Boardwalk Empire: Nuck O’ The Irish

And we’re back! Sorry about the delay, folks, but honeymoons don’t take themselves (thankfully) and thank you notes don’t write themselves (sadly). But now all that’s behind me and I’m ready to sink my teeth back into the glorious world of Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Let’s get to it!

In the cool light of early dawn, Margaret’s peacefully sleeping with the kids when she’s awakened by a slight ruckus outside. She gets up, goes to the window, and watches some men rolling barrels out of a truck and into a garage behind her house. One man, more well dressed than the others, takes a glass of something from one of the barrels and tastes it.

Margaret watches this for a little while, then goes in to the kitchen and starts mixing up some Irish soda bread. Mmmm. Great, now I need a snack.

In the elevator of the Ritz, Nucky’s bitching to Eli about St. Patrick’s Day, which is apparently not at the top of his list of favorite holidays. Eli says their father thinks Nucky hates being Irish, but Nucky responds that he loves being Irish, he just hates how the Irish behave on that one day a year—publicly arguing, crying, and getting drunk. Proper people keep that sort of behavior in the privacy of their homes or hotel suites, thank you very much. Eli waxes rhapsodic about the Irish people’s centuries of loss, and Nucky grumbles “maybe it’ll snow.” Heh.

The elevator doors open and the two men emerge into the lobby and make their way to a table, where a waiter’s setting down two cups and a coffeepot. The waiter asks if Nucky wants anything to eat, and Nucky refuses. Eli calls the waiter out for failing to offer him breakfast, even though he doesn’t actually want anything. He complains about being ignored to Nucky, who changes the subject to the annual Celtic Dinner, which he’s moving to an earlier time slot so all the Civil War vets won’t fall asleep in the middle of it again. Irish coffee might solve that problem, Nucky, and it fits with the dinner’s theme! Eli says he was thinking of saying a few words himself, since it’s an election year, and he’s even been taking lessons down at the Y. Awww, someone wants to get noticed. Nucky doesn’t think the speech is a good idea, but Eli insists, so he gives in.

Their tiff is interrupted by the arrival of Margaret, who approaches them, smiling, and offers Nucky the Irish Soda Bread she just baked. Nucky tells her to leave it with the bellhop and Margaret draws back, definitely noticing his less-than-warm attitude. She ploughs on, though saying she realizes that, for his birthday, he must get a lot of big gifts, but he cuts her off and shortly tells her he’s late for a meeting. Hurt, Margaret retreats to the dress shop. Eli asks him what his problem is and Nucky just says his life’s sufficiently complicated at the moment. In the dress shop, Margaret tosses the bread in the trash.

Remember the midget (or are the dwarves?) boxers from the first episode? They’re back, pawing through boxes of leprechaun costumes and complaining that they haven’t even been cleaned since they were used the year before. I’d complain about this episode turning into a bit of a bitchfest, but when one of them mentions that a diaper he had to use the year before was secondhand, I give them all a pass and accept that they have a pretty legitimate beef here. Apparently every year they get hired to dress up for the Celtic Dinner, where the drunken guests get a little handsy and violent. Seems they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, as they tell their leader, Carl. Carl offers to ask Nucky for a raise–$10 a man. The others are cool with that.

In Chicago, Jimmy’s hand squeezing some orange juice for Pearl, who’s in bed with a massive bandage over half her face. He apologizes for making a mess, but she says (in a pretty out-of-it voice) that it’s fine. He talks about California a bit, which is kind of tragic, because we all know she’s never getting there now, but instead of mentioning that, she just gently says that she loves him. Awww. I’m sorry, but I’m not made of stone, and my heart just broke a little bit right there, because you know there’s no way in hell this is going to end well for anyone. Before Jimmy can respond, a door slams somewhere in the building and poor Pearl jumps a mile. Jimmy calms her down, promising not to let anyone hurt her, and then goes on to say that the doctor says she’s doing well. He scolds her for scratching at her bandages, telling her that the itching means it’s healing. He sticks a straw in the juice and hands it to her, but she asks for a laudanum flavor additive. He finds an empty bottle of the stuff on the blanket next to her and asks what happened to it. “Poof,” she says with a playful smile. He opens a new bottle and adds just a little to her juice. She asks for more but he won’t give it up. She sips her juice and smiles, saying it feels like the sun just came out.

Nucky and all his cronies are gathered in Nucky’s suite, where he’s counting that week’s take. They talk about how well their businesses are doing now that liquor’s illegal, and there’s talk of needing bigger shipments. Nucky asks after the green beer for the Celtic Dinner and one of the cronies says they’re dying it as they speak. Nucky uses this as a method of segueing into another jab at Eli’s speech plan, which Eli doesn’t look too happy about. The other guys think this plan’s hilarious and Eli tells them to eff off.

Temperance League! Nice scene pairing, by the way. Margaret comes in late, while the poetess from episode one (played by Dana Ivey) is in the middle of the speech. Dana breaks off to welcome Margaret back to their fold, and as Margaret takes her seat, one of the other ladies asks where her kids are. Being looked after by a neighbor, she answers. I feel like Edith must be getting kind of sick of looking after the Schroeder kids all the time, considering how much time Margaret seems to spend outside the house.

Dana calls on one of the other league members to read a letter relating a story about a woman who tried to make some bathtub gin to make enough money to feed her kids, but while it was curing, one of the kids got into the tub, drank some, and was poisoned to death. Yikes. The women in the audience start chiming in with their own stories of illegal stills all over the city, and a doctor who’s writing prescriptions for whiskey, even for patients who aren’t sick. Dana says it’s clear that the local authorities aren’t going to do jack to stop this. One of the ladies suggests holding a rally and march, which Dana says is fine, but they need to find a way to stop the alcohol at its source. Margaret pipes up about the barrels of beer she saw being unloaded that morning, and Dana jumps all over that. Margaret suggests that Nucky might be able to help, since he’s a friend. Hilariously, everyone turns to stare at her, like “oh, really?”, which just proves that Atlantic City’s gossip machine is a disused and rusty thing indeed, because you’d think they’d be less shocked to discover that she knows him somewhat personally considering all the contact the two of them have had over the past few weeks. Dana asks her to arrange a meeting and Margaret promises to try.

In NYC, Rothstein’s getting a haircut and reading aloud and article that speculates a “well-known New York gambler” rigged the most recent World Series. The guy he was reading to, presumably his lawyer, points out Rothstein’s not mentioned by name, but Rothstein says he practically was. Rothstein sends the barber away and the lawyer reassures him that this is all just speculation an innuendo. All Rothstein did was have a meeting with a washed-up boxer (Abe Attell), followed by dinner at the Astor Hotel with “Sleepy” Bill Burns. The lawyer isn’t worried, even though Rothstein admits that Burns pitched him the idea of fixing the Series by bribing White Sox players. The lawyer says that Rothstein of course refused such a thing, and after a long pause, Rothstein agrees. The lawyer advises Rothstein to just ignore the article, but Rothstein’s still worried about this biting him in the ass.

Down in AC, the cronies have departed and Nucky’s working alone when Eddie comes in and tells him that Carl Healy wants a word. The name doesn’t ring a bell, so Eddie holds his hand up at waist height to indicate “little person”. Nucky asks what he wants, but Eddie doesn’t know. Carl himself comes in and says he just wants a minute. He climbs into the chair on the opposite side of Nucky’s desk, his feet rubbing against the upholstery, which seems to rub Nucky the wrong way. Nucky asks him to skip right to the point, so Carl asks for the raise. Nucky refuses at first, but Carl insists that $5 isn’t enough to endure such epic humiliation, not to mention outright abuse at the hands of drunken Irish heavy hitters. Yeah, I’m on Carl’s side here, even though Nucky can’t seem to understand why being forced to dress up as a leprechaun and dance a jig would possibly be humiliating to anyone, let alone a man three feet tall. Nucky tries to say that there’ll be no booze at the party, what with Prohibition and all, but Carl’s no idiot, and says as much. So, Nucky moves into some quick-talking math that basically boils down to this: he’ll pay Carl’s guys $7 a piece, and give Carl an extra $12 to sell them on it, which gives Carl some extra cash, but saves Nucky about $12 because he won’t have to pay the other guys the full $10. Carl hesitates, but when Nucky counts out the money for him, he takes it, implicitly agreeing.

As Carl leaves, he passes Margaret and Dana coming in for their meeting. Margaret cheerily asks Nucky if he enjoyed the soda bread, and he lies that it was awesome. The ladies take a seat and Margaret tells Nucky about the barrels in the garage. Nucky pretends (unconvincingly) to be outraged and says Margaret must have been appalled. She says, with a perfect bite, that she was, “quite.” I don’t think she’s just talking about the barrels of beer anymore. He thanks her for the info and calls for Eddie to get Eli on the phone. He promises to get the garage shut down right away, and Dana rather grovelingly thanks him. Margaret quietly tells him that she really appreciates this, but he coolly tells her this isn’t a personal favor. Geez, Nucky, I think you’re giving this cold shoulder a little too hard, don’t you? You of all people should know there’s such a thing as overselling. Margaret tells him that she realizes that and turns to go.

Back in Chicago, Jimmy’s feeding Pearl some soup, which she’s sulky about eating, because all she wants to live on is drugs. Jimmy’s nursmaiding is interrupted by Johnny Torrio, who asks her gently enough how she’s feeling before gesturing for Jimmy to join him in the hall. Torrio informs Jimmy that Pearl’s gotta go, since she won’t be much good for hooking anymore. It’s just not that kind of place, I guess. Jimmy offers to cover what Pearl made in a day, but it turns out she was quite the earner, and Jimmy can’t afford it. Torrio tells Jimmy Pearl has until Friday. Jimmy returns to Pearl’s room and lies to her that Torrio just wanted him to cover the door that night. It’s clear from the look on the half of her face we can see that she knows what Torrio really said. She tells Jimmy that she’ll take the soup now, managing to sound a bit cheery as she does so.

Early morning in Atlantic City, and the barrels are still being rolled into the garage behind Margaret’s. You know, I would have thought Nucky’d be smarter than this. He knows that she knows those barrels are there, and what’s in them, plus, he’s been treating her kind of crappily lately. I would have thought he’d have those barrels moved elsewhere as soon as Margaret and Dana were out the door. They’ve got to have other places where they can hide the stuff. At the very least, don’t keep sending deliveries there! You know she’s got her eye on the place, Nucky! What a completely boneheaded move.

Anyway, the noise wakes Margaret again, and this time, instead of baking the early morning away, she puts on her shoes and coat and goes out and demands to know what these guys are doing. One of them tells her they’re unloading the truck. She demands to speak to the man in charge, so the guy calls over Mr. Neary, the man we saw tasting the beer in the opening scene. Breakfast of champions! Margaret recognizes him, and he recognizes her and greets her very politely. He makes small talk about Ireland and the weather, but she wants to talk business, not reminisce. She asks if Nucky spoke to him, but he didn’t, of course. Neary promises they’ll be out of her hair by the next day, since most of the beer’s for the Celtic Dinner. He turns and tells the guys to keep the noise down, since people are trying to sleep. He then offers to pour Margaret a growler to toast the day, which proves he’s completely incapable of reading his audience. Margaret just gives him a scathing look and returns to her house.

Later that day, she goes through her wardrobe and pulls out a lovely purple dress. She’s already wearing a pale green one-piece chemise-type undergarment (I’m guessing it’s the one she stole last episode), which is quite the change from the old-fashioned bloomers she was wearing a few weeks back. Fully and fashionably dressed, Margaret heads to Nucky’s, where she waits in the anteroom with the other sycophants. As she waits, Neary comes in and breezes right past her and into Nucky’s office, where there’s clearly a party in progress. A moment later, Eddie comes out and tells her and the others that Nucky won’t be able to meet with them, claiming Nucky has urgent business. Margaret returns home and changes back into her regular clothes before ripping the delicate chemise into little pieces in frustration.

Van Alden’s apparently been spending his time creating a detailed map of busts in Atlantic City. The camera moves through the little flags stuck on the map as the man himself narrates what was found at each site and his assistant places more flags. They pause in this fun little task when Margaret comes in. Van Alden gets up right quick and, when Margaret apologizes for intruding, reassures her she’s done no such thing. He introduces his colleague, Agent Sebso, and I’m relieved this guy finally has a name. Margaret gets right to business and reminds Van Alden that he told her to come to him if she had any useful information. Van Alden tells Sebso to put on a jacket, go outside, and block the entrance. Once he’s gone, Van Alden sits Margaret down and she tells him about the garage full of beer behind her home. He asks for an estimate of how many barrels, and she rather accurately responds that there are 93. She gives him the address and asks him if he’ll close it down. Van Alden asks her when she wants him to do that. Immediately, she responds.

"I see drunk people!"

Van Alden shows her the flag-crowded map and tells her that each flag represents a spot where alcohol is being created or warehoused. He doesn’t have the resources to shut them down. And even if he did, he couldn’t stop the illegal hooch being brought in through the ports. He goes on to say that all the illegal alcohol has created a new breed of criminal—ordinary people buying it, including one baker’s apprentice. Margaret angrily tells him she’s been lectured to too often by men who speak boldly and do nothing and gets up to leave, but Van Alden stops her and asks who else lectured her. She tells him it was Mr. Neary, the owner of the garage. The name catches Van Alden’s attention, since Neary’s the alderman for the fourth ward, and he asks what she knows about him. Margaret tells him Neary works for Nucky.

At Torrio’s place, they’ve finally put in some security in the form of guys frisking everyone who walks in the door. Al, watching this from the bar area, says this is stupid, and throws in a mix up with the “barn door after the horse” saying, which Jimmy, of course, corrects. Al’s all for hitting the other guys the next day, since they’ll be soused from St. Patty’s, and Jimmy asks if that’s what Torrio wants. Further discussion is put on hold when Pearl stumbles in. She’s got the bandages off, and she still has the eye I was sure she’d lose, but she’s also got a pretty horrifying gash across her forehead and straight down the middle of her face. She slurringly greets everyone (the room, of course, has gone completely silent in shock) and asks who wants to buy her a drink. Jimmy goes to her and Al urges him to get her out of there. Jimmy helps her up the stairs as the room erupts into laughter behind them.

Chez Darmody. The kid’s passed out on the floor and Gillian’s sitting nearby, calmly reading a magazine and reassuring Angela that giving the kid a little whiskey and milk when he’s all worked up won’t hurt him any. It worked pretty well for Jimmy, anyway. Angela isn’t delighted about this, but nonetheless gets ready to go out and see her “friend”. Gillian urges her to go see a movie, but Angela is planning on taking a stroll down the boardwalk. Gillian warns her that the day before St. Patrick’s the company on the boardwalk tends to be unsavory, but Ange doesn’t seem to mind. Gillian sets her magazine aside and suddenly tells Ange that she could be free—she’s young, attractive, and artistic. She could leave her kid with Gillian and go off and live in bohemian freedom, if she wanted. Ange is horrified by the idea so Gillian backs down. Ange takes one last look at the kid and leaves.

Celtic Dinner! A singer’s entertaining a rapt audience with a rendition of Nights in Ballygran. Nucky’s dad, seated beside him, demands to know where Eli is. Nucky doesn’t know, but then Eli himself comes in, dressed in a kilt, and takes his seat on Nucky’s other side. Nucky asks where he was, but my cable got funky right there and I couldn’t understand what he said. Presumably something about the garage being raided.

The singer finishes up to great applause, and the dinner’s grand poobah stands to welcome everyone before introducing Nucky. Nucky stands and introduces Eli, who awkwardly takes his time unfolding the sheet of paper the speech is written on as a few diners catcall. Poor Eli can’t catch a break. He starts with a lame joke, but then the speech continues decently enough, until he starts talking about the Easter Uprising and accidentally mixes up one of the participants’ names. This sparks a pretty heated debate out in the audience over whether American-born Irish are as Irish as Ireland-born Irish, which is a total no-win argument. Eli tries to keep going, but the room’s getting heated, so Nucky gets up and hustles Eli away from the podium and stills the room with some bad jokes. It works, and then the pipers come in with the leprechauns, who hand out bottles of beer to the now cheerful and clapping attendees. One of the guests asks where the green beer is, and Nucky says the Feds found their stash. Pretty much the only person who doesn’t look happy is Eli, who’s just been made to feel like a loser by his brother yet again. How long before Eli betrays Nucky? Anybody want to take bets? I’m thinking not this season, but someday.

Jimmy’s back on juice duty, and telling Pearl she has to take it easy on the laudanum. She tells him they should take a field trip to Chinatown and smoke a bowl together. He’s not on board with that plan, so she asks him to tell her a story about himself, something happy. He starts to tell her about a time when he was seven, and she asks what he looked like. Apparently, he looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy, because his mother thought the longer hair looked aristocratic. She wasn’t the only one, after that book came out. It created a whole generation of boys who hated their mothers for reading that damn book and making them look like that.

"You think my mother actually wanted a daughter?"

Jimmy goes on to say that there was a man named Mr. Lancaster who had a boat and whom his mother tried to marry. He took them boating on the Fourth of July one year, and taught little Jimmy how to sail. They tied up at Egg Island, where Jimmy spent the day playing pirate and enjoyed some beach-roasted lobster that evening. At sunset, Lancaster sent Jimmy to get a box from the boat that contained a flag Lancaster’s father carried at Gettysburg. They raised the flag on the beach and sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and watched the fireworks going off over the boardwalk, then sailed home by moonlight. That is a nice story, well done, Jimmy!

He’s settled down on the bed next to her by this time, and once the story’s over, he goes back to squeezing oranges, but he spills some of the juice on his new suit and says he should go wash it. Pearl asks him to kiss her, and he does, briefly, but she catches his face and kisses him lingeringly before telling him to go clean up. Jimmy heads off to the bathroom, and the tension-building shots of him silently scrubbing the shirt, and of water running out of the faucet make me cringe long before the telltale sound of a gunshot rings out. Jimmy hurries down the hallway towards Pearl’s room, where she’s lying very dead on the floor. A crowd has already gathered at the door, and one of the other women begins to scream hysterically. Jimmy kneels beside Pearl and silently lowers his face to hers, crying softly.

From that scene, we return immediately to the Celtic Dinner, where a few drunken die-hards are dancing a jig and Nucky’s telling Eli that one really has to know one’s audience before giving a speech. Eli drains his glass and gestures for another, and Nucky tells him to ease up, since it’s kind of hard to help him when he’s wasted. Nucky lays it out—all these important guys at the dinner that Eli wants to impress? They’re judging you every second, and when you need something from them, they’ll remember the guy who showed good form. Eli’s not hearing it, though, and just drunkenly says that everything’s a game to Nucky, and it comes so easily to him. He says he’ll keep at it, so that one day he’ll lie “as good as” Nucky. Nucky corrects his grammar and tells him that, if he wants to be taken seriously, he has to learn how to speak.

The festivities are then busted thoroughly when Van Alden and a few of his guys burst in to raid it. The grand poobah informs Van Alden that a) he’s raiding a party attended by some of the most powerful people in Atlantic city; b) it’s a private party and the mere consumption of alcohol isn’t illegal; and c) he’s an attorney who knows the Volstead Act to the letter. Before he can get any further in the alphabet, he’s punched square in the face by Van Alden, which I’m pretty sure was illegal even then, not that he cares. Poobah reels into the nearest table and everyone in the room goes dead still. Van Alden approaches Neary and serves him with an arrest warrant for storing and transporting liquor. Neary tries to deny it, but Van Alden snaps at him to stand up, and he arrests him right then and there. As he and the other agents escort Neary out of the building, Van Alden tells the others that the party’s over, the establishment is hereby closed, and they’re to leave in an orderly fashion. Outside, Neary and his escorts are met by a throng of reporters and the Temperance League, which is waving banners and singing. Guess they got their rally after all. And Margaret’s right there in the front row. The reporters scramble to take pictures of the departing bigwigs, who knock over and kind of trample one of the poor dwarves as they go. So much for this year’s party being less violent. Nucky pauses on the porch and takes in the scene, especially focusing on Margaret, who he has to know by now was the one who ratted out Neary’s garage. An agent closes and chains the doors shut behind the guests. As everyone disperses, Eli stupidly congratulates Nucky on a marvelous evening, which really must have impressed all his Republican friends. Nucky dismissively tells him to go home to his wife and Eli says he will, but where’s Nucky going? Uh, probably back to the entire floor of the hotel he lives on. Eli then throws a wild punch, which Nucky easily steps away from, demanding to know what Eli’s problem is. Eli doesn’t respond, and allows one of the other cronies to lead him away Nucky watches him go, a little sadly, probably realizing just what the issues were behind that failed punch.

Nights in Ballygran cues back up for the final montage. We see Jimmy enter an opium den. On the boardwalk, Angela stops at the photographer’s shop and is quickly ushered in. Hmmm. Eli, attended by his wife, vomits into the toilet. Charming. Jimmy gets high. Gillian faces herself in the mirror and strokes her cheek, anxiously searching for signs of aging. Van  Alden watches, pleased, as two agents split open a beer barrel and green beer runs out into the street. Jimmy settles down to bask in oblivion. Margaret lies in bed with the kids, wide awake. Someone raps loudly on her door and she goes into the living room and asks who it is. It’s Nucky. She lets him in and asks if there’s something he wants. He calls her Margaret (which she notes) and tells her he has no time for games. Then he kisses the hell out of her. It’s hot, and I never in a hundred years thought I’d say that about a love scene involving Steve Buschemi. Guess there’s a first time for everything!

3 thoughts on “Boardwalk Empire: Nuck O’ The Irish

  1. Congrats on your new marriage! Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your recaps, love your writing style! Your final sentence about Steve Buscemi and the hotness factor made me LOL and then some….I was right in line with your thoughts on this. I’m tentatively looking at him in a new light now…even if it’s still a low watt bulb :o)

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