Boardwalk Empire: Learning Curve

Everyone learns something this week, even us! Jimmy learns it’s best to make sure all witnesses to a massacre are dead; Van Alden learns some choice words in Yiddish; and Nucky’s new partner learns bootlegging is a dangerous business.

Our bloodied friend from the end of last episode has made it to the hospital, where he’s being wheeled on a gurney past Eli and some of his officers. Eli goes out to the hall to meet Nucky, who’s coming in with Jimmy, and Nucky asks how the guy can possibly still be alive after being outside in the cold for three days. Eli shrugs that the guy was fat, and insulated, although the gaping abdominal wound we just saw the poor sap sporting didn’t look like insulation to me. Jimmy lamely says that they thought they killed all the members of the Criminal Convoy, and Nucky mockingly calls him Aristotle and says Jimmy better hope the guy dies real soon.

In a fairly industrial part of town, a horse-drawn hearse is being driven slowly past some warehouses. A kid throws open the door to one of them and the hearse drives right in. Nucky and the black guy we saw impatiently waiting to see him in episode 1 (Chalky White—heh) meets it and Chalky’s guys open the hearse and start unloading the crates of Canadian Club contained therein. After Chalky threatens his men with bodily harm should a drop of liquor go missing, he and Nucky start talking business. Chalky says he should be able to mix up the liquor pretty well—get 3,000 bottles of diluted stuff from the 500 bottles of pure. Nucky offers a 80-20 split in profits wherein he’ll supply the product and Chalky will work his magic. Chalky observes that’s a lot of magic for just 20%. Nucky shoots back that that’s the same deal he gave Mickey the Moron, which turns out to be a mistake, because Chalky offers a 60-40 split, just because Nucky actually thought Chalky would take the same deal as Mickey. They agree on a 65-35 split.

Chez Schroeder, Margaret serves breakfast to the kids while a neighbor lady named Edith asks after her eating habits (Margaret’s not eating, it seems. My guess is she’s trying to save money.) Margaret says she’s thinking of taking in a border, and after some momentary pearl clutching, Edith offers to let Margaret and the kids stay with her (Margaret politely turns her down) and suggests Margaret go home to her family (also a no-go). The little girl then devastatingly asks when the baby’s coming and Margaret’s face freezes horribly for a second before she gently says that she’s not sure, the stork must have gotten lost. Edith, who seems like a really nice lady, looks sad for her friend and then offers to make Margaret a brisket with potatoes. Margaret accepts, but before she can get to cooking, there’s a knock on the door, and the man on the other side hands Margaret a note from Nucky with a job offer. He politely offers his condolences before departing. Man, these are the most incredibly polite gangsters and thugs ever. Things really were different in the old days, weren’t they?

The job’s at a fancy dress shop at the Ritz Carlton (where Nucky lives). Edith asks how Margaret knows someone like Nucky, and Margaret claims it’s through the Temperance League. She asks Edith to look after the kids while she’s working.

Back at the hospital, a doctor gives the Convoy Criminal a shot in the arm as Eli watches. Eli asks the doctor for a few moments alone with the man, and although the doctor protests, he leaves. Eli pulls the screen between CC and the guy in the next bed, and then proceeds to try to smother CC with a pillow. Apparently, that takes a lot longer than most movies would have us believe, and the guy, despite being in a pretty bad way, puts up quite a fight for just long enough for Van Alden to show up and brush past one of Eli’s men, stationed in the hallway. Eli must have heard them coming, because he leaves off trying to murder the guy just before Van Alden and his partner come in. There’s some back and forth over who has jurisdiction, during which we learn that they’re now over the border in Pennsylvania, which makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Why would they take him all the way to Pennsylvania (presumably to Philly)? And once there, how does Eli have any access to this man and sway over what goes on there? He’s the sheriff of Atlantic City, which is clear on the other side of New Jersey. For that matter, why were the Convoy Criminals and Baxter and the Prom Queen all on the road to Hammonton anyway? The convoy was going to New York, and Baxter was going to Baltimore—those places are in totally opposite directions. I guess it makes sense for Baxter to have been on that road, to get to the nearest bridge over the Delaware River so he could go south, but the convoy seems to have been going out of its way. Strange. And contrived. I expect better from you, show!

Anyway, after an extended pissing contest during which Eli demands Van Alden go get a warrant if he wants to question CC, Van Alden leaves his partner behind to guard the witness and departs.

Up in New York, Luciano’s being treated horribly for gonhorrea. I need to take a break—I’m not even a guy and I’m cringing in agony at the tools this doctor’s wielding. Anyway, it seems Lucky’s been having some trouble keeping Little Lucky excited, but when he sees the doctor making notes, he flies off the handle, threatens the poor guy, and leaves. Treat your own damn VD next time, Lucky.

Nucky’s on the phone, pledging $1000 to some cause or another, while Lucy eats breakfast in bed and Eddie takes notes. Turns out Nucky was giving money to that creepy premature baby hospital on the boardwalk. Lucy says that place gives her the creeps, and for once I actually find myself agreeing with her. She comments that Nucky was smart not to have kids, as she licks oatmeal off a giant spoon in an attempt to look sexy that just comes across as somewhat repulsive. From the look on his face, Nucky’s Little Nucky just joined Little Lucky in the flaccid department. Lucy tells Nucky that Ziegfeld’s in town, casting for a new show, and we learn she used to be a member of the Follies, which isn’t surprising at all. Then she switches back to the subject of babies and tells Nucky she’d have one, if that’s what he wants. I don’t think it is, at least, not with her. He does the “Now’s not a good time” thing and she leaves off, going back to trying to be sexy with her food. She goes to start giving Nucky a little morning delight, and we cut from the incredibly bored look on his face to…

A snapshot of Jimmy’s kid. Nice juxtoposition, BE. Jimmy’s paging through a photo album, while his wife sweeps the floor in the background (guess the kid’s still too scared of the vacuum cleaner). Jimmy looks at some sweet pics of Angela with the baby and he and Angela start talking about progress, a conversation that takes a rather nasty turn when Jimmy says there’s a gun now that shoots 600 bullets a minute. Angela sadly says they used to talk about books. Yeah, and then your husband went off to war, Ange. Sorry, but things change.

Margaret’s reporting for duty at the dress shop, where the French-accented proprietress is informing her she’ll be expected to bathe at least once a week, and to clean her nails every day so she doesn’t stain the clothes. The proprietress tells Margaret that the last woman who had her job had four years of experience, but had to be fired to make way for Margaret, which seems a bit harsh for Nucky, considering the soft spot he’s always shown for the ladies on this show. I’m surprised he didn’t find a way to have both Margaret and the former employee stay on the payroll. Margaret asks what her duties are to be, and she’s told she’ll assist customers trying on clothes, and will occasionally wear said clothes so customers can see what they’ll look like on a person. Madame hands Margaret a dress and new shoes to put on and Margaret dresses up, looking happy to wear something lovely for a change.

Nucky’s having a party, with the comic from a couple of episodes ago providing the entertainment. When Eli arrives, Nucky pulls him aside and asks what the status is on the Convoy Criminal. He’s pissed when he hears that Van Alden showed up, and Eli tells him to chill, since he still has a guy at the hospital, and they’re on a death watch now anyway. When Nucky gives him a bit more attitude, Eli tells him to save it for Jimmy, who did, after all, get them into this whole mess. In a side note, the song the comic’s singing is about how much better it is to date a dumb girl than a smart one. Lucy’s dancing around, completely oblivious to how much this song relates to her.

Van Alden arrives at the hospital with some official documentation giving him jurisdiction over the Convoy Criminal. The guy Eli left behind stammers that he has to telephone somebody about this, and Van Alden hands over the paperwork and goes right into the criminal’s hospital room.

A minute later, CC’s being loaded into a car as Van Alden watches and his partner frets that they’ve broken about a dozen laws. “Down here? What laws?” Van Alden wonders. Down here? Are they still in AC? Where the hell are they? I’m so confused right now. Van Alden and the partner climb into the car and drive off to New York, where they plan to meet with Rothstein.

On the boardwalk, Jimmy’s playing with his kid, chasing him around until little Tommy stops in front of one shop and Jimmy lets him in. It’s a photography studio, and the proprietor and his wife clearly know little Tommy well. They also know Ange, who we only now learn is not actually Jimmy’s wife, but his fiancée. We’re learning all kinds of fun things this hour. Jimmy offers the war as an excuse for why they’re not married yet, despite having a 3-year-old, and the photographer remembers that Jimmy was in France, adding, idiotically, that he read such “thrilling tales” of the battles over there. Jimmy just nods silently. The photographer offers him tea, but Jimmy’s done now, and he collects the kid and leaves.

On the road to New York, Van Alden’s partner’s worried that CC’s going to up and die on them. He tells Van Alden, as they pass a sign for Raritan Township, that the guy needs a doctor.

Seems the nearest they can find is a dentist, who’s currently drilling some little kid’s tooth while his mother scolds him for eating too much peanut brittle (which was purchased by whom, lady? Looks like lack of parental accountability isn’t such a new invention after all). Van Alden and his partner burst in, carrying CC, and yell that he needs a doctor. The kid scrambles out of the chair as Van Alden drops CC into it. The poor, terrified dentist shoots CC up with cocaine, which was an anesthetic at the time, and CC wakes up. Van Alden fiercely asks the guy who shot him, and the man responds in Yiddish so dirty the mom gasps and covers her kid’s ears. Van Alden makes her translate, and she tells him the guy basically told Van Alden to go F his grandmother. It may be worth noting that Van Alden’s partner corrects her translation, so he clearly understood at least some of what CC was saying.

That does not sit too well with Van Alden, who then reaches into the guy’s gaping abdominal wound, freaking out dentist, kid, and mom. CC finally says that it was two young guys, and one was Jimmy. And that’s all she wrote. Rest in peace, Convoy Criminal. Van Alden prays over him by reciting a bible verse (Revelation 14:11 for anyone who’s interested) as his partner hilariously wonders if the guy wasn’t Jewish? About now, two of Eli’s guys come running in and take in the scene. Van Alden finishes his verse, wipes off his hand, and tells Eli’s guys that CC’s all theirs.

In New York, Rothstein’s playing poker and winning, by the look of things. All but one guy at the table fold; the other guy raises. Rothstein asks Luciano what he should do, and Lucky comes running over like an eager puppy. After a quick grammar lesson from his mentor, Lucky and Rothstein begin a staring contest with the one remaining gambler. Rothstein finally calls and raises, and the other guy folds, having been bluffing the whole time. Turns out Rothstein was too. He calls a break and goes off to the side with Lucky to have a chat. Turns out CC was that sister-in-law’s nephew he spoke of last episode. Lucky asks if there’s anything he can do, and yes, it turns out, there is—he can kill Jimmy. After getting the name of the other shooter, of course. I’m starting to suspect Van Alden’s partner’s a bit leaky, unless the dentist was the one who supplied the info on Jimmy’s involvement to Rothstein. Or maybe it was Van Alden himself—that would be an interesting surprise.

Jimmy’s child-bride stepmom (Gillian is her name) is having her tarot cards read while she waits for Nucky in the fortuneteller’s stall Nucky eyed not too long ago. When Nucky arrives, the fortuneteller makes herself scarce and Gillian (who clearly knows Nucky well, and vice-versa) tells Nucky she didn’t come see him at the hotel because she didn’t want to run into Jimmy. Nucky asks what she wants, and she says she wants Nucky to honor the agreement they made, which apparently entailed Nucky keeping Jimmy out of trouble. Nucky tries to reassure her, but Jillian’s not an idiot—she knows it was odd for Jimmy to show up with an expensive necklace that he then steals back from her. She and Nucky mourn the fact that Jimmy didn’t stay in college, and Nucky admits he couldn’t exactly force Jimmy to stay, since he’s not God. Gillian smiles sadly. “Now you tell me.”

Oh, God—Micky the Moron’s back. He makes his way through the rain to a dark restaurant on the boardwalk, where he meets up with a bunch of well-dressed hoods, one of whom I’m fairly sure is played by another Sopranos alum, Max Casella, also known as Benny Fazio and Vinnie from Doogie Howser. Mickey greets him as “Leo” so at least one of them has a name.

We find out these three are Philly boys and are in AC to duck the 15 arrest warrants out for them. Nice.  These boys (who are all brothers, by the way) are Mickey’s partners in the moonshine business, and they’re not happy that Mickey’s gone and screwed up. They want their investment returned tout de suite.

At the Darmody home, Jimmy’s paging through another photo album and comes across some slightly risqué photos of Angela, posing with nothing but a sheet wrapped around her, smiling coyly at the camera. Jimmy closes the album and notices the stamp on the cover: Dittrich Studios, Robert Dittrich, photographer. Same studio he and the kid were in earlier. I wonder if that guy’s German name is going to come back and bite him in the ass at some point.

Margaret’s at work, bringing a dress up from storage when Madame (who, to her credit, doesn’t seem to be taking it out on Margaret that she was forced to fire a good employee) hands her some garments and sends her back to the dressing room to wait on a VIP client. Margaret dos as she’s told, and the VIP’s Lucy, who recognizes Margaret and is a bit bitchy towards her. Margaret helps Lucy out of the onesie undergarment she’s trying on, and Lucy poses nude for a while, giving all of us an eyeful, before commencing acting like a total bitch towards Margaret, just because she can. And, for the third week in a row, I hate Lucy and want nothing good to happen to her.

Van Alden and his partner have set up shop in the post office in AC, since it’s the only federal building in town. The partner’s amusing himself by reading people’s postcards (until Van Alden yells at him for it) while Van Alden gets on the phone to his boss and tells him Jimmy was involved in the woods massacre. Since Nucky’s brother is sheriff, Van Alden wants to handle Jimmy’s arrest himself, but the supervisor isn’t so eager to jump off the mark and tells Van Alden to sit tight until he can talk to someone in the US Attorney’s Office. The supervisor tells Van Alden to get his ass home and visit his wife and he’ll call in a few days.

Jimmy has, apparently, been summoned to meet with Nucky and Eli. Nucky breaks the news that CC is dead, which Jimmy takes as good news, until he learns the guy talked. Nucky reminisces about how, as a kid, Jimmy wanted to be president and they all thought he’d own the world, but now…not so much. Nucky says the only thing left for Jimmy to do is get the hell out of town. Eli offers that he hears California is nice, and he and Jimmy start getting pretty heated with each other until Nucky diffuses things by offering Jimmy money for Angela. Jimmy apologizes and Eli mockingly asks if he’s going to cry. Jimmy turns and silences him with just one glare, which is pretty amazing. After he leaves, Eli wonders aloud if Nucky would be half so understanding if Eli was the one who’d screwed up so badly. Nucky doesn’t respond.

At home, Jimmy’s frantically packing while Angela demands to know where he’s going. He won’t tell her, which just upsets her more, of course. Jimmy chooses to go the angry route and says she was fine with him leaving before. She’s confused by that, so Jimmy throws the pictures in her face and demands to know if she slept with the photographer. She doesn’t outright deny it, but I doubt that was the case. She says that the photographer and his wife befriended her when she had nobody to lean on, and she had the pictures taken because she thought Jimmy would like them. She gives us a little backstory—they didn’t know each other very well before Jimmy left (which is when, presumably, she got pregnant), and then he stopped writing for a couple of years, leaving her to think he was dead, and finally he simply showed up, expecting things to just resort to some sort of normal happy family mode that never actually existed. I think some family counseling is going to be in order here. God, between these two and the Schroeders, a counselor could have a pretty good business going.

Chalky wanders through his bootleg workshop, where workers are gluing labels on bottles, creating bathtub gin, etc. Chalky sends one of the guys to bring “the packet” around.

At the Van Alden home, Van Alden’s having a fairly silent dinner with his very buttoned up wife. He says the roast tastes good, and that’s about the extent of their conversation.

Back in AC, Chalky emerges from his warehouse and finds his car out front with “Liquor Kills” etched into the door. The guy he sent to bring it around is very dead, hanging from the side of the building with a gag in his mouth. Chalky takes in the sight, his face inscrutable.

Sometime later, Nucky and Eli arrive at the warehouse, where the dead driver’s been taken down and laid out on some crates. Chalky stands over him and sadly tells Nucky the kid was only about 20 years old. Nucky agrees that it was a tragedy, and tells Chalky that this can go no further than the warehouse. It’s an election year, and the last thing they need is a race war. Nucky provides a new story for the kid’s death: he was messing around with someone else’s wife and the other guy shot him. Chalky agrees—for now, but demands a 50% share. Nucky turns to leave and Eli unloads a couple of bullets into the guy’s chest to support the story.

From the sound of that gunfire, we move to Jimmy, on the train, having a nightmare/memory of being in the war. He wakes, opens a book to look at a picture of Tommy, and then turns to stare out the window at the pouring rain as the conductor walks down the aisle, telling the passengers they’re on the Broadway Limited going to Chicago.

At the Darmody home, Angela lugs the Christmas tree Jimmy brought home last episode out of the apartment, and then uses the vacuum to sweep up the pine needles, probably accidentally ruining her vacuum in the process.

At the Schroeder home, Margaret’s cuddled up in bed with the kids, lying awake and listening to the storm outside.

Nucky arrives back at the Ritz, and as he reaches the elevator and turns, he looks at his wet footprints leading from the door to the elevator, as a drumroll I tend to associate mostly with executions starts up ominously.

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2 thoughts on “Boardwalk Empire: Learning Curve

  1. Hi,
    Great synopsis of the story. Can you tell me where you learned that Gillian was his stepmother? I don’t remember him saying that when they showed them together the first time, he called her Ma.

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