Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Boardwalk Empire No. 23: Under God's Will She Flourishes

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

By Edward Copeland
I understand the reason for wanting to keep this episode under wraps (and if there remains one more episode in the season, I can't imagine what else can be coming home to roost). The delay in my ability to recap "Under God's Will She Flourishes" sucks, not just because of petty annoyances to my schedule but because it puts off my ability to write about what could be one of the best episodes in the history of Boardwalk Empire and what certainly is one of its most pivotal. What wasn't anticipated was the evil egotism of technology companies that our so obsessed with having control of customers' machines and lives that they insert poison pills that periodically make things unusable and which Monday night made all my wireless connections on my laptop vanish, severing my connection to the Internet and forcing me to try to do this recap on my old, decrepit laptop. Then Harry Morgan goes and dies on me and I felt compelled to write something on him, delaying the recap further. I apologize that it isn't up to my usual recap standard. Hopefully, the other laptop will be alive again for the finale recap, though even if it is I may have to reconsider how the last one is done. Without an advance screener, these recaps really can't be done the way I do them after the fact.

Written by Howard Korder and directed by Allen Coulter, the bulk of this episode takes us back to Princeton in 1916, giving us insight into the beginning of Jimmy and Angela's romance as well as the twisted relationship between Gillian and her son. On top of that, in the 1921 scenes, those who thought it was unrealistic that Van Alden could drown Agent Sebso in front of that many witnesses and get away with it will be pleased to see that story returns at the same time a cornered Mickey reaches out to his favorite federal agent to seek help because he fears that his days are numbered. We also learn a bit about Van Alden's upbringing that explains the way he is to some extent. Meanwhile, Margaret goes farther off the deep end and for the second week in a row, someone from the main credits gets a toe tag. Still, as great as this episode is, the walls seem to be closing in on so many characters simultaneously, I wonder what they plan to do for a third season. Vince Gilligan, the mastermind behind Breaking Bad, is fond of saying that he and his writers enjoy painting themselves into corners, just to see how they'll get out of it. Boardwalk Empire has painted so many members of its ensemble into so many corners, I have to wonder if they can reasonably find ways out for most of its characters. Maybe there's a reason they added so many characters this season.

When we saw Jimmy driving toward Princeton at the end of last week's episode, it was easy to see that it wasn't just any town in New Jersey that he'd picked to unload his booze but also the site of the pivotal event in Darmody's young life — when he opted not to continue his pursuit of higher education at the prestigious university and chose to join the fight in The Great War against the Kaiser. In this episode, consisting largely of the flashbacks to 1916, we learn what events drove Jimmy to decide that risking death overseas appeared preferable to a double-barrel shock to his system from the women in his life and the possibility that his hot-headed nature placed his academic future at risk anyway. Howard Korder wrote this excellent episode, already having penned one of this season's other best installments, "Gimcrack & Bunkum." Finally, the talented director Allen Coulter, who only has helmed one solid Boardwalk Empire episode, the first season's "Paris Green," gets to show what he can do with a great Boardwalk Empire script after being burdened with this season's low point, "Peg of Old," and last season's mostly weak "Home." Quite a change from Coulter's work on The Sopranos where he helmed many of the show's classic and most revered episodes such as "College," "The Knight in White Satin Armor" and "Irregular Around the Margins," just to name three. The second season's penultimate episode takes its title, "Under God's Will She Flourishes," from the English translation of Dei Sub Numine Viget, the Latin motto of Princeton University, though Princeton's website actually translates the saying to "Under the Protection of God She Flourishes."

We open on Jimmy asleep in bed as he hears Angela's voice calling, "Jimmy. Jimmy." She then appears on top of him. Viewers who saw young Mrs. Darmody executed last week by Manny Horvitz might be momentarily confused or assume that Jimmy is dreaming of his late wife. "I'm sorry," she says. "Was I dreaming?" Jimmy asks her. "We're in Princeton," Angela tells him. "Don't go," Jimmy pleads, wrapping his arms around her. "I'm supposed to work breakfast," she explains. "Let 'em starve," an unsympathetic Darmody suggests. Angela turns on the bedside lamp and Jimmy cringes at the illumination, She hands him a piece of paper. "I drew you," she tells him, showing him the pencil sketch. "Is that really what my ear looks like?" Jimmy wants to know. Some noises can be heard in the hall and Jimmy expresses concern that it could be someone named Mrs. Krakauer, so we finally realize that this isn't a dream — we have traveled back to 1916, when Jimmy attended Princeton as a freshman, thanks to Nucky's help, and he and Angela have spent the night in his dormitory bed. As Jimmy and Angela start to arrange themselves to avoid being caught should Mrs. Krakauer happen to make her way to Jimmy's room, Jimmy remembers to tell Angela that his mother is coming to visit that afternoon. "She 'needs' to see me," Jimmy says, making quote marks in the air with his fingers when he says needs. Angela offers to "keep out of (Jimmy's) hair," but he insists that she should meet Gillian. "You think that's a good idea?" Angela asks but his reply gets interrupted by a knock on the door that sends the young lovers scurrying out of bed for clothing. "You owe me your life," the out-of-breath young man at the door, Cal Widdecomb (William Pierce Cravens) announces. "Krakauer was up her snooping. She heard something. I said it was just me reciting Robert Service." Jimmy, pulling his pants on in a rush, tells Cal, "You make me sick 'cause you actually do." Cal scouts the hallway to make sure the coast is clear for Angela and she then makes her way out of Jimmy's room. "Next time we go back to using your car. Please?" she begs. "Well the thing is that wasn't my car," Jimmy admits. "I hate you," she smiles. "One more thing," Jimmy adds, pulling Angela back for a goodbye kiss and telling her he'll see her that night. "Maybe," she replies. "Maybe?" he responds quizzically. At the end of the hall, Cal whisper-calls to Darmody, "How come you and not me?" Jimmy just shrugs, sticks out his lip and closes his door behind him. After the horrific ending to last week, this flashback certainly offers a pleasing way to begin, even if we know that any sweetness will end bitterly. Despite that, it's nice that we get another image of Aleksa Palladino so that the slaying of Angela isn't the character's last image. To see how playful she and Jimmy once were, is quite moving since we never really glimpsed that. Michael Pitt's college look is interesting as well, very reminiscent of his work in Michael Haneke's U.S. remake of Funny Games.

"As cookies go, this Esther Randolph's strictly vinegar," Bill Fallon tells his new client, Nucky, as they meet at Nucky's home office. There hasn't been enough of that kind of writing, even in the good episodes of Boardwalk Empire, lately. I love when they give us pearls of dialogue such as that. That love of language remains one of my favorite aspects of the series. "And the judge?" Nucky asks. "I was giving the signals — he wasn't responding," Fallon replies. "Signal harder!" Nucky suggests emphatically. "Any harder and he'll nail me for bribery. Then we'll both need new lawyers," Fallon says to Thompson. Nucky looks frustrated. Fallon isn't proving to be any more of a magic elixir than Ginsburg's "brilliant plan" turned out to be. Sometimes, a guilty man just can't catch a break. "Randolph's betting big on the capital case. She wants you in the noose for Hans Schroeder. And the deputy — Halloran. He'll say you gave the order and they let him walk," Fallon informs Nucky. "What about Eli?" Nucky asks. "Not talking," Fallon replies. "To the Feds?" Thompson assumes. "To us," Fallon corrects him. Nucky makes a point of telling his high-priced attorney that he's innocent. Fallon assures Thompson that he wouldn't have taken the case if he were guilty. Nucky probes as to what else Randolph has in store for him and Fallon lets him know that one of the prosecution witnesses will be Agent Nelson Van Alden. "The man's a bigamist," Nucky exclaims. "No, he's an adulterer with a child by your former mistress. Let's not even have the jury start wondering whose ox is being gored there. But he is a Treasury agent and depending on your leanings — " Nucky interrupts Fallon's report because he's been distracted by Harlan, who has continued dusting the office throughout his meeting with Fallon. "You need to dust under my eyelids, Harlan?" Nucky asks the man who worked for him at the Ritz and has been acting as a butler since he relocated his office to his Margate estate. "No sir, Mr. Thompson," Harlan replies. "Then that's all for now," Nucky tells Harlan before return his attention to Fallon and asking, "How bad is this?" Fallon assures Nucky that he isn't a naysayer but, "a prudent man might want to get his finances in order." Nucky voices a need for a scotch and as Fallon rises to pour two, Nucky sees that Harlan has yet to leave. "Was I not clear?" he says to the butler. "Yes sir," Harlan replies. "Then what?" an aggravated Nucky responds. "You kept me workin' these past weeks with the strike and all — " Nucky stops Harlan, insisting that no thanks are necessary. "I belong to the Shiloh Baptist Church," Harlan begins to say but Nucky interrupts again, trying to get him out of the room. "I appreciate your prayers, now if you don't mind," Nucky says in hopes of moving Harlan along. However, Fallon recognizes that Harlan has something else on his mind and inquires what he wants to say. "About a year ago, the deacon held our annual Week of Miracles — prayers, baptisms and such — for anyone inclined to accept the Savior. Your Agent Van Alden show up one afternoon with the other lawman," Harlan shares with the men. "And?" Fallon asks. "He drowned that fella in front of us all," Harlan tells them. "Harlan, is it?" Fallon smiles. I love that this show never forgets. I always thought they really wrote Van Alden into a corner when he killed Sebso and as separate as his character has been from the main action this season, I can't help but think that next week will mark his swan song. Michael Shannon has been great, but he is such a talented actor who probably is missing a lot of opportunities by being on the show, I can imagine him leaving. With the characters who are being killed off or who might be written off, the third season could end up having more cast turnover than the entire run of Law & Order.

Unaware of what has finally surfaced about him and Agent Sebso, Nelson bids good morning to Sigrid, who is preparing breakfast. The agent asks about his daughter and Sigrid tells him baby Abigail is sleeping. Sigrid tries out some Dutch on Van Alden, but he says he doesn't understand. "'How are you?' You are Dutch, no?" Sigrid assumes, based on his surname. "No, I'm from upstate New York," Van Alden answers. "Your mama and papa — do you go to them to visit?" the nanny inquires. Nelson opens up to Sigrid more than we've ever heard him open up about his childhood except for the time he told Lucy about his aunt and the Christmas pageant. "They don't enjoy my company," he admits. "How can this be?" Sigrid asks. "My parents were followers of Reverend Edgartin Sterry I searched but if Sterry were real, I find no trace of him. who prophesied the Second Coming in 1892," Van Alden tells Sigrid who comments that she wasn't born yet. "In anticipation of Judgment Day, my father gave away our farm. We lived in a tent — penniless — for an entire year waiting for the Lord to return cloaked in fire and glory," Nelson shares. "This did not happen," Sigrid says, stating the obvious. "My father never got over it and somehow the mere fact of my ongoing existence is more than he can bear," Nelson concludes. "He will still come — Jesus," Sigrid declares. "Doesn't that worry you?" Van Alden asks. Sigrid turns from the stove to face her employer. "You are a good man, Mr. Van Alden. There is nothing to be frightened of." Nelson smiles serenely at her.

With the leg brace fastened into place, Dr. Holt asks young Emily if she's ready to try them out. Margaret stands on her daughter's other side ready to help as well while Father Brennan watches. "How does it feel?" her mother asks. "Rubbery," the child replies. "We're going to let go of you," Holt tells the little girl. "But we're right here," Margaret assures her. The adults remove their hands from Emily and almost immediately she starts to buckle. Holt catches her. "That's a good start," Holt says. "You were standin' straight up. Wasn't she father?" Margaret adds. "Right there with the best of them," Brennan concurs. Holt brings out a lollipop for Emily and lets the girl know he's going to speak with her mother for a few minutes. "She needs to develop strength in her arms and torso to find her balance. Might be a little rough at first. She'll be strongly tempted to go back to crawling," Holt explains, before taking a slightly stern tone. "But we're not gonna let her do that, are we?" "We are not," Margaret promises. Holt heads back to Emily to get her release papers signed as Father Brennan approaches Margaret. "You held up Emily. The Lord will hold up you," Brennan tells her. "She needs to learn to support herself," Margaret echoes Holt's words to the priest. "A man once was invited to visit both Heaven and Hell, First he went to Hell where all the tormented souls were sitting at tables laden with food, yet they were starving and howling with hunger. Each had a spoon but the spoons were so long they couldn't get them into their mouths. Their frustration was their torment," Brennan begins his parable. "And in Heaven?" Margaret asks. "In Heaven, to his amazement, the man found the souls of the blessed sitting at similar tables laden with food but they were all fed and contented. Each had a spoon and the spoons were just as long as the spoons in Hell but they were able to eat all they needed because they were feeding each other," Brennan concludes. Margaret looks puzzled by the story the priest just told, but she didn't get to ask anything before Brennan informed her that her donation enabled the church to begin construction of a new parish hall — the walls and floors at least, he says they still lack funds for a roof. The guilt-stricken and possibly mentally ill Margaret offers to get Brennan more. "That's not what I was asking for," he tells her, giving her a reassuring pat on the shoulder and leaving.

We're several scenes into the episode by now and probably wondering if anyone has even discovered Angela, Louise and the bloody scene at the Darmody beachhouse. It appears that someone has as an Atlantic County ambulance pulls away after loading a covered body into the back. When the ambulance ceases to obstruct our view, we see Gillian in the window, smoking a cigarette. When the scene moves inside the beachhouse, Deputy Benedek (Dustin Olson) of the Sheriff's Department asks Gillian if she knows where her son was last night. "He was attending to his business," she answers with her back to the lawman as she continues to look out at the beach and the water. "Which is?" the deputy inquires. "Why are you here?" Gillian asks the deputy spitefully. "It's a double homicide, ma'am," he replies. "Why are you here? I specifically asked for Sheriff Thompson," Gillian informs him. "The sheriff's unavailable," Benedek says. "Well, you'll need to talk to him instead of hitting at accusations," Gillian tells him. OK. While I still think this is one of the series' best episodes, are you trying to convince me that Esther Randolph had the sheriff arrested on a murder charge and that it didn't make the newspaper and even if somehow it didn't make the press, Gillian hadn't heard about it? The deputy insists that he's just trying to get the facts straight. He's been so quiet and dressed in clothes that almost blend into the background, you might not have noticed Richard sitting in a chair in the adjacent living room behind the deputy. "The facts are these: My son's wife was being intimate with another woman. I highly doubt it was the first time. An intruder broke in and killed them both," Gillian declares with a tongue full of acid as she crosses to the living room and stood by Richard. Benedek turns around and notices Harrow sitting there. "You're an associate of Mr. Darmody's?" the deputy asks. "Yes," Richard says. "Do you know his whereabouts?" Benedek inquires. Richard tries to speak, but he's clearly torn up over the events, so Gillian steps in. "Can't you see this man is a simpleton? He's just someone that my son is charitable to. He doesn't know anything," she whispers. Richard plays along. Deputy Benedek tells them that they will let them know when they can claim the body and departs. "Thank you for your sympathy," Gillian says with all the fake sincerity she can muster. She asks Richard if he's been able to get a hold of Jimmy. "He wouldn't answer the phone," Richard replies. "He needs to come home. People will get the wrong idea," Gillian tells him. Richard has stood up from the chair and looks about the room in kind of a fog. "Excuse me please," he says. Harrow slowly walks down the hall to the bedroom and looks at the coagulated blood scarring the floor. He dips his finger in the mess — his last connection to Angela, though it could just as easily be Louise's blood — and stares at it mournfully. As Richard gazes at the blood, Jimmy's voice intrudes from the next scene, taking us back to Princeton in 1916. "My father prov'd himself a gentleman, Sold all 's land, and, like a fortunate fellow…"

"…Died ere the money was spent. You brought me up At," Jimmy pauses on the next word, uncertain of the pronunciation, and we see he is reading from a book in a small lit class. The professor, Noel Pearson (Gabriel Olds), helps him out. "Padua," Pearson says. "Padua, where I protest, For want of means — I have been fain to heel my tutor's stockings, At least seven years; conspiring with a beard, Made me a graduate; And shall I, Having a path so open, and so free To my preferment, still retain your milk In my pale forehead?" Jimmy reads. "To which his mother replies, 'O That I had never born thee.' So — nasty little scene. What's Webster on about here?" Pearson asks the students before specifically selecting, "Mr. Carruthers." The John Webster play the students are discussing is The White Devil. The passage from Act I, Scene II which Jimmy reads has been trimmed a few lines as you can read here. "The way to graduate from college is to bribe someone, sir," Carruthers (Ben Forster) says. "That may be so in your case," Pearson responds, eliciting laughs from the group. "But think more broadly. Mr. LeBarron," the teacher chooses the student to his left as his next victim. "It's a corrupt society, so you can't help but be corrupt in it," LeBarron (Lucas Wells) answers. "The Jacobeans loved to depict Italy like this. Women are bald-faced whores and men are lustful panderers. All very entertaining but what's the scene about?" Pearson poses the question. "His mother taught him things that aren't of any use. Everybody around him is getting rich and he can feel it. Like he's hungry. Like he can taste it," Jimmy speaks up. "Sounds persuasive to me. Good. Next week The Revenger's Tragedy," Pearson tells them. "I can't make class next week, Mr. Pearson. S.A.T.C. This stood for Student Army Training Corps, which briefly replaced the ROTC, but wasn't instituted nationally until The Selective Service Act of 1918. The various schools across the country all had groups for military training, but not under the SATC name. On the other hand, indexes of Princeton collections do refer to S.A.T.C. 1916, but finding links for any of this is difficult. is on maneuvers," Marten Sharpe (Will Cart) informs his professor. "Taking your soldiering seriously," Pearson comments. "We're headed to war, aren't we?" Sharpe responds. "He just likes the uniform," Jimmy wises off. "It's called patriotism. I guess you don't know anything about that," Sharpe fires back at Jimmy. This scene plays as a perfect microcosm of Jimmy's life to come and the series in general. What a wonderful choice of literary material they chose. The White Devil by John Webster isn't a well-known work, but its view of Padua and corruption sounds like its portrait of Atlantic City. The line Sharpe uses on Jimmy about patriotism is the same reason he gives to Nucky as to why he went to war when he returns. He also could be discussing Gillian when he interprets the scene. "The Kaiser never hurt me," Jimmy declares. "My brother died on the Lusitania," Tom (Patrick O'Neill) informs him. "I didn't know that, Tom," Jimmy says sheepishly. "Then you might apologize," Sharpe suggests. "Sure I do. I'm sorry," Jimmy apologizes. "Alright gentlemen, we've averted a duel. Next week, The Revenger's Tragedy. Read Tourneur," Pearson says. As the students exit, Pearson asks Jimmy to stay a moment. "You won't win that way with fellas like that," Pearson advises. "I know — that was stupid of me," Jimmy admits. "Then why did you say it?" Pearson inquires. "Where I come from people sort of come out swinging," Jimmy replies. "Where is that?" the teacher asks. "Atlantic City," he answers. Pearson probes to see if Jimmy's post-graduation plans include going back. Jimmy explains that it is what's expected of him by his guardian, Mr. Thompson, and his mother. Pearson asks if Thompson is a Princeton man. "No, but he knows people," Jimmy replies. Pearson inquires if Thompson's paying for Princeton. "If I don't screw up," Jimmy says. Pearson explains that people such as Sharpe and LeBarron had everything set up for them from birth so the needn't worry, but people like Jimmy and him "need to be clever," explaining that his father punched tickets on the Northern Pacific for 30 years and he's proud of Pearson even though he has no idea what he does for a living. Pearson tells Jimmy he can go and as Darmody is leaving, the teacher stops. "What! Because we are poor, shall we be vicious?" Pearson emotes with flair. "Pray! What means have you to keep me from the galley or the gallows?" Jimmy repeats back. "Webster — terrific stuff, isn't it?" Pearson says, adding that he'll see Jimmy at that night's mixer.

Lansky, Luciano and Capone return to the warehouse with Mickey to assess the progress of their booze clearance sale. "I got rid of my whole share in Philly," Mickey announces. Being strangled by Manny must work wonders for an injured neck. The last time we saw Mickey was when Horvitz was squeezing his neck brace and shoving his head against the window to get Jimmy's address. Now, Doyle isn't even wearing the neck brace. "We didn't even have to go back to New York. Sold the whole lot in Hoboken," Lucky says. Mickey asks what they should do with Jimmy's piece. "Fuck Jimmy. It's ours now. He ain't gonna be showin' his mug around here again," Luciano declares. "The quiff was my wife, I woulda done it same way," Capone proclaim. "If she was your wife, I wouldn't blame here," Lucky teases. "He's comin' back," Mickey insists. "Seems unlikely," Lansky comments as he keeps jotting figures in a tiny notebook. "He didn't ice her," Doyle tells them. "Then who did?" Capone turns and asks. "Manny Horvitz," Mickey answers authoritatively. The three gangsters not native to Atlantic City all stop and look at Mickey. "A little agitation between him and Jimmy," Mickey elaborates. "Then it's Jimmy's problem," Luciano says. "Sell this shit and be done with it," Al says. "And when he turns up lookin' for his dough?" Doyle asks. "Pay him out of your share," Meyer suggests. "My share? How do you figure that?" Doyle says, puzzled. "'Cause you're a mope, that's how," Capone laughs. "What's left over for me?" Mickey wants to know. "What's left over for me? Run these numbers — A.R. holds a half-million dollar policy against your life," Lucky reminds Doyle. "I don't know nothin' about that," Mickey claims. "I watched you sign it, you fuckin' snitch. So how about I put a slug in your head and we split the policy with him?" Luciano threatens. "My share'll be fine," Mickey decides. "I thought so," Lucky says. Al gives Mickey two little slaps on the cheek and walks out laughing with Lucky and Meyer. I've said it before, but honestly, how has Mickey survived this long since he works for and against practically everyone. Again, another example of the show's great long memory. I'd forgotten about those life insurance policies Rothstein made Mickey and the D'Alessio brothers sign. I wonder if he got to collect on all those dead D'Alessios. I've written before as to how it was going to be a reach to keep the out-of-town gangsters involved in the show and that scene to me sure played as if they'd had enough fooling around in Atlantic City and wanted to just get their money and get back to their normal stomping grounds. I wonder if they are about to be phased out of the show as well (since they can't kill off real historical figures before their time).

There's a funny bit where Nucky and Margaret argue about parables. She tries to explain what Brennan told her about dinner in Heaven and Hell and he keeps asking logical questions such as "Why couldn't they bend their arms?" or "Why didn't they just put their hands higher up on the spoons?" A frustrated Margaret pooh-poohs his tale from a few episodes back about the drowning man refusing the sailboats and the lifeguard. "That was about helping yourself," he tells her. They argue a bit over higher powers and whether it's divine retribution or coincidence, but the discussion gets short-circuited by Emily's cry from the other room that she "needs to go potty."

Eli meets with his lawyer Douglas Wallbridge (Randall Newsome) in his jail cell where he learns that Halloran's deposition fingers him for killing Hans Schroeder and ordering the attack on him during the riot at the strike. Eli denies it all and just wants bail, but Wallbridge says they won't give him any because he's considered a flight risk. He also says that Randolph is willing to spare his life if Eli testifies that he killed Hans under Nucky's orders. At first, Eli doesn't grasp what the lawyer means until he spells out that Eli could be facing the electric chair if he alone is tried for the murder.

We return to 1916 where Jimmy puts Gillian's things away in the room she'll be staying in. He asks why she's come and his mother says just to see how much he's changed, adding that she talked to Miss Krakauer and she told her "shocking" things such as she's seen Jimmy kissing "some underfed waitress." "Her name is Angela and she draws," Jimmy tells her. "So does a chimney," Gillian replies. He quizzes her about a man she's been dating named Arthur Henderson and she informs her son that he's married. "Married and mortgaged in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 'Sorry, little squirrel. I thought girls like you could tell,'" she shares the story. "He didn't deserve you, ma," Jimmy says. Gillian admits she had her "little pleasures" from the affair. She brought Jimmy some booze and encourages Jimmy to have some, though he insists he has to write an essay. Gillian tells him that when she was on the train she thought that she could never get too sad because she'd always have him. Jimmy gives her a kiss on the forehead and tells her he loves her.

At the Post Office in 1921, Nelson stares at Rose's divorce petition while Randolph talks with Lathrop and Halsey about how a widow like Margaret ended up in a three-room bungalow. Lathrop suggests she pursued Nucky. Randolph asks Van Alden for his opinion of Margaret he had since he interviewed her. "She left no impression on me one way or another," Van Alden lies. Randolph decides to bring Margaret in for questioning. Van Alden signs the divorce petition.

At the 1916 Princeton mixer, Jimmy is delighted to see that Angela did show. In the background, you can hear voices singing "Old Nassau," the Princeton alma mater written in 1859. She meets Gillian, who insists on a kiss. Jimmy looks annoyed to see his mother flirting with Pearson. Angela makes the revelation that she's pregnant and Jimmy makes plans for them to get a place together. Angela says he hardly knows her but Jimmy says he knows she's a "good person." The most touching portions of this part of the flashback belong to Jimmy's friend Cal, who already is quite inebriated. When he finds Jimmy and Angela, Cal tells them, "I'm attaching myself to both of you. Do you know why? Because I'm socially inept and full of anxiety." Later, and he's probably being truthful, he pours his drunken heart out to Angela, trying to pass off his father's tire plant in Ohio as making him wealthier than he is. It is highly doubtful that we'll ever see the Cal Widdecomb character again, but he is such a sharp contrast to any other character we've seen on the show that he really stands out. The actor William Pierce Cravens creates such a full-bodied presence in just two scenes that it's a shame that he doesn't fit into the show's structure all the time.

Nucky breaks the news to Margaret that he's just been informed by Fallon that Eli will testify against him and that he faces the possibility of the electric chair. He tries to talk to her reasonably about how he can hide his assets so she can be taken care of and have access to them, but she is too far gone to discuss matters like that. Margaret accuses Nucky of thinking that he can make some good come out of this. He blames Father Brennan for putting ideas in her heads. As he starts to explain how the land he owns will be transferred to her, Margaret leans back in her chair and drifts away, Chopin's "Nocturne No. 15 in F Minor" starts playing, bleeding us back to 1916 again where Jimmy leans against the building where the mixer is taking place, drinking from a flask. Angela walks up and asks if he's going back in when Gillian comes out an exit breathing heavy and adjusting her dress, which looks ripped. "I thought we were just flirting," Gillian says. He sees that Pearson was the culprit. "What did you do to my mother?" Jimmy demands to know. As people still do in 1921, Pearson expresses surprise that Gillian is his mom. "Let's just say your life is pretty Jacobean all by itself," the professor declares. Jimmy orders him up on his feet. Pearson advises him not to get wound up and promises to apologize in "a convincingly chivalrous manner." Jimmy punches him hard in the face anyway. Pearson warns him to walk away and he'll forget it happened. "It is happening," Jimmy says before proceeding to beat on the teacher some more.

Mickey contacts Van Alden for a meeting. (Fun moment: Mickey asks Nelson to sit but he says he'd prefer to stand and Mickey replies, "Please. I don't like the way you loom.") Mickey, none too happy with getting screwed out of money by Capone, Luciano and Lansky and tossed over a balcony by the absent Jimmy tells Van Alden about the big score about to be divvied up, suggesting that the Feds intervene. Mickey just wants half back which he guesses is $300,000. "150 in your pocket. A lot better than the envelope you been gettin', huh," Mickey says. So we do know for sure now that the cash that Nelson hid both before and after Lucy stayed with him came from Mickey. Unfortunately for Doyle, Van Alden rejects his deal this time. Mickey isn't happy to hear that. Van Alden tells him never to contact him again. “You’re gonna fuck me over? ‘Cause that’s not how I think,” Mickey shouts as Nelson leaves.

Jimmy, not that sober himself, takes an even drunker Gillian back to her room. She notes blood on his shirt and starts to take it off but he does it himself. She asks him how badly he hurt Pearson. "Enough to get me expelled," Jimmy tells her. "No. Nucky'll fix it. He can fix it," Gillian assures him. Here comes the scene, the one that puts all our speculation about Gillian's tendency to be overfamiliar with her son to rest. The flashback even tossed out the idea of Jimmy's jealousy since before he "defended her honor" he looked unhappy at her flirting with Pearson. "I'm just the loneliest person on earth," Gillian sighs. She then asks Jimmy, referring to Angela, if he loves that "skinny girl." "I don't know. No. I don't know," Jimmy replies. She warns him not to do anything stupid and he helps her get undressed for bed. She tells him she hates for him to see her like this. "Tomorrow, you won't remember any of this," Jimmy says. "I always remember everything. No matter what," Gillian responds as he gets her into the bed and she pulls him down with her. She reminisces about curling up next to him when he was little. Jimmy says, "Good night, ma. I love you." He leans down to kiss her, but Gillian pulls him into a full-on liplock as a train goes by telling him, "There's nothing wrong, baby. There's nothing wrong with any of it," she tells him and the incest we wondered about actually occurs. The next morning, Jimmy wakes up alone, looking horrified, like a ghost. He looks out the window and sees students running through military drills.

An Army recruiting officer (Jeb Kreager) asks Jimmy for his next of kin, but he says both of his parents are dead and leaves his fiancee, Angela Ianotti, as a contact. The recruiter inquires his reason for wanting to fight. "Frankly sir, because I'd like to stick a bayonet straight through the Kaiser's guts," Jimmy replies. "What for?" the recruiter asks. "I lost a brother on the Lusitania," Jimmy says, stealing Tom's story.

Margaret works on Emily's braces, which are chafing the girl though she can't feel it, when Owen comes downstairs and offers to smooth it out for her. "Do you think about me? 'Cause I think about you," Owen tells her. Margaret says she'll pray he gains the strength to stop. He replies that will mean she's thinking about him. Katy sees them together and runs out of the room.

The 1921 Jimmy wakes up wherever he is and grabs a bottle of booze, drinks and blacks out. Later, we hear Gillian's voice coming through the phone receiver that's off the hook on his chest telling him that he needs to come home. "You have a son and business waiting for you. Do you understand?" his mother asks. He manages to answer into the phone that he does. She says he must show the world he has nothing to hide. He lets the phone go and snorts one of those heroin samples that Luciano gave him to hand out to potential customers.

Van Alden rounds the corner (literally, not figuratively, because with what goes down here combined with the previous scenes of this episode, I'd bet that next week will be Michael Shannon's last appearance as Agent Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire.) and enter his office at the Post Office. "Agent Van Alden, this is Mr. Fallon — Mr. Thompson's new attorney," Randolph says to him. "How are you this fine day, sir?" Fallon asks. The camera switches to Van Alden's stricken point-of-view — stricken because behind Fallon and Randolph stands Deacon Cuffy of the Shiloh Baptist Church, who saw Nelson drown Agent Sebso that day. It's unclear if Van Alden notices that Lathrop has staked out a place behind him to stop his exit. "And I believe you may have already met Deacon Lemuel Cuffy," Randolph adds. Fallon tells Van Alden he has some things to show him. "These were your former partner's I believe — Agent Sebso's," Fallon says, removing a gun and a pair of shoes from a box. Randolph asks if Nelson recognizes them, but he hasn't said a word. "It is joy for the just to do judgment," Cuffy declares. Lathrop tells Nelson to put his arms in front of him and reaches inside Van Alden's coat pocket. Nelson gets a shot off, hitting Lathrop in the leg, and runs, shoving Agent Sawicki into a pile of mailbags as he flees outside through double doors.

As if Margaret weren't already near the precipice, receiving a subpoena has pushed right over. Nucky tries to speak rationally. "We began in sin, we'll end in it unless we change," Margaret insists. Nucky tells her that she's talking rubbish. Margaret continues to blame herself for the misfortune that has fallen on her and everyone she love. She tells Nucky that she's stolen, deceived and cheated and he grills her for examples but when he asks who she has cheated on, she can't bring herself to say him and name Owen. After a long pause she says, "I live with the man who had the father of my children murdered." Nucky denies he ordered Hans' death, only admitting that he said he deserved it. When he realizes that her guilt complex has her contemplating testifying, he warns her that she can do what she likes to ease her conscience but he won't permit her to take him down with her. "And if you don't think I'm good as my word, you don't know me at all," Nucky warns her.

Jimmy has made it back to Atlantic City and listens to his mother make plans at the Commodore's, discussing funeral arrangements and what to tell Tommy. "I think — tell me I'm wrong — we'll tell him she went to live with her friends in Paris and she wants her little boy to stay here where she knows he'll be safe with his daddy who works so hard and his mima who loves him so very much. You know what, a month from now — and I don't mean to sound cold — he won't even remember who she —" Gillian doesn't finish that sentence because Jimmy, who looked to be in a stupor, leaps from his chair and starts choking the life out of her. "I'll remember. I'll remember," Jimmy shouts repeatedly at her while he throttles her. Unfortunately, before he can finish her off, the Commodore appears from behind with his spear and sticks it in Jimmy's side. Father and son struggle over the spear. Helluva recovery since the Commodore just showed he could stand last week and now he's rushing to defend someone with a spear. Somehow Jimmy gets to his handy knife and plunges it into the Commodore's gut. He stumbles backward. Jimmy removes the knife, "Then finish it. Goddamn you!" Gillian yells and Jimmy gives his father the fatal wound. Then Jimmy goes upstairs and blinds himself. Sorry. Wrong story. Besides, he has to marry Jocasta — I mean Gillian — first. The Commodore collapses to the floor. Jimmy limps to the other room and does the same.

Jimmy wakes up in a chair with his shoulder bandaged. He sees Richard cleaning up the scene from the Commodore's killing. Richard closes the curtain and Jimmy goes back to sleep. Later, he hears Angela's voice telling him she has to leave. He gets up and sees little Tommy, who woke up from a bad dream. Tommy asks where his mommy is and Gillian answers, "I'm here." She tells Jimmy not to worry about what happened. She knows he didn't mean it. Everything will be better now. As Gillian carries Tommy upstairs, she says, "One day he won't be little anymore. It happens." Is she counting the decades until Tommy gets the Princeton treatment? The song "Make Believe" begins playing as Jimmy watches her carry Tommy upstairs and continues through the closing credits.

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Good stuff. FWIW, even though I don't always comment, you should know that your recaps have been part of my weekly Boardwalk Empire ritual.

Two thoughts:

1) It struck me that Cal Widdecomb was set up as a deliberate bookend to Richard. Cal is shown adjusting his glasses (more than once, I think) and expressing jealousy over the fact that Jimmy has Angela. And both Cal (in first scene) and Richard (at the end) work to keep Jimmy out of trouble.

2) In an episode loaded with over-the-top moments that nonetheless worked great, the only sour note for me was the train they had loudly rushing by when Jimmy schtupps his mother. Frankly, the nature of their incestuous relationship was dramatic enough by itself to be played out a cappella.
I had thught of a Cal-Richard connection, not so much in the way you said but almost referred to Richard as being someone who stands out in the BE universe as Cal could.
It'd be a shame to lose Michael Shannon, but unless Van Alden becomes a crime lord/fugitive -- which would make a completely different but compelling show entirely -- he probably doesn't have long for this world.

What's the over-under on Manny surviving the finale?
I'm sure he's a goner. I'm also betting that Van Alden changes his mind and tries to pass himself off to Mickey as still being a Fed and interrupt the divvying up of the cash with Capone, Lansky and Luciano and ends up getting killed. What I want to know is what happens to poor baby Abigail since Lucy skipped town.
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