Monday, December 06, 2010


Boardwalk Empire No. 12: A Return to Normalcy

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

By Edward Copeland
As the season draws to a close for Boardwalk Empire, it's also the witching hour, with Halloween on many minds but the impending election on most of the rest, especially Nucky Thompson, who for the first time sees the possibility of his Republican machine facing defeat at the polls. It also contains some of the series' quietest, most emotionally wrenching scenes of the entire season.

After Agent Van Alden drowned the on-the-take Agent Sebso in the last episode in front of an entire church congregation, I did wonder how the hell they were going to get him out of that wrinkle. As the season finale opens, Van Alden, with Supervisor Elliott present, is addressing a room full of potential replacements for himself in Atlantic City. He tells the agents the story of St. Augustine and Carthage-By-the-Sea, a place full of vice whose temptations St. Augustine finally succumbed to and he refers to Atlantic City as the grandchild of "that vanished metropolis." He warns the potential recruits that should they replace him there they will be bribed, coerced and tempted on a daily basis. One of the possible new recruit jokes, "Bring on the dancing girls" and receives a hard slap across the face from Nelson who tells the men that his partner, who finally gets a first name (Eric) died in the line of duty of a heart attack and he won't have his memory sullied with infantile humor. The applicants leave and Elliott tries to get Van Alden to change his mind, but Nelson says that there is nothing here for him. Perhaps Michael Shannon's role was only meant to be for a single season, and if so, boy did he do a great job.

Nucky gathers his ward bosses, Bader and Chalky and puts them in panic mode over a newspaper headline that says that the Democratic mayoral candidate, Fletcher, seems poised for victory. They discuss getting voters to drink and then vote, to vote in multiple wards, that dumping Eli was a mistake, even that they've been combing obits so the dead can rise again to cast their ballot. Ward Boss Flemming pisses Chalky off by saying they need to make sure to get the "spooks" out. Bader continues to joke and Nucky tells him he hopes that he's that amusing in his concession speech. Then Chalky, takes Thompson aside, indicating they need to talk and the office clears out. Chalky tells him that Fletcher and the other Democrats have been painting a rosy picture of how it's going to be should they win and, being the savvy businessman that he is, Chalky has been taking their money though he'd like to see some gratitude for his continued loyalty from Thompson in exchange for keeping his people with the Republicans. Nucky accuses Chalky of trying to put the bite on him every election but Chalky reminds him of the big difference this time: He could lose. Nucky asks what Chalky's price is and it amounts to $10,000, a new car and an invitation to the victory party. Thompson only hedges on the party, but Chalky seems to indicate it's a dealbreaker if he wants 100% of the black vote.

Margaret and the children, after they left the home Nucky placed them in for whereabouts unknown, have taken up residence with Nan Britton. Margaret has returned to a more downscale form of dress. Nan asks if Margaret has given any thought as to where she'll go after Election Day, because she's certain Warren Harding will send for her and their child as soon as he wins. Nan also asks Margaret if she'll come see them at the White House, but Margaret says nothing and continues working on her special Halloween dessert with skeptical eyes at Nan's naivete.

Nucky, Halloran, Gillian, Jimmy and Dr. Surran are gathered with a much healthier looking Commodore to question Louanne about the poisoning. Surran says the levels were introduced so slowly through his stew, his biscuits, even his toothpaste, that he wouldn't have noticed he was being poisoned at all. After the last episode where it seemed clear that Gillian had been behind the poisoning and Jimmy had convinced her to stop it, Louanne seems more than willing to take credit for the crime. When asked why she poisoned him, the maid said that if she had used a shotgun, she'd been the one who would have had to clean up the mess. The Commodore cusses her out and says he can't believe it after all he did for her. The Commodore asks Halloran if he's going to arrest her or what and Nucky steps in and says no, he's not. He takes Louanne aside and tells her he understands why she'd want to do it, but she can't go around poisoning people. He then gives her cash and tells her to change her name and go far away and don't come back. The Commodore demands to know what the hell Nucky is doing. Louanne tells Nucky, "God bless you" and warns him to be careful before handing him a Bible with a certain page marked that Nucky takes a particular interest in. The Commodore yells that she tried to kill him, but Thompson isn't listening.

Could the gang war be nearing an end thanks to the Black Sox scandal? On a rainy New York street, Rothstein informs Lansky and Luciano that he's booked passage for he and his wife to Scotland should an indictment come down and if it does, he'll tell them how to get in touch with him through his attorney. They ask if there isn't someone in Chicago whose palm he can grease to save his hide, but he reminds them that this is the World Series and he's a pariah. Lucky suggests that he go to Johnny Torrio, but Rothstein thinks he's too new and doesn't have the political connections. They then suggest that Torrio could connect him with Nucky. Rothstein asks if he needs to remind them that he and Thompson are not on the best of terms. Lansky says that this war isn't going anywhere and he and Luciano had been talking and perhaps it's time to cut their losses. Lucky mentions the mistake of getting involved with "those greaseballs" the D'Alessios which Rothstein agrees was not one of his better suggestions. Rothstein still sounds skeptical as he gets into his car, asking when he started paying them for their advice. Luciano replies that the advice is free: He pays them to get their hands dirty.

Jimmy returns home to find Tommy dressed for Halloween. He asks his son what he's dressed as, but it takes several tries to get the boy to give his father the obvious answer of pirate. Angela asks Jimmy if he's going to have dinner there that night. He's noncommittal. She asks him how long these silences are going to go on and he complains that Tommy has become disrespectful of him. She says it's because he's frightened of Jimmy; they both are and she tells him that it happened again last night where he started screaming in German in his sleep and shaking her. In one of Michael Pitt's best scenes of the entire series, he finally comes clean about his post-traumatic stress, telling Angela that he never wrote her from the war because he was convinced that he'd never come back. He then says that they both made mistakes and strayed when they were apart and they should try to start over again and they share a warm embrace.

Margaret and Nan follow the procession through the cemetery for the All Hallow's Eve service. Nan asks who and what Margaret prays for and Margaret says it's mostly for her children and the people she's lost as well as her own sins. As the walk goes on, a tombstone stops Margaret cold. It marks the grave for Nucky's late wife Mabel who died in 1913 and the son he mentioned to Nan in Chicago, Enoch Jr., who died in 1912, whom Margaret never knew about. The never-too-quick-on-the-draw Nan points out that Margaret and Nucky had that in common and the look on Kelly Macdonald's face says it all as she understands her own appeal to Nucky in a way that she didn't before. Torrio calls Nucky to set up a business meeting for the next day, reassuring him it's not a setup and he's taking an overnight train. Nucky has qualms, but he's in a hurry to get to a Halloween party when Eddie announces someone to see him and it's Margaret. What follows is not only the best Nucky-Margaret scene of the entire season, it's also the best scene Steve Buscemi has been given to play as Nucky. Macdonald has had so many great ones that there are too many to count by now, so I can't say if it's Macdonald bringing this out of Buscemi or not. Either way, both take your breath away in one of the show's quietest, most touching scenes. Things start out tense as the ex-lovers question what costumes each are wearing that evening, then Margaret mentions that when he first met her she was pregnant and then she lost the baby. He lost a child as well when he was 6 days old. Thompson thinks that Margaret is trying to play some kind of game where he tells her his sorrows, she pretends to be sympathetic and they end up in bed, but Margaret assures him that's not how this will play out. She came to find out who Enoch Thompson really is. Margaret takes a seat on the couch and, with a heavy sigh, Nucky begins his tale. Seven years ago, nearly eight, he had just begun his job as county treasurer. He was very busy, learning the way things ran. His wife Mabel had just given birth to their son, Enoch Jr. (her idea, not his). Nucky joins Margaret on the couch and describes his son to her: tiny, frail. So much so that Thompson was terrified to hold him. A week passed and he was wrapped up with a county audit or some business and he came home, very late, to find Mabel rocking the baby in her arms in the nursery. Mabel's calm and contented look finally gave Nucky the courage to want to hold his infant son. When he pulled back the blanket and looked at his face, Nucky could tell the child had been dead for days, yet Mabel had still been caring for him, bathing him, changing his diapers, etc. Nucky took him from her and cradled him in his arms. It was the only time he held his son. They buried the boy, but Mabel couldn't accept it. Everyone told him that eventually she would get over it, but Nucky could tell she'd broken with reality and since the doctors said time heals all wounds, he kept busy at work. A few weeks later, she took Nucky's razor and slashed her wrists. Nucky tells Margaret that the times eating breakfast with her and her children in the house, he'd never been happier or more terrified. Now, he tells Margaret as she's still wiping away tears, she knows more about Nucky Thompson than anyone else in the world. He asks if she's going to leave Atlantic City, and Margaret says she thinks it's for the best. He tries to give her money, but she won't take it. She tells him that there's a kindness in him and that's why she can't understand how he can do the things he does. "We all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with," Nucky tells her. They address each other as Mr. Thompson and Mrs. Schroeder and Margaret says she's pleased to have finally made his acquaintance before turning and leaving. It's a good thing I was watching on tape, because I had to take a breather after that scene.

Van Alden goes home to his wife Rose with the news that he'd busted a still near where Sebso died and Elliott offered him a permanent assignment in Atlantic City with a raise in pay and additional agents. She's shocked when he tells her he turned it down because his Uncle Byron had offered him a chance to become a full partner in his seed business. Rose says she likes being the wife of a federal agent. The ever prickly Nelson asks her if that is what matters to her, her vanity about what her friends think. Van Alden tells her that he's felt increasingly unfulfilled in his job, especially these last few months and unless God gives him a sign, he's not changing his mind.

Angela brings home groceries and the mail and finds a postcard of the Eiffel Tower from Mary asking her to forgive her.

On an isolated road, the meet begins. Nucky and Jimmy arrive to find Torrio and Capone as well as Rothstein and Luciano. Torrio says that in a business such as theirs, they have to look to the future and let go of the past. He says Rothstein is the one who reached out. Since he has his own troubles, instead of letting this war drag on forever, let's end it because Rothstein needs Nucky's political connections to avoid an indictment. Nucky names his price: $1 million and the location of the remaining D'Alessio brothers. Rothstein agrees and Luciano tells Jimmy and Capone where to find the missing brothers. Rothstein calls any past transgressions business or personal hererby nullified. Nucky tells Eddie to call a press conference.

While Nucky gives the press conference crediting Eli's work in linking the D'Alessios to the massacre in the woods under their leader Hans Schroeder, Richard, Capone and Jimmy make the rounds executing the remaining D'Alessios.

Nucky hits the Boardwalk in campaign mode where he spots Margaret, but says nothing.

Angela surprises Jimmy with a new hairdo and tells him that his father called and wants to see him.

Everyone gathers in Nucky's office to await election returns. While there, Eddie delivers the news from Chicago that Rothstein has escaped indictment. Eli still is pissed off, though Nucky gave him a cut of the Rothstein money and tells him he's going to make it up to him. Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague even pays a visit. The results come in and Bader wins. His first act is to accept Halloran's resignation and re-appoint Eli as sheriff of Atlantic County. A drunk Jimmy asks Paddy Ryan, who got the clerk appointment in the very first episode that Jimmy felt that he was owed, if Nucky pimped out his mom as well. Jimmy gives it to Nucky for using anybody, anytime to get what he wants. Nucky says his mom was an orphan and the Commodore took good care of her. Jimmy accuses Nucky of sending him to Princeton out of guilt over the whole seedy affair. Nucky asks Jimmy to do himself a favor and go home and sober up. Jimmy asks Nuck to do him a favor: "Stop acting like you give a shit."

As Van Alden packs up his things, he gets a sign from God, but it certainly isn't one he sought. It's Lucy Danziger, who first asks if he's a postman, then informs him that he knocked her up during their one night of rough sex.

At the Commodore's, he has an owl in a cage as Gillian gives him milk. The Commodore wants booze, which Gillian says no to, but Jimmy slips him some. The Commodore explains to Jimmy that Woodrow Wilson is the reason he got convicted, but Nucky is why he went to jail. There was an election rigging scandal, but they couldn't get them both, so they made a deal for the Commodore to take the fall, Wilson to get his headline and Nucky to take over. The Commodore tells his son he knows why he brought him back from Chicago: to do what he doesn't have the stomach for. The Commodore tells Jimmy that he's going to take back Atlantic City for both of them. Jimmy asks how that is supposed to work, but they are interrupted by another arrival: Eli. Eli asks if he's told Jimmy what they discussed yet and the Commodore says he was just getting to that.

Eddie Cantor entertains at the election party at Babette's. George Baxter, the cutlery salesman from the second episode who ran into the surviving massacre victim while getting a hand job, shows up with Annabelle on his arm. It doesn't take her long to hook a new man to keep her in her preferred lifestyle. Also turning up at the party, to the delight of Nucky, decked out for dancing and fun is Margaret. She even asks Nucky to get her some champagne. He asks how the children are and she says they miss their Uncle Nucky. The radio announces that Harding is the next president. He gives a speech promising a return to "normalcy."

As Cantor performs again, we get a season-ending montage (the lyrics it's a problem that driven many a brainy man to drink finds Van Alden praying to his Bible); Jimmy, Eli and the Commodore plot; Gillian sits alone and smokes, looking contemplative. Did Louanne take the fall for her?; some bootlegging goes on, ending in violence, thanks to what appears to be Luciano and Lansky stepping out on their own; Chalky gets his place at the bar at Babette's; Nan stares at a ring she found in her dessert; Rothstein moves his bags out; two of Nucky's men count Rothstein's million dollars in cash; Angela sits at the table and stares; Jimmy takes a walk on the beach. We return to Cantor at the club. The partygoers stumble out at dawn, including Nucky and Margaret once again arm in arm as they look out at the ocean as Cantor sings, "Life's a very funny proposition after all."

Tuesday, I'll review the season in more detail. I do have one question: What did they do with Mickey Doyle?

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