Boardwalk Empire Recap: Outsider Artists

BOARDWALK EMPIRE episode 16 (season 2, episode 4): Paul Sparks, Michael Pitt, Jack Huston. photo: Macall B. Polay Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO
Boardwalk Empire
Episode Title
What Does the Bee Do?

Well, now: This is the Boardwalk Empire I like to see. Last night’s episode was the show’s best by a country mile — a distance more or less equivalent to the one Chalky White traversed to get from the metaphorical fields to his own current manse. (But is he the true master of that house? More on this later.) Let us count the virtues: a bravura sequence for Richard Harrow; multiple scenes for Rothstein; improved material for some of the supporting women (Gillian, Angela); the aforementioned arc of Chalky; and some Nucky-prosecution-plot developments that didn’t seem telegraphed from a long ways off. Whew! The list of what the episode didn’t have is almost as satisfying: Lucy; Al Capone/Torrio; miscellaneous/anonymous politicos chomping cigars; or much in the way of Eli. Good choices, all.

Up front, this is all about class and money and comfort, sure — though underneath, it’s also about the refresher course in ethics Chalky got from the local plebes at his church glad-handing session. What good is all this status and luxury, if it doesn’t lead to a deeper humanism? It’s the same question Gillian has for the Commodore in the episode’s final scene, when she recounts the horror of his initial drunken assault on her. Gillian, who up until now has seemed willing to let the past be the past — especially if it helps her son — now unleashes vengeance for the central pain of her rape trauma on the helpless Commodore, slapping him repeatedly as he moans, unable to defend himself. The lust for power needs to see some valuable ends for itself in the near future, if only to keep from curdling into a simple thirst for vengeance.