep taking care of her. Is Nucky giving her money because he told Jimmy to get out of town or was there an arrangement prior to that that we aren't aware of? Angela also expresses surprise that she hasn't received anything from Jimmy, at least for Tommy, though we saw him sending her cash from Chicago in a previous episode. Did someone intercept the letter? It really plays into the strange feeling of most of this episode, as if this sequence had just been shoe-horned in and had been intended for another episode.

As the renovation of his childhood home for the Flemmings moves along (rather quickly, I might add), Nucky takes Margaret and her children on a visit to the place to show them where he used to live. Lots of discarded things are strewn across the front yard and Nucky notices that part of it, burning in a trash can under his father's orders, includes his award as a member of the Junior Beach Patrol. The house looks like a different place from the earlier scenes, so much so that Margaret says that it looks cozy. Nucky says it does now, but it was a mess before. He comments about how much smaller it seems to him now. "Well, you were smaller then," Margaret reminds him. Nucky, unprompted, mentions how his father now is a frail, litle man but when he was growing up, he was the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk. Thompson grabs the fireplace poker and tells her the story of how on his 9th birthday, his father struck his hand with it, when it was hot, because he'd reached for a piece of bread and Ethan wanted to remind him that no one ate before he did. "I'm no stranger to a man's cruelty," Margaret tells him. "Sometimes it's best to leave the past where it is."

Jimmy takes Richard to his place of residence, which is of course Torrio's whorehouse, a fact that Harrow recognizes immediately. They grab seats at the bar and Jimmy orders up two bourbons "the real stuff" but sees the problem Richard has with drinking given the mask that covers half his face to create the illusion of a complete visage so he has the bartender fetch a straw from behind the bar. They drink a toast to "the lost." Even with the straw, the drink is a bit of a struggle. Harrow correctly gueses that Jimmy is packing a gun beneath his suit. Jimmy confirms that it's a Colt. Richard says he has that and lists several firearms he owns, so many that it almost amounts to a personal arsenal, and it includes a rifle with a scope good for hitting targets at 800 yards. He asks Jimmy what he uses his gun for. "What do you think I use it for>" "Use it to kill people. It is very good for that." Jimmy calls one of the girls, Odette over. He tells her that Richard is a war hero and he wants her to show him the proper respect. "You're a patriot, right?" Richard turns so that Odette can see his complete face. "I'll be anything you want me to be." Jimmy whispers something in her ear and then she takes Richard's hand and leads him to the upstair rooms, promising him a different sort of parade.

Nucky takes Margaret on a double date with Harry Price (Michael Badalucco) and Annabelle to Chalky's night club. Chalky drops by the table and totally confuses Thompson by saying he passed his test with the little guy he sent in to try to get him to betray him. Nucky looks dumbfounded, but Chalky just says something to the effect of "so that's the way it's going to be." Annabelle and Margaret return from the powder room and Margaret asks what they've been talking about and Annabelle guesses, "What else? Business." Nucky adds that there's also politics. Harry also says that you can get him on the subject of baseball. Nucky mentions that when he was a boy, he had a prized catcher's mitt signed by a big baseball star of the time. Harry and Annabelle hit the dance floor and Margaret says they make an unusual couple and Nucky says so did Annabelle and her last guy. Margaret asks if he still has the catcher's mitt, but Nucky says no, and doesn't seem interested in going into the details any further beyond saying it was stolen.

The Commodore, Nucky's mentor and surrogate father, isn't in the best of health. His all-purpose housekeeper Louanne (Johnnie Mae) keeps trying to get him to eat, but he inevitably gives his meal to the dog. She tells him the doctor says he has to eat that he really hasn't had a good meal in three months, but he waves off the suggestion of the doctor saying that he's dying. He asks if Nucky has come by with his envelope and Louanne tells him that one of his assistants left it for him, which seems to displease the Commodore. "I put the son of a bitch where he is and he put me in jail," he groans. Louanne gives him some sort of mixture that had been ordered by the doctor, which the Commodore grimaces as being awful after he takes it down. He then gets up and rushes as fast as he can to the spitoon to vomit it all up.

Nucky dines with the entire Schroeder family at their new residence, entertaining the children with a poem about the perils of food and drink. Both children ask to be excused and Margaret tells Nucky she's sorry about earlier in the day about cutting him off about his father. She fears that she was the victim of some bad advice and since they are intimate she wants him to feel free to be able to confide in her. Nucky relaxes and tells her the truth about the catcher's mitt. It seems that after the other boys stole it, his father forced him to go fight them for it. He was beaten so badly that he ended up spending 11 days in the hospital. The phone rings, luring the children back into the dining room. It seems the renovations are complete and Nucky asks if they'd like to go see them. Margaret says she needs to put Emily down for a nap but Teddy says he wants to go with Mr. Thompson, who insists the boy call him Uncle Nucky.

Jimmy is sitting at the counter at that joint on the north side when Liam sits down at his usual spot. Jimmy goes to his table and tells Liam to put his hands on the table and to relax, he's not going to kill him. The nervous Liam tells him he was just doing what Sheridan told him to do. Jimmy asks if Liam served in the war, but Liam tells him rheumatic fever kept him out. Jimmy tells him of his three years of fighting, describing them as a living, waking nightmare. After he felt he'd freaked Liam out enough, Jimmy gets up to leave, telling Liam he doesn't ever want to see him again and pats him on the shoulder, causing Liam to practically jump out of his chair. Liam still can hardly breathe when a waiter's water pitcher suddenly shatters, he looks around and you can see that a shot has pierced Liam one inch below his left eye. In a nice shot, the camera follows the track through the bullethole in the window across the street to where Richard is packing up his sniper's rifle as organ music plays, presumably accompanying the silent version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring John Barrymore that Lucy is watching in Atlantic City alone.

Nucky gets an unpleasant surprise at his renovated childhood home when he finds Eli wheeling Ethan around the kitchen. The father and son get into again almost immediately. As Eli quickly wheels his father toward the exit, Ethan uses the poker to stop at the hallway and tells Nucky, "You may think you're king, but you're not worth a goddamn." Nucky notices Teddy playing with a can of flammable material and takes it away from him and tells him to go wait in the car. He splashes the liquid around the kitchen and strikes a match against the doorway and watches as the kitchen is engulfed in flames. He goes outside and watches his childhood home burn. Flemming drives up, shocked, because Nucky had called him to tell him the house was finished. He asks if the fire department has been called but Nucky just reaches into his suit and hands Damian a wad of cash and tells him to find a better house. Flemming just stares in disbelief. Thompson climbs back into his Rolls and as it drives away, Teddy stares out the back window at the blaze, transfixed. I wish I could say as much for this episode which for me was the most disappointing in the show's run so far, especially after the run of the past few truly great episodes.

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