Monday, October 31, 2011
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
By Damian Arlyn
An elderly Catholic cardinal stares intensely at us, his hard facial features betraying an expression of complete ambiguity. Is he angry? Sad? Afraid? We don't know. After several seconds he begins to speak. He is dictating a letter to the pope, relaying details of a past event which the film proceeds to show in flashback. His narration explains how Jesuit priests, who set up missions in South America for the education and protection of the local natives, journeyed into the depths of the jungle "to bring the word of God to those Indians still living in their natural state and received in return, martyrdom." We then see one such cleric, stripped to the waist and wearing a makeshift crown of thorns on his brow, being tied to a wooden cross and carried by a group of these Indians (whom we later learn are called the Guarani) down to a river where he is thrown in. He floats away silently, still alive but seemingly resigned to his fate. We watch as he travels further downstream, a grotesque living crucifix adrift in a series of rough rapids, before sailing over the edge of an immense waterfall and plummeting to his death. Thus opens the breathtakingly beautiful and tremendously powerful historical drama The Mission (which celebrates its 25th anniversary today), one of the finest films I personally have ever seen.
Based on actual events that occurred in the territory that borders Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina in the mid-18th century (and, knowing Hollywood's track record for distorting history, no doubt embellishing it), The Mission primarily tells the story of two very different, and yet remarkably similar, men. The first is Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), a kind, noble and patient Jesuit priest who, after the death of his friend, decides to bravely enter the domain of the Guarani tribe. In one of many memorable and visually spectacular sequences, Father Gabriel climbs up the waterfall from the film's prologue, slipping and almost plunging to his own death in the process. His conquering of the falls is the first of many obstacles he must overcome in his quest to finish what his unlucky colleague began.
In a subsequent scene, Gabriel sits calmly on a rock and plays a sweet but elegiac little tune on his oboe as Guarani begin to slowly surround him with their weapons drawn. Though he notices them approach, he continues to play on, his face clearly betraying fear and yet his will proving strong and resolute. Suddenly one native shouts at him angrily, grabs the oboe, breaks it in two across his own knee and storms off. Another one picks up the pieces, examines the instrument as if trying to understand how such a lovely sound could come from it and meekly offers it back to Gabriel who tries to fix it before shaking his head. The native then takes Gabriel's hand and with the consent of everyone else present leads him back to their home. It is a phenomenal dialogue-free sequence about the universal allure of music and the kind of respect that can exist across vast ethnic, cultural and linguistic barriers. In courageously refusing not to be intimidated by these dangerous "savages" as well as not responding with anger or hostility to their destruction of his beloved property, Gabriel begins the first step in earning the trust and admiration of these understandably scared and suspicious people.
Gabriel begins to establish a mission named San Carlos in the heart of the jungle, a sanctuary where the Guarani can hear the Gospel and also be safe from the brutality of the slave traders who capture (and sometimes kill) them. It is here that the film introduces its other primary character: a mercenary named Captain Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro) who is so notoriously ruthless that when he encounters father Gabriel in one of his many hunting excursions, Gabriel's assertion that they are "building a mission here to make Christians of these people" is met with the callous response, "If you have the time." However, when Mendoza discovers his younger brother Felipe (Aidan Quinn) in bed with his own fiancee, he angrily kills Felipe in a duel and, unlike his spiritual ancestor Cain, immediately regrets his fratricide afterward. Although the law can't touch him, Mendoza is consumed with guilt and punishes himself by wasting away in a cell refusing to eat or speak to anyone. Into his misery comes none other than Father Gabriel who, in a manner very similar to his initial encounter with the Guarani, bravely confronts Mendoza for the coward that he is (not only refusing to be intimidated by his threats but actually daring him to act on them) and offers him a chance at redemption. "For me there is no redemption," Mendoza laments. "There is no penance hard enough for me." Gabriel asks: "But do you dare try it?" to which Mendoza replies: "Do you dare to see it fail?"
What follows is another magnificent extended sequence wherein Mendoza accompanies Gabriel and a few other members of his order back into the jungle all the while dragging behind him a huge bundle of metallic weaponry (swords, shields, armor, etc) at the end of a rope. It even involves climbing the same waterfall (which becomes a sort of character in itself) Gabriel did. It all culminates in another dialogue-free scene of almost immeasurable emotion and profundity; indeed it's one of the most moving depictions of forgiveness I've ever seen on film (although there is a comparable one in Terrence Malick's latest opus The Tree of Life). Mendoza soon becomes an active part of the seemingly idyllic existence at San Carlos. Grateful for his "second chance" at life, he asks Father Gabriel what he can do in return. Gabriel hands him a Bible and we see Mendoza reading passages from the apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians ("Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."). Indeed, much like Paul, who persecuted Christians only to become one of their greatest proponents, Mendoza transforms from a murderer and trader of the Guarani into their friend and advocate.
Having witnessed enough death in his life Mendoza swears off all violence (as is seen in a sequence where the Guarani invite him to help slay a boar they've hunted and he refuses) and even joins Gabriel's order vowing to protect and serve his fellow man. This, however, proves very difficult as the signing of the Treaty of Madrid reallocates the previously protected lands inhabited by the Jesuit missions to Portugal, which unlike Spain permits slavery. This leads to the section of the film where Cardinal Altamirano (Ray McAnally), the stoic priest who narrates the film, is sent by the pope to appraise the Jesuit missions and decide whether they should continue to fall under the protection of the Roman Catholic Church. In some emotionally charged scenes (where the disparity between good and evil is rarely so starkly drawn), the Jesuits defend the humanity of the Guarani and the virtues of the missions while the plantation owners assert the inferiority and animal-like natures of the Guarani and apply political pressure to Altamirano for a favorable decision. They are such despicable, sorry excuses for human beings that it actually borders on the comical.
Unfortunately, even after visiting the San Carlos mission and seeing the "paradise on earth" that the Jesuits and the Guarani have built together, Altamirano comes to the inevitable conclusion that in order to save the whole body (the body in this case presumably being the "body of Christ," or the church) one must sometimes hack off a limb (the limb being the missions), not unlike another pragmatic religious leader named Caiaphas who determined centuries earlier that it is "better that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish." He tells the Guarani that they must leave the mission, but they do not want to leave. It is their home. When they question the wisdom and authority of this priest, he asserts that they must learn to submit to the will of God. Confused, the Guarani say that it was the will of God that they came out of the jungle and built the mission and they don't understand why God has changed his mind. The Guarani decide to stay and fight. Altamirano tells the Jesuits that they must not fight with the Guarani but that they must instead return to Rome with him. Angry at this betrayal by the church, Mendoza literally takes up his sword again and, along with several other Jesuits (including a young Liam Neeson), joins with the Guranai in defending their home against the colonialists.
The only one who doesn't take up arms is Father Gabriel. Heartbroken at this turn of events, but still unwilling to abandon the Guarani to their doom, Gabriel chooses to stay with them, but he will not kill. On the eve of the impending battle, Mendoza comes to Gabriel to be blessed for his efforts, but Gabriel refuses to do so. "If you're right, you'll have God's blessing," he says. "If you're not, my blessing won't mean anything." The two men embrace and the climactic final showdown soon follows. Alas, the outcome is hardly unpredictable. Nearly all of the Guranai who resist are slaughtered. Mendoza and the other priests are killed in battle. Father Gabriel, who stages a nonviolent demonstration with many of the Guarani women and children, also is killed and his mission is burned to the ground.
Shortly thereafter, Altamirano is seen eating with the plantation owners and he is utterly sickened not only by the news of this massive loss of human life but by their ambivalence to it. "And you have the effrontery to tell me that this slaughter was necessary?" he asks. Calmly and coldly, they tell him that they believe it was. "We must work in the world, your eminence," one of them says. "The world is thus." To this Altamirano replies, "No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world," before gazing out the window and somberly admitting his own culpability in the affair. "Thus have I made it." The film concludes with Altamirano finishing his letter to the pope and, in one of my favorite post-credit movie codas (right up there with Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Young Sherlock Holmes), stares intensely back into the camera as he did in the film's opening image.
The Mission was written by Tony Award-winning playwright (A Man for All Seasons) and two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Bolt (Doctor Zhivago and A Man for All Seasons), whose credits also include other historical epics with decidedly intimate focal points such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bounty. The Mission was directed by the English filmmaker Roland Joffé, whose only prior feature film, The Killing Fields, won him much critical acclaim and seemed to signal the promise of a great director. Unfortunately, his career since The Mission has been notably unimpressive, with his failures (such as Super Mario Bros., The Scarlet Letter and Captivity) looming much larger than his successes. Nonetheless, in spite of its flaws, The Mission is an extraordinarily compelling piece of work with many superlative elements to recommend it. The performances are uniformly solid but Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro are especially good. The spiritual journeys of these two men are the real heart of the film and both actors imbue their parts with subtlety and soul. De Niro's reticent warrior is perhaps a bit more complex, but Irons' faithful Father Gabriel is no less interesting or sympathetic.
One of the things I love about The Mission is how it doesn't cast its lot with either character at the film's finale. Both men are clearly trying to do the right thing in an otherwise awful situation and even though they disagree as to what that is, the film doesn't judge the actions of either. The film also boasts some gorgeous locales beautifully rendered by cinematographer Chris Menges (who won an Academy Award for his efforts) and the highly evocative film score by legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone not only stands out as one of his best works but has become one of the most popular soundtracks around…even for those who don't typically notice/collect film music. The piece "On Earth as it is Heaven" (the tune played by Gabriel on his oboe early in the film) is a bittersweet melody that haunts much of the film's imagery and the celebratory choral "Guarani" theme (made up of exotic instruments and native-style chanting) lingers in the memory long after the film is over.
Although it received a handful of awards (including the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes) and numerous other nominations, The Mission was lukewarmly received when it was released in 1986. Nobody panned it but few critics praised it as a masterpiece either. Most labeled it merely mediocre and remained rather indifferent to it. Roger Ebert wrote that it felt "exactly like one of those movies where you'd rather see the documentary about how the movie was made" (incidentally, the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Mission includes the hour-long doc Omnibus, which chronicles the making of the film in case he, or anyone else, ever wants to actually do that; I have and although it is fascinating, I still prefer the film itself). Considered by many to be muddled, ponderous, pious and with characters who seemed more like "types" than fleshed-out human beings, it grossed a meager $17 million at the box office and faded into relative obscurity thereafter. Over the years, however, as more and more people have discovered this little-known treasure of a film, it has gained a somewhat more prominent reputation …particularly among religious folk who are drawn to its themes of redemption, forgiveness, faith, courage, love, compassion, goodness, evangelism, etc. In fact, the weekly Anglican publication Church Times picked it as No. 1 on a list of the "Top 50 Religious Films" and in 2004 Arts & Faith ranked it No. 54 on their "Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films."
Speaking only for myself, I find it to be an incredibly deep and thoughtful piece of work; indeed one of my favorite films. In the interests of full disclosure though, I should probably make it known that I am myself a Christian (though I don't belong to any particular denomination) and as such tend to respond favorably to stories that involve people who share my faith and the struggles that they deal with as they attempt to live it out. Many people already now this about me, but it's still a little nerve-wracking to admit that about myself because I realize it is not a popular thing to be right now. There are a lot of Christians out there who are making a lot of noise (as well as a lot of enemies) and as such people tend to lump us all in the same category.
As I believe Dr. Peter E. Dans observes in his book Christians in Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners, it is becoming more and more difficult to find positive portrayals of Christians in movies and TV and far more commonplace to see them depicted as sanctimonious, hypocritical, judgmental, right-wing ignoramuses (see movies such as Paul, Footloose and Easy A as well as TV shows such as 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory and The Office). Consequently, a film such as The Mission, where the church may not come off particularly well but individual believers are depicted quite sympathetically, resonates with me simply because it goes against the recent trend.
I'd like to think, however, that I can still be objective enough to recognize a good movie (which I think The Mission is) when I see one, whether it tends to paint Christians in a good light or not. I am not particularly interested, for example, in so-called "Christian" movies, partially because they are essentially works of propaganda and I tend to respond to all propaganda the same (whether it propagates something I happen to agree with or not), but also because they tend to be as many critics (including this one and this one) have pointed out, pretty bad. Nonetheless, there are some films that I think could be classified as "Christian" (though I personally don't even really consider that a viable category) that don't fit the usual "faith-based" mold we have come to expect and which I think are far more powerful, existential and artistic (films such as Shadowlands, Chariots of Fire, The Exorcist, Dogma, Chocolat, etc). I think The Mission belongs with those films. It might not be a "Christian movie" per se (whatever that is) but it is a movie about Christianity and its admittedly checkered past (I am not naive enough to think that the real-life missions were as idyllic as they are depicted here) and it appropriates into its worldview many of the truths about life and human nature that draw me to the Christian ideology.
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Sunday, October 30, 2011
Boardwalk Empire No. 18: The Age of Reason
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.
By Edward Copeland
"We're all living in sin. We try and we try, but still we make mistakes," a character says tonight. While the main recurring question so far this season on Boardwalk Empire has concerned who or what you're fighting for or who you'd defend, tonight's episode takes that question for many characters to a more spiritual level. Most of the focus aims less at the various machinations (though there are plenty) and more at sins, the soul and judgment. Even some of the gangsters, who have no qualms at dealing out revenge on traitors, stick to their own religious orthodoxy as they do it. While tonight's episode is exceptionally well directed, it inevitably slips a bit from last week's great episode, especially its Richard Harrow storyline. My one complaint about the previous episode was that it ignored plot points from the previous week that it would seem necessary to get back to immediately. Tonight's installment does at least go back to those but doesn't speak to last week's major incident as Shea Whigham's Eli doesn't appear at all after leaving the city short a ward boss (By the way, are any of the ward bosses besides Damian Flemming continuing to make collections? If so, who gets the money?)
This week's installment was written by Bathsheba Doran, who gets her first Boardwalk Empire teleplay credit. Prior to working on the show this season as a staff writer, her previous TV writing experience appears to be exclusively in comedies and sketch shows. Jeremy Podewsa directs "The Age of Reason" following previous work on one of season one's best episodes, "Anastasia," which earned him an Emmy nomination for oustanding direction, as well as directing episodes of Six Feet Under, Dexter, The Tudors, Rome and many others. He also earned an Emmy nomination for co-directing part eight of The Pacific with David Nutter.
The show opens with a slow pan down the hall of the house where Van Alden and Lucy live, getting closer to Nelson who sits on the edge of his bed reading The Bible. "Pick up some lemons on the way home from work, would you?" Lucy bellows from another room. Even though Van Alden and Lucy's storyline still seems light years removed this season from anything dealing with the show's main storylines, Michael Shannon's performance continues to provide moments worth watching. This time, it's the silent glance he gives when his eye looks right toward the direction of the shout while his left hand — wedding ring quite visible — covers his mouth as if stifling a scream. He closes his eyes tightly but reopens them when Lucy adds, "I gotta eat lemons." He puts down his Bible and glares down the hall. He walks down the hall in her direction, filmed from behind as only a shadow. Each step he makes as he finishes tying his tie on the way sounds like a horse's hoof beat — Agent Van Alden of the Apocalypse. Nelson finds the very pregnant Lucy sitting in a chair at the kitchen table, holding her back. "You hear what I said?" she asks. "You want lemons," he says as he buttons his vest. Lucy tells him that she can't get comfortable. "Agent Clarkson is in a hospital bed with third degree burns over most of his body. I would venture to say that he can't get comfortable either," Nelson tells her as he toys with his shirt collar. "I'm sorry about that. I just want to be done with it," Lucy whispers. Nelson stares at her, but he's nearly as difficult to read at times as Richard Harrow when he wears his tin mask. "I will pick up lemons," Nelson promises before grabbing his jacket and briefcase and leaving.
That scene cuts to an image of a figurine depicting Jesus on the cross. "We're all living in sin. We try and we try, but still we make mistakes," a voice says. The camera pans to the right of the crucifix and we see Teddy Schroeder transfixed by it. It moves behind him and we see that Teddy and his mother sit in front of Father Brennan (Michael Cumpsty), the priest in charge of the parochial school that Teddy attends and who saved him from expulsion over the match-lighting incident. "So how can we avoid the fires of hell if we can't stop sinning?" Father Brennan asks, putting real emphasis on the phrase "fires of hell." Margaret looks more concerned about that prospect than her 7-year-old son, to whom the question is being addressed, seems to be. "We've been over this, dear," Margaret says to Teddy. His "Uncle Nucky" leans against the mantle, looking bored out of his mind. "Say sorry," Teddy answers quietly. "What else — before that?" the priest inquires. Teddy looks around for an answer when Nucky steps forward. "You have to confess your sins then you say you're sorry. He knows," Nucky replies for him. "When you misbehave Teddy — when you sass your parents, when you laugh in church — you're like the cruel Jews and evil soldiers who taunted Jesus when he was on the cross," Brennan tells him, his voice rising when he says "cruel Jews." "Now Jesus never complains — he can take it. Now Jesus' father — you know who that is Teddy?" Teddy doesn't stumble before he answers, "God." Father Brennan explains that God gets very angry when we sin. "When He gets angry, where does He think about sending us?" Father Brennan asks the boy. Nucky interrupts the theological round of Final Jeopardy. "We need to wrap this up, Ed," Thompson tells him. I guess Sister Bernice was correct when she told Margaret that Brennan and Nucky were close if he can call the priest, "Ed." Margaret reminds him that it's the last meeting before Teddy's first confession. "It's important to set a good example," Father Brennan says to the indicted election rigger who lives in sin with Teddy's widowed mother, whose dead husband — Teddy's father — Nucky had murdered. "I bet between the three of us, we can save his soul," Nucky wagers before telling them he'll be in the car. "You are now 7 years old thus you have now attained the age of reason, meaning you know the difference between right and wrong. After age 7, God doesn't just watch over us, does he? What else does he do?" Brennan asks the boy. "He judges us," Teddy says tentatively. "He judges us," the priest repeats. I wonder, if 7 is the key age for knowing between right and wrong, the age of reason, at what age do people lose it again? Because there certainly are a lot of unreasonable adults running around and I'm not just talking about within the context of Boardwalk Empire. Teddy starts kicking his left foot against his chair's leg until Margaret makes him to stop. Father Brennan tells her to make sure he's ready to list his sins honestly and thoroughly the next day. "You also, for your own confession," Brennan adds. "I must confess as well?" Margaret reacts with surprise. "It really is about setting a good example," Father Brennan insists.
As prosecutor Charles "Chip" Thorogood begins to make his case before Judge Ketchum (Edward James Hyland) that the election rigging case against Nucky should be transferred to federal court, the judge interrupts him because he's distracted by his footwear. Chip happens to be wearing green shoes. "Very demonstrative," the judge comments as Ginsburg takes a peek from the visitors' gallery and State Attorney Bishop sits at his table. Thorogood starts to go into the details of the Mann Act, making sure to note that the Justice Department was made aware of these violations by the press instead of the state attorney. The judge tells him he knows what the law is, but he doesn't see how it relates to election rigging. "If I may your honor," Bishop stands up and says. "You may not," Ketchum replies. "The defendant, Mr. Thompson, is accused of paying these women to coerce potential voters by employing their feminine wiles," Chip argues. "Sex — intercourse," the judge interjects. "Yes! Given the high profile nature of this case, we think it appropriate that the federal government take over what the good state of New Jersey has begun. That way we may prosecute Mr. Thompson to the full extent of the law," Thorogood concludes. The judge declares that he's inclined to agree with Chip. Bishop bows his head as Ginsburg flashes a grin.
While Harlan (Julian Rozzel) shines Nucky's shoes in his office, Thompson looks over a book called Young People's Bible History (which notes that it's illustrated) and writes an inscription inside beneath the words "A Sacred Token." Harlan asks if the book has Daniel in the lion's den in it. "My boys love that one," he says. "For my nephew. He's making his first confession," Nucky explains. "You a churchgoing man?" Nucky asks. "Oh, I never miss a week. Shiloh Baptist over on Arctic," Harlan replies. Shiloh Baptist Church is and was a real Atlantic City church and occupied that site on Arctic and Ohio Avenues from 1898 to 2003 when it moved to a new larger location on Atlantic Avenue. Nucky gives Harlan a tip and he wishes Thompson a blessed week as Nucky's phone starts ringing. Eddie steps in and informs him that George Remus is calling. "George, hearing your name a lot lately," Nucky says into the phone. "I'm calling to say thanks. Remus wasn't expecting any favors coming his way from Atlantic City," Remus responds on the other end where he's lying on a table with a large fan blowing on him while a man gives him a massage. "If you're talking about whatever deal you worked out with Jess Smith, let's just say I was helping both of us," Nucky tells him. "Now Remus can buy his liquor permits straight from the source — as often as he needs to," Remus shares, along with the fact he's getting ready for a dip in an indoor swimming pool. "When can I expect a finder's fee?" Nucky asks. Remus laughs. "What for?" The recommendation to Smith, Nucky tells him. Remus' mood sours. "Wow. You haven't changed," he says. "George, is the irony lost on you that you operate in Ohio yet didn't know anyone from Harding's administration until I stepped up?" Nucky asks. "You know what Remus doesn't like about you — the nickel and diming," Remus complains. "Christ, are you still squawking about the phone bill?" Nucky inquires in disbelief. "When you come to Cincinnati, you're not handed a bill for the maid service," Remus growls. "Why the fuck would anyone ever go to Cincinnati?" Nucky fires back. "Remus finds you petty and resentful," Remus declares. "Remus can go fuck himself," Nucky says as he hangs up. He places a $10 bill in the book for Teddy and closes it. Then he pauses and replaces it with a twenty.
This episode contains a lot of nice visual segues. Nucky closes the book in his scene, we find Leander reading from one in the next. "I am indebted to my father for living but to my teacher for living well," the Commodore's longtime lawyer recites. "Alexander the Great," Jimmy says from a couch in the Commodore's great room, Gillian seated nearby. "Son of the king," Leander adds as he hands the book to Jimmy and we see for the first time that the Commodore also is present, in his own infirmed way, in a wheelchair, barely showing more life than all the stuffed displays of the wild animals he once killed. "A king who's very proud of his heir," Gillian states toward the Commodore, who nods slightly. "My teacher. What about him?" Jimmy asks Whitlock. It's only taken six episodes, but finally we're getting a scene where Dominic Chianese gets actual dialogue instead of just a token line or two, a toast in Latin or only stands there speechless. "Nucky? He's always thinking ahead. This ploy with the attorney general," Leander comments. "You sound impressed," Jimmy notices. "It's a clever move. I wouldn't have thought of it," the longtime lawyer admits. The Commodore makes some unintelligible sounds and points with his left hand. Apparently, Whitlock can interpret what he's thinking even in this state because he responds, "I'm sorry Louis, but give the man his due." The Commodore continues to get agitated and Gillian suggests it is time for his medicine. Jimmy calls for his butler Langston (Rony Clanton), who removes the Commodore from the room. "Tough old bird, that one," Leander says. "I thought he was talking about you, ma," Jimmy tells Gillian, who gives him an icy stare. Whitlock lets Jimmy know that's he is glad he's keeping his chin up. "I've been through bigger scrapes," Jimmy declares, putting the book down on the table and walking over toward the window to fix a drink. "But you were taking orders then, not giving them," Leander reminds him, adding. "The business with Jackson Parkhurst, was that necessary?" Jimmy plays dumb. "You would have to ask the men responsible," he replies as he hands Whitlock a drink. "I'd be lying if I said that many tears were shed but you've alienated some powerful allies," Leander informs him. "I don't care for what you're implying," Gillian says, trying to maintain a sweet tone as she joins the conversation, something Whitlock isn't particularly interested in having her do. "I'd like to talk to your son — privately." Gillian looks annoyed, but Jimmy tells her that it's OK and she gets up to leave, though I imagine she stays within listening distance, and gives Jimmy one of her full kiss on the lips that always makes him look uncomfortable, though this is the first time he makes reference to it when he notices Leander's look. "That's just something she does," he tells him. "I can't fault you for boldness, but not every insult requires a response," Leander says. "How would you have handled it?" Jimmy asks. Leander gets up as he begins to tutor Jimmy some about the past. "Your father when we first met — this was a long time ago — he had many virtues. Prudence was not one of them. It caused him some difficulty. Nucky was different. From the start, he was thinking about something bigger — a machine that made everyone pay and what he accomplished was impressive," Leander informs Jimmy. "I don't see you at his fundraisers," Jimmy points out. "That doesn't stop me from admiring his skill," Whitlock responds. "What's so hard about putting the squeeze on somebody?" Jimmy asks. "Are you finding it easy? No? Then don't be so quick to judge," Leander replies. Jimmy tells him that he has started something and he'll see it through no matter what. Leander says he'd prefer to hear Jimmy say he wanted to win. Jimmy limps over to the lawyer and gets in his face. "Isn't that what I just said?"
Lucy takes a plate to the kitchen sink when she feels a pain in her stomach and drops the tableware to the floor where it shatters into several shards amid the initial drops of her water breaking. Now, Lucy's storyline for this episode, quite frankly, isn't conducive for an exciting, blow-by-blow recap, so I won't be returning to describe every scene involving her until toward the end of the episode because they all consist of Lucy alone in the apartment in labor and in pain. Remember, Van Alden didn't equip the residence with a telephone, so she can't call someone to come over and help. Needless to say, she can't easily make an attempt to get out of the apartment on her own either and she doesn't try. They do have one sequence when Lucy writhes in bed in agony and notices a little boy in a window in an apartment across the way brushing his teeth. She tells him to go get his mother but the frightened-looking child instead just closes the curtains on his window. Therefore, until we get to later in the episode, when Nelson returns home, I will not be recapping all the Lucy scenes. Just assume that while everything else transpires, she's having a painful labor in solitude that we occasionally drop in on to watch.
Eddie pops the cork on the champagne as most of the principals (except State Attorney Bishop, of course) in Nucky's legal case gather in his office to celebrate Judge Ketchum's ruling. "Only my third time before a judge — can you believe that?" a giddy Chip Thorogood boasts. Anthony Laciura's expressions as Eddie as Chip goes on about his victory are absolutely priceless. "And it was nifty, I tell ya — just like my old man said it would be," Thorogood continues. "Your dad's a lawyer," a seated Ginsburg says. Chip laughs. "Of course he's a lawyer. Don't you know my old man?" Thorogood asks as if it would be ridiculous if anyone in the world hadn't heard of him. "Can't say that I do," Ginsburg replies. Chip motions at Nucky, who is on the phone, and says that he must know his father. Thompson looks just as annoyed by Thorogood, but he's waiting for his connection to be made to Harry Daugherty. "Nucky, you sound happy," Daugherty tells him. "Life is grand — I'm a federal defendant," Nucky declares. Daugherty says that now Nucky owes him one, but Nucky prefers to think of them as even. "Or we will be once Skippy here tanks the case," Nucky insists. Daugherty passes on Jess Smith's thanks for his help with Remus. "Take care of the boy, Nuck. Me and his papa go way back," Harry tells him before congratulating him again and ending the call. "Your boss said to take care. What's your pleasure, counselor?" Nucky asks. "What do you think? I'm a red-blooded American boy," Chip responds. "Order him up some apple pie," Nucky tells Eddie. "Cherry is more my style — a la mode, if you catch my meaning," Thorogood says. "I don't actually, but Mr. Kessler will set you up in a suite," Nucky assures him. Laciura tosses out another hysterical look as he escorts Chip to the elevator when Thorogood puts his arm around Eddie's shoulder to explain what he's interested in sexually.
Owen walks in Nucky's house carrying Teddy over his shoulder with Margaret not too far behind. Katy stands near the entryway. "Where do you want this sack of potatoes, ma'am?" Sleater asks her. "Anywhere will be fine," Katy answers as Owen puts the boy down and he scurries off. Owen asks if Margaret needs him for anything else, but she says that will be all. "You're looking fetching today," he tells Katy. "Why thank you, Mr. Sleater," Katy blushes. Owen then leaves, passing Margaret, who has a disapproving look on her face. Katy begins to exit the entryway when Margaret asks to have a word with her and they go into an adjoining room. "I can't help but notice you and Mr. Sleater. There seems to be quite an attraction," Margaret comments. Katy admits Owen is very handsome. "But it's more than that, isn't it?" Margaret says as she removes her gloves in a very toying way. "I don't know what you mean, ma'am," the maid responds with her eyes cast downward. "Don't be coy, Katy. It doesn't suit you," Margaret tells her as she continues to play with her gloves even though they're off. She crosses the room, lessening the distance between her and her servant. "Your behavior — yours and his. There are children in this house, as you are well aware," Margaret declares as she leaves the room. Katy doesn't look happy.
There's a fakeout for you — Nelson sits in a hallway as a nurse walks toward him carrying a baby. Nah, it's not his and Lucy's. The nurse keeps walking. A different nurse (McKenna Kerrigan) comes out of a room and tells Van Alden that he can go in now. He walks in gingerly and lays eyes on the charred but still living Agent Clarkson. How long has he survived? He was in the explosion two episodes ago on an uncertain date, went unmentioned last week on Memorial Day, which was May 30, 1921, and nothing indicates how many days have passed since then. As Nelson bows his head, presumably to begin praying, Supervisor Elliot (Peter McRobbie) enters with Agent Sawicki. "Jesus Christ," Elliot says. "I wasn't exaggerating, sir," Sawicki declares. "How is he still alive?" Elliot asks. "He loves the Lord, sir," Nelson tells his boss. "It seems that's a pretty one-sided relationship," Elliot comments, upsetting Van Alden. "When you blaspheme in this room, you insult Agent Clarkson. Even the doctors, men of science, agree that his fate rests in God's hands, not theirs," Van Alden informs Elliot. He then bows his head and begins saying a prayer out loud, causing Elliot and Sawicki to glance at each other, then remove their hats and look down as well. In the middle of Van Alden's prayer, Clarkson starts breathing heavily and his body heaves upward. Clarkson looks in Nelson's direction and says, "I see you. I know what you did." Elliot wants to know what Clarkson is saying. "I'll get the doctor," Van Alden volunteers. Nelson goes out in the hall and braces himself against the wall, one hand covering his mouth. He begins breathing almost as heavily as Clarkson was. Out of the corner of his eye, Nelson notices a flickering. It's a lamp at the end of the hallway. He gazes at it, mouth agape. Is it a sign?
Nucky's voice begins to be heard while Nelson still stares at that light. "Run it down so everyone's on the same page," Thompson says. We see he's addressing a large meeting of all the bigwigs involved in his liquor operation now that it runs through Philly. "Tomorrow night. Weather's fair, so we'll get as close to shore as possible," Bill McCoy tells the room. "We've got speedboats — over a dozen — the whole pickup will take less than an hour," we're informed by the often-mentioned-but until-now-unseen Waxey Gordon (Nick Sandow). The camera move is done extremely well — beginning up high so we can see how many people populate the room before it slowly circles in lower on the various players. "And we're safe from the Coast Guard?" Nucky asks. "I don't want a repeat of last time," McCoy says. "Mr. Gordon has given us his assurances," Rothstein tells them while Lansky and Luciano stand behind him. "Waxey — and yes, we're safe. That's what you're payin' me for," Gordon insists. "I was beginning to wonder," Nucky jokes. "Once they make shore in Philly, the goods are loaded onto trucks by Waxey's men," Rothstein adds. We can see that Chalky sits in a chair on the other side of Rothstein. "Chayem here will supervise then his fellas will get you safe to the border of Atlantic City," Waxey tells him, referring to Rothstein's men. Hold up a minute — what is Chayem doing there? For those with short memories, Chayem also goes by the first name of Herman and his last name is Kaufman and when we met him two weeks ago, he was Manny Horvitz's ally who met Jimmy in the butcher shop. Luciano leans over to Rothstein, complaining that for 20%, Gordon's men should take them all the way. Waxey asks if Lucky and his crew are broads now. "We gotta walk you home?" "A kiss goodnight would be nice," Kaufman adds. "Sure, with a lead fuckin' pipe," Lucky calms after the now familiar, soothing Rothstein refrain of "Charlie." Gordon promises that no one will give them any trouble. "If they do, they gotta answer to me," Waxey says. "I'll be expectin' y'all about five and make damn sure you flash your lights 'cause I ain't takin' no more chances," Chalky tells them. Rothstein and Nucky exchange nods.
Jimmy strolls down the lit-up Boardwalk at night with his arm around Angela when he spots a display for the Atlantic City Wireless Radio Exhibition. "Wireless — look at that," Jimmy points out. "Music is everywhere suddenly," Angela says. "We should get one of them," Jimmy declares. "It would be nice for Tommy — introduce him to the classics without spending a fortune on records," Angela suggests. She tells Jimmy that she also read that immigrants were using it to learn English. As Angela continues to talk about wireless radio as a teaching tool, Jimmy spots Nucky, Waxey and Herman Kaufman walking out of the Ritz Carlton so he sweeps Angela into a passionate kiss to make sure they don't see him, though he keeps his eyes peeled on them. "What was that for?" Angela asks, assuming Jimmy hadn't been caught up in the story of immigrants learning to speak English. "I guess the music got to me," he replies as they continue their walk.
Nelson calls Rose from a phone booth at the hospital. "Hello, my dear," he says when she answers. "Nelson, it's nearly 11 p.m.," Rose responds, surprised by the lateness of the call. "One of my officers, Agent Clarkson — you met him — he's been very badly hurt," he tells her. "It happened some time ago. (That's an understatement) There was an explosion, but still I should have been there." Rose sits down at the desk by the phone at their home. "Nelson, no" she says. It's very much a mirror of the opening shot of Van Alden in this episode. The camera begins away from him some but slowly closes in as he talks as opposed to his silent reactions before. "There are things you don't know Rose about me, about this job. I'm not fit." There is no priest and he may be in a telephone booth as opposed to a confessional, but he's sticking with the episode's overall theme and confessing — or trying to at least. "Nelson, you aren't responsible for the evils in the world. You're the one — " We can't hear the completion of Rose's attempt to reassure her husband because Nelson has let the receiver drop from his ear. When he puts it back, he starts talking again. "I want you to know — it's important that you know — that everything I've done is because I love you," he tells her, nearly in tears. "Nelson, you're frightening me," Rose says. "I have sinned, Rose, and a good and decent man has burned for those sins," he admits. "Listen to me," Rose pleads. "It's alright. I've made my peace. I'm neither fit for you nor am I fit to wear this badge," Van Alden insists. "I love you," he tells her before hanging up. So what does Nelson think that Clarkson knew? The money he was taking to get tips from Mickey and to pay off Lucy? Just about Lucy? Both?
Nucky and Margaret are — well, just as a voyeur, it doesn't appear to be lovemaking to me; if he were thrusting more forcefully her skull would hitting the headboard — having sex. Nucky finishes and rolls over while Margaret looks up, and it isn't an expression of satisfaction. "Do you not find me attractive?" she asks him. "What? Of course I do. We just made love, Margaret," he answers. "Sometimes it feels like you're elsewhere," she tells him. "I'm nowhere else — I'm right here," he says. Nucky leans over to look at her. "What's on your mind?" Margaret, still gazing at the ceiling, tells Nucky, "He told me to make a confession." Nucky, confused until she clarifies the he as Father Brennan, responds, "Every shoe salesman thinks you need a new pair of boots." Margaret leans over to face Nucky. "What do you plan to say?" Nucky inquires. "That's between me and God, isn't it?" she replies. "Yeah — and Father Brennan," Nucky points out the conduit. "He's a priest," Margaret says simply. "Which means what?" Nucky asks. "That there's a sacred trust," she declares. "You put a lot more faith in people than I do," Nucky tells her. "Faith is the point entirely, isn't it," she responds as she gets out of bed to go to the bathroom. "How Catholic are you?" Nucky wants to know. Margaret doesn't understand, but he puts it more directly — she's not planning to divulge their shared history, "the details of which we'd both be wise to forget." Margaret stays mum for a moment, then replies, "If you're feeling guilty, I suggest you take that up with the priest yourself."
The following morning, the Darmodys are finishing breakfast when Angela answers the phone and tells Jimmy that a man is returning his call. "Boychick, you left a message," Manny Horvitz says on the other end of the line. "Munya, hold on a minute," Jimmy covers the mouthpiece and tells Tommy to go to the other room with his mother. "What the fuck are you trying to pull, Manny?" Jimmy asks the Philly butcher/gangster as he carries the phone toward his window to stare at the beach. "Pull? I'm not the one who screwed you in a business deal, boychick," Horvitz replies. "Last night on the Boardwalk, I saw a friend of yours," Jimmy tells him. "Which friend?" Manny asks. "You really wanna play this game?" Jimmy retorts. "I don't play games, Mr. Darmody. There are any number of corpses that will attest to that. Now you can either tell me who you saw or quit wastin' my fuckin' time," Horvitz declares. "Your friend — Herman whatshisname — I met him at your shop. He was coming out of the Ritz with Waxey Gordon and Nucky Thompson," Jimmy informs him. "And you're sure about this?" Manny asks, almost in a whisper. "I'm positive," Jimmy answers. Manny inquires if Herman saw Jimmy but Jimmy assures Horvitz he didn't. "I'll ask you one more time boychick, you're certain it was Chayem with Waxey?" Jimmy reiterates that it was "The fella from your shop. Yes." Manny, who seems to have grown quieter throughout the phone call, says, "Let me ring you back" and hangs up.
Margaret sweeps beneath the table in the conservatory when Owen knocks and comes in. "Mrs. Thompson, good morning," he greets her. "Good morning," she says in return. He asks what she's doing and she tells him that she spilled some corn flakes. "Is Katy not here?" Sleater asks, since that would be her duty to clean up. "She took the children to the market," she informs him. "Selling them, are you?" Owen attempts to joke. "It's Mrs. Schroeder. When you came in, you addressed me as Mrs. Thompson," Margaret gets around to correcting him. "My apologies. I forgot your situation," Owen says. Margaret's eyes narrow and glare at the Irishman. "Which is highly none of my business. Katy told me you spoke." Margaret has resumed sweeping up the corn flakes and refuses to look at Owen. "Did she?" Sleater takes full blame for what happened. "It's your home and I need to show respect," he tells her. "You need to respect Katy," Margaret suggests. "I do, ma'am. She's a lovely girl," Owen insists. "Are you in the habit of toying with women, Mr. Sleater?" Margaret asks him. Owen laughs nervously. "I wouldn't call it a habit," he responds before offering to finish the sweeping for her. As he takes the broom, he makes a point of placing his hands over hers. "Don't we have a girl for that?" Nucky inquires as he walks in. "She's out with the children," Margaret tells him, slightly blushing. Nucky tells Owen he's late. "I guess it's back to me," Margaret says as she takes back the broom. Sleater places his hands on both of her shoulders as he passes. "Always happy to be of service, Mrs. Schroeder." Kelly Macdonald truly plays the scene to perfection, giving the audience as many mixed signals as she's giving Owen as to whether he puts her off or gets her off.
Nucky may not have slipped out of his legal noose yet. Jess Smith informs Harry Daugherty that Sen. Walter Edge (Geoff Pierson) "would like a word." Edge, the man who might have been vice president if Nucky hadn't made a deal to stop it because Edge double-crossed him on road funds, tells Daugherty he spoke with "his old friend Charlie Forbes" about the Department of Veterans Affairs. "A worthy endeavor, wouldn't you say?" Daugherty says. "Might even benefit a few veterans," Edge responds. Harry asks what Edge means. "Come on Harry — there are crooks and then there's Charlie Forbes," Edge declares. "He's a veteran himself, Walter," Daugherty proclaims. "So was Benedict Arnold," Edge counters, telling Daugherty that one of his constituents has urged him to launch a subcommittee to investigate the matter. This same "constituent" has another concern — Nucky. "He hates the son of a bitch," Edge laughs, then in a more serious tone. "It has come to his attention you have appointed a less-than-enthusiastic prosecutor to his case." Daugherty asks that should he appoint a prosecutor who takes Nucky's case more seriously — "Then I'm sure my interest in how you and your cronies plan to plunder the veterans' bureau would wane accordingly," Edge says. Daugherty puffs on his cigar and grins an uneasy grin.
Manny escorts Jimmy through the passageway leading to the meat freezers below his butcher shop. "I didn't want to do this for a living. People see the apron, they make assumptions. At 16 years old, I saw Emma Thomashefsky on stage at The Arch Street Theater. Boy, was I in love. Whadda ya think? Me — stagestruck — but Munya? My father wouldn't hear of it. Regrets — who has time? Here we go," Manny says as they reach their destination in the meat locker where among the various sides of beef hanging from the ceiling so does Chayem "Herman" Kaufman, bound and gagged, by his feet. "You remember Herman." Even Darmody finds himself shocked by this display. "Jesus, Manny," Jimmy exclaims. "Hey — not in my shop, boychick," the devout Jew responds to the Christian reference. "You dragged me to Philadelphia for this?" Jimmy asks. Manny tells him that he wanted him to hear it from the horse's mouth. "Look who's come Herman — another friend from Atlantic City," Manny says to Kaufman as he leans down and removes his gag. "Help me. Please, " Kaufman pleads to Jimmy. "I don't see nothin' for you. This is our problem — yours and mine," Horvitz tells Kaufman. "Herman — since he was knee-high I know him — then he got an idea in his head." Horvitz slaps Kaufman and orders him to tell Jimmy what the idea was. "Waxey Gordon," Kaufman answers weakly. "Waxey Gordon. And from that pischer he takes money to spy on me. A person like that — I must leave here and understand how he thinks," Manny says, walking off a bit. "What was Waxey doing at the Ritz?" Jimmy asks Herman. "You're being addressed," Manny says from the other end of the locker. "Meeting Nucky Thompson," Kaufman answers, every word obviously a strain to get out. "About what? It's alright — you can tell me," Jimmy says as in the background Manny rubs blades together. Kaufman tells them that Bill McCoy is bringing ships in at 2 that night at the Hawk Island Boat Yard. While very near Philly on the Delaware River, Hawk Island actually resides in New Jersey. "What does Nucky need Gordon for?" Jimmy leans down to ask Kaufman, who either is crying or hyperventilating at this point. "Protection," Kaufman finally spits out. "Whadda ya know, boychick? They're scared of us," Horvitz observes as he begins to hand the knife to Jimmy. "I'm not doing this," Jimmy declares. "I can't touch," Manny says. "Why not?" Jimmy asks. "He's injured. Makes him treif. We all gotta live by rules," Manny explains. Horvitz has no qualms with killing, but he must adhere to his Judaic laws. "Unless you feel squeamish," Horvitz adds. Jimmy asks Manny to hold his hat and then walks behind Kaufman and slits his throat, a large pool of blood gathers beneath Herman's hanging body.
Margaret and Teddy have reached the next two slots in the long line to see Father Brennan within his confessional. A woman steps out and takes the hand of her awaiting daughter so Margaret stands and steps behind the curtain of the booth. She crosses herself and the panel separating the two sides of the confessional slides open, shining light upon Margaret's face as she says, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It's been many years since my last confession." Father Brennan asks her how many years and she tells him she thinks it's been four. "I've been with an infant," she uses as an excuse. "Why has it been so long?" the priest inquires. "The children, life," she sighs. "Is God not part of that life? What have you to tell me?" he questions. "Forgive me Father, but I've really nothing to say," Margaret replies curtly. "You have no sins?" Brennan says. "Of course I do," she responds. "Do you not seek God's forgiveness?" he asks. "I've lied — dozens of times. Taken the Lord's name in vain," Margaret offers, but Brennan isn't ready to let her off the hook that easily and urges her to go on. "I've stolen from an employer," she adds. Brennan turns his head and looks toward the screen. "When you sin my child, you fracture your relationship with God. Tell me honestly what burdens you — search your soul — so I may heal that fracture," Father Brennan requests. This may be Kelly Macdonald's best episode of the season so far as you can see the conflict written on her face even when covered by the booth's screen. "There is a man, Father, and he is bad. I know he is — in my heart — but still I'm drawn to him somehow," Margaret confesses. "Physically you mean," Brennan deduces. "Yes. Impurely in my thoughts," she confirms. "This man — he provides for you and your children," Brennan guesses again, but he doesn't get the expected response this time. "No. He provides nothing. I hardly know him in fact. He works for my family," Margaret tells him. We don't need to see mixed signals anymore — Margaret has the hots for Owen Sleater.
"Don't be upset! Are you fuckin' kiddin' me?" Nucky yells through the phone at Daugherty when he relays the news of Edge's demand about the prosecutor switch and insists his hands are tied. "You are the attorney general, Harry. Since when does a no-name senator grab you by the balls?" Nucky wants to know. "Since the no-name senator threatens an investigation," Daugherty replies. Thompson can't fathom that there would be things to look into after only three months in office. "There are things in the works that I can't discuss," Daugherty tells him. Nucky asks that he pick a prosecutor that he can work with and Harry reminds him that he sent Thorogood. "A lot of help that did," Nucky sneers. "It's not my fault you have a lot of enemies," Daugherty responds. "My neck is on the line here, Harry," Nucky pleads. "Well, so's mine Nucky, so's mine," Daugherty replies. Immediately, Eddie and the Ritz's manager (John Mainieri) enter Chip's suite, making the two hookers scramble, and order Thorogood out in five minutes. Chip, understandably, is confused. Chip's green shoes end up with him on the bed and the manager says, "Nice shoes."
For some reason, it was OK in the 1920s to let someone visiting a hospital patient covered with third-degree burns to smoke a cigarette at his bedside because that's what Supervisor Elliot is doing when Van Alden returns to Clarkson's room. "Nelson, where have you been?" he asks. "The chapel, sir," Van Alden replies before asking if Clarkson has spoken again. "We've wired his family in Montana," Elliot tells him. "He's a good man, sir — an honest man. It should be me in that bed," Nelson says. "Stop it, Nelson," Elliot declares. "It's true, sir. I have something I need to tell you," Van Alden admits. Elliot leans back in his chair and looks up at Van Alden. Before Nelson can speak, Clarkson begins to again, repeating the same words as before. "I see you. I know," the injured agent mumbles, though he's not looking at Van Alden this time. "Hush now," says the nurse who has been treating his burns. "Relax." He keeps up his mantra while looking at her. "Why is he saying that?" Elliot asks. "He's delirious. Pay no attention. He's been saying that to everyone," the nurse tells them. Suddenly, Van Alden's expression changes dramatically. "I see you. I know what you did. I know what you're hiding. It's not fair. You ate the pie. I'll tell ma," Clarkson rambles while Nelson realizes he almost let his own guilt get the better of him. "I need to leave, sir," he says. "You wanted a word in private," Elliot reminds him. "No, it's not necessary," Nelson tells him. "He doesn't have much longer, sir," the nurse informs them.
Van Alden returns home, remembering to get those lemons that Lucy had so loudly requested he obtain for her before he left that morning. He sets down the paper sack bearing the lemons on the table and walks over to the sink when he steps on the shards of the plate that Lucy broke when she started having contractions. "Lucy," Nelson calls out as he begins walking down the hall. It's another mirror of the opening, only this time we see Van Alden from the front and his steps don't reverberate like dire warnings. In fact, they make next to no sound at all. Van Alden stops, as if he's girding himself for what he might find before he enters Lucy's bedroom. His face goes pale with shock as he sees Lucy cradling the baby. (We got many scenes of her going through the labor, but thankfully were spared her cutting the umbilical cord by herself.) "I brought lemons," he tells her. "I did it all myself," Lucy responds, smiling and cooing at the newborn. "It's a girl," she informs Nelson. Van Alden doesn't know how he should react. He simply says, "I'll get a doctor" and rushes off. Mother kisses her baby girl on the forehead.
A caravan of cars and trucks come driving through the woods en route to Atlantic City. In the lead vehicle, a driver (Angelo Berkowitz) escorts Meyer Lansky, who checks his watch shortly before a pop is heard and their car skids off the road. The caravan stops and Lansky and his driver get out to investigate as does Luciano from another vehicle. Lansky has his gun at the ready, but when Luciano asks what happens, Lansky assumes a tire blew when they hit a nail or something. "That ain't no fuckin' nail," Lucky recognizes. Soon, a barrage of bullets start coming from the trees. They take cover behind the car and fire back. When it sounds as if it's time to reload, a familiar voice shouts from the woods, "Drop your weapons." Luciano looks as if he knows who it is when the voice yells, "Throw your guns out and nobody gets hurt." Lucky smiles. "Darmody," he bellows. "Who's there?" Jimmy hollers back. "It's Lucky," he responds. "Identify yourself!" Jimmy demands. "It's Luciano, goddammit!" Lucky roars. Back by the trees, Horvitz asks Jimmy if he knows these fellas. "Alright, come out then," Jimmy tells them. "How do we know you ain't gonna shoot us?" Lucky asks. "I'm not going to shoot you," Jimmy promises. The two sides meet in the middle of the road with guns pointed at one another. "What the fuck are you doing?" Jimmy wants to know. "Making a delivery," Luciano declares. "For Nucky Thompson?" Jimmy says with surprise. "He cut a deal with Rothstein to import his liquor through Philly," Luciano explains. "Under the auspices of Waxey Gordon," Lansky adds. "And you fellas are the muscle?" Manny inquires. "I don't fuckin' believe this," Richard comments. "All this is for Nucky," Jimmy asks for confirmation. "Chalky White's back in business," Luciano informs them. Manny questions Jimmy as to what they should do when Meyer puts his gun up and, ever the negotiator, speaks up. "If I may, this could be an opportunity, gentlemen," Lansky suggests. "What the fuck you talkin' about?" Horvitz puzzles. "We have spoken to you about partnering up," Meyer reminds Jimmy. "Heroin, better opportunities," Lucky adds. "That's right," Jimmy says. "So why kill each other over a few trucks' worth of liquor?" Lansky asks them. "You work with Waxey Gordon. He's a piece of shit," Manny insists. Perhaps Jimmy has acquired yet another new mentor, for he repeats Leander Whitlock's words to Manny. "Not every insult requires a response." Manny points out that part of that large shipment of booze rightfully belongs to him. "So, they'll advance us," Jimmy says. "Sure," Lucky agrees. "You can't kill everyone, Manny. It's not good business," Jimmy tells him. Jimmy maps it out, telling Meyer and Lucky that they'll let them go and deliver the load to Chalky without Nucky catching wind of what's going on. "And then what?" Luciano asks. "We meet up — separately — and we figure out a way to take it all," Jimmy declares. "It's kismet, gentlemen. Rothstein, Nucky — their time has passed," Lansky proclaims. The driver, who had been hiding behind the car, has slowly moved toward the talk as he has seen it was safe. He shouts, "Waxey Gordon's ain't." Manny responds, "Let us worry about Waxey" and punctuates it with a bullet through the driver's chest. "It's a good thing, fellas. You'll see," Meyer pledges.
Nelson returns with the doctor and directs him to Lucy's bedroom. He immediately notices that things have changed. Those lemons that he had left in that brown paper bag now are arranged neatly in a wire bowl. He blinks in puzzlement and looks at the floor where once shards of the broken plate lay. In the sink, a garment soaks in water. As he walks the path toward Lucy's room, his footsteps make more noise again and he literally is taken aback at the doorway to her bedroom. The doctor holds the baby, but a woman sits on the bed, wiping Lucy's forehead, a woman he recognizes even before she turns to face him. "She has a slight fever," Rose tells him. "Rose," Nelson says to his wife. "I'll get out of your way," she tells the doctor as she gets up and walks right past Van Alden. "What are you doing here?" Nelson asks as she's walking away. "On the phone you sounded distraught. I caught the first train I could. Agent Sawicki gave me the address. Hold on — he let Sawicki and, presumably, Clarkson know where he lived and he was worried about a truth that Clarkson could know? That sort of leaves the Lucy part out, doesn't it? Of course, now I can see what was really worrying you," Rose explains. "I did this for us. The child is for you," Nelson tells her as he reaches out for Rose, who starts hitting him. "Don't touch me!" she yells repeatedly while striking him. Van Alden tries to pin her arms to the wall and Rose bites his wrist and flees.
A photographer (Brad Aldous) gets Teddy prepared take his official picture to commemorate his first confession. As Nucky and Margaret watch, Nucky says to Margaret, "I trust your soul is pure." She smiles at him but doesn't speak. "Your confession," he elaborates. "Yes, I'm sure it is." she answers. "What did you end up saying?" he asks. At that moment, Owen happens to enter the house and tells Nucky that he'll pull the car around up front. "Nothing that need concern you," Margaret replies, making that total number of lies she has told a little higher. Lillian brings Emily in. "Look at him, how dear. Another little soldier in God's army," Lillian declares about Teddy. The photographer tells the boy to hold still and takes the photo. After his flashbulb goes off, whiffs of smoke rise in the air after capturing the budding pyromaniac's image on film.
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Friday, October 28, 2011
X's and evil
By Edward Copeland
I've never read a single X-Men comic book, but I loved the first two films, especially the second, though I thought the third was a miss and I skipped the Wolverine standalone movie. Of course, I doubt I'm alone in thinking that Magneto (as played by the marvelous Ian McKellen) wasn't a villain: He just argued for self-defense against those out to destroy mutants as opposed to the always conciliatory Professor X (Patrick Stewart). X-Men: First Class gives the series a welcome boost by going back and telling the story of how the group first started, when Magneto and Professor X were just young men named Charles and Erik and actually fought together.
What may be what I found most surprising about X-Men: First Class is that I think it's the first time I've enjoyed a performance by James McAvoy, who plays the young Charles Xavier who becomes Professor X. He displays a lightness and range that was missing in films such as The Last King of Scotland or Atonement. It's also fun to see the young Xavier as a partying college student in the early '60s using his telepathic powers to try to get laid as opposed to the serious man he will develop into as Professor X.
Michael Fassbender also does well as Erik Lehnsherr, the eventual Magneto, showing the World War II events that scarred him as a Jew and a tool of experimentation by the film's villain Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who begins the film working with the Nazis but turns out to be a mutant himself intent on starting a nuclear war by engineering the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Bacon clearly enjoys chewing the scenery in his World War II scenes with his over-the-top German accent, but Shaw has some anti-aging abilities so when we meet him again in 1962 he speaks in his regular voice, which in a way might be one of the few points of shame in the otherwise other kicky ride.
Director Matthew Vaughn, who helmed Kick-Ass which got some favorable reviews but which I never saw, keeps X-Men: First Class moving at a good pace and handles both the action scenes and the quieter ones with equal aplomb.
The second biggest surprise for me was the character of Mystique. Not being familiar with her origin, I never realized that the blue shape shifter that Rebecca Romijn played in the original trilogy, began as Xavier's adopted sister and went by the name Raven. Even more startling, X-Men: First Class accomplishes something that none of the other films did: It makes her a sympathetic character, helped in no small part by having the young adult Mystique played by the talented Jennifer Lawrence, who is about as far removed from her Oscar-nominated role in Winter's Bone that you can imagine, but flexes more acting muscles in this movie than all the metal the two Magnetos have bent on film.
Others delivering fine performances include Oliver Platt as the only man in the CIA who believes in the mutant and their potential as a positive asset and Nicholas Hoult, who was so great as a kid in About a Boy and good in A Single Man, as a lab geek who turns out to be a mutant and turns himself into The Beast.
On the other hand, it can be a bit frightening to see January Jones as Sebastian Shaw's mutant partner in the 1960s, Emma Frost. The thought of Mad Men harridan Betty Draper Francis possessing special powers sends shivers down my spine.
The movie also has a priceless two-word cameo that comes when Charles and Erik travel the world recruiting mutants for their program. There's a single scene with the great Ray Wise as the secretary of state, but it's not enough. You can never give me enough Ray Wise.
While X-Men: First Class isn't as great as X-Men or X2: X-Men United, the movie provides a fun ride. My one major criticism is the explanation of the split between Professor X and Magneto and how Erik becomes the so-called "bad mutant." The explanation doesn't seem to fly.
In the other films, his explanation made sense to me since there were humans out to destroy or cure the mutants. Here, in the crucial moment that starts him on that path, it simply comes from the suggestion made by the Shaw character who he has hunted down for killing his mom and experimenting on him.
Other than that, X-Men: First Class turns out to be quite an enjoyable ride.
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Thursday, October 27, 2011
"Come out, Neville!"
Richard Matheson remains one of my favorite authors of all-time. When I attended the West Hollywood Book Fair a few years back, it re-ignited my interest in what I believe is the author's seminal novel, I Am Legend. Upon the book's initial release, it was an intriguing mix of horror and science fiction on the vampire mythology in the modern world. Arriving at the fair, I first stopped at one of the comic shop booths before heading over to the initial panel ("Ghost & Goblins: Exploring the Supernatural in Mystery Fiction") that featured author Charlie Huston (who writes his own vampire noir series). Among all of their wonderful comic book offerings, there was one particular graphic novel that stood out — the I Am Legend compilation of the Steve Niles and Elman Brown comic series from the early '90s. While I'd heard of it, I hadn't seen this adaptation in graphic form. Simply…wow. Between looking at its terrific illustrations and seeing how the artists constructed and re-told the author's tale, it was little wonder I was late to that book panel.
Then, upon finding and reaching the discussion, what were Charlie Huston and moderator Leslie Klinger discussing at that very moment? Yep. That same novel, which they then directly credited for being the impetus for much of the written work their panel was examining that day. Soon thereafter, author John Kenneth Muir noted in a blog post (which directly linked to blogger Brian Solomon's The Vault of Horror's list) The Cyber Horror Elite's Reading List: The Greatest Horror Literature of All-Time. This was the result from a panel of distinguished bloggers and writers condensing their favorite horror lit down to the cream of the crop*. What was at 15th rung? You guessed it. So, I felt the need to examine this pioneering novel (the chaser being that it was published the same year I was born). Besides, what better time than the month of Halloween
*That top 30 list drew such an interest-piquing response, B-Sol also posted the remaining novels, short stories and poems that didn't make it there or the honorable mentions list.
"I think the author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson."
— Stephen King
It's been more than three decades since I first heard of this novel. I'd estimate I first read the work during the 1970s — which was likely in response to seeing the first of its film adaptations. The story is about one man, Robert Neville, and his fight to survive in a world that's been decimated by a '70s viral pandemic. It was eerie to me then, and strangely apropos with the recent Contagion film release. As far as the lead character is aware, he's the last uninfected man living on earth, and he's doing so among what's left of the population: the infected vampire horde wandering the Los Angeles nightscape. A couple of parallels are fairly obvious when reviewing the work. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe tale seems relevant — especially when Neville is boarded up at night in his (desert island-like) home. The dwelling, like him, has become reinforced and hardened to the harsh reality, though his stash of food, drink, and classical music LPs keep him company. His 'Man Friday' could be the seemingly uninfected woman character, the biblically named Ruth. As well, the Cold War paranoia and fear track of the '50s permeates the tale. Matheson unfolds Robert Neville's story in a unique mix of flashback, science, mythological horror and ultimate irony. The fact that Matheson imagined a world (my hometown, actually), some 20 years beforehand, that even 21st century readers could still recognize on their first pass, proves the author was prophetically dead-on (so to speak) with this novel.
The American author/screenwriter's clever use of flashbacks used time (and its passage) as an interesting device in the novel's storytelling. It's a tool that subsequently leveled the distance between the moment in time the reader takes it in and that of the prescient world the author first imagined more than 50 years ago. I believe that tactic made it possible for the book reader to imagine Neville's plight of the damned and whatever future pandemic (natural or man-made) that could yet come. I Am Legend, then and now, was considered the first of the 'modern' vampire novels. Its prominent use of science to explain away old vampire lore, plus subjugate religion's treatment and links in ancient mythology, was a first. In the long run, the novel turned out to be the influential rootstock for so many authors' recent work in the vampire genre. It's hard to imagine many of today's modern blood-sucker tales (with the intertwining vampire and humans storylines) coming about without this one novel breaking through and freely mixing myth and science, or our own use of standards and technology, to explain things in the new vampire narratives. Even George Romero's unique zombie and apocalyptic series (that began with the equally seminal Night of the Living Dead film) would seem difficult to conjure without this novel breaching the surface in 1954.
I remember my younger brother telling me he'd seen The Last Man on Earth (1964) on some TV broadcast in the late '60s and trying to explain the story to me. What can I say? Early teen recall is not worth the hormones they are imprinted upon. And it wasn't until the decade turned (a few years later) that I caught up to The Last Man on Earth on another late night showing. This Vincent Price feature, an Italian production, did have Richard Matheson write its original screenplay, but the subsequent changes and rewrites made to it had him pull his name from the film. However, this film does seem to come closest to the source and spirit of the author's novel. Yes, it suffers in its low cost production values, and the poor dubbing doesn't help matters. Still, I would say it's my sentimental favorite since it's the first telling of this story I ever saw (along with the next film) on celluloid. Price, as Dr. Robert Morgan, does embody Neville's tortured, mocking soul somewhat, although the film doesn't really attempt the book's powerful and ironic ending. Additionally, these first two pushed me to actually read the book that it was based upon.
The Omega Man (1971) was the first film adaptation that I saw in an actual movie theater. The Charlton Heston vehicle (along with the subsequent one decades later) began to shift this tale to more of the action/sci-fi genre in its execution and bearing. Gone are the plague aspects of the original work, along with the demythologized vampire text. Enter that period's introduction to the biological warfare scares as imagined by the screenwriter's adaptation in the midst of the Cold War. That, and homicidal mutants (meh). Although, The Omega Man was the only one among all the film conversions to make great and practical use of its L.A. setting and locations (like that originally used in the novel). Unfortunately, this film feels the most dated (hey, it's the '70s). Still, it was entertaining (as long as you let go of the superior narrative in the novel). The film's best moments are Heston being Heston (in his own inimitable way) and any of the scenes that had Rosalind Cash in them (I always admired the late actress and she was never in enough movies, for my liking). Yet I have to agree with my good friend, blogger Livius, on another of its charms:
"The other aspect that endears this film to me is Ron Grainer's achingly melancholic score — a real thing of beauty in my opinion."
This century's adaptation was the third film version, but the first to use the original title of Matheson's novel. I Am Legend (2007) also returned to the concept of a viral pandemic in this re-telling. And it has two of the most charismatic performances among all of these screen adaptations. Will Smith and Alice Braga, you say? Ah…no. Substitute Samantha the dog as lead actress and you have that couple (and Will was hard pressed to garner more acting praise than her). For the record, Ms. Braga does indeed look better than the dog, but Sam simply acted better. Unfortunately, the film overemphasized its special effects and action over the original story's tenets. Plus, this one was a prime example of the filmmakers' tendency to overuse computer effects as characters of late. They were, to put it mildly, some of the worst CGI characters in any of the large budget, high profile film releases of the '00s. There, I said it. The final insult on top of injury, however, with I Am Legend was the use of an ending (be it the one in the theatrical cut or the alternate ending included on the DVD release) that seemed to be the antithesis of the novel's. And unfortunately, the film made a ton of money at the box office. So much so, the studio at one time was preparing for something that should have been abhorrent to anyone who appreciated the original book: a prequel. Luckily, if it's to be believed, that project is dead.
Note: I Am Omega was a direct-to-video release that also came out in 2007 and has yet to be screened by me. Perhaps, one day…
Also in 2007 (in conjunction with the late year release of the above film), the original novel was re-issued (yet again) by a book publisher. And for the first time, Blackstone Audio published an unabridged audiobook for the legendary work. The high profile nature of the then upcoming film, and the importance of bringing a trailblazing novel to the spoken word form, necessitated the studio managers bring out one of its big guns for this first audio treatment. Narrator Robertson Dean, he of the "sonorous, classically disciplined bass-baritone" voice, was selected as the reader. As one of my 2008 reads/listens, all I can say is it was one of the best audiobooks I heard that year. His superlative reading gave a voice to that of the character of Robert Neville I hadn't imagined. And since it all came from the original novel by author Richard Matheson, without abridgement or adaptation, I'd recommend it hands down to anyone who wishes to visit his renowned story. And perhaps, this would include any of the aforementioned film versions (though the earliest of these are worth screening).
The I Am Legend novel remains a masterpiece of modern fiction by one of the true pioneers of books, television and film. Richard Matheson wrote novels of mystery, science fiction, horror, fantasy and, believe it or not, Westerns. Name a writer's award, and he's probably won it (the Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe, Golden Spur, and the Writer's Guild awards to name a few). And if I were to pick just one of his works to be emblematic of his skill and genius at writing, I don't think I could do better than naming this novel to represent that. It's a pity, but not too much of a shock, that the film treatments of the work don't really come close to the pages laid down more than half a century ago. And since I can't do better than that, I'll let the novel's final words close this out:
"Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain.
A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
I am legend."
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