Sunday, September 25, 2011


Boardwalk Empire No. 13: 21, Part II

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

By Edward Copeland
"We agreed we were going to put him out of business, but this is fucking madness," Eli exclaims to the Commodore. The shot begins outside the Commodore's living area before the camera moves in and we see Eli sitting on a loveseat while the Commodore stands to his right and Jimmy sits in a chair to his left. They all have drinks in their hands. "They had to shoot a woman?" Jimmy questions. "Did you mollycoddle the enemy in France, Jimmy?" his father asks him. "He cut off a man's finger — they were chompin' at the bit." It's the first meeting of the three men we saw planning the plot against Nucky in the last episode of the first season and it also contains Dabney Coleman's best scene so far in the series when he gets a monologue. It's the beauty of the shows I love, inevitably on cable, when they let actors expound. The main reason I divided this first recap into two parts though is because of a great sequence which I really wanted to devote space to and because the second half of this episode adds new layers to both the public and private sides of Nucky Thompson and Steve Buscemi, as you'd expect, delivers in both cases. If by chance you missed part one of the recap, click here.

Eli remains unsettled. "Ten thousand coloreds are up in arms now. What am I supposed to tell Nucky?" The Commodore approaches the sheriff, drink in hand, then paces. "Nucky Thompson was weaned on my teat. I know him backward and forward. Governor Edwards — he hates the bastard more than I do." It's good to see Coleman getting to do more this season as well. The Commodore was mostly a mystery last season and, of course, as he was being poisoned and grew sicker and sicker, it's not like he was given much meaty material to chow down on. That has changed in season two. As in this scene, where he's given a nice little monologue that's coming up. "They're ready? His people?" Eli asks, referring to Gov. Edward Edwards who, despite the Commodore and Eli both being part of the Republican machine, was elected New Jersey governor as a Democrat in 1920. "I need to know what's going on, Lou." The Commodore tells the anxious sheriff that the less he knows the better. "Worry about yourself, Eli. I'll take care of Nucky," he tells Eli, who says he has to go and leaves, passing Gillian in the entryway, tending to flowers and pretending not to eavesdrop. "Some men — give them a badge and a gun or a county treasurership, they think have power," the Commodore informs Jimmy. "Pretty soon, you'll know what true power is." Jimmy asks his father how soon. The Commodore wants Jimmy to start cultivating relationships — with the governor as well as people in New York and Philadelphia. "Alcohol is the key," he insists. "What about here?" Jimmy inquires. Having Chalky out of the game is a good start, his father responds, because his warehouse is there for the taking. He recognizes concern in his son's face. "Jimmy, don't worry about Nucky," the Commodore says. "I'm not," Jimmy insists. "Look around boy," the Commodore declares, rising from his chair and pointing to all the animals mounted on the wall. "These animals, beasts — anyone of them could have torn me to pieces, but they didn't. This fucker," he points at the large stuffed grizzly, "this giant — 600 pounds, over seven feet tall. I tracked him for three hours, finally cornered him in a ravine. He smelled me, started coming closer. Son of a bitch got cocky, thought I was scared, reared up on me and puffed up his chest and let out a roar. Blasted him right in the gut. Bled out, looking up at me, like he couldn't believe it." These are the moments that can make great television and almost exclusively reside on cable. Those great David Milch soliloquies for Ian McShane on Deadwood, when David Simon lets it rip on Treme or back on The Wire, just last week with Bryan Cranston's long scene of emotional truth with his son on Breaking Bad or the many in the Mildred Pierce miniseries. The same is true of theatrical films such as Network where Paddy Chayefsky wrote a screenplay that was monologue after monologue. In addition to being such a great looking show, the love of language could end up being Boardwalk Empire's greatest strength — and that's a gift for talented actors and directors and the upcoming sequence shows the power of great collaboration with its fusion of acting, story and direction (or misdirection). Enough with short-attention-span theater. Pop some Ritalin, kids. As the Commodore tells Jimmy to end the scene, "You will be judged by what you succeed at boy, not by what you attempt."

That sequence I referred to follows the Commodore's bear-hunting tale directly and may be the greatest sequence in terms of execution in the short history of Boardwalk Empire. It's a triumph of direction for Tim Van Patten, writing for Terence Winter, editing for Kate Sanford and acting for Steve Buscemi and further delineates the wily skills that Nucky Thompson has with all citizens that has kept him in his powerful position for so long. Nucky sets out to do his best to calm the rising racial tensions in the community that have erupted. He goes with Eli to a church with a large black congregation and takes to the pulpit. Chalky sits in the audience, particularly unmoved unlike his fellow congregants who applaud Nucky's words.

"Last night, four fine young boys were murdered by men claiming to represent the race of white American Christians. I will not speak the name of this so-called organization within this place of God, but I can assure you as treasurer of Atlantic County and, more personally, as someone who has always considered members of our colored community as his friends and his equals that neither I nor Sheriff Thompson nor any of his men will rest until these hooded cowards are brought to justice and the message is sent loud and clear that no one need fear for their safety, the safety of their wives, their children…"

The production team handles the switch so subtly and flawlessly that you might not immediately notice that the setting has changed for it plays as is if Nucky's speech has continued uninterrupted with no indication he's finishing a sermon of a different color, so to speak.
"…or property in the face of the obstreperous negro. These coloreds need to learn a lesson and we are going to teach it with, dare I say it in these sacred confines, an iron fist."

As the much larger white congregation gives Nucky a rousing round of applause, a man comes sprinting down the church's aisle announcing that he has returned from St. Mark's and that Herman Dacus has died from his wound. The crowd erupts in anger. Nucky leans down from the podium and tells Eli to go arrest Chalky immediately — for his own safety — and then returns to the pulpit to try to calm the bloodlust.

The Van Aldens sit to dine at Preston's restaurant. Knowing it is a special occasion, the eatery's manager (John Bolton) actually takes the couple's order himself and asks Nelson what he and his wife are celebrating. Nelson tells him that it is their 13th wedding anniversary. The manager congratulates them and tries to make a joke about Lucky 13 that flies over Nelson's head. Nelson orders lamb chops for Rose and steak for himself with turtle soup as a starter. After he gives the man the food orders, the manager asks if they will be imbibing, saying they can handle most requests. Both Van Aldens know what isn't being spoken out loud, but Nelson simply says that Rose will have coffee and he'll have buttermilk. After the manager has left, Rose tells Nelson that he was offering them alcohol and the agent informs his wife that he was well aware of what the manager was offering. Rose wants to know why he didn't arrest him, since that is Nelson's job. "We're here to have dinner," Nelson responds. Rose says she knows that, but doesn't seem to accept that as a reasonable excuse. Van Alden puts her off, asking her to excuse him a moment — he needs to wash up, "Public places."

Unhappily, Nucky puts in an appearance at the funeral for the dead schoolteacher/Ku Klux Klan member Herman Dacus, who lies in his casket decked out in full hatemonger regalia as are many of the attendees paying their last respects. Nucky tells Mrs. Dacus that her husband was a pillar of the community and he's sorry for her loss then finds himself surprised to see Jimmy coming through the door. He asks him what he's doing there — paying respects is Nucky's job. Jimmy tells him that Dacus was one of his high school teachers. Nucky asks him what happened at Chalky's and grills him about whether he saw anything suspicious, but Jimmy asks to let him get this out of the way first. A few moments later, Darmody joins Nucky on the porch for a smoke. "An awful waste of a lot of good tablecloths," Jimmy says. "And the laundry bills," Nucky adds. Jimmy asks about Chalky. "He's alive — that's the important thing," Nucky replies. Thompson then asks Jimmy about him sneaking away "like a thief in the night" and getting married without telling anyone. "You sound like my mother," Jimmy tells him. "You used to ask my advice on things," Nucky says. Jimmy insists it was time — his son is almost old enough to shave. He shares taking Tommy shooting and fishing at Oyster Creek like they used to do and how much he enjoyed that. "Do you have anything to tell me?" Nucky asks. Jimmy plays dumb and acts like he doesn't know what Nucky means. "Your father is a very duplicitous man," Nucky declares. "You've been told." Jimmy tells him that he promised his mom he'd drop by and then he returns inside to the funeral where he speaks with a new character we know nothing about except his name — Leander Cephas Whitlock — and he's played by Dominic Chianese, better known as Uncle Junior on The Sopranos.

As the Van Aldens finish their dinner, Nelson asks his wife if she might like a dessert, but she insists she's too full. Her husband surprises her by saying he bought something for her. Rose says she thought Nelson opposed gifts, but he tells her he saw this and thought of her and she opens the case to see a cameo, which pleases her greatly. He then calls the manager over and asks him about what he said before and, since this is a special occasion, if they might be able to get some champagne or whiskey. "Nelson!" Rose exclaims as the manager says, "Of course." Van Alden rises and lays out the manager with a punch as other agents come streaming through the restaurant's front door. "This is a raid," Van Alden announces, telling the customers the restaurant is being closed for violating the Volstead Act. He orders all employees on the ground and to have the money seized from the cash register and marked on a receipt. Van Alden sends Sawicki to break down a door. The agent returns to report there must be 200 cases of brandy, wine and whiskey back there. "Mark it, catalog it and destroy it," Nelson shouts. He grabs the manager and asks his name. "Carl Switzer," he gulps. "Mr. Switzer, you are under arrest for violation of the Volstead Act." Rose can't hide the glow from seeing her man in action. The scene leads to one of the series' best sight gags as we see a bed bouncing vigorously, its headboard slamming against the wall. When the shot widens, we see that Nelson is merely testing the bed, finding the springs that have bothered his back. Rose suggests going to his boardinghouse, but he says it's cramped and for men only. Mrs. Van Alden still shows that Nelson's raid has aroused her and soon the husband and wife have gone horizontal on the bed, turning off the lights of course.

Margaret brushes her hair at her bedroom table when Nucky arrives home, but she can tell something is bothering him. "You're being awfully quiet," she says. "I saw Jimmy," he responds, almost mournfully. She asks how the newlyweds are doing. "Fine, I suppose. He was alone," he answers. She tells him they need to send the couple something, but he assures her that's already been handled. "What is it?" she asks him. "He's holding something back. When he was a kid, he used to tell me everything," Nucky sighs. Margaret asks where Jimmy's father was back then. "He was there, but disinterested. The Commodore likes to be in control. Ten-year-old boy — there's no controlling that. Now of course, he's around," he says. "You're jealous," Margaret suggests. "No, I'm angry," Nucky insists. "He's got something up his sleeve. I was father and mother to that kid with Gillian out all hours. I nursed him through malaria, took him on camping trips, gave him the run of that goddamn Boardwalk." Margaret tells him that there is a little boy down the hall who could use some guidance and fills him in on Teddy being caught with matches. "I fear he's developed a fascination with fire," she says. "What's that all about?" Nucky asks.

After her weekend exposure to the sin of Atlantic City, Rose agrees with Van Alden that it's probably best that she not relocate there, but they look forward to her visit next month as he bids her farewell at the train station.

Richard joins the Darmodys for breakfast at their house. Angela tells him that he doesn't have to feel embarrassed to eat in front of them. Jimmy arrives and notices a box on the dining table and asks what it is. Angela informs him it is a wedding gift from Nucky. Jimmy ignores it, though he tells Richard to feel free to take some of the biscuits Angela made for breakfast home with him to have later, which Harrow wraps in a napkin.

Nucky steps into Teddy's room and asks if he can have a talk with the boy. Teddy starts removing his coat and suspenders and Nucky asks him what he is doing. "Getting ready for the belt," the boy replies. Nucky tells the boy to relax. He isn't going to hit him. "You need to mind your mother and the sisters at school," Nucky says. "No more misbehaving or playing with matches." Teddy stays quiet through most of Nucky's talk which is so calm it doesn't remotely resemble a lecture let alone a scolding. It's also clear that it has been a long time since he was serving as "father and mother" to Jimmy, because he really only knows one way to deal with people now, no matter what age they are and pulls a pile of bills out of his pocket. He hands some toward Teddy, who is obviously confused by the gesture until Nucky says, "Take it. Go buy some sweets. And be a good boy." Teddy takes the money and Nucky gives the lad a reassuring pat on the head.

The many bulletholes remain visible on the walls of Chalky's warehouse as a crowbar pries open the doors and man comes in. In the background, we can see Richard standing guard with a shotgun.

Van Alden enters a house and hangs up his coat and hat on a rack by the door. He takes his suitcase down the hall to a bedroom and sets it down. He stands at a dresser and starts counting out $20 bills. In the reflection of the mirror above the dresser, we see Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta) beginning to stir in bed. She asks what time it is. "Nearly 4 p.m. I have your money," Van Alden tells her. She climbs out of bed, the advancement of her pregnancy very much in evidence. "Could you lie with me?" she requests as she rubs on the agent. "You need to sleep in your own room," Nelson replies as he beats a hasty exit out of the bedroom.

Jimmy and Richard lead just part of the bustle happening at Chalky's warehouse as crates move in. Mickey Doyle nee Cusick (Paul Sparks) asks Jimmy, "Should I be concerned that there's blood on some of these crates?" "Not unless it's yours," Jimmy responds, eliciting that unmistakable Mickey giggle.

Nucky reads the paper when the phone rings. It's Eddie on the other end informing his boss that there's a man from the state's attorney office who wants to speak with him immediately. "Well put him on," Nucky says. There's an awkward pause from Eddie who comes back on and says the official insists on speaking to Nucky in person as soon as possible. Nucky tells him that he's on his way. Margaret asks if anything's wrong, but Nucky says no, it's just that he promised Teddy that he would take them all to see the new Chaplin at The Royal. Nucky suggests that Margaret and the kids go along and he'll meet them after he stops by the office.

As the 1915 hit "Is There Still Room for Me 'Neath the Old Apple Tree" recorded by Henry Burr & Albert Campbell and written by Maurice Abrahams, Lew Brown and Edgar Leslie plays on the radio, Dick cuts photos and illustrations out of magazines and books and pastes them into some sort of album he's creating. Harrow seems particularly pleased with a color drawing he's found of a happy family seated around a dinner table.

Nucky marches off the elevator and into his office to the sight of an unfamiliar man and state troopers as well as a worried-looking Eddie. "May I help you gentlemen?" Nucky offers. "Enoch Thompson?" the man in the suit asks. "What the hell is going on?" Nucky demands to know. "I'm Solomon Bishop, a deputy with the state attorney's office," the man (Bill Sage) says. At this point, one of the troopers crosses behind Thompson and places handcuffs on him. "Mister Thompson, you are under arrest for election fraud."

At The Royal, Margaret has Emily sitting in her lap and there's an empty seat saved between her and Teddy as both the boy and his mother occasionally take their eyes off the screen where Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan star in The Kid to look at the theater doors each time they swing open to see if they might be heralding Nucky's arrival.

Jimmy comes home to a darkened house — presumably Angela and Tommy have turned in for the night. He goes to the table where Nucky's unopened gift remains and finally opens it. At the top is an envelope full of cash which Jimmy disdainfully tosses aside. Below that is a sculpture which seems to be of a father and son on a hunting-and-fishing trip. Jimmy examines it a moment before going to a closet, turning on the light and clearing some space. He places the sculpture on the high shelf, turns off the light and shuts the door.

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Thanks for the summary, but I believe the commodore's comment was "You'll be judged not by what you attempt, but by what you succeed at."
My handwriting is so bad, I misinterpreted my own notes. I just played it back on HBO GO and corrected it. He said, "You will be judged by what you succeed at boy, not by what you attempt." Thanks for catching that for me.
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