Sunday, November 06, 2011

 

Boardwalk Empire No. 19: Peg of Old

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


By Edward Copeland
Forgive me, Charles Dickens: It was the best of Boardwalk Empire, it was the worst of Boardwalk Empire. That's something for me to write, since it's rare to see the worst. Toward the beginning of tonight's episode, a development occurs that shows real signs of promise, not only in terms of storytelling intrigue but in finally — seven episodes into the second season of Boardwalk Empire — finding a way to reintegrate Agent Van Alden closer to the main plot lines and, more importantly, giving us the first chance in a very long time to see Steve Buscemi and Michael Shannon act in a scene together. There also are, as always, some stellar scenes. Unfortunately, these constitute a very small portion of the most disjointed episode of the second season. When I review movies, a general rule of thumb is that the more writers receive credit for a screenplay, the more likely it is that the movie will end up being a mess. I imagine the same holds true for teleplays. Usually many on a show's writing staff contribute to every episode, but, for the most part, only one writer, occasionally two, get the "written by" credit (Don't pay attention to what it says on IMDb, especially if it has staff writer italicized after their name — go by what's on the screen). "Peg of Old" lists Howard Korder & Steve Kornacki & Bathsheba Doran as the writers of this episode and while I looked through HBO GO at past episodes that co-executive producer Korder, co-producer and story editor Kornacki and new staff writer Doran wrote, I found no instance where any of the three wrote an episode with a partner. I can't be 100% certain that's why "Peg of Old" ends up feeling as if it were sewn together from various parts, but no other installment this season felt so piecemeal to me. I don't think you can blame the director: He had to make do with what he was given and Allen Coulter has proved how great he can be in the past when he helmed last season's "Paris Green," many classic episodes of The Sopranos including "College," "The Knight in White Satin Armor" and "Irregular Around the Margins" as well as the underrated feature film Hollywoodland. Coulter also does try to make the visuals as interesting as possible even when the content sags. An interesting coincidence about "Peg of Old" stems from its status as the season's seventh episode. In the first season, the episode I disliked the most (even calling it disjointed) also happened to be the seventh episode, "Home," which, despite its flaws, introduced the marvelous Richard Harrow character. Maybe seven isn't such a lucky number, at least as far as Boardwalk Empire goes. Poor Allen Coulter directed that episode as well. It's a shame about tonight, because when "Peg of Old" gets going with a run of several consecutive scenes where Boardwalk Empire comes off as its usual, riveting self, you get hopeful that perhaps just the beginning was off. Unfortunately, it goes off track again with scenes that feel repetitive, unnecessary or of little interest. I've included more criticism in this recap than any other this season. Those comments appear in italics.


As the episode opens, it appears that Nucky has been granted the wish he asked for at Mayor Bader's birthday party — Jack Dempsey has been prepping for his upcoming fight against Georges Carpentier to be held July 2 in Jersey City on the beaches of Atlantic City. You'd think he were in a real match as bloody as he makes his sparring partner until the bell rings giving the other guy a break — and the press a chance to hit the champ with some questions. "What do you say to those who say you dodged the draft?" one reporter (David Konig) asks. "I don't say nothin' because nobody ever says that to my face," Dempsey responds. Another reporter (Tony Rossi) reminds Dempsey that Carpentier "is a war hero after all." Dempsey tells the newspaperman that after the fight the other boxer "will wish he had a foxhole to crawl into." The first reporter asks about Carpentier's "secret punch." "What about his secret punch? We hear he has a secret punch?" the member of the Fourth Estate repeats to the heavyweight champ. "That's a lot of hooey. Besides, I've got tricks of my own," Dempsey teases the press, which eats it up. The boxer tells them he's been training with a guy who knocked out Carpentier in Paris. "Hey Doc, bring him out here," Dempsey calls to his manager Jack "Doc" Kearns (Ralph Byers), who enters the ring with someone we haven't seen since season one — none other than midget wrestler Carl Heely (Nic Novicki), only sporting a fake mustache and pretending to be French. "No hitting below zee belt," Carl says. Dempsey excuses himself after tossing some fake punches with Carl, telling the crowd that "a fella's got to get his beauty rest." Once outside the ring, Dempsey asks Nucky how he did. "If you lose the fight, there's always vaudeville," Thompson replies. "I'd take a rotten tomato over a left hook anytime," Dempsey says. "Except there ain't no dough in tomatoes," Kearns reminds his boxer. With Mayor Bader by his side, Nucky asks Dempsey if he could do him a favor. For the first time, they will be broadcasting a fight over the wireless — at $2.50 a head in what I guess you could call the world's first pay-per-hear event — and he'd like Dempsey to promote it some. "Shake some hands, wave to the girls," Nucky suggests. Dempsey agrees as long as Doc Kearns approves. "Considering the good doctor is pocketing 10 percent of the take, I'm sure that he will," Nucky says. "Two bits for each set of ears? That's progress, boys," Kearns laughs. "Gents, gents, one more question," yet another reporter (Thomas Endres) speaks up amongst the crowd. "Save it for next time," Dempsey pleads. "This one's for Nuck. What did you and the attorney general talk about at Seaview Golf Club on Memorial Day?" the reporter asks. "Sand traps — it's a doozy," Nucky replies. "Nothing about your election rigging case?" the reporter follows up. "Show us that hook, Jack," Thompson requests and Dempsey drags the reporter off.

Van Alden returns to the apartment to find records playing and Lucy smoking. He asks where the baby is. Lucy tells him that she finally fell asleep after crying for five hours straight. "Did you feed her?" Nelson questions accusingly. "Of course I did. What do you think I am?" she replies. "I apologize. I have a headache," he responds as he hangs up his hat. Lucy stands and inquires about what Rose has said. "She's gone to visit an aunt in Milwaukee — according to the neighbors," he informs her. "Got a number for this aunt? An address?" Lucy wants to know. "She will not speak to me on the telephone. She will not answer my letters. We're being tested, Rose and I," Nelson declares. "And what about me?" Lucy asks. "I'm sure you're being tested as well in your fashion," he replies. A bit of the old Lucy starts to resurface, some anger growing as she approaches the agent. "I'm talking about our arrangement, Nelson. You owe me money," she tells him. "Yes. I'm sorry. I don't have it," he admits. "You don't have it now or you don't have it at all," Lucy glares as the baby girl can be heard starting to awaken. "You're enjoying the phonograph, aren't you?" Van Alden asks in an attempt to change the subject. Lucy shuts off the music as the baby's crying grows louder as does her voice. "When will you get it?" she demands to know. Nelson looks down the hall and tries to divert Lucy's attention to the child. "I need an answer!" Lucy shouts. "The child — it's an extremely penetrating sound," he says. "Three thousand dollars," Lucy reminds him. "That's a large sum," Nelson admits. "It is to me," Lucy agrees. "Lord knows what I was thinking," he responds, repeatedly looking back toward the wailing infant. "You were conning me?" Lucy accuses. Van Alden shakes his head no before he grabs his hat. "Frankly, it's impossible to concentrate in these conditions," he declares. "We had an agreement," Lucy yells at him as he exits the apartment. "You owe me money! This is your baby, you bought it! She doesn't even have a name!" A male neighbor shouts at her to quiet the baby. "You shut her!" Lucy screams back.

"We gonna start this thing?" Capone asks Jimmy who has gathered the up-and-coming gangsters in the Commodore's great living room. Why should Al Capone be there? As I said early in the season, it would be a lot harder to keep Capone reasonably involved in the ongoing storylines than the New York gangsters such as Rothstein, Luciano and Lansky. I believe I've been proven right since, as great as Stephen Graham is as Capone, this marks only his third appearance this season and we're up to the seventh episode. Characters who don't appear in the opening credits have appeared more often and played more significant roles. More tragically, this scene illustrates many of the problems with this episode. Waiting for the meet to get underway, in addition to Capone, are Lansky, Luciano, Mickey Doyle and Richard. Luciano complains that Manny Horvitz keeps bugging him about the $5,000 he owes him. "You agreed to advance him," Jimmy reminds Lucky. "He had a gun on me," Luciano says. "I'll cover it — as a gesture," Jimmy declares. "It's not a favor," Lucky responds. "We should probably begin," Meyer suggests. "Gentlemen, I want to thank you all for coming. It's hard to believe that a year ago, a year and a half, things have changed so much," Jimmy addresses the guests. "Sure — Meyer started shavin'," Lucky jokes. "Kinda my point. Nucky Thompson, Johnny Torrio, Rothstein, Waxey Gordon — they have problems, they come to us," Jimmy says. Capone gets a strange look when Torrio's name comes up. "Exactly why we don't need 'em," Lucky declares. "Speak for yourself, Salvatore," Al interjects. "What are you — my priest? Back off." Luciano retorts. "Charlie, you need to listen," Lansky advises, displaying that he has indeed learned under the tutelage of Arnold Rothstein. "As of this moment, the Coast Guard in Atlantic City is in my back pocket. That puts all of us in a — " Gillian talks over her son as she brings in Eli and says, "Gentlemen, Sheriff Thompson." Lucky eyes his former lover for the first time in ages. "You started without me?" Eli asks. "How long were we supposed to wait?" Jimmy replies. "Men talk. geisha retires," Gillian announces as she exits, presumably to her listening post. Eli pulls up a chair and Jimmy resumes his speech. "As I was saying, we have special advantages here.…" This scene, which should be a thing of beauty, points out a lot of the problems with this episode. As a general rule, I love when they do long scenes with great dialogue, but most of this nearly four-minute scene sounds pedestrian and repetitive. Aside from Capone, who probably didn't get the full details in his brief visit earlier in the season, Jimmy wastes time telling not only everyone in the room but, more importantly, the audience what we already knew about how the operation should or would work. Inventing verbal conflict between Capone and Luciano also frustrates the viewer since we know that neither will kill the other, being historical figures with set expiration dates. Deadwood fans might have dreamed of someone offing George Hearst, but we knew it couldn't happen. Therefore, manufacturing Capone/Luciano friction proves fruitless since as characters, they come to the show with a certain immortality. The only fresh part of the scene, really, comes from Lansky asking what Jimmy plans for Nucky and while that's news to him, that's another rerun for us, especially when Capone again suggests the idea of killing him and Jimmy nixes it. As Jimmy tries to explain that things work differently in Atlantic City than in Chicago and New York to justify jail for Nucky, the camera zooms in on Eli who says, "Jesus Christ, just kill him." Capone gestures at Eli with a sort of "Isn't that what I said?" shrug. "What? Is he King fucking Neptune? He's creepin' around with lawyers and politicians. All of you in this bullshit pissing match. Put a bullet in his head — get it over with. I'm sick of all this fuckin' nut twistin'," Eli declares. "You and I can talk about it later," Jimmy tells Eli. "Talk about it now, in front of them," Eli insists. "Your thing with him — the political whatchamacallit — I don't see the angle," Capone admits. "You don't live here," Jimmy responds. Now who wants to be half a gangster? "That's right, pal. So it's a long way to come for nothing," Al replies. "Pop him. What's the big deal?" Lucky asks. "He's just another old-timer," Lansky adds. "So's Arnold Rothstein," Jimmy says, anger rising in his voice. "Come to my house, we'll discuss that," Meyer replies. "You would kill your brother?" Richard asks Eli. "No. Someone else will," Eli answers. "I'll call Chicago. We'll get a paisan on the train. He comes up. does the job, he goes home," Al lays out specifics. The camera moves in on Jimmy shaking his head as we hear Luciano say, "We start making some real bill." Capone adds, "Which is what it's all about, ain't it?" Jimmy keeps shaking his head. "You don't like to keep people waitin'," Eli comments. The camera looks at every face in the room before going back to Jimmy. "Make your phone call."

If Agent Nelson Van Alden ever had enough imagination to write his memoirs, he certainly would be able to tell how his time in Atlantic City became more surprising the longer he worked there and as he approached his makeshift office housed within the city's Post Office, he was about to encounter another one. Strangers appear to have overtaken the place, including a woman (Julianne Nicholson) who sits at his desk talking on the phone. "What in damnation is going on here? Where is Agent Sawicki?" Van Alden demands to know. While the new people stare at the booming presence, Sawicki's head pops up behind a piece of furniture in the back. Van Alden stomps his way to him. "Who is this woman at my desk?" he asks Sawicki, "She's on the phone — with the attorney general," Sawicki whispers. Van Alden walks back to the woman who completes her call. "Agent Van Alden I presume. Esther Randolph," she introduces herself, extending her hand. She then points out the rest of her staff — Chief Investigator Clifford Lathrop (Curt Bouril) and her two clerks Pratt (seated) (Bob Braswell) and Halsey (standing) (Thomas Philip O'Neill). "What are you doing here?" Van Alden asks Randolph. "Beg your pardon?" she replies. "That is my station. This is my office," he declares. "The investigation necessitated ad-hoc arrangements," Randolph explains. "Ad hoc?" Shannon delivers the word 'hoc' as if he were about to cough up a sizable piece of phlegm. "I'm the head of prohibition enforcement for this city." Randolph stands her ground, informing Van Alden, "And I am the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Enoch Thompson." Lathrop points out to Nelson where he put the stuff from his desk. "Does the Justice Department not give advance notice?" Nelson inquires. "You and your colleague will practice discretion in regard to what you hear within this room. Do you understand, Agent Van Alden?" Randolph asks. "I took an oath," he replies. "As did I," she says. As Nelson examines his new station, he finds a racist little token. Out of nowhere, Lathrop inquires about the best place to purchase wading boots. "You'll be eaten alive," Van Alden tells them. "In the bay?" Lathrop replies. "By Nucky Thompson. The charges won't stick," Nelson declares. "Your lack of confidence is based upon what?" Randolph asks. "That the scales of justice are weighted down with graft," he proclaims. "My — that is shocking," Randolph responds mockingly. Nelson walks over to the clerks with the racist figurine and tells the pair, "This does not belong to me" and drops it on their desk.

Margaret steps out of a car in Brooklyn in the fifth scene and fifth separate story strand of this episode. No wonder I started getting that disjointed feeling in this episode. Unlike most episodes, "Peg of Old" seems to lack a unifying theme and though I'm a fan of big casts, the ensemble threatens to overwhelm the series as it keeps adding characters to the canvas as it's about to when we meet Margaret's long-lost siblings. Dressed in some of her finest clothes, Margaret looks out of a place as she walks through the working-class streets of the New York borough searching for the right address. Once she finds the building and climbs some stairs to the apartment door, she removes her hat before knocking. A young girl (Emma Kenney) opens the door and says, "Sláinte chuig na fír, agus go mairfidh na mna go deo." Margaret, as she was with Owen, proves rusty with her Gaelic and responds, "I'm sorry." "Didn't I say it right?" the girl asks. A slightly older girl (Nadia Alexander) enters the room behind her. "She's been practicing all day," the older girl says. The translation, by the way, is "Health to the men and may the women live forever!" "Is it Beth?" Margaret asks of the older girl. "Yes, I am," she responds, though Beth is short for Bethany. Margaret identifies the youngest girl as "little Aylesh," but she objects. "Oh, don't call me that," she pleads. "What should I call you?" Margaret inquires. The girl pauses as if pondering the question, then replies, "Juliet." A grown young woman (Shannon Garland) crosses the room carrying clothes. "Nuala, do you not know me?" Margaret asks her. "You're Margaret…Who else on earth would you be?" Nuala responds. Beth and Nuala scatter as a grown man (Tony Curran) comes in. "Eamonn," Margaret says to her brother. "Hello Peg," Eamonn greets her. Margaret thanks her brother for answering her letter. "Couldn't leave you out there wanderin', so far from home. Could we?" Nuala, who has returned to the room, declares, partly for Margaret, but mostly for Eamonn. "You can let her across the threshold soon," Eamonn tells Nuala, since Margaret has yet to step into the apartment. She smiles and walks in while Aylesh/Juliet closes the door. Margaret gives her brother a gift of taffy from the Boardwalk, though he says he can get the same in the park, but corrects his manners, saying he's sure it's "grand." "We'll hug then," Eamonn suggests and the siblings embrace, albeit awkwardly. "There's dinner — roast beef and potatoes — so come on," he announces, telling the girls to take Margaret's hat and make her feel at ease. Juliet finds the hat fascinating. "She's like you Peg — always dashing about," Nuala tells Margaret.

Ginsburg informs Nucky what he knows about Esther Randolph. Finally a scene that relates to another scene in this episode Randolph turns out to have been a public defender who spent 10 years representing draft dodgers and prostitutes. "And she works for Harry Daugherty?" Nucky says with surprise. "She caught the governor's eye in California, joined the U.S. attorney's office. I don't think Daugherty can get rid of her," Ginsburg proclaims. "Why the fuck not?" Nucky asks. "Someone has to look honest," Ginsburg replies. Thompson starts getting peeved about the federal court ploy not working. Ginsburg says he's been waiting to hear this. "If the attorney general can't help you, how can I?" Ginsburg states in his own defense. "I'm not the only one in town with something to lose," Nucky declares. "But you are the one they're coming after," Ginsburg reminds him. "The Commodore's in a diaper, O'Neill's off hiding, At least they've noticed he's missing Neary, Boyd, Paddy Ryan — if you can't work something on them, what the fuck am I paying you for?" Nucky asks. "For sitting here while you talk to me like that," his lawyer replies. Eddie interrupts the meeting by clearing his throat. "I'm so sorry but you have two visitors," Eddie announces. "Is this a mirage sitting before me? I'm in the middle of something," a pissed-off Nucky responds. Eddie stays put, nervously. "I realize that." Lucy walks in with her baby girl in a bassinet. "I'll leave you to your next meeting," Ginsburg tells Nucky as he gets up and exits. Nucky must be used to this sort of visit because without missing a beat, the first words out of his mouth are "You and I have not seen each other since May 23rd of last year." Lucy approaches his desk with the baby carrier. "Don't start that way," she tells him. "I'm sorry, Lucy. Congratulations. You look glowing," Nucky says. "I look like shit," she admits. "She is kinda cute though, huh?" Lucy sits down. "I thought I'd try shakin' you down, but I knew I'd never swing it and anyhow, that's no way for a mother to act," Lucy confesses. She recalls when she and Nucky were together. "I always knew what I was supposed to do, every day. Wake up and make you happy," Lucy reminisces. "Things change, you know that," he tells her as he takes a drink. "Sure I do. And now there's someone else I gotta make happy — and she'll always be mine. That's the best part of it all," Lucy declares. "You're going to do a swell job," Nucky predicts. "I really want to which is why I need money," Lucy finally comes out with it. "Isn't there a father?" Nucky asks. "Doesn't there have to be?" she answers. "You don't know who he is," Thompson guesses incorrectly. "Yeah, I know. I guess you might too," Lucy teases. At last, not only do we get a scene that involves ongoing stories in the series and within this episode, we also get one that is, by far, the best of "Peg of Old" so far and more in keeping with what I love about Boardwalk Empire. Sharply written, well acted, even by Paz de la Huerta, who has come so far this season as Lucy after being like nails on a chalkboard last year, gives Buscemi great material to work with as well as a fine sparring partner whenever they let him go one-on-one with Peter Van Wagner as Ginsburg. We even get a small bit of the always-welcome Anthony Laciura as the virtual cherry on top as Eddie. Even better, this scene will lead to an even better one.

Van Alden watches with interest as Ward Boss Neary gives a deposition to Esther Randolph, an additional one from one he had already given for the state case since it's now federal. Unfortunately for Nelson, they close the door before he can eavesdrop on any juicy details that Neary might be giving up on Nucky. "And your sworn testimony will be used as a basis for prosecuting Mr. Thompson," Randolph asks Neary who nods yes. "The Dictaphone can't hear you nod," she whispers to him. "I mean yes," Neary says. Words come in and out for both Van Alden and the viewer. "Mr. Neary, you were arrested last March for storage of illegal alcohol with intent to sell," Randolph tells him. "I paid my debt on that," Neary proclaims. We can hear Randolph mention a $500 fine when Van Alden's phone rings. He quickly grabs it. "Special Agent Van Alden," he answers. Back in the deposition room, we don't know what happened but Neary seems upset. "I had a deal with the other prosecutor," Neary insists. "That deal is null and void. I can make your life quite difficult, Mr. Neary. In fact, I might enjoy it," Randolph informs him. Seems this transfer to federal court could be bad for everybody. O'Neill may have gotten off easy with just a wrench to the throat and head. "I understand. Right away," Nelson tells the person on the other end of the phone. "A situation has arisen. I will return as soon as possible," Van Alden informs Sawicki as he hightails it out of the office.

The reunited Rohan siblings share such a quiet meal that each time a fork or knife touches a plate, it sounds as if someone might be playing the drums. The only other noise comes from the street through the open window. Eventually, little Aylesh/Juliet breaks the verbal silence. "Did you take a boat here, miss?" she asks Margaret. "She's not of 'miss' age," Beth corrects her little sister. "She's like Peg of old, Juliet," Nuala adds. "I took the train," Margaret answers. "You can't take the train from Ireland," Juliet declares. "I live in Atlantic City," Margaret smiles. Nuala inquires about children and Margaret tells her that Theodore is 7 and Emily is 4. Her sister notes their names sound American. "They're quite the patriots," Margaret describes her children. "And the father? You've not mentioned him," Eamonn points out. "My husband Hans. He passed. Last year," Margaret informs them, leaving out a few of the details about that. "A widow so soon. I want to cry," Nuala says. "You've a good heart, Nuala," Margaret declares. Margaret's sibling may not have been exposed to more sophisticated ways as she has once she met Nucky, but that doesn't mean Eamonn can't see pieces that don't fit. He starts to question her about she can manage as a widow to take a trip to New York and leave two children behind in Atlantic City. Margaret tells him that they're being looked after, but Eamonn wants to know by who despite Nuala's best effort to quiet him. "By a woman I pay," Margaret says. "There's a bit of luxury," Eamonn comments. "Why not if she can," Beth chimes in. Eamonn's demeanor has turned and we get hints at the difficult parting between Margaret and her family. He starts checking his watch to see if it's close to time to catch the 4th Avenue subway line, though Nuala, obviously the voice of reason in the clan, assures him there's time and still a night crew. "Nuala is sewing alongside a hundred other girls. Beth presses in a laundry. Aylesh — she's in school. They send an officer around if we don't let her go," Eamonn lists for Margaret, obviously ticked while taking bites of his food the whole time. "I know you work hard, Eamonn," Margaret says. She tells her brother she could offer help. "I haven't asked," he replies scornfully.

The ever-twisted mother-son relationship between Gillian and Jimmy continues as Gillian insists Jimmy close his eyes while she's changing. "When did you start getting modest?" Jimmy asks. "It isn't a flattering light. Men don't have to worry about these things," she explains. After Gillian has put on her dress, she asks her son for his opinion. He asks if she's meeting someone. "Just some girls from the Beaux Arts. They'll clock every wrinkle," Gillian claims. "You don't get old, Ma," he says. Gillian asks Jimmy if he remembers summers on the beach and he responds that everyone thought he was her brother. "Do you know what happens tomorrow?" Jimmy inquires of his mother. She dismisses its importance and walks to the other side of the room. "It is to me. A man's gonna get off a train, he's gonna walk up to Nucky Thompson and he's gonna put a bullet in him — right here," Jimmy points his fingers to his forehead, " — just because I said so. What do you think about that?" Gillian takes a drink. "I think the world's going to find out what kind of man it's dealing with," she replies. "And if I call it off?" he speculates. "Your friends wouldn't like that," she comments as she takes another drink. "They don't care what happens to Nucky," Jimmy tells her. "No, but they are watching you — very closely. They're delightful boys, dear. Colorful and ambitious. I'd never make the mistake of letting them see you be indecisive," Gillian counsels. "And that's why he dies? This isn't what we talked about, Ma," Jimmy says. "Well, we weren't being honest then. Now we are," Gillian tells him. "I don't want to do this," Jimmy declares sadly. "It's already done. It was done when you gave the order. The rest is just bookkeeping — and you can't bother with that. Make me proud of you," his mother whispers those last words in his ear.

What we've been waiting for has arrived. Nucky drinks while Lucy still sits in his office and Eddie opens the door to allow Nelson to storm in. Forget the promotion for Dempsey vs. Carpentier, we have a new round of Thompson vs. Van Alden that viewers have been denied since last season. "Lucy, would you be so kind as to give Agent Van Alden and myself a moment alone?" Nucky asks. Lucy picks up the bassinet with the baby girl. "I didn't know where else — " Lucy doesn't get to finish as Nelson says, "We'll discuss this at home — dear." The insincerity with which Van Alden via Michael Shannon tosses that "dear" in at the end plays note perfectly — giving the viewer a laugh without betraying the character's integrity by revealing it as something added for a humorous effect. Nucky holds up a decanter of booze to Van Alden. "If there was ever a time," Nucky offers. "No thank you," Nelson declines. "Fair enough," Nucky says as he pours himself one. "First and foremost, here's to you. It is, after all, a blessed event in the life of any man," Thompson congratulates the agent, barely containing his glee. I'm often surprised when I read people who still question whether casting Steve Buscemi as Nucky has proved to be a good idea, but how can anyone watch his work in a scene such as this and ask that? Nucky has so many facets to him and I've yet to see Buscemi flub any of them. He nails every emotional state — and Nucky goes through most of them — and shows equal flair in scenes comic and dramatic. "What do you want?" Van Alden scowls. "This might be a good time to charm me," Nucky suggests. "Why? Does that make blackmail any easier?" Nelson inquires. "I don't judge people. I help them. Perhaps you can see the value of that more than you once did," Nucky explains. "And what do you propose to help me with?" Nelson asks skeptically. "Where to begin? Supporting a wife, a mistress, a baby girl — all on a government salary. (If it's difficult to comb through that link, the appropriations for salaries for prohibition agents ranged from $1,500-$3,000 a year plus expenses) How do you do it?" Nucky asks. "My financial arrangements are none of your concern," Van Alden proclaims. Even the blocking of this scene borders on brilliant. Buscemi glides and floats around his office, full of hand gestures. Shannon picks one spot and stands like a statue, even refusing to turn and face Buscemi when he's moved to a position behind him. "Sadly true. My concern is Esther Randolph," Nucky declares. That name gets Van Alden to spin and face Thompson. "I want to know everything — who she talks to, what they say, what's on every scrap of paper that comes across her desk. If she renews her subscription to Vogue magazine, I want to know about it," Nucky tells him. "And in exchange?" Van Alden reluctantly seeks to know the terms for his transgression. "Your budget problems go away — and no questions asked about how you managed to afford this up to now," Nucky pledges. Van Alden looks constipated, but also as if he doesn't have an option, then Thompson confuses him by asking what her name is and Nelson doesn't realize he means the baby girl. "She doesn't have one yet," he replies when Nucky clarifies. "Well, you can't go wrong picking something from the Bible," Nucky suggests, barely containing his smirking grin. "Just think it over. It doesn't cost anything. And what I gave Lucy — a gift. No strings attached," Nucky says. That makes Nelson turn all the way toward Nucky and show some anger in his voice. "You gave her money?"

Eamonn runs the other Rohan sisters off before they can have their dessert of trifle so he and "Peg" can speak alone. He lights up a cigarette and offers Margaret one, but she declines. "I'm not as American as you thought," she tells him. "Mom's in the earth, so there's news for you," Eamonn says. "Martin Hennessey wrote me," she replies. "Our cousin in America — you kept up with him at least," her brother notes with slight bitterness. "She’s in the Keel parish yard,” Margaret lets Eamonn know that she's aware of their mother's burial site. "Right beside Da. Not at each other's throats for once. She asked for you at the last. I told her you'd be comin' home. What else could I say? Were you weak, Peg, now that it doesn't matter?" her brother asks Margaret, who mutters something. Eamonn says he can't hear her. "I did what I had to," Margaret proclaims in stronger voice. "Would you have seen me off to the Magdalene Sisters and broken in the workhouse?" she questions her brother. "The priest chose the fit correction. What makes it right for others and not you?" Eamonn inquires. "What makes it right for anyone?" she turns it back on him. "Would you wish it upon Nuala? Aylesh? Or am I the only sinner you've ever met?" The spark of the Margaret we've come to know returns. Eamonn asks about the baby's father, which is the one that has been referenced before that she miscarried on the boat ride to America. She tells him it was the barrister's son. Eamonn then probes to see if she might have been forced into sex, but Margaret shakes her head no. He also starts doing the math and realizes that neither of the children she mentioned could be the one she was pregnant with in Ireland. She shares the story of the miscarriage. Margaret places some money on the table and he asks what it is for. "To return what I stole," Margaret confesses. "It was ma you took it from, not me," he says. "Meant for your passage here," Margaret explains. "Is that what brought you to Brooklyn? To return a debt?" he accuses. "To be among those who know me." The creak of the door opening causes Eamonn to quickly hide the cash. Juliet comes in and tells him that Nuala wants her to pick up three pounds of pig trotters. Eamonn recommends that she get to the butcher before he closes. "Can't we have some trifle first — please," Juliet whispers to her visiting sister. I love Kelly Macdonald. Last week, I thought she gave what might have been her best performance this season. At the right time, exploring Margaret's past and meeting her relatives could be interesting but while these scenes have some fine moments, and it is the story that gives the episode its title, the Brooklyn scenes contribute the most to the episode's disjointed feeling. Every time we return to the Rohan siblings, the show screeches to a halt. It isn't as if we get any revelations most faithful viewers didn't suspect already.

As Arnold Rothstein told Luciano, "Never let the past get in the way of the future." So what if Gillian once slept with him so Jimmy could ambush him? That's no reason to turn down an opportunity for another sexual liaison with the woman who cured Lucky's STD-caused erectile dysfunction? I never realized Luciano works part time as a Beaux Arts dance girl.

Nelson enters his apartment calling for Lucy. He hears a voice quietly singing. It actually brings a rare sincere smile to the agent's face until he gets to his room and sees that the voice belongs to a woman he doesn't know and she's cradling his daughter. "Mr. Mueller," the woman says, still using the fake name he has on the apartment address. Which makes it even more ridiculous that Rose was able to obtain the address from Agent Sawicki last week. "Who are you?" he asks. "I'm Frieda Short from downstairs," Mrs. Short (Laurie Dawn) answers. "Where is my — wife?" Nelson has an easier time getting the last word out than you'd think he would. "She had to pick up some formula. I told her we had plenty of milk, but she's very particular," Mrs. Short replies. Van Alden inquires how long ago Lucy left and the neighbor tells him it was about 20 minutes ago. "But it's no bother. This little one is an angel," Mrs. Short declares before resuming her singing. When Nelson walks into the other part of the apartment, he hears a strange noise. He also smells something. He opens the phonograph and discovers it spinning with something on it. He turns it off and finds the title page to the script for A Dangerous Maid attached to a soiled diaper by a safety pin.

Eamonn gives Margaret a nod and shuts himself behind a door as she helps her sisters clear off the table, all except Juliet who still finds herself fascinated by Margaret's hat. Nuala inquires about Margaret's transportation and she tells her that she has a car outside that she hired for the day. "Her man pays for it," Beth says half-jokingly. Nuala gives her younger sister a look of disapproval. "Well, she's got one, don't ya?" Beth asks directly. Juliet, fiddling with the hat, spins a surprisingly accurate theory about the man Beth guesses Margaret has. "He's very mysterious and very powerful. He has means," Juliet describes him. "Oh, it's that one, is it?" Beth interjects. "He gets people to do his bidding or they pay a price. Don't they?" Juliet asks, looking squarely at a shocked Margaret. "Yes, with a snap of the finger," she replies quickly, deciding to play along as she takes her hat. "But he has a secret tragedy. His heart was broken and he'll never let anyone near it again," Juliet adds. Margaret turns around, clearly creeped out. "Where are you getting that from?" Margaret asks her youngest sister. "It's her stories," Nuala explains. "She's always got her nose in a book," Beth tells Margaret. Margaret offers to send her some books, if it's OK. Nuala says that Eamonn must approve. "Think of us now and then," Beth urges. Margaret tells them it's only three hours from Atlantic City. "Look at you Peg — after all these years," Nuala says as she hugs Margaret. Beth closes the door and Margaret descends the stairs to exit the apartment building when Juliet runs out. "I was only joking with you about the man. He must be very nice — really," her little sister makes sure Margaret knows. "Yes, he can be," Margaret responds. "And you're my sister," Juliet declares, trying to sort out who this stranger is to her. "I'm Margaret Katherine Sheila Rohan," she informs the girl born after her departure from Ireland. Juliet comes down the stairs and shakes Margaret's hand. "How do you do?" Eamonn appears at the top of the stairs. "Aylesh — to bed with you," he orders. "Do I have to?" the girl pleads. "I'm off to work. Do not keep your sisters up all night," her brother says. "Send me books. I like anything with a horse in it," the little girl whispers to Margaret before running upstairs.

In the category of unexpected scenes, this episode does offer one brief one: a sweet Van Alden scene. Nelson sits in a chair in the apartment, holding his baby girl, actually taking Nucky's sarcastic advice and flipping through his Bible for possible names. "Deborah. Hannah. Abigail." When he says Abigail, the baby makes a little sound of what might be approval and for the second time this episode — maybe the second time ever — we see Van Alden smile. This episode offers so much that is good but traps it between so much that is indifferent or feels undercooked that I just wanted to take it into an editing room and re-cut it after I watched it. This short little scene leads directly to Van Alden marching into the office the next morning. "Mrs. Randolph," Nelson says. "Miss," she corrects him. "May we speak privately?" he asks. Her underlings remove themselves. "I am a married man," Van Alden begins. "There goes my dream," she responds, again showing what a buffoon she takes him to be. "Last autumn, under great duress, my self-discipline was compromised. I have a daughter born out of wedlock," he tells her. "Surely you can speak to a minister about this," Randolph suggests. "I bear my soul not for forgiveness nor introspection. I admit to these sins so that you know that I am, in my heart, honest," Van Alden continues. He then places a heavy-looking leather briefcase on Randolph's desk and removes a large file. "This is a file kept on Nucky Thompson for the past 16 months. It runs the gamut from bootlegging, gambling, vice, extortion up to and including murder," Van Alden tells Randolph, who starts flipping through the file. "And you've been sitting on this information for what reason?" she asks. "I was ordered by my supervisor to focus on illegal alcohol," Van Alden explains. Something in the file catches the prosecutor's eye. "And you will testify to the accusations made in this file?" Randolph inquires. "I will," Nelson pledges. "Well, this could prove useful," Randolph admits. "That's all that matters to me," Van Alden says. "Agent Van Alden, your domestic situation — you'll get that sorted out. Just don't go telling everyone," Randolph advises as Nelson walks out of the office with his head hung low. This episode so clearly belonged to Van Alden (and Michael Shannon) that I don't understand why it wasn't constructed that way without all these diversions. I take it that he has decided not to accept Nucky's offer. I can't tell if the diaper on the turntable means that Lucy suddenly had a change of heart and decided to abandon her child, but that would seem out of the blue if she did.

Margaret stayed in New York overnight and has a car take her back to Brooklyn where she spots Juliet playing in the street. She gives Juliet a wrapped gift. It is the 1920 novel The Girl, a Horse and a Dog by Francis Lynde. Margaret asks if Juliet has read it, but the girl says no. She tells Juliet to tell her if she liked it once she finishes. "How?" Juliet asks. "You'll write me and I'll write you back," Margaret promises. "We'll have a secret correspondence," Juliet preens. The girl asks what their mother was like since she really has no memory of her. "You can visit me over the summer. Meet your niece and nephew," Margaret suggests. "Me being an aunt — it's funny, isn't it?" Juliet says. "Morning," Eamonn interrupts the chat. He asks what Aylesh has. Margaret tells him she brought her a book. "She's keen on those," Eamonn says. "I'll make you breakfast," Juliet offers. "Go on and read. That's what you want to do anyway. Away with ya now," Eamonn tells her. "How was your work?" Margaret inquires. "I thought you were off in your car," Eamonn returns to that spiteful tone. "She's my sister too," Margaret declares. "And you'll rescue her, will ya? To ease your mind," Eamonn phrases it as a challenge. "Must you hate me so, Eamonn?" she asks her brother. "I don't hate ya. I don't feel much about ya at all. I can't accept the money. I don't know where it's from," he tells her as he hands it back. "You're honest, are ya?" Margaret says with an accusatory tone in her voice. "I don't ask for trouble," he states. "Never take more than you need. Never talk back to the priest or the boss or the policeman…Never make a fuss. Never dare to stand up for me, your own flesh and blood. She begged you for help when she'd nowhere else to turn and you're proud of it," Margaret tears into Eamonn as she probably has wanted to for 14 years. "You did what you wanted, Peg. You always have. Nothing you bring and nothing you buy will change that," Eamonn responds. "I'll make her life better," Margaret pledges. "The way you've made yours? You go now — back to your own place and leave us be. There's no one here who knows you," Eamonn hits her with his final verbal blow and walks away. Margaret gets back into the car and cries.

Lillian fetches scattered toys up from the floor when Nucky asks if she's heard from Owen. She says she hasn't, but that Mrs. Schroeder called to say she's on her way back from New York, adding that she and Katy plan to take Teddy and Emily to the beach. An annoyed Nucky calls Eddie at the Ritz to see if he knows Owen's whereabouts. Kessler doesn't but Nucky tells Eddie that he's running late and needs him to come pick him up. There are more than the usual number of short scenes in this episode. Granted, they for the most part are necessary for establishment purposes (such as the quick scene with Nelson and his baby leading directly to the one where he decides not to become Nucky's spy), but others (Lucky and Gillian boink again) don't have a payoff though they could down the road.

We get the answer about Owen in the next scene as he sits in a dive of a tavern (can we call it a pub if it's in Atlantic City?) eyeing a man who just sat on a stool at the bar. Sleater, beer in hand, sidles up to the bar and quietly asks the man (Gary Troy), "Is it Del Grogan?" The man suspiciously returns the query with a distinct Irish brogue. "Do I know you?" Owen turns on his smiling charm. "It is Owen Sleater, Sean's cousin from Dunmore," Sleater replies. "That pimple on the ass on the Lord," Grogan says. Sleater laughs, trying to keep his charm offensive going, but it's clear it's for show. "Quite a town on a Saturday night," Owen proclaims. "Every other night of the week as well," Grogan adds. The two carry on a conversation which admittedly is damn hard to make out. Grogan mentions something which sounds like "Desi's boys," but no Google search permutation leads me to an answer. "God rest his soul," Owen replies to whatever Grogan said. What bothers me isn't that this scene is hard to comprehend because of the accents — you get the gist of what's going on if not the specifics — it's that it's another example of a scene that makes this episode seem so out-of-whack. We're past the half-way point of the season — why pile this on to it when we already have so many balls in the air? The Wire was able to do this well, but that's because they added each new layer at the beginning of the season, not this late in the game. As a viewer, I want to get back to the plots I'm invested in already, not new ones, especially ones involving characters who, as much as I like Owen and actor Charlie Cox, didn't appear until the second episode and has undergone several transformations since. "That was bad luck," Grogan comments on the person who died. "That was the Black and Tans," Owen says. "They stayed out of that," Grogan disagrees. "There's a fight that'll never in," Owen fake sighs. "You're welcome to it," Grogan replies. "We're free and clear here, aren't we?" Sleater declares. "Stars and stripes forever," Grogan agrees, raising his glass. Owen offers to buy Grogan another drink, but the man declines until "next time." Sleater asks him to do him the honor for the part of him that does miss his homeland. Grogan agrees to take a whiskey and Sleater orders two. Grogan excuses himself to the bathroom first. Owen grabs a long spoon off the bartender's tray and slips into the john as quietly as he can while Grogan takes a leak. He uses the spoon to jam the door. Grogan heard him approach and swings around with a knife when Owen gets close with a garrotte to wrap around his throat. They struggle for a bit until Owen cracks Grogan's head with a spittoon. He then repeatedly bashes Grogam's skull with it until he can get the garrotte around Grogan's neck. Someone who has to use the bathroom tries the knob to no avail during the death struggle. Overhead, people can be seen walking over the grating providing light. At last, Sleater kills Grogan, whose hand had tried to hold off the cord as long as it could but Owen and the weapon prove too powerful — not only killing the man but chopping off the top halves of three of his fingers, which land in the urinal. “Lead me a merry chase these five months, ye traitorous fuck,” an out-of-breath Sleater tells the corpse before spitting on him. That scene, with its at-times incomprehensible dialogue and scene of long, gratuitous violence wasted about 4½ minutes of screen time — and it didn't occur until the 45 minute mark of the episode when there were some other things viewers (or at least this one) might be more interested in seeing. Instead, it reinforced the overall feeling of aimlessness of this episode. I'm not squeamish about violence, but it should at least happen in a storyline I'm interested in and involve characters that I met more recently than five episodes and two minutes before the incident occurs.

In what appears to be Babette's, Nucky and Bader hang out with Dempsey and Doc Kearns. Nucky tells the boxer that after the song finishes, he can give the speech. "And don't forget to mention Radio Corporation of America," Kearns reminds him. "How could I forget, Doc? You wrote that in my speech," Dempsey says as he heads to the stage. Once he's on the platform, the heavyweight champ begins reading directly from the pages Kearns handed him. "Good afternoon, ladies and gents. For those of you who — " Dempsey pauses and looks closer at the paper and then continues with a puzzled shrug, "don't know me?" The audience predictably laughs. "I'm Jack Dempsey — heavyweight champ of the world," he declares. As the audience cheers and claps, Nucky exchanges glances with a dark-haired woman with a bobbed haircut. Dempsey continues giving the details of his upcoming bout in Jersey City, promising to "beat the tar" out of Georges Carpentier. Nucky's interest in the Dempsey speech has been usurped by the woman, but it switches to another emotion when Jimmy emerges from the crowd behind her. Darmody approaches with hands held out to show that they're empty. "What do you want?" Nucky asks. "I just want to tell you something," Jimmy replies. "So — tell me," Nucky demands. "It doesn't make a difference if you're right or wrong," Jimmy says before leaning in and whispering in Nucky's ear, "You just have to make a decision." Jimmy limps off again. From the direction where Jimmy exited and the woman stands, a man appears with a gun. Nucky sees him and raises his hand before he starts firing. Another shot goes off from the other direction, taking out the would-be assassin. Chief Inspector Lathrop raises a badge. "Federal agent, United States Department of Justice. Everyone remain calm," Lathrop orders. Jimmy limps out of the club as the chaos ensues. Nucky lies on the floor, apparently only wounded in the hand, and Eddie, who'd been following Jimmy on his way out, returns to wrap the wound. Do you suppose the agent happened to be there because of something Esther Randolph found in the file Van Alden gave her? Was he about to be arrested on more charges?

As that scene fades to black, you might suspect it would make for a fine ending to an episode, but we've got another one. A cab driver (Mark Havlis) brings Margaret's luggage into the house for her. Her mood still seems down. She calls for Katy and Lillian, but gets no response. However, Owen comes walking her way. All rested up and cleaned up from his revenge killing I suspect. Obviously, Sleater has been preoccupied, but with Margaret arriving at a train station and getting in a cab, don't you imagine the news of someone shooting Nucky would travel quickly and be the talk of the town? "Help you with that?" he offers. "No thank you," she replies, looking pouty. "Don't be daft, ma'am," Owen says as he picks up her luggage. She assents and he follows her. "Where are the children?" Margaret asks. "The girls took them down to the beach," he answers. "That's hardly Katy's job," she comments. "Boss gave 'em the afternoon," Sleater informs her. "Why aren't you with him?" she inquires pointedly. "I had some business," he replies, adding that he missed picking him up on time. "Then shouldn't you be making an effort to find him?" Margaret responds, her voice growing ever harsher. Despite the utter predictability of what's to come (no pun intended). "Do you find it odd here — ever…in this country?" Sleater asks her. Margaret inquires about what he means. "Everything's off — the air, the water, the people and (pointing at his chest) yourself. You're off too, but wee bit, and you think, 'If they vanish now, who'd care or even notice?,'" Sleater comments. "That's out of fear," Margaret speculates. "Summer can ease me — and light, passing by," he says. "Then you should be on the beach with Katy," Margaret responds as she passes him and takes her bags upstairs. "I thought you wanted me after Mr. Thompson," Owen proclaims as he faces the door and she ascends the steps. For a seduction scene, do they come any more drawn out and less sexy or enticing than this one? I think if we took all the time stretched out in unnecessary or poorly thought-out scenes in this episode, someone might have made a good start at teaching Chalky how to read. That's right — he's an interesting regular who isn't in this episode. I'm cutting to the chase and getting them off the damn landing and staircase and into her bedroom. "You're a cool one, missus," Owen tells her as she begins removing accessories. "No, I'm not. I'm not how you see me at all," Margaret replies as she lets her hair down. She walks toward the bed. "When we're done, you'll leave and we'll not speak a word about it — ever," Margaret informs him. "It's all between strangers anyway," Owen replies before kissing her. It almost took less time for him to talk up Grogan and kill him than it did to get from Owen meeting Margaret at the door to the kiss. Then the furious ripping off of clothes starts and the ecstasy — for the characters at least — begins. As for the fans and the viewers, we'll have to keep our fingers crossed that our virtual climax returns next week.

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Comments:
Another great recap, Ed. Did you happen to catch the Ken Burns "Prohibition" documentary? As with "Baseball," Burns displays his usual New York blinders by spending hours on the topic, yet relegating the likes of the "Purple Gang" to about four sentences. The Purple Gang, a group of Jewish mobsters, was one of most vicious of the era and operated out of Detroit. But I digress...

I suspect that Esther Randolph is based on real-life U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt. Willebrandt took her task of enforcing Volstead Act VERY seriously and was constantly frustrated by the lack of Federal support. That seemed echoed in Randolph's early comment expressing her incredulity that the Atlantic City contingent works out of the U.S. Post Office.

Also, I saw it as more than coincidental that name Van Alden chooses for his daughter is "Abigail." I did some checking and in the past, it was the traditional term for a waiting-woman or female servant. Van Alden finds the title page for "A Dangerous Maid" pinned to the dirty diaper on the phonograph. And there's also a quick shot of Margaret's maid pointedly picking up two dolls off the floor which is consistent with the theme of the episode's two "discarded" babies: Margaret's miscarriage (NOT her fault) and Van Alden's daughter.

Finally, I'm hoping (but doubt) that this week's tryst is the last we'll see of Margaret and Owen. I know it's not fair of me to compare the two shows, but this Margaret/Owen storyline in Empire seems a tad too derivative of Carmela and Furio from The Sopranos.
 
At least Carmela and Furio never acted on it or even admitted their feelings to one another.
 
How'd you get all the cool stills? Are they just screenshots? I'm kind of a luddite with this stuff - I played the reporter badgering Demsey in the first scene ("What about his secret punch?" - wasn't I great?) I'd love to get a shot of my moment in the show. Do you have one? I'd happily send you twelve dollars American cash, plus a copy of my new comedy CD!

Great blog!
best,
Dave Konig
http://www.davekonig.com/ www.facebook.com/davekonig1
 
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