Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Boardwalk Empire Recap: A Power You Do Not Suspect

Last week, we saw Margaret's eyes finally opened to Nucky's world; this week, she's on her way to becoming Nucky or, at least, a very capable Nuckyette.

But first: Those pesky D'Alessio brothers. Eli and the casino manager finger the D'Alessios for the heist, which means they're now officially on the hook for every major and minor infraction since the Civil War. Nucky, though, is fretting over the upcoming election and the threat from Fletcher, a Democrat reformer. "It's not just blood I'm worried about," says Nucky. "It's ink."

Meanwhile, Margaret's carefree on the boardwalk with Harding's baby mama, browsing at her old place of employ. Once she was the poor shop girl, waiting on the likes of Lucy; now she is the likes of Lucy, or something alarmingly close. Madame Jeunet pleads with "Mar-gar-REET" to convince Nucky to lower her kickbacks: "You can speak for me," she says. Margaret, the onetime temperance leader, is becoming a very different kind of spokeswoman, one with "a power you do not suspect."

Later, though, Margaret learns the limit of this power. As Nucky (the original Man Behind the Curtain) reads The Road to Oz, Margaret makes her appeal and he says "It's not a suitable topic." "I wasn't aware of that," says Margaret. "You're aware now," Nucky snaps.

Meanwhile, the prodigal Jimmy returns to the seashore with his half-faced sidekick Harrow. When Deputy Doofus, a.k.a. Halloran, expresses amazement that Harrow's still living, Jimmy says, "Lotta fellas still alive, probably shouldn't be," a situation he's clearly been enlisted to remedy. But if he's going to kill for Nucky, Jimmy's going to make sure Nucky admits he's a killer. "Do I have to spell it out?" says Nucky. Well, yes, Nucks — you do.

In New York, Rothstein — who seems only to ever play billiards or get his hair cut — makes his first error in judgment: He aligns himself with Mickey Doyle and the D'Alessio clan. And Jimmy's wife, Angela, is busy making alliances of her own — get it? Alliances? — as the photographer and the photographer's wife try to coerce her into a three-way. "Everyone in Paris is doing it," they coo, which is apparently the "Open Sesame" of bohemianism.

But Jimmy walks in and breaks up the burgeoning threesome, then roughly coerces Angela into an old-fashioned twosome. Later, he promises her a new life, and the series makes its first nod to Atlantic City as the inspiration for the board game Monopoly: "We're out of this dump in no time flat," says Jimmy, conjuring mansions in Marvin Gardens, or a beach house on Ventnor. Sounds nice — but avoid those hotels on Park Place. The rent is too damn high!

Jimmy heads off to ambush Lucky Luciano, catching him naked in bed after a romp with his mom. Lucky snarls a few choice words and Jimmy says, "That's my mother you're talking to!" as she stands beside him, half-dressed in her robe, like this is Oedipus Rex starring Bonnie and Clyde. Jimmy marches Luciano out before discovering exactly why he's called Lucky: Van Alden and Sepso jump out and arrest Jimmy, while Luciano laughs over the literal bullet he narrowly missed.

Jimmy figures he's fine, though, until he sees Billy Winslow in prison. Freaking out, he says to Nucky, "Call my dad. Can't he help?" and Nucky says, "Your dad? Are you that nervous?" So either (a) Nucky isn't Jimmy's dad or (b) he's pretending he isn't, and at this point we're definitely leaning toward the former.

Nucky sweet-talks Margaret into helping woo the women's vote, and Margaret sees her opening, convincing Nucky to cut Madame Jeunet a break. At the store, Madame is most appreciative and offers free baby clothes, but Margaret wants the spoils for herself, eyeing a beautiful and insanely expensive dress. (Priced at $480 in 1920, which, in modern money, would be roughly $13 million.) And she secures it in classic Nucky style: playing one favor off another until she gets precisely what she wants.

Nucky himself pays a visit to his own mentor, the ailing Commodore, who suggests he run a reformer Republican against Fletcher and ditch Eli as Sheriff. When Nucky balks, the Commodore croaks, "I'm dying. This is no time to be sentimental."

The photographer shoots down Angela's New York gallery show, now that Jimmy's back in town and threesomes are out of the question. And Sepso the Incompetent drives Billy Winslow to Manhattan for safe-keeping — then pulls over and plugs him just outside city limits. Turns out Sepso the Incompetent is actually Sepso the Corrupt. He smacks himself in the forehead with a rock to fake an injury, which looks uncannily like the Mark of Cain, which may not be lost on Van Alden.

And Nucky and Margaret, his lover and protégée, walk confidently down the boardwalk: ready to pass Go, ready to collect $200 and a whole lot more. But then a couple of those D'Amned D'Alessios pop out to take a shot at Nucky. Eddy saves him (naturally), but the goon drops a female bystander who falls, bleeding, on the couple — staining (of course) Margaret's ill-obtained dress with her innocent's blood. Remember Nucky tracking the mud on the hotel floor? Margaret may not yet have blood on her hands, but it's all over her clothes.

Which leaves a few questions for next week: Will Margaret escape or fall deeper into Nucky's lifestyle — and even surpass the master? How will Eli take the news that he and his injured spleen are on their way out? And who exactly is Jimmy's real father? Apparently, an ominous fixer just waiting at the other end of the phone line.

Photo: Abbot Genser/HBO