Boardwalk Empire: The Family Business

Capone brothers, image: HBOPreviously on Boardwalk Empire: Season 3 ended in a crazy bloodbath after Nucky joined forces with Chalky and Al to take out Gyp Rosetti, one of the worst villains I’ve ever seen on a TV show in my life. Margaret took the kids and hit the road, aborting Owen’s baby along the way, and Two Face similarly got out of AC, after handing Jimmy’s little boy off to his girlfriend, Julia.

We start off at some backwater diner in Warsaw, Indiana, where two overdressed goons are complaining about the radio station. The diner owner drawls that this is the only station they get, and when the guys ask him what there is to see in the area, he tells them all about how they have the second longest contiguous brick wall in the world, just in case we hadn’t yet figured out that we’re in Hicksville, here. Goon 2 tells Goon 1 they should go, so Goon 1 lays a $10 on the bar and they leave.

Outside, they get into their car, only to find that it won’t start. Goon 2 gets out to check on it, and when he takes too long, Goon 1 goes to check on him, only to find Goon 2 with a slashed throat. And standing behind Goon 1 is Richard Harrow, who shoots him dead and pulls an enveloped marked Old Mission Title Insurance out of the goon’s pocket. He shoots, he scores. And I honestly thought that Goon 2 was Van Alden for most of this scene, but then realized we wouldn’t be so lucky as to have him finally get killed off so early in the season, though he very desperately needs to leave this narrative already.

Back in AC, at what appears to be the former Babette’s, Chalky’s auditioning a tap-dancing duo while their manager talks them up and the manager’s wife sits by, looking bored as hell and doodling on a napkin. The manager, Dickie, gives the hard sell, and his wife asks Dunn to refresh her drink. He takes off with a bit of smarm for her and while he’s gone, Dickie offers the act for two weeks at $1000 per. Woah. The guys are ok, but they’re not that good. For that kind of money, they’d better have gold doubloons come flying off their fett while they dance. Dunn returns and the wife gestures for him to check his pocket. He pulls out the cocktail napkin, which is suddenly very aptly named, because it has a pornographic drawing on it with a big question mark over it. No subtlety there.

From some room up above, Nucky watches the auditioning act. Eddie comes in—Eddie! Yay, he lived!—and announces that Nucky’s guests have arrived. He helps Nucky into his jacket, though Nucky, clearly feeling a bit bad for how he treated Eddie in the past, says he can do it just fine. Nucky thanks him and goes in to his meeting.

Waiting for him are Lucky, Masseria, Rothstein, Meyer, and Tony Sandrelli, the man who finally dispatched Gyp for us last season. Huh, I seem to recall Nucky warning him not to come anywhere near AC ever again. Wonder what made him lift that ban. Nucky’s in a forgiving mood all around and goes to shake Masseria’s hand, but Joe will have none of it, even when Lucky tells him, in Italian, he should be a bit friendlier. Nucky asks if Masseria understands English and Sandrelli reassures him he understands what’s being said. Eli tells everyone they want to settle things, and they’re guessing the others want the same, otherwise they wouldn’t have shown up. Nucky says he has the Cape May-Asbury Park-Trenton triangle, and that’s all he’s interested in. Rothstein reminds Nucky that he tried to put him in federal court (when Nucky tricked him into taking Mellon’s distillery off his hands in the season 3 finale), and Lucky adds that Masseria had 15 guys massacred on their way out of town, after a deal had been struck (again, see the season 3 finale). Yes, those were all very poor moves, Nucky. Why did you do that again? Masseria asks Nucky why he should trust him, and Nucky, as usual, ponies up a big ol’bag of cash. Masseria’s appeased. He’s a lot easier to win over than Margaret, it seems. All Nucky wants to be able to do is visit New York without having to worry about getting shot. Rothstein couldn’t care less and tells him to go right ahead. Business settled, Rothstein asks Lucky how he’s doing, now he’s apparently working exclusively for Masseria. Meyers’s team Rothstein all the way now. Just so we’re clear who’s with whom. Most of the others leave, and once they’re alone, Rothstein slightly misquotes Blaise Pascal: ‘all of man’s troubles stem from an inability to sit quietly in a room by himself.’ Nucky suggests he try it and takes a drink, then tells Rothstein he’s got a good afternoon at the casino planned for him. Rothstein tells him that he ran the odds of Nucky killing him, on his trip down. Well, that’s one way to pass the time on a road trip, I guess. He came up with 14-1 against.

Gillian’s in court, fighting to get custody of Tommy back from the Sagorskys. She’s being represented by Leander, and Julia can clearly barely contain her rage. Gillian lays it on thick, saying how much she loves the kid and blah blah, until finally Julia can’t stand it and bursts out that Gillian was raising the boy in a whorehouse. There’s some back and forth and the judge interrupts to ask everyone what was going on in Gillian’s house and how the kid ended up with the Sagorskys. Everyone clams up right quick. You’d think the judge would have been aware of the Cathouse Slaughter of 1923, considering it was just a few months ago and AC isn’t that big a city, but maybe he just wants to hear it all from the horses’ mouths.

Eli’s teaching his eldest son, Will, how to drive, and it’s not going particularly well. They pull up at the warehouse and Will starts asking who Mickey is. Eli dodges the question by accusing his son of smoking and then getting kind of cutely parent-y, telling the boy to button his coat (it’s the dead of winter) so he doesn’t catch a cold and then wondering when his kid went and grew up.

Inside, Eli and Mickey meet with that crooked Prohie whose name starts with an S (I’m sorry, I know I should keep charts of all these characters or something, but to be honest, I’ve got so many names running around my head between all the shows I’m covering that I’m amazed I can keep my own family’s names straight sometimes.) S introduces a new agent, Knox, who looks fresh as the morning’s cream, which means he’s either dead or secretly evil. Knox is sent off with one of the delivery guys so the grownups can talk. S pumps the guys for more money, after having taken care of ‘a problem down in Brigantine.’ They pay up. Meanwhile, outside, one of the delivery guys tells Knox that someone’s been breaking into his garage, where he has all kinds of whisky stored. He tells Knox he should do something about that, and Knox informs him that he’s not in the business of catching bootleggers on behalf of other bootleggers. Deliveryman shrugs, since he’s rigged up a nice shotgun-based booby trap. Knox is a bit horrified. Deliveryman’s name is apparently Elmer, in case that becomes important.

In Cicero, Al imports some new girls for his latest cathouse, where, judging by the goofy hats the clientele is wearing, I’m guessing he’s hosting an Elks gathering, or something similar.

Al leaves the girls and goes to talk to Torrio, who’s stressed out about a newspaper article that says the democrats are planning to run a reform ticket. It’s not actually explicitly stated, but this is all in reference to Cicero’s upcoming mayoral elections. Torrio’s choice, Joseph Klenha, is sitting there with them and he and Al say he’s got this election all sewn up. One of the other guys—Al’s brother, Ralph, reads part of the article aloud, focusing on the part that mentions Torrio by name and moving on to the part that calls Al Torrio’s factotum before spelling Al’s last name wrong. Al is pissed off by that.

Back at former Babette’s (it’s now the Onyx Club, I think), Nucky’s meeting with Eddie Cantor on the floor. Eddie’s foolishly brought along some flirty blonde, who wastes no time making it clear she’s interested in Nucky. Nucky gets rid of Eddie so he can flirt in earnest with blondie. There’s some talk about Owney Madden, owner of the Cotton Club, and surprisingly sexy talk about how Nucky’s a dangerous man.

Gillian’s showing some guy around the Former House of T&A. The guy observes that it’s a pretty big place but she says it just needs the right man to bring it back to life and paints a picture of elegant cotillions. She leaves him to think about it and quickly shoots up a bit of heroin. Real estate deals can be pretty stressful, you know. Guess this is what she got out of that unsuccessful attempt to kill Gyp last season. She returns to the bedroom and it soon becomes clear she’s not selling the house, she’s selling herself. Wow, this all got really sad, really fast. Not that Gillian’s ever been a particularly joyful character.

Somewhere unknown, a man’s secretary knocks on his door and reminds him to sign the card for the present that’s on his desk. He says thanks and she leaves, so he can begin sweating bullets, because he’s currently being held hostage by Two Face. The guy cries, tries to talk his way out of this (I’m just a middleman!), and then tries to pay TF off, but we all know that this is meaningless to Richard. The guy begs to be allowed to sign the card, and Richard grants permission, but instead of writing a heartfelt last message to his soon-to-be-fatherless child, the man writes down a name and address of the man he says Richard really wants. Richard shoots him and takes the name and address. If there had been cannolis there, I bet he would’ve taken them too.

Nucky’s having dinner with Eli’s family, where poor Will’s being made to sing Temple’s horrible fight song, which sounds quite a bit like Muncie’s, to be honest. Also, Temple? Oof. I hope you taught the kid to shoot straighter than he drives, Eli. Though maybe Temple’s neighbourhood wasn’t such a hellhole back in 1924. Eli quizzes his kid over how often he goes to football games and his mom asks him who his friends are and whether they smoke. Will promises he doesn’t smoke and turns things back on his dad, saying he’s a chimney. Eli makes him apologise, which Will does, because he’s a good lad. Nucky excuses himself, and Will follows him out and tells him he wants to start learning a bit about the family business. Nucky tries to freeze him out and insists he stay in school and earn his degree, because they’re all counting on that. Sounds like he’s found his replacement Jimmy. Nucky adds that, if there’s anything he wants to get off his chest, he can talk to his uncle. Will admits that he does smoke and Nucky knows, because he picked up all his bad habits at college too. College is like that.

Back in Cicero, Al’s still pissed off about the misspelled name. His brothers tell him to let it go, since the writer’s probably some WASP who knows nothing. Al thinks he should be getting more credit, after all he’s done. Frank jokingly tells him he’s a very special boy, and soon they start roughhousing in a rather overly aggressive manner, until their mother comes in and breaks it up.

Dunn’s got bored wife in a grubby looking room somewhere. He pours her a drink, even though she says she doesn’t have time. She tells him the hotel’s gross and asks for another drink. He obliges. She tells him Dickie’s a thief who steals from the acts and the owners. Wow, shocking. She finishes her drink and she and Dunn get ready to get down to business. But just as things are ramping up, Dickie comes in and surprises them, curiously from a seat at the side of the room. Ooookaaaay. How did they not hear him come in? He brandishes a gun and tells Dunn to have a seat, while the wife bleats that Dunn made her do it. Dickie tells her to tell him what happened and she claims Dunn kidnapped her and threatened her with a straight razor. Dunn tries to talk his way out of this mess, looking more vulnerable and scared than we’ve ever seen him, which makes sense seeing as he’s pantsless and starting at a pistol. Dickie puts the pistol to his head and tells him to get back to business. Stranger and stranger. Wife gives Dunn the come hither, and Dunn starts to look less scared and more seriously grossed out. Still, he turns back to her, and she tells him this is all just some fun. Maybe for you two freaks. Dunn climbs back on top of her, while Dickie clearly starts jerking off to the scene, and then Dunn grabs the liquor bottle, shatters it, and uses the top to brutally stab Dickie over and over and over in the neck while the terrified wife flees through an open window.

Agents S and Knox are waiting to spring a trap somewhere, but the drop is late. S is impatient, so Knox passes the time by bringing up driver Elmer from the warehouse and mentioning the massive amount of liquor the guy has stashed on his property. Interestingly, he does not mention the shotgun booby trap.

Dunn’s got his pants back on, but he’s being pretty well spanked (verbally), by Chalky, who tells him that he’s signed contracts with the now dead guy and this makes things a bit complicated. And as if things weren’t bad enough for Dunn, now Nucky comes in with Eli to witness the carnage. Nobody cares what Dunn’s side of the story is. Chalky tells Nucky that Dickie worked for Owney Madden, which is bad, because Madden was seriously hooked up with the New York criminal underworld. Eli says he has a place they can stash this guy, and Chalky tells the other two to find the girl and take care of her. Wow, when did Chalky start giving Nucky orders? Nucky warns Chalky to make sure people in the area stay quiet, and after they leave, Chalky tells Dunn that’ll be his responsibility.

Dunn drags the body out into a very frozen looking swamp while Chalky and Eli watch and taunt him from the car. I don’t think taunting a guy who’s so quick with his rage is the best plan, but whatever.

Gillian’s branching out, snorting her drugs now, I guess because needles can be kind of a hassle when you’re in a hurry. She’s got another customer: Ron Livingston. Hey, nice to see him, it’s been a little while. He says the house is bigger than anything he’d need and guesses Gillian doesn’t really want to sell. He admires the woodwork and admits he only needs a place to stay for a few months. His name is Roy Phillips, and he’s in town to expand Piggly Wiggly grocery stores to the east coast. He’s something of a charmer, and Gillian’s clearly charmed. He asks if she’d help show him around, since he’s new in town and all, and she readily agrees.

Al, unable to let anything go, ever, pays that poor reporter a visit, accompanied by his brothers. The reporter, who looks like he should be working as a cub for his college newspaper, is terrified, but he gets off easy. Al just spells his last name and tells him to remember it. I’m sure he will, Al. And I hope he has a change of pants at the office, too.

Crowds are flocking to the Onyx, where the acts are getting underway. The crowd hoots appreciatively for the Onyx Girls, a chorus line that slinks out and gets a sexy tap line going. It’s half Follies, half burlesque. Nucky’s having a quick aside with Dunn, who reports that the wife has disappeared, despite the fact that she’s a half-naked white woman running around in the dead of winter in the black neighbourhood. Seriously, how has she not been found? Chalky sends Dunn away and reminds Nucky that he does kind of owe Dunn his life, to some extent, since Dunn did step up last season, so don’t ride him too hard. Nucky says he doesn’t want someone else’s grief. Fair enough. Nucky’s had a rough enough past few months already, you know? He’s only just been allowed to go shopping in New York again!

Nucky returns to his table, where he’s seated with Eddie’s little blondie. She declares the show deliciously primitive and he suggestively asks if it brings out the beast in her. She whispers that he’ll just have to wait and see.

Agents S and Knox are now staking out Elmer the driver’s house. Knox offers to go knock on the door, but Agent S says they’re just going to go right on in and split the take 50/50. Knox plays it seriously dumb, maybe laying it on a little too thick, if you ask me, but Agent S doesn’t catch on. He picks the lock on the garage, opens the door, and promptly gets a shotgun shell to the chest. The shot brings out Elmer, whom Knox coldly dispatches with a shot to the head before going inside and trying some of the moonshine. He comes back out and finds Agent S dying. He creepily tells the man he’ll call it in as soon as he gets a grip on himself, because this has all got him pretty rattled. Needless to say, the man’s as steady as a rock. He continues to sip his whisky.

Nucky’s had his tryst with blondie, back at his hotel room, which is not at the Ritz as in years past. Guess he decided he needed to keep a lower profile. Smart. She asks him if he gets lonely and he says he does, now and then. She admits that she wanted to meet him for a while, because she thinks he can help her career the way he helped Billie’s. Careful, hun. That relationship didn’t end so well. Nucky shuts down at the mention of Billie and he excuses himself. As soon as he leaves, Eddie comes in and informs her Nucky’s been called away and won’t be returning. She has to leave. Remember how obsequious Eddie used to be towards Nucky’s flings? Yeah, those days are clearly over.

Nucky’s out on the balcony of his hotel—the Albatross Hotel, which is apparently a real place, but considering he’s looking at what appears to be a portfolio of real estate down in Florida, that seems a bit heavy handed to me. Especially since almost every shot shows him next to a giant sign that says ‘Albatross’ on it. Eddie brings out some coffee while Nucky looks at whatever it is he’s got in that portfolio and looks out over the darkened shore.

Two Face approaches a run-down farmhouse in a snowy wasteland and peeks in the window. Seeing no one, he hides his gun in the woodpile, then goes to knock on the door. But for once, someone’s got the drop on him. He slowly turns and sees his sister standing on the porch steps, aiming a shotgun at him. She lowers it when she sees who it is and he tells her he’s come home.



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