Boardwalk Empire: Guys and Dolls

Jimmy finds out being more than half a gangster involves paying a lot of money to the man on top. Nucky’s on the hook to Rothstein for $100K, and Jimmy and Al’s cleanup in the woods wasn’t quite as thorough as they both thought.

Only the second episode of the season, and we can already celebrate the impending season 2. Guess the millions and millions of dollars that were spent on the pilot weren’t enough to give HBO pause (a fact for which I’m quite thankful). I’m sure the nearly 5 million viewers who tuned in for the first episode helped.

In snowy Chicago, the funeral for Colosimo is underway. An enormous crowd has gathered in front of the church to watch as the coffin is carried out. A gang of reporters pushes to the front of the crowd and asks Torrio about the hit. Torrio tells the reporters Colosimo was killed in a robbery, even though nothing was taken. The coffin is loaded into a hearse, along with a giant wreath from Nucky.

Nucky himself is getting his shoes shined in his office in AC. He takes a minute to check out a nearby photo of his late wife, and I don’t think I mentioned this last week, but in the first episode, when I first glanced at the photos, I thought she looked an awful lot like Molly Parker from Deadwood. Now I see that it actually is Molly Parker in those photos, so it’s good to know I’m not going crazy.

Nucky asks the shoeshine guy if he’s a family man, and finds out he is. Before that discussion can go further, Eddie comes into announce Van Alden. Nucky’s surprised by the guest, who doesn’t wait for Eddie’s permission before barging right into Nucky’s office. Nucky politely offers the agent a shoeshine, coffee, and drink (as a joke) before paying off the shoeshine guy.

Van Alden chides Nucky for keeping such irregular hours before getting to business—Van Alden’s investigating the roadside shootings from last episode. Nucky says he thought the whole thing was wrapped up, since he’d pinned it on Schroeder, who, conveniently enough, can also be the target of anti-German sentiment left over from World War I. Van Alden doesn’t buy the story, though, since Schroeder was a baker’s assistant with only one citation for public drunkenness, and that was from 1912. Celebrating New Mexico’s and Arizona’s statehood, the Olympics, or grieving the demise of the Titanic? You pick. Nucky remembers writing that particular summons, since he was undersheriff back then and apparently has an amazing memory. He comments that innocent people don’t tend to end up dead in fishing nets and suggests Van Alden talk to Nucky’s brother, the current sheriff.

Van Alden says he stopped by the Schroeder house but the Mrs. Wasn’t home. He asks Nucky where she might be, and instead of answering, Nucky points out that Van Alden’s bailiwick is alcohol, so what’s he doing chasing this down? Trying to nail you, Nucky. Van Alden collects his hat and leaves.

Out on the boardwalk, the KKK is recruiting. One of them offers Jimmy a flyer, but he’s more interested in a necklace he spots in a nearby store window.

At the Ritz, Nucky emerges from the elevator and makes for the door with Eddie in tow, but he’s waylaid by a large, loud man named Baxter who sells cutlery to the area restaurants. Nucky’s not too keen on being roped into a conversation with the guy, but he can’t avoid it. Nor can he avoid being introduced to Baxter’s latest accessory: a platinum blonde named Claudia who looks like she should be wearing knee socks and heading to the tenth grade. So, Baxter’s our resident perv. No wonder Nucky doesn’t like him.

At the hospital, Margaret’s reading Henry James’s The Ivory Tower, which is fitting, since it’s a story about the corrupting effect riches can have on people.  A nurse comes in to tell Margaret that a “Mr. Thompson” is there to see her, and Margaret puts her book aside, ties her long hair in a velvet ribbon, and sits up to greet…Nucky’s brother. Margaret is visibly disappointed.

Elias is very polite with her, and observes that she’s looking well (she exposits that she’ll be heading home the following day). Elias is there to talk about her husband, and even Margaret says Hans was never in trouble and wasn’t a murderer. As Eli points out, though, the guy did beat her into a miscarriage, so depending on how you tend to look at these things, he might have been a murderer after all. Eli coaches her on what to say if Van Alden should show up on her doorstep—that her husband may have been involved in something, she simply didn’t know what he did in his spare time. To ensure her cooperation, Eli threatens to put her kids in the custody of the county and hands her an envelope full of cash from Nucky.

Van Alden’s reporting to his superior, telling him how well Nucky’s living at the taxplayers’ expense. As he talks about all the graft Nucky’s involved in, we see Nucky receiving his own cash envelopes from various public officials. Van Alden continues that the people of the city love Nucky, the “darkies” especially. We see Nucky handing out boxes of cigars to a kitchen full of black cooks and dishwashers and urging them to vote. Van Alden’s partner picks up and adds that Nucky’s also got his hand in prostitution, gambling, and that he even owns a wire service for the racing results. Van Alden was originally sent to AC to track Rothstein, but he’s starting to think Nucky’s the bigger fish.

Nucky and Eli stroll through the jail, and Nucky asks after Margaret. Eli misses what Nucky’s really asking and just says she took the money. Nucky scolds his brother a bit for the method he used for disposing of the body before turning to a nearby cell, where Micky the idiot is asleep. His cellmate wakes him so he can talk to Nucky, who immediately tells him he’s out—of the liquor business, not jail. Chalky White will be taking over, since Mickey’s been pegged by the Feds and will have him under close watch. With that said, Nucky turns and leaves.

At the Darmody house, Jimmy waits for his wife and kid to come home, and when they arrive, he scoops the kid up and leads him and Angela to the living room, where he’s got a Christmas tree all set up and presents wrapped underneath it. He’s using his windfall to give the family the holiday they couldn’t afford a month ago. The little boy gets a truck that he loves, and Angela gets a bracelet and a vacuum cleaner, which scares the little boy. His wails kind of kill the mood, and Angela goes to put him down for a nap.

We move to New York City, where Rothstein’s playing a game of pool in his palatial home when Luciano enters with a guest—Frankie Yale, also known as, the man who killed Colosimo. Rothstein invites Frankie to grab a drink and then moves on to a little story about a man who used to make a living betting on being able to swallow certain objects, billiard balls being a particular specialty. Just in case you were as horrified by the implications of that as I was, Rothstein quickly adds that the man would then regurgitate them. And hopefully wash them well both before and after, because…ew. Anyway, Rothstein placed a $10,000 bet, with the only caveat being that Rothstein would get to choose the ball. He handed the guy the cue ball, and the man proceeded to choke to death on it. See, the cue ball is 1/16 of an inch bigger than the other balls, which is a detail I would have thought that guy would know. Anyway, the point of the story is, if Rothstein was willing to watch a guy choke to death purely for his own amusement, what does Frankie think he’ll do to him if he doesn’t cough up the name of the man who ordered the hit on Colosimo? I really love this character—he’s played marvelously. Very quiet and together but scary as hell. I could watch a whole show just about him.

Back down in the City of Atlantic, Jimmy and Ange are fooling around, but when he goes to take things further, she tells him it’s not a good time and suggests they try something else. He brings up the possibility of doing a little oral, something he heard about while he was over in France, and she seems like she’s game, but just as she heads south, the little boy wakes up and starts calling for her. Ange grabs a robe and offers to make Jimmy something eat, but he says he’s got something to do. And I’m guessing that something will involve a hand.

Or maybe not. Jimmy heads to a theater, where a rehearsal for some classy nudie show (The Odyssey meets pasties, basically) is in progress. Jimmy pauses at the back of the theater to check out one of the women on stage, and once the director calls a break, Jimmy moves backstage and intercepts her as she’s coming offstage. She runs over to him, squealing, and jumps on him, wrapping her legs around his waist and kissing him all over his face, murmuring “baby” over and over again. Hmmmm.

She scolds him for not writing to her and finally climbs down, still kissing him and telling him how much she missed him. As she wraps herself in a robe, Jimmy hands her a present—it’s the necklace from the boardwalk shop. She gets all teary when she sees it, and Jimmy tells her it’s ok, calling her “Ma”. Hey, now! The heck is going on here? This woman is played by Gretchen Mol, who’s less than ten years older than Michael Pitt, who plays Jimmy. Yikes, looks like Daddy Darmody liked ‘em young. Apparently, the necklace is just like one she received as a gift years before, from Jimmy’s dad, which she had to sell to keep a roof over Jimmy’s head. He promised to replace it, and now he has. Aww.

In his office, Nucky’s perusing the newspaper and Jimmy wanders in. Nucky immediately gets up his ass, demanding an explanation for what happened with the shipment. Jimmy gives him the short version, which we already know, and says that things weren’t really supposed to go down the way they did, except Capone got a little trigger happy, and that’s why there’s a Fed breathing down Nucky’s neck. There’s some debate over whether four or five guys were killed (Jimmy thinks five, probably counting the guy Capone chased off into the woods.) Nucky cuts Jimmy loose and tells him he owes Nucky another $3,000 as his cut from the heist. He gives Jimmy 48 hours to cough up the cash and goes back to his newspaper in a huff.

In Chicago, a beefy looking guy heads into a bar or speakeasy or something—someplace where topless women and alcohol commingle to the sound of Ragtime. The beefy guy makes his way to the bar, where Al Capone’s tending, and tells Al that he’ll have a whiskey and a statement on the record. Beefy guy’s Eddie Corrigan from the Chicago Tribune, who was one of the reporters bugging Torrio at the Colosimo funeral. Al hands over the whiskey, charging Eddie $3, which I hope he can expense, because that was a pretty fair amount of money back then. According to my (quick) research, that was the equivalent of about $34 nowadays.

Al gives his name as Al Brown, and Eddie asks for another drink before telling Al he’s running a story linking Torrio to the Colosimo hit. He asks Al if he’d like to make a statement, and Al proceeds to break the bottle over Eddie’s head before coming around the bar and beating the crap out of the guy. Torrio comes out and asks what’s going on, and Al explains that he’s “making a statement.” I’ll say. Next time, Al, a simple “no comment” will do.

It’s late and Nucky’s still at work when Rothstein calls and informs Nucky that his shipment never arrived. Rothstein’s willing to overlook the situation in return for $100,000 dollars. Rothstein’s pissed that Nucky sold the load to Chicago (Rothstein thinks) and that his sister-in-law’s nephew was one of the drivers who was killed. Nucky tells Rothstein he didn’t sell the load to anyone and he doesn’t give a crap who the drivers were. With a mild threat, Nucky hangs up on Rothstein.

Later still, Jimmy returns home and pulls out what remains of his money from a pretty poorly thought out hiding place behind the radiator. He counts it up and it clearly isn’t enough to pay off Nucky. He’s got the money hidden in a leather case that also holds his honorable discharge, which is kind of funny, since that was clearly the last honorable discharge he had and probably ever will have.

The following day, Margaret returns home to a quiet house that’s still trashed from Hans’s last beating. She takes off her coat and hat, pulls the ribbon out of her hair, and slowly sets about putting the house to rights. Before she can get far, Van Alden knocks on the door and asks to speak with her about her husband. Margaret opens the door, cowering behind it, and invites him in.

Van Alden takes in the wrecked house and asks if this is a bad time. She informs him she’s just back from the hospital and picks up a couple of chairs so he can sit. They both take seats at the dinner table and Van Alden offers condolences on her loss, saying, in a rather rote way, that he’s sure her husband was a fine and decent man. He’s saying this to a woman who’s still pretty obviously banged up, in a house where furniture was thrown all over, so talk about a guy who doesn’t deviate from a set script. Van Alden thinks Hans was set up to take the fall for someone, and when she hears this, Margaret starts fiddling with her hair and wondering where her ribbon went. Van Alden ignores this and merely asks what her relationship is to Nucky Thompson.

From there, we jump back to the Boardwalk, where Nucky runs into Baxter and his prom queen, who are being rolled along in one of those pushcarts that look like giant baby carriages. So, that’s appropriate, at least. They pause and Claudia notices a sign for saltwater taffy. She gets some cash from her sugardaddy and hops out to buy some. Once she’s gone, Baxter complains to Nucky that he’s showing the girl the time of her life, but hasn’t gotten so much as a kiss in return. This girl’s smarter than I thought. When she returns, Nucky asks her how old she is (she says 19, which I think is bullshit), and Nucky basically invents the Miss America Pageant on the spot and tells her that Baxter will be one of the judges. She gets all excited, and Baxter quietly thanks Nucky for getting her warmed up for him. Ick.

In his desperation, Jimmy calls Al and asks for a $500 loan so he can pay off Nucky. Al dickishly pretends the connection is bad and hangs up on him. That seems to be a pretty common occurrence on this show.

Fresh from his boardwalk stroll, Nucky’s visiting the Commodore, the elderly gentleman he went to see last week, who is, apparently, the guy Nucky kicks money up to. As Nucky sips a cognac, the Commodore counts his earnings and commends Nucky on letting Jimmy go, since the boy needs some toughening up. There’s some discussion of Nucky’s upcoming birthday, business, and an impending election. They talk about Senator Edge, who was Walter Evans Edge, a former governor of New Jersey who served as a U.S. Senator from 1919 to 1929, and then as the Ambassador to France from 1929 to 1933. He had pretty significant ties to Atlantic City’s business and political machine, and Nucky Johnson was actually Edge’s campaign manager for his 1916 gubernatorial campaign. Our Nucky thinks Edge could go all the way, especially since the ladies seem to like him. The Commodore laughs at the idea of women voting, although Nucky thinks a vote’s a vote no matter what sex the person casting it is. “You think so?” says the Commmodore before calling for his maid, Luanne. When she doesn’t appear, he picks up a handbell from a nearby table and rings it frantically until Luanne comes running. Even Nucky seems a little put off by this display.

Once Luanne arrives, the Commodore asks what she thinks of the League of Nations and the Harriday Act, which allows banks to operate through subsidiaries. She doesn’t know anything about either of these things, and the Commodore basically says that it’s because she’s a dumb woman. Well, Commodore, if you’d asked her about anything that was even slightly relevant to her everyday life—like, say, how she’d feel about legislation that made it illegal for Klansmen to recruit right on the boardwalk—you probably would have gotten a very different answer. But, since last week we found out this guy was anti-Semitic, why am I not surprised to learn he’s sexist as well?

At the Tits and Odysseass show, Jimmy waits for two women to clear out of the dressing room before going in, pulling the necklace he gave his stepmom out of a drawer, and pocketing it.

In his room, Van Alden is composing the driest, least sentimental letter ever to his wife. I think the tenderest part of it is when he asks her to run the taps so the pipes don’t split. Sexy! My cable bill is more loving than this. After he signs off, Van Alden takes a pull from a cigarette, and then opens a drawer and pulls out Margaret Schroeder’s hair ribbon, which he wraps around his hand several times, like rosary beads, before bringing it to his nose and breathing in deeply. Well, now. Is this a godly pursuit, Van Alden?

Margaret is sitting in her kitchen, deep in thought, when the kids come in, the little girl wearing a pair of her father’s shoes and laughing as she stumbles around, like little kids do. Margaret smiles a little sadly as she watches them march through.

Lucy’s in the tub in Nucky’s rooms at the Ritz, giving us our weekly dose of her annoying self. She tells Nucky he should grow a moustache, like Douglas Fairbanks, whom Nucky thinks is gay. That would have been news to Mary Pickford, I think, but I’m getting ahead of myself there. Eddie rescues Nucky from Lucy’s irritating voice and stupid comments by coming in to announce that Margaret’s come for a visit.

Nucky emerges from the bedroom and ushers Margaret into a living room. Once she seats herself on the sofa and he takes a nearby chair, she apologizes and hands back the envelope of cash Eli gave her in the hospital. She tells him the money was weighing too heavily on her conscience, and when Nucky asks her why that should be, she awesomely gives him a look that says: “Don’t assume I’m a moron, dude.” Nucky says he knows what she’s going through, and Margaret asks if his wife was young when she died. Nucky gets sad and says she was, only 28. Margaret promises to keep her in her prayers and then goes on to say that when she came to Nucky in the last episode, all she wanted was a job for her husband. She herself isn’t afraid to work, having once been a parlormaid back in Ireland. She’s not looking for a handout and quotes George Sand: “Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it.” Nucky makes the usual mistake of assuming George Sand was a man, and Margaret fills him in on 19th century lit 101. Girl’s got some hidden depths, it seems. I don’t imagine it was common for poor former parlormaids to run around quoting George Sand in the 1920’s. Turns out, Margaret was parlormaid for a barrister whose house was filled with books, and she read as many of them as she could. Nucky smiles, seeming interested, and she asks him to help her provide for her children. He says he’d like to help her, and she asks what he wants from her. After a long pause, Nucky tells her he wants her to vote Republican. Hee!

Looks like that Miss America gambit didn’t work—Baxter’s still trying to get so much as a peck from his girl, but she keeps pushing him off, insisting she’s not that type of girl. Not unreasonably, he asks her just what kind of girl she is. Seriously, hon. You jumped into a car in Baltimore with a total stranger—do you think his hobby was acquiring temporary daughters or something? Baxter gets annoyed and tells her to get her things, he’s taking her back to “Baltymore”.

Nucky’s holding court at a dinner table that doesn’t look like it’s in Babette’s, telling bad jokes until he’s interrupted by Jimmy, who pulls Nucky aside to give him the $3k. Nucky and his friends head to the nearby gambling tables, where Nucky puts the whole $3000 on black at the roulette table. Predictably, he loses, and shrugs to Jimmy: “Not my night, apparently.” Easy come, easy go.

On the only road out of Atlantic City (apparently), Baxter’s driving along, harranging the girl about all the money he spent on her. She finally tells him to shut up already and pull over, which he does, just past the sign for Hammonton we saw last week. The girl tells Baxter to unbutton his trousers, and proceeds to start giving him a handjob, with a totally bored look on his face. The fun stops, though, when a bloodied man emerges on the woods and stumbles over to their car, as Baxter and the girl scream, well, bloody murder. So, I guess it was five guys, then. Ok, I’m sorry to keep banging the Sopranos drum, but wouldn’t it be funny if this character was played by the same actor who played the Russian who led Paulie and Christopher on a merry chase through the Pine Barrens? I think it’d be hysterical.

Previous Episode: Let’s Run Away to Atlantic City

Next Episode: Learning Curve

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5 thoughts on “Boardwalk Empire: Guys and Dolls

  1. These recaps are fantastic! I started watching Boardwalk Empire about 6 episodes into it and had no idea who anyone was but was hooked immediately. I went over to the HBO website and read the HBO recaps in the hopes of bringing myself up to speed and they made me far more confused than when I started. Your recaps are marvelous! I wish HBO had hired you to write theirs instead of who ever did! Yours are so much better, they make sense, they introduce characters in a way that a newcomer can follow, and they hit all the details that are important. Bravo on your great work and service to all of us who are trying desperately to catch up! I sure appreciate your efforts!

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