Previously on Boardwalk Empire: Following Angela’s death, Jimmy went on a heroin-fueled trip down memory lane. And what a hellish trip it was—for him, and for those of us watching. Things started looking up for Nucky, as Van Alden was discredited as a witness for being insane and killing his partner, but then guilt-ridden Margaret started hinting that she might take the stand against him.
Two men in masks with guns drive through the woods, arriving at a nice afternoon Klan gathering. One of the men hops down, shoots one of the Klansmen in the head, and asks the others for the names and addresses of the men who shot up Chalky’s warehouse back in the season premiere. The men doing the shooting are Jimmy and Richard. When they don’t answer right away, Jimmy blows a hole in another Klansman’s chest. One of the others starts talking, and another one gives himself away by trying to flee. Jimmy quickly brings him down with a blow from behind.
In Philly, Manny the Butcher’s rhapsodizing about hunger and feeding and other things that clearly have double meanings. The camera angle switches and we see he’s taking to Nucky and Mickey Doyle. Huh. Guess Mickey was all out of options and went crawling back to Nucky. Manny finally shuts up for a second, and Nucky commiserates that they’ve both been having a rough time of it lately. Manny’s having it worse, by the sound of things. He’s had to close up his shop and go into hiding, for the safety of his family, and now he’s holed up in some basement. Though he’s not so well hidden that Mickey Doyle couldn’t track him down, and we all know Mickey’s not the sharpest crayon in the box, so I don’t know how Manny’s managed to stay alive this long. I think it’s just because everyone’s too scared of his badassary to really go after him.
Manny lays his troubles at Waxy Gordon’s door, and Nucky interrupts to say that Waxy’s a business associate of his. Manny tells him Waxy’s in business with Jimmy, and he proposes a deal: Nucky delivers Waxy, and Manny will hand over Jimmy. Wait, what? Why does Nucky need Manny to hand over Jimmy? It’s not like Jimmy seems to be laying all that low—he was staying at the Commodore’s, last we saw. And why would Manny be able to find him any better than Nucky could?
Nucky points out that Manny doesn’t seem to be in a position to do much, and Manny says Angela might disagree. Nucky tightly comments that they do business rather differently, but he agrees to consider Manny’s proposal. After Nucky leaves, Manny grouses that Nucky’s got one foot in jail but still acts like he’s better. “He ain’t in jail yet,” says Mickey.
Half a dozen heavily armed black men await the arrival of Jimmy and the Klansmen. As they arrive, they drive into one of Chalky’s warehouses, where Chalky and some of his associates meet them. Jimmy hands over a sack full of money for the families of the victims of the shootout. Jimmy even managed to get more than Chalky asked for. He then lifts a tarp off the back of the truck he was driving, revealing several bound and terrified Klansmen. In return, Jimmy asks Chalky to arrange a talk with Nucky. Chalky nods in agreement. Jimmy heads out, and Chalky’s boys start roughly unloading the Klansmen, then set about beating them to death.
Jimmy joins Richard in his own car, and Richard (sorry, I respect him too much to keep calling him Two Face. He gets a name now) sensibly tells Jimmy that, whatever he does, Nucky will never forgive him. Jimmy contemplatively puffs on his cigarette, then suggests they go get a steak dinner.
At Margaret’s, Katie’s trying to persuade Emily to walk by dangling her doll at the far end of the corridor. Emily hesitantly moves forward, aided by the nanny. Nucky comes in and Emily happily calls out: “Daddy!” Awww. Nucky asks where Margaret is and Katie tells him she went out and didn’t say where she was going. Nucky and Sleater breeze past her and Emily on their way upstairs.
Margaret, meanwhile, is at the post office with her priest to meet with Esther. Priest makes sure Esther’s aware that Margaret left her sickly child to be there, and that she’s a good upstanding member of the community. Esther shuts him up, and Margaret sends him away so she can talk to Esther, woman to woman. Oh, this’ll be a good pair-up. Margaret asks if it’s difficult to become a lawyer, and Esther says it’s not, if you put your mind to it. Margaret’s canny enough to know that’s not true and Esther admits it’s not, that she started as a public defender, and her only clients were other women who had no choice but to take a lady lawyer.
Margaret gets down to brass tacks and tells Esther what her husband was like. She asks if Esther hates Nucky and Esther says she actually likes him. She tells Margaret she’d like to hear what she has to say, and that she’ll compel her to testify, whether she wants to or not. But if she doesn’t play ball, Esther can make her look pretty bad. She softens her tone and asks Margaret what Nucky’s given her, besides money. Affection? Stability? Margaret says he’s never been cruel to her. Esther counters that he’s been cruel to others. Margaret mentions her kids, and Esther asks if their wellbeing trumps that of others. Well, yes, I think most mothers would agree that their own children’s wellbeing comes before that of strangers, Esther. I’m not a parent, but even I know that. Esther tells her the kids will find out what Nucky does sooner or later, and that’ll be a miserable day. She urges Margaret to set herself free, and unburden herself. This season’s all about sin, redemption, and unburdening one’s soul, isn’t it?
Nucky’s taking a meeting with his lawyer, who wants to try and cut a deal with Eli. Nucky says Eli’s not the problem, which is a good opening for the lawyer to segue into a discussion about Margaret. Nucky insists Margaret doesn’t know anything, which isn’t true, but the lawyer points out that if she can corroborate any of Eli’s or any other witness’s statement, Nucky’s screwed. The phone rings and Eddie comes in to tell Nucky that Chalky’s on the line.
Jimmy’s back home, sitting in an open doorway, smoking, the beach and ocean in the background. He hears a car pull up and goes to the window, where he sees Nucky get out of his fancy Rolls and walk up to the front door, accompanied by Sleater. Jimmy gets his pistol ready and meets them in the living room. Nucky introduces Sleater, and Jimmy tells him to wait outside, setting his gun down on a table. Sleater goes, reluctantly. Nucky expresses his condolences about Angela, then plays dumb when Jimmy says it was Manny. Jimmy pours a drink for the lost and downs it before bluntly announcing that the Commodore’s dead. He says he should have killed him the minute he suggested betraying Nucky. He’d wanted to do it since he was a kid, but he never could. Nucky, who knows of what he speaks, says the man was Jimmy’s father, and that looms rather large. Jimmy asks Nucky if there’s anything he can do to try and make things right between them. Nucky asks him to just tell him the truth, and Jimmy says he was just angry about…well, everything. He never wanted the shooting to happen, though. He was just too weak a leader to prevent it. Jimmy tells him Eli was behind the shooting, and now he wants to make things right in any way he can.
Back home, Margaret’s industriously knitting in the kitchen. She’s joined by Nucky, who quietly says he needs to speak with her. She puts her work aside and he pulls up a chair. There’s a long pause, then Nucky says that, although they were both raised Catholic, they clearly have differences of belief. Margaret thinks he’s lost his faith, but Nucky says that, if there were a God, would he have given Nucky that face? This manages to bring a ghost of a smile to her own face, easing the tension between them just a little. Nucky says he doesn’t know what comes after death, but he believes that he’s called to love and protect his family. He realizes she’s suffering and in pain, but they’ll get through this if they just hold strong and stick together. He tells her he loves her and he loves their family, and I don’t know if he’s playing her, but if he is, he’s doing a damn good job. He caps it off by asking her to marry him, which means she won’t have to testify against him (which, as we learned in the Sopranos, isn’t necessarily true). He admits to having done terrible things in the past, and he sees how wrong they were and now he’s very sorry and very scared. The teakettle starts to whistle and Margaret goes to take it off the heat, commenting that Nucky is always surprising.
Uncle Junior’s meeting with Gillian and Jimmy at the Commodore’s. He’s brought a copy of the Commodore’s death certificate, which must have been filled out by the same idiot who determined Agent Sebsoe died of a heart attack, because it just says the Commodore died accidentally. Yes, he accidentally stabbed himself twice with a knife. They got that determination for a pretty penny, apparently. Next, they turn their attention to the Commodore’s will, which is from all the way back in 1914. He left most of his estate to Luann, the maid who tried to poison him last season. Jimmy grabs the will and tears it up, which means everything will go to him as next of kin. The butler announces their guests, and as men start to stream in, Gillian begins peppering Jimmy with advice. Jimmy coldly shuts her down, and stung, she departs.
The visitors are two of the cronies, who both offer condolences. Jimmy announces that he’s rethought their position vis a vis Nucky, and now they’re going after Eli. They’re all to recant their testimonies and blame it all on the sheriff. They’re not happy to hear this, since they think they’re about to win this whole thing. Even Uncle Junior thinks they should stay the course. They suggest Jimmy take a trip to clear his head, and Jimmy stares up at them, realizing just how little control he has, and how out of control this has all gotten.
Margaret wakes early in the morning and hears Nucky and Teddy out in the yard, urging Emily to walk in a really cute way. She goes to the window and looks out at the charming scene, looking a little wistful.
Later, fully dressed, Margaret fetches Nucky from his newspaper and informs him that Sleater will be driving them to church, where she plans to make her confession before marrying them. Nucky gets up and thanks her. Margaret tells the kids they’ll be back later, then goes to fetch Katie to act as their witness. Is that really a good idea, Margaret?
As Margaret confesses, Esther dresses herself and practices her opening argument in front of the mirror. Jimmy and Richard arrive at a large, official looking building as Margaret emerges from the confessional and the marriage ceremony begins.
Jimmy and Richard burst into Neary’s office, where the new treasurer’s enjoying some afternoon delight with the secretary. Jimmy tells her to get lost, and she takes one look at Richard holding his gun and does just that. That gun is soon being held to Neary’s head as he types out a statement Jimmy’s dictating, laying everything at Eli’s door. When he’s done and the confession’s signed, Richard shoves the gun in Neary’s mouth and shoots.
Nucky’s trial. The court’s in an uproar, and Esther’s trying to keep her cool as she pieces through the sudden marriage and supposed suicide that’s derailing her case. She accuses Nucky’s side of witness tampering, which Nucky’s lawyer objects to. The judge calls the lawyers to the bench and tells Esther she has no chance of a conviction at the moment, and she can either proceed and screw herself over, or agree to a mistrial and go gather more evidence. She agrees to the mistrial, so the judge dismisses everyone. Eli’s lawyer jumps up and asks that Eli be released. The judge agrees. Halloran’s lawyer asks for the same, but the judge reminds him that Halloran confessed to murder, and his plea deal was only good if Nucky went to trial, so now Halloran’s off to the pen.
Jimmy and Gillian are at a pony ride with little Tommy. Jimmy helps him feed a really cute pony some sugar cubes (bad for their teeth—stick with fruit and carrots, folks!) as one of the workers saddles him up. Jimmy tells Tommy about his own childhood, pretending he was Robinson Crusoe. He lifts Tommy onto the pony and gives him some pointers. The worker shows up with two hats and asks if he wants to be a cowboy or soldier. Tommy wants to be a soldier, just like his daddy. The worker leads the pony away, and Jimmy glances balefully back at his mother, waiting by the car. She waves cheerfully back.
Nucky arrives home three sheets to the wind and tells Margaret he had nothing to do with Neary’s suicide. She cheerfully tells him she believes him, but he keeps trying to convince her. He also shows her the evening paper, which reports that Congress is ready to approve the road appropriations that Nucky and his cronies were counting on. So, everything’s good, then? He tells her he’ll need her to sign the deeds to the land he bought back over to him, and she agrees, sounding rather Stepford wife-y. Nucky starts to get undressed and wonders if maybe God really is giving him another chance.
The next day, Eli’s sitting on his porch while 20 or 30 of his kids play nearby. Nucky drives up, says hey to the moppets, and joins his brother. Eli tries to make some small talk about the weather, but Nucky wants to talk about how Eli tried to have him killed. Eli shows his endless doltery by failing to understand Shakespeare, then swears he had nothing to do with the failed hit. Nucky tells him Jimmy’s singing a different tune, and Eli tells him Jimmy will say anything to get back in Nucky’s good graces. He reminds Nucky that he came to him, and Nucky turned him away. Nucky stiffly says Eli’s going to plead guilty to everything. He’ll serve two years, tops, and he’ll probably be out in half that. If he goes to trial, it’ll probably be much worse. Eli sighs, realizing his brother’s right.
Up in New York, Meyer and Lucky are delivering some of their heroin to Rothstein, promising it’ll be a goldmine. Rothstein seems to like the idea of getting into the drug business. The boys then make what I think might be a stupid move by claiming the came to Rothstein first with this business proposition. I wonder if Rothstein knows that isn’t true. His momentary side-eyes make me think he does. Rothstein’s Eddie equivalent pokes his head in to tell Rothstein that Nucky’s on the phone.
Rothstein congratulates Nucky on ducking his legal bullet and asks what he needs. Nucky asks how he’d feel if Manny the Butcher was no longer amongst the living. Rothstein doesn’t care. Nucky says he’s got a decision to make, so Rothstein suggests he flip a coin. When it’s in the air, he’ll know which side he’s hoping for. That’s actually pretty good advice.
Van Alden, the nanny, and Baby Abigail are being shown a rather pleasant apartment by a rather pleasant lady. Van Alden says it’s great and hands over the first two months’ rent in advance. The landlady welcomes “Mr. and Mrs. Muller” to Cicero.
Jimmy and Richard are drunkenly reminiscing about the war at the Commodore’s. Richard rather sadly talks about how he felt like the army camps were where he was meant to be. Jimmy tells him nobody was meant to be there, and that it’s time to come home. The phone rings and Jimmy answers. It’s Nucky. He tells Jimmy he’s meeting Manny at the war memorial in one hour. Jimmy says he’ll be there, hangs up, and tells Richard, who offers to come along. Jimmy tells him it’s ok, because this is something he has to do himself. He stomps out, and Gillian, who’s in the next room playing with Tommy, looks up and asks if Jimmy went out. Richard tells her he had to go and Gillian looks momentarily distressed, like she’s really realizing how much Jimmy’s pulling away from her. She turns her attention back to Tommy and gets ready to take him to bed, but first she notices that he’s wearing Jimmy’s old army dogtags. She looks a bit disturbed but tucks them back into Tommy’s shirt and tells him he’s going to be a big man in the city someday, just like his dad.
It’s pouring rain outside. Nucky arrives at the still under construction war memorial, where Jimmy waits for him. Sleater’s got Manny, hands bound behind him. Manny asks Jimmy if he’ll have his revenge now and Jimmy asks if that’s really what this is. The man standing behind him Eli (guess Nucky decided blood really is thicker than water) pumps his shotgun, and Sleater moves away from Manny, who reveals his hands aren’t bound at all. Sleater pats down Jimmy, and someone reminds him to check Jimmy’s boot. Jimmy tells Nucky that he isn’t armed and Sleater confirms it. “This is the only way we could have ended, isn’t it?” he says to Nucky. He goes on to say that he died in a trench years ago. He calmly looks around and asks who’s going to do this. Nucky pulls out a pistol and says he’ll be the one. He doesn’t rush to do it, though, so Jimmy, hands in his pockets, totally calm, tells Nucky that he vomited after the first time he killed someone. A couple of kills later and it was old hat, though. He warns Nucky that, once he runs out of booze, he runs out of company, and then the only person left to judge him is himself. On that note, Nucky finally pulls the trigger, and Jimmy falls, dead.
Or not. He’s shot through the face and lies on the wet sand, choking. Nucky walks over to him and tells Jimmy he’s not seeking forgiveness. And with that, he fires again, and I’m pretty sure Jimmy’s dead now, lying under the cold and lifeless eyes of the iron soldiers on the war memorial.
And now we get a flashback to the French trenches, where Jimmy and his fellow soldiers climb over the edge, going to die.
Wow—poor Tommy, an orphan now, totally in Gillian’s care. And what will become of Richard? I doubt he’ll take the death of his only real friend lying down.
The next morning, all is sunny and bright in the Thompson household. Nucky comes in a bit late and Margaret comments that he was in a bit late the night before, and she was getting worried. He tells her there was no need, and she conversationally asks him where he was. He says he was just out, and that he ran into Jimmy. She asks how it went and he says they cleared the air, because he’s turning over a new leaf. Jimmy’s decided to re-enlist, and he’s already left. Now, Margaret’s not an idiot, so she knows that’s a hell of a lie (remember how Jimmy has that limp? The army’s not going to take him back with that). Nucky comments that the rain broke the heat, at least. Didn’t it, though? And not symbolically at all! “Yes, it did,” Margaret says, less perky than she was before, clearly realizing the type of man she’s tied herself to. Nucky promises to be home for dinner, kisses Emily on the forehead, and heads out. Margaret goes up to the office, where she pulls out the deed of land and looks down at the map of New Jersey, with the proposed road cutting right through it.
Nucky drives out to the countryside, where he meets up with the cronies to drink a toast to the future highway. Back home, Margaret signs the land deed over to her church, momentarily forgetting to change her last name. As her husband toasts to the future, she sends Katie to run the deed over to the Priest. And that’s the end of Season 2.
Well, I’ll be honest—I’m not sure about this season. Maybe I need time to let it sink in or something, but I kind of felt a bit uninterested in what was going on. A lot of it felt really slow moving, with little payoff. Nucky’s endless legal troubles didn’t capture me, Van Alden’s issues with Lucy and the whole situation with the baby started out seeming like they were going to be fascinating, as he grappled with his abandonment of his hard moral line, but somehow that fizzled and failed to become compelling. And Margaret’s Catholic guilt was as tiring as it was when it was Carmela on the Sopranos dealing with it. Jimmy’s incompetence just made him kind of boring. I’ll admit to being shocked by a few moments (and utterly and completely horrified by at least one), but that’s not enough to keep me interested. I still love Richard Harrow, and I like Sleater as a new addition to the cast, but beyond that, I don’t know, I just feel kind of…meh. If I wasn’t writing these recaps, I don’t know that I would have tuned in every week. And I’m not that upset that the season’s over; nor am I particularly excited for next season to start. Oh well, maybe we’re looking at a sophomore slump. Better luck next season!
Thanks for reading, folks; hope to see you back here again soon!