Boardwalk Empire: A Thing Weakened

www.indiewire.comPreviously on Boardwalk Empire: Dunn killed a highly connected New York talent agent, the new Prohibition agent in town turned out to be a devious bastard, Al recruited his brothers to the family business, and Two Face went home.

We start off by joining Van Alden on his flower deliveries. Yes, really. He’s working for O’Banion’s cover/flower shop these days. The first few deliveries go without incident, but the third guy gets a sock in the nose and a demand for O’Banion’s money instead of a bouquet. ‘Better not to vow than to vow and not pay,’ says V-A as he helps himself to the cash the guy has on him. Once a zealot, always a zealot.

At the Harrow place, Richard’s sister, Emma, greets him with the news that the dog ran off. Apparently the poor thing’s a bit senile and unable to do much for himself anymore. There’s some chat about their dad and how the birthdate on his tombstone is wrong—it says 1869 but he was born 7 years earlier and lied to his wife about his age because he didn’t want her to know how much older he really was. Emma shrugs that the stone’s paid for, so they’re not getting a new one. She mentions her husband, Gerald, whom she married shortly after her father’s death. They had just enough time for her to get pregnant before the guy died. Man, this is a tragic family. She says she’s not going to ask her brother how he’s been living; she just wants to know if he’s staying. He says he has to go to Milwaukee on business, but otherwise, yeah. She asks if he still reads and when he answers in the affirmative, she gives him Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Chessmen of Mars. Before going out to look for the dog, she tells Richard she’s glad he’s back, but if he goes and disappears again, she wants him to stay gone. After she leaves, he opens the book and finds a past due bill from the tax assessor.

Eddie serves Nucky breakfast at the hotel, and it’s clear that Eddie’s still got some residual issues from his injuries. His hands shake so badly he slops the coffee around, which upsets Eddie far more than Nucky, who’s just resigned. Eddie further freaks out about the egg being overcooked, but unlike in days past, Eddie’s anxiety has an edge of attitude to it. Nucky brings up a trip to Florida he’s taking and asks Eddie if he needs help getting Nucky’s things together. Eddie snarkily says he has no need of help choosing Nucky’s clothes, shoes, and ‘delicate undergarments.’ He asks if Nucky wants him to drive to the construction site that day and when Nucky says yes, he sniffs that he’ll try not to crash the car.

VA’s back at work in the flower shop. In comes O’Banion, who gets his money and asks after VA’s family. Still just the two kids, for those keeping score. O’Banion tells VA he’s being loaned out to Al and his crew, who need some help softening a few voters’ heads ahead of the upcoming mayoral election. VA protests, because I guess punching guys who owe money is fine, but attacking voters is not, but O’Banion insists, because he wants to send someone who can think on his feet. And Van Alden is your first choice, Dean? Wow, your other guys must be unbelievably stupid, because he’s not exactly the cream of the crop. In fact, I think he’s frequently exhibited a complete inability to think on his feet in the past. O’Banion rubs some pollen on VA’s lapel, for some reason, and tells him he wants him to get close to Al and find out what his future expansion plans are. He doesn’t want Al back in Chicago.

Chalky’s showing his daughter, Maybelle, Maybelle’s fiancé, Samuel, and Samuel’s rather uptight parents around the Onyx. He’s planning to have the wedding reception there. It’s clear the future in-laws aren’t keen, and they’ll probably be even less keen to see Dunn skulking about. Samuel, already knowing what’s what in this business, hustles the parents away so Chalky can talk to his #2, who regretfully informs him that Dickie’s wife still hasn’t been found. Damn, that woman is pretty amazing. Chalky is, to say the least, displeased.

Mayor Bader’s having a little press conference at a construction site. While he babbles to the press, Nucky pulls up, so Bader sends the journos off so he can talk to the real man in charge. He joins Nucky in the car and Nucky wastes no time making it clear that he’s not pleased at having to come out and meet Bader, instead of the other way around. Bader natters some excuses, but Nucky dismisses them and demands his cut. Bader says this has nothing to do with Nucky, because this project came from the diocese (so I guess it was some of the land that Margaret gave the church a couple of seasons ago). Nucky asks Eddie what he thinks and Eddie turns to tell Bader that Nucky is everything and everywhere, which weirds Bader out enough for him to ask Nucky what he wants. I think he already knows what Nucky wants. He promises it first thing in the morning and is dismissed.

Some guy comes into his office to find the Burroughs book on his desk and Richard pointing a gun at him. He’s a lot calmer about this than the last guy. Richard asks if he knows someone named Billings. Apparently this guy and Billings were partners, until this guy squeezed him out. Richard explains that he met Billings on a train coming out of New Jersey and was paid a princely sum to kill this guy and, presumably, the last three he offed. This guy offers to top the payoff, but when he reaches into his drawer for a gun, Richard quickly incapacitates him, puts the gun to the man’s head, and asks if he has a family. The man tells him he has a wife and two daughters. Richard says to remember that his children didn’t cost him anything. I think anybody who has kids would beg to differ, Richard. Also, why didn’t he show this kind of mercy to the last guy, who clearly had at least one kid too? He collects the book, which has fallen to the floor, and leaves.

Nucky meets with Eli at the warehouse and gives him some last-minute instructions before he goes to Florida. They’re joined by Mickey, who ushers them over to some Fed, who tells Nucky he’s going to be in Washington giving evidence. In the distance, young Knox is looking around in wonder, like the fake child he is. The Fed tells Nucky that Knox wants to get off on the right foot and ushers him over. Knox seems to be all awkward and eager around Nucky and jokes that he’s going to be the new head of the Prohibition enforcement in AC. Nobody laughs. Nucky asks where the kid’s from. Atkins, Iowa. Nucky tells the kid to deal only with Eli from now on, and informs him he and Nucky will never speak again.

At the Van Alden/Mueller home, Mrs VA surprises her husband with a new sofa, the Davenport. She’s also got a bunch of other new furniture coming, at the cost of $360, which was a pretty good chunk of change back then. He tries to tell her that all of this needs to go back. She puts her foot down and tells him that, now they have their prefab house all put together, she wants to make the place a home. He swallows hard and knows when he’s beaten.

Nucky works his way through the club, chatting with the waiters and whipping them into shape, encouraging the dancers, and giving Dickie Pastor’s two dancers an advance on their pay. Out front, the club is hopping, but it’s notable that the only black faces are onstage or carrying trays of food. Still, he looks pleased, checking out the latest outpost in his empire. He glances up towards the office and sees someone waiting there, which doesn’t make him happy, but before he can go up, he’s waylaid by Nucky’s annoying buddy, the knife salesman, who joshes around with Chalky for a bit before rubbing his head for good luck. Wow, they’re really beating the racism drum this season, aren’t they? Chalky takes it, but his strained smile suggests he’d like to test the man’s wares out in a way other than they were really intended.

He finally gets upstairs, where he finds none other than Jeffrey Wright waiting for him. Oh, hell yeah! And who’s he got with him but the missing Mrs Pastor, who not only escaped but managed to get herself to New York and into some clothes. Jeffrey quotes the bible briefly and then introduces himself as Dr Valentin Narcisse, which really sounds like the name of a villain from The Princess and the Frog, doesn’t it? Except I think this guy’s going to be scarier. Narcisse calls Chalky out on not letting his own people in his club but Chalky takes no bait. Mrs P fidgets and Narcisse tells her there’s no need to be nervous, because everyone there is perfectly civilized. Narcisse gracefully sits and invites Chalky to do the same. Chalky guesses he’s Madden’s man, but Narcisse is no such thing. He is, however, a former employer of Dickie Pastor, and Dickie had a rare eye for talent, which is a problem now he’s gone. Chalky lies that Dickie was last seen heading towards Newark but Narcisse knows better. Mrs P asks if they can go, and Narcisse rises, inviting her to leave first. He then tells Chalky that, when he looked out at the club, he saw a servant pretending to be a king. Oh, this is going to be such a good rivalry.

Nucky reads the morning paper, which has a screaming headline about Daugherty resigning, which apparently puts this episode sometime in March 1924. Eddie brings the breakfast, the coffee (without spilling), Bader’s payoff, and a resignation letter. He doesn’t think that Nucky takes him seriously, which is fairly true. He reminds Nucky of all he’s done for him over the past decade plus and how he’s been loyal that whole time, and all he wants is some respect. Nucky tries handing him Bader’s cash, because of course he does, but Eddie turns it down, leaving Nucky to think about things for a bit.

At the farm, Richard’s working away on some old harvester or something when Emma comes over and tells him she needs his help. Samson, the dog, is in a really bad way and needs to be put out of his misery. She asks Richard to take care of it, using his pistol. He tries to lie that he doesn’t have one, but she knows about the one he hid in the wood pile. He pulls it out of his coat and aims at the dog, but he finds he can’t pull the trigger. I feel him on this one. We almost certainly let one of our dogs go longer than we should have, just because I couldn’t bear to have her put to sleep. She was my girl and I just…couldn’t. It was selfish, I know. Emma, being made of sterner stuff than I, gently takes the pistol and does the job herself while Richard steps away and says he doesn’t want any more of this.

Al wraps a pipe in some newspaper and briefs his thugs: he wants it made clear that voting democrat is bad for everybody’s health. Everyone nods and files out, and then Al catches sight of Van Alden. He asks why he and Al don’t chat anymore and VA says he just delivers flowers now. One of Al’s brothers notes VA’s bloodied knuckles and guesses he does more than just deliver flowers. All three of the Capone brothers crowd around him and ask what O’Banion really wants. VA says he’s fine with them taking over Cicero, but he doesn’t want them encroaching on Chicago. So much for someone who can think on his feet. Al starts to fly off the handle and one of his brothers (Ralph?) calms him down. VA insists he doesn’t really know much of anything. Ralph tells him to grab a drink and a sandwich. He slinks off, relieved. I continue to wish he were written off the show, because he and his stories are boring as hell.

Chalky’s got Dunn in the office to give him a dressing down. Dunn offers to take care of both the woman and Narcisse but Chalky tells him it’s too late for that. Dunn says this guy doesn’t care about Pastor, he’s just fishing around for a piece of the action. Chalky’s not listening, though, because he noticed the band has disappeared from the stage. A couple of the members come up and tell Chalky that Narcisse ordered them not to play. And Narcisse owns a piece of them, like he owns a piece of everything, so when he says don’t play, they sure as hell don’t play. He also sent along a message for Chalky, which he has the bandleader read: A servant is never greater than the master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who dispatched him. John 13.

Nucky gets on the phone with Means, who fills him in on Knox’s background, which seems to check out. Means reassures Nucky that Knox is a total hayseed.

In Cicero, Pflaum, presumably the democratic challenger, is holding a rally. Al’s thugs start shoving their way through the crowd, throwing Pflaum off his game enough that he stops talking. Al steps forward and asks who’s feeling like a hero. Nobody breathes a word, so he just starts hitting random people nearby. VA just stands there like an idiot, getting his own smack in the face, which finally galvanizes him into some kind of action. He still gets his ass handed to him, though. Ralph helps him to his feet, hands him back his hat, and claps him on the shoulder like he was actually useful.

Mrs P is giving one hell of a performance as a rape victim for Narcisse and Chalky and Nucky. She sobs and asks if she can go freshen up. As soon as she leaves, Nucky tells Narcisse that he has to know this is all a load of bullshit, because how would Dickie have known which hotel to go to? Narcisse tells them it won’t matter, because all anyone needs to hear is that a black man raped a white woman and then killed her husband. Chalky bluntly asks how much the man’s looking for to go away. Narcisse ignores him and says he wants to deal with Nucky, because ‘Only kings know how to deal with one another’. Nucky says he’s just helping out a friend here and Narcisse seems surprised to hear that Nucky and Chalky are buddies. Narcisse tells them they have a problem, because they have a club with no acts, and that means a failed club. Chalky tells him to get lost, but Nucky tells him to shut up and offers Narcisse 10% of the club. Narcisse accepts. Man, Dunn is going to get his ass kicked so hard. Mrs P returns and Narcisse gently tells her it’s time to go home. Out in the hall, they pass Dunn, whom Narcisse guesses is the ‘negro in question.’ Dunn asks what that makes Narcisse and Narcisse just says he’s a child of God.

The Fed (Inspector Elliot, apparently) is giving his evidence in DC. One particularly pushy questioner, whom we quickly learn is J Edgar Hoover, gets on his nerves and Elliot asks what the deal is here. One of the other guys tells Elliot that they’re cooperating with Hoover and his undercover agent who is none other than Hayseed Knox. Of course it is. Knox comes in, tosses an envelope on the table, and, all Iowan innocence, says that’s the cash that Elliot gave him the day before after their meeting with Nucky Thompson. Wow, this guy’s one cold operator, isn’t he? I have to admit, at the moment, I find him somewhat intriguing. Let’s hope he doesn’t devolve into idiocy and pointlessness like Van Alden did. Elliot wants to talk to an lawyer but Hoover won’t have it. But Elliot won’t be intimidated by some little pissant like Hoover, and he gets up and leaves. I ponder why Hoover went and showed his hand like that. Couldn’t Elliot just jump on the phone to AC and let Nucky or Eli know that Knox is an undercover agent and they should watch their backs? Knox wonders why the guilty can’t just admit their guilt and Hoover tells him that criminals lack morality. Also, most of them want to do whatever it takes to stay out of jail, and that usually starts with not admitting your guilt. He tells Knox he’s made a good beginning and Knox promises not to let him down.

Narcisse and Mrs P are on the road going back to New York and Narcisse asks her what’s on her mind. She thanks him for coming to her rescue and asks if he got what he wanted. He says they’ll just have to see, adding that Dickie was a great loss. She asks what happens to Dunn and he asks her what she wants to have happen. She wants what happened to Dickie, only worse. Narcisse suggests a tree and some rope and she shrugs and says that’d do. Narcisse gives the driver the barest glance and the man pulls over. He gets out to allegedly check the tires and Narcisse tells Mrs P that a thing mixed is a thing weakened. He, too, wonders how Dickie knew what hotel to check and she starts to get defensive. He says he’s heard this tale a few times too many. The door opens and Narcisse’s man grabs her, drags her out, and strangles her, dragging her away through the mud before closing the passenger door, getting back in the car, and driving away.

Nucky’s getting ready to board the train to Florida and gives Eddie some last-minute instructions. He wants him to open a safe deposit box in his own name and store the Bader money in it. And someone else can bring his meals from now on. Looks like Eddie’s moving up, and he’s clearly pleased about it. Nucky goes to catch his train and Eddie looks proud.

The phone rings at the Harrow homestead and Richard answers. It’s allegedly the county assessor’s office, telling him that there are 3 years of back taxes due and they need to get this straightened out right away. Except it’s not the assessor, because we join the other end of the conversation and see a man on the telephone next to the dead body of the man Richard was supposed to kill earlier. The tax bill, which must have fallen out of the Burroughs book, is on the desk in front of him.

Bader arrives at his construction site, where the men are all standing around, staring down at the body of Mrs P, which is half squashed into the mud, right next to a sign that says ‘The Future’. The press have shown up too and snap a few pictures before being hustled away. Wow, Narcisse, that was either a really serendipitous stopping place, or you’re a spectacular planner.

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