Boardwalk Empire: If Jesus Came to Atlantic City

Previously on Boardwalk Empire: Well, quite a lot happened. The whole first season, in fact. You might just want to read the recaps, but in short: Nucky Thompson started moving illegal booze through Atlantic City, bringing in Chalky White to help him out and starting a relationship with the widowed Margaret Schroeder. Nucky’s protégé, Jimmy Darmody, was unhappy playing the role of second fiddle, so he joined forces with his father and Nucky’s mentor, the Commodore, and Nucky’s brother, Eli, for no doubt nefarious purposes. Jimmy’s also responsible for bringing sharpshooter/kickass sidekick Two Face to AC from Chicago. In Chicago, Al Capone has started his rise, and in New York, Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano are running things and alternately doing business with/fighting with Nucky. Oh, and the obsessive Agent Van Alden went totally and utterly batshit crazy, drowned his partner, and knocked up Nucky’s ex. Got all that? Man, I’m tired already. Damn you, HBO, and your complex, layered stories!

Have you missed it? I have. In fact, the sight of the beach and the old Boardwalk is making me a little homesick, now that I live hundreds of miles to the south of AC. Hey, Two Face is now in the opening credits! I don’t think he was last season—I’m glad he’s a regular now.

A bottle lies washed up on the beach at night. A kid comes by and grabs it and joins other men and boys out rounding up booze washed up on the shore. They load crates into trucks under the direction of TF and Jimmy while Nucky and his buddies dance the Charleston and party at Babette’s nightclub. Nucky’s got a topless lady on his lap. My my. What will Margaret say?

Jimmy and the shipment arrive at Chalky’s, and Chalky tries the hooch, nodding in satisfaction. At home, Eli examines the scar from his bullet wound in the mirror, and in his home, the Commodore practices parrying and thrusting with a halberd. Uh, ok. Margaret wakes and looks at the empty pillow beside her, and Van Alden greets his wife as she arrives at the AC train station. He’s brought flowers, which should really soften the “I fathered an illegitimate child” blow.

Chalky and his crew are at some warehouse, going about their business, when someone knocks on the door. When it’s opened, the guy outside is sporting a lovely slashed throat, which he ineffectively clutches at before collapsing in the doorway. Just behind him is a pickup truck filled with berobed Klansmen who load up a Gatling gun and go to it, pumping Chalky’s warehouse full of lead. Chalky and the others hit the deck until the main assault is over, at which point the Klansmen bust in and start getting to work with shotguns. One of them finds Chalky and is ready to dispatch him, but his gun’s empty. Clearly he’s not the brightest bulb. This gives one of Chalky’s workers a chance to grab a shotgun and blast the guy in the arm, which gets her killed but gets the Klansmen out of there. As they flee in their truck, Chalky sets his face, picks up one of the discarded guns, and picks one of them off from the back of the moving truck. Damn. How many sharpshooters are there on this show?

Margaret’s not having a very peaceful morning either. Nucky comes home to the sound of her pleading and arguing with her son, Teddy, while her young daughter, Emily, wails. Nucky wanders into the dining room, where Teddy’s taken up a position under the table and is refusing to come out and go to school. Nucky looks under the table and asks the kid if he likes the idea of becoming a fishmonger. Teddy says that’s just fine, and Nucky’s face when he realizes how that’s backfired is pretty priceless. Teddy shows him the back of his hand, which is all bruised from being smacked by one of the nuns at his school. Teddy, naturally, insists he did nothing wrong. Nucky informs the kid that, when he was young, a ruler-smacked hand meant a second smacking at home that night. Yeah, with a frigging poker. Margaret sends Teddy and Emily off with the maid so she can start nagging Nucky about not coming home until almost 8 a.m. He starts making it up to her by flirting, but then the kids start squabbling, and few things can kill a mood like wailing children, so Nucky bolts to go to his office at the hotel and get some rest.

Jimmy gets dropped off at a cute little house by the ocean, which is apparently his new home. Inside, Jillian and Angela are fussing around, getting the kid some breakfast. Jimmy asks if Nucky called, and when he finds out he hasn’t, he frowns a bit and orders up ham and eggs, like he’s in a diner. Jillian goes to make them, reminding Angela that she knows how Jimmy likes his eggs. Well, isn’t this a fun little family gathering? Jimmy asks his kid if he wants to go out and shoot some gulls after breakfast. Uh, yay bonding? The kid’s all for it, Angela thinks he’s too young, but Jimmy and Jillian say that Jimmy used to go all the time with Nucky when he was Tommy’s age, so Angela’s overruled. Jimmy takes Tommy to get ready, and when they’re gone, Angela goes into the kitchen and asks Jillian not to undercut her with Jimmy and Tommy. Jillian says she’d never undercut her son’s wife—so did Angela and Jimmy make it official, then?—but tells Angela that boys will be boys, as if that’s some kind of defense. And then, just to round out this horrific tableau of what a happy home should be, she shares the charming little story of how, when Jimmy was a baby and she used to change his diaper, she’d sometimes kiss his, uh, ‘little Jimmy.’ Angela’s face doesn’t register WTF? nearly as well as my husband’s and mine did when we heard that.

At the post office, which is still acting as the Federal headquarters, Van Alden’s two subordinates are passing the time by wrestling on the floor. Van Alden comes in with the missus and yells at them to knock it off. As the agents—Ziwicki and Clarkson—scramble to their feet, Van Alden introduces his wife, adding that Ziwicki comes from some town outside Pittsburgh that Mrs. V-A (who’s just visiting for the weekend, by the way) recognizes as being very Christian. Clarkson brownnoses by handing over a tourist guide he picked up that is, hilariously, entitled “If Jesus Ever Came to Atlantic City: A Guide. Hee! She asks if it lists the churches and he says he assumes so. Dude, don’t assume. This is your boss’s wife we’re talking about.

Chicago. At Torrio’s whorehouse, Al sits down with someone Torrio’s supposed to be meeting with, explaining that the boss will be down just as soon as he attends to an earache. The stranger hints that Al’s the man in charge of taking care of Torrio’s unpleasant business, but when Al gets offended, the man starts talking about himself in the third person (his name’s George Remus) and tells Al he spent five years doing the same thing. That was a strangely awkward way of introducing this guy. Torrio arrives at last, shakes George’s hand, and takes a seat, asking George why he went and moved to Cincinnati. George says that if you draw a circle 300 miles around the city, you get 80% of the whiskey being stored in the country. Wow, really? What were they, keeping it in barns in southern Indiana? He’s got a lot of it under his control—he owns the distilleries, the pharmacies they’re allowed to legally sell to, and the trucks that rip off the shipments going to those pharmacies. Clever. Very clever. Torrio starts with 4,000 cases a month and sends George over to one of the girls, reassuring him it’s all on the house. He then tells Al to hit Atlantic City when he heads east the following month and tell Nucky they’re going to do business elsewhere. Al’s not happy about having to handle the washing again.

Back in Atlantic City, Nucky and his cronies have a table-sized topographic map of the state in front of them, and Nucky’s telling them to start buying land right through Gloucester County, where they’re going to be building that new highway any day now. Most of the cronies already have, but one newcomer—I’ll call him “Irish” because he is, accent and all—doesn’t know anything about the new road that’s being built. Most of the land’s already been bought by the cronies, but Irish is sure to get the contract to supply the gravel for the road. He hands Nucky a wad of cash to help smooth the way for him.

After everyone leaves, Nucky goes to his old bedroom and stashes the cash in a hidden drawer under his shoes, entering the amount in a ledger. Eddie comes in and tells him he’s got a reporter on the phone saying that Chalky shot a Klansman. Nucky starts to tell him to call Eli, but Eddie’s already on it.

The Van Aldens are taking a leisurely trip down the boardwalk in one of the pushchairs, which takes them right past the creepy baby incubator/freakshow, which upsets Mrs. V-A a bit. Van Alden spots Nucky coming out of the hotel and glares at him, though he tells the wife Nucky’s not anybody important. She busies herself opening up her WWJD tourist guide, but quickly realizes this is one of those “If Jesus came here…he wouldn’t visit any of these places” guides. She pearl clutches, and Van Alden apologizes to her for her precious eyes being sullied. She shakes her head and wonders if it’s not better that they don’t have any children, in this sick sad world of ours.

Nucky, Eli, and Chalky sit in a fairly palatial living room, listening to Chalky’s teenage son play the piano. Chalky’s wife comes in with coffee and offers of lunch, then proudly announces that the teen will be attending Morehouse in a couple of years. Chalky quietly asks her to give them some privacy, and she calls her son out of the room.

Chalky sits down on the sofa, and it’s clear he’s steaming. Nucky asks him what the hell happened, and Chalky says it doesn’t matter, because he took care of it. Not really, Chalky. At least three Klansmen were still alive, last I saw. Next time, be more thorough. Nucky reminds him that he shot a white guy, and Chalky counters that those white guys killed four of his guys and wounded six, and one of those victims was a woman. Nucky says Chalky knows he’ll take care of it, but Chalky isn’t so sure, because he thought they were supposed to be protected from the Klan. He threatens to use his influence in the black community to make life difficult for Nucky and Co. if they don’t “school those crackers”. Nucky warns Chalky to stay in the house while he handles this. Chalky spits at them to see themselves out. As he gets up to leave, Nucky tells Eli to get this Klan nonsense under control.

Margaret takes a little field trip to her son’s school to talk to his teacher, Sister Bernice. Sister Bernice nonsensically mentions Ben Franklin and the fact that he discovered lightening. Uh, no, sister. He didn’t. Not at all. And if you think that, I advise Margaret to pull her kid out of this school right now. Margaret asks what the deal was with her son being punished and Sister Bernice informs her she found Teddy playing with matches in a coat closet. She’s even got the matches—it’s a package from Babette’s. Margaret doesn’t know what to say, but she stiffly asks if Teddy’s going to be expelled. Sister says he won’t, because the priest intervened. Seems the priest is a good friend of Nucky’s. Just like everyone else.

Eli has a meeting with the Commodore and Jimmy, during which he whines about Nucky, as usual. Those Klansmen? Sent by the Commodore and Crew. The Klan members were still a bit pissed about Chalky cutting off their grand douchebag’s finger last season, but now they’ve just got the black community all upset. The Commodore doesn’t care, because now they’ve got the Klan in their corner, and they’re a lot more powerful. The Commodore tells Eli to chill, because he can handle Nucky. Jimmy sits quietly and takes it all in, then glares Eli right out of the room so the grownups can talk. Eli passes Jillian arranging flowers out in the hallway as he goes.

The Commodore tells Jimmy to start cultivating relationships with New York, Philly, and the Governor, who already hates Nucky. He suggests Jimmy go and clean out Chalky’s warehouse too. Then he starts talking about the many stuffed wild animals decorating the room, finishing with a story about the giant bear that dominates the space. He goes on and on about how he cornered it and then shot it in the gut so it bled out, looking up at him “almost like he couldn’t believe it.” Hmm, could this be something of a parable for young Jimmy?

Nucky’s on the pulpit at a black church, talking about how outrageous the deaths of the four boys at Chalky’s was. He reassures them that the Klansmen will be brought to justice. Then we cut to him on the pulpit at a white church, reassuring them the “obstreperous negro” won’t be allowed to get so uppity as to make a living in their city, no sirree! It almost works, but then someone charges in and tells the congregation that one of the Klansmen just died from his wounds. Nucky quietly tells Eli to place Chalky under arrest for his own safety.

Van Alden and the missus are celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary with a nice dinner. The maître d’ stumbles around, claiming the 13th anniversary is lucky, and then asks if the V-As will be “imbibing.” Hoo, boy, this guy’s about to have a bad day. Van Alden orders coffee for his wife and buttermilk for himself. Yegh. As the man leaves, Mrs. V-A urges her husband to arrest him. V-A tells her he’s off the clock, but then he spots a waiter taking a crate of hooch into a side room and he leaves, allegedly to wash up.

Nucky goes to the dead Klansman’s funeral to pay his reluctant respects. The man’s laid out in the coffin in his full regalia, with a couple more Klansmen standing as a sort of honor guard. I feel a little bad for the extras who had to play those roles. Nucky tells the widow how sorry he is, calling the man a pillar of the community, and then he goes out to the porch to talk to Jimmy. He asks if Jimmy saw anything at Chalky’s before the shooting that aroused his suspicion, and Jimmy says no. He asks how Chalky is, and then talk abruptly shifts to Jimmy’s marriage, which I guess is fully official now. And apparently it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Nucky’s a little hurt that Jimmy didn’t tell him about it beforehand, but Jimmy says he’s a little old to be coming to Nucky for everything. He mentions taking Tommy shooting and fishing, just like Jimmy and Nucky used to do.  Nucky asks him if there’s anything he wants to say, adding that the Commodore is a very duplicitous man. Jimmy excuses himself to go home for dinner.

The Van Aldens are finishing up their meal. Van Alden hands his wife a gift—a lovely cameo brooch—and then calls over the maître d’, asking the man if he has any champagne on hand. As soon as the man says yes, Van Alden punches him in the face and announces that they’re being raided. Agents come pouring in, guns locked and loaded, and Van Alden tells one of them to empty the cash register and the other to check the storeroom. Man, what a crappy end to a date. At least he waited until after dinner. But judging from the look on Mrs. Van Alden’s face, to her, this is actually the best end to a date ever.

We cut immediately to the Van Aldens’ hotel room, where the headboard of the bed is banging rhythmically against the wall…because Van Alden’s pounding on the mattress to find a broken spring. Wah, wah. He starts to get ready for bed, and she sits beside him, getting all hot and bothered as she tells him how thrilling it was to watch him “handle all those men.” They start to make out, hesitantly, and then they get a little more enthusiastic, but there’s something about it that suggests these people don’t do this very often. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that she’s not getting pregnant because they never have sex.

Nucky’s getting ready for bed too, and Margaret notes that something seems to be bothering him. He tells her he thinks Jimmy’s holding something back; that Jimmy used to confide in him, before his father came back into the picture. Margaret figures Nucky’s jealous but Nucky says he’s pissed, because he was essentially the only parent Jimmy had growing up. Margaret mentions Theodore’s new penchant for matches and frets that her son’s developed a fascination with fire. I don’t think that’s all that unusual in a kid his age. It’s probably a good idea to tell him not to go lighting matches in a closet crowded with wool jackets in a school building, but I don’t think I’d think the kid was turning into a sociopath or anything. Nucky, no doubt remembering the day he torched his dad’s house right in front of Teddy, wonders disingenuously what’s going on.

Van Alden accompanies his wife to the train station to see her off. She admits that she misses him, so he takes her hand and says he’ll see her in a month. Then he kisses her on the cheek, calls over a porter, and wishes her a safe and godly journey. Spending time with these two feels like work.

At the Darmody homestead, Angela sets a plate of food down in front of Two Face just as Jimmy comes in and kisses her. TF takes it all in while Jimmy asks about the large present on the table. Angela says it’s a wedding gift from Nucky, then goes to fetch some biscuits. TF thanks her and she goes to get some coffee. With her in another room, TF asks if the “coloreds” will be any problem, and Jimmy tells him the earlier they arrive, the quieter it’ll be. He digs into his dinner but TF just pushes the food around the plate. Jimmy tells him he doesn’t have to be embarrassed to eat in front of him, but invites him to take some biscuits with him for later, if he wants to. TF takes him up on his offer, and then watches Jimmy eat for a moment before sadly asking him how it feels to have everything. Awwww.

Nucky interrupts Teddy’s playtime to talk to him, and almost as soon as he enters the room, the poor kid takes off his jacket and suspenders, ready for his beating. Man, that’s pretty heartbreaking. Nucky reassures him he’s not getting a beating, then tells him he needs to listen to his mom and the nuns and stop playing with matches. Then, because this is Nucky, he pays the kid off. Ok, that was kind of weird.

Jimmy and TF break into Chalky’s warehouse and get ready to start cleaning the place out.

Meanwhile, Van Alden arrives back at his apartment, where he goes into the bedroom and pulls out the envelope full of cash he got from the restaurant raid the day before. He counts off the money and we see, reflected in the mirror in front of him, Lucy asleep on the bed. Well, well! She wakes and he shortly informs her that he has her money, and that she has to remember to sleep in her own room. She’s getting pretty hugely pregnant (she’d be, what, maybe five months along by now?), and she takes the money and stumbles out of the room.

Jimmy delivers the pilfered hooch to Mickey Doyle, who notes the blood on the crates but isn’t too worried about it. I’m happy that’s all we see of Mickey Doyle this episode.

Nucky’s peaceful evening at home is interrupted by Eddie, who calls to tell him there’s a man from the state’s attorney’s office who wants to see him. Nucky’s pissed, because he promised to take Teddy to see the new Chaplin movie. He tells Margaret to take the kids and meet him at the cinema.

In his room, TF’s enjoying his own soothing evening entertainment: cutting out advertising pictures of happy, idyllic families and pasting them into a scrapbook. He’s gotten pretty elaborate with some of them, creating collages that depict scenes of a loving husband and wife watching cute little kids at play. He smiles a bit as he looks at these delightful, fake scenes of domestic bliss he’ll probably never have. Ooof. Talk about heartbreaking.

Nucky arrives at his office, where several police officers are going through his files and a young Victor Garber lookalike in a suit is overseeing them. He introduces himself as Solomon Bishop, a deputy with the state’s attorney’s office. One of the policemen places Nucky under arrest for election fraud as Eddie looks on helplessly.

Margaret and the kids are watching The Kid, a conspicuously empty seat gaping between her and Teddy. Teddy looks back toward the door expectantly, but Nucky won’t be coming tonight.

Jimmy arrives home and finally opens the gift from Nucky. It contains an envelope full of cash (shocker!) and a bronze statue of a man teaching a boy to hunt. Jimmy looks at the statue for a bit, then stashes it on a shelf in a closet. So much for nostalgia, Nucky.

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