Boardwalk Empire Recap: What Won’t You Do for Love?

By
Photo: HBO
Boardwalk Empire
Episode Title
What Jesus Said
Season
5
Episode
3
Editor’s Rating
3/5

There were a couple of moments of Scripture-quoting on this week’s Boardwalk Empire installment, aptly titled “What Jesus Said.” The ep’s title comes from Fern, the young girl who, along with her mom, was held captive in their home by an on-the-run Chalky and Buck, who was convinced there was a safe in the house back when he schlepped blocks of ice for parties. Fern reminded Chalky that Jesus said there’s forgiveness for everyone. He doesn’t want to hear this (“Baby girl, Jesus was wrong,” Chalky tells her), since Chalky practically got his daughter killed in last season’s finale.

And, then, there was young Nucky, who received a Bible quote from the girl who would later become his first, dearly departed wife on the beach. “Enoch walked with God, and he was no more,” she told him, before they went back and forth on what it meant. (When he tells her it doesn’t make sense, she says, “It doesn’t have to make sense — it’s the Bible.”)  

The Lord was brought up a couple of more times, albeit from the mouths of obviously deranged men. The gun-wielding Buck constantly checked the captive ladies for lying in front of the Lord. Back in 1884, young Nucky was randomly asked by a hotel guest if he would hazard “judgment from an all-seeing God” for love. This was before Nucky would discover that the guest had killed his beloved in his hotel room.

While we dipped back in the past to see when Nucky met the love of his life (and witnessed his first major bit of bloodshed), 1931 Nucky was still in the U.S., trying to get in bed with Joe Kennedy and strike a deal with him to bring Bacardi Rum over to American shores. Kennedy proved to be a tough, teetotaling nut to crack, with family man Joe ultimately wanting to know what Nucky really wants. “I want to leave something behind,” a fed-up Nucky tells him. While he might’ve told Kennedy that just to shut him up, he also might’ve had Margaret’s kids on his mind when he said it, especially since one of them may have sent him a letter under the name “Miss Nellie Bly” earlier. (I believe this is a callback to the season-two ep “Two Boats and a Lifeguard,” when Nucky played the Around the World with Nellie Bly board game with Teddy and Nucky ended up urging the kids to call him Dad.)

Nucky may find out soon enough from Margaret, who woke Nucky out of a drunken slumber at the end of the episode. (While she was in the dark, Nucky mistook her for Mabel.) They’ll definitely be working together to clear up the problems she’s having at her firm. Earlier in the ep, she was forced to explain the number of cash withdrawals from the active account of Abe Redstone (aka the late Arnold Rothstein) to her superiors. It appears her boss siphoned the money to play the market, with her signing off on some paperwork she may or may not have had prior knowledge about. If that’s not enough, Rothstein’s widow (who, after extensive Googling, I realized was played by Dharma’s best friend from Dharma & Greg) is looking for her to pay up since she knows Margaret is Mrs. Nucky Thompson, thanks to a New Year’s Eve party they threw that the Rothsteins attended. (Wow, that jewelry giveaway from the season-three opener really came back and bit ’em in the ass, huh?) 

As satisfactory as most of the ep was, I couldn’t help thinking the whole Chalky and Buck subplot was suspenseful but superfluous. It looks like writers Howard Korder and Cristine Chambers mostly had that there so they could get find a way to get rid of the one-note Buck (which Chalky certainly did with that hammer) and to remind audiences Chalky does hold himself accountable for his daughter’s death. Now that he’s free of Buck, Chalky will most likely be on the hunt for both Nucky and Dr. Narcisse. Of course, he’s going to have to wait in line, since they both have Luciano, Lansky and Siegel looking to take them down. (Nucky is already stocking up on artillery.)

Narcisse instantly became an enemy in this ep when he passed on Luciano and Siegel’s protection offer, which they responded to by having goons show up later at his Harlem whorehouse headquarters and blow away his employees. Considering how Narcisse was last seen taking orders from J. Edgar Hoover in the season-four finale, we’ll see if Hoover will help out in Narcisse’s eventual retaliation.

As usual, some stray thoughts:

  • Did anybody catch Chalky drinking a raw egg as he and Buck were briefly gorging on food in the kitchen at the beginning? I know drinking raw eggs can ward off food-borne illness, but was downing eggs a thing back then?
  • Seeing that guy, shall we say, please himself at Nucky’s club during Kitty’s performance apparently wasn’t that uncommon back then. I remember reading Karen Abbott’s 2010 Gypsy Rose Lee biography American Rose and reading a passage about how men would go to burlesque clubs and covertly self-satisfy themselves during performances. “When the lights dimmed they pulled a milk bottle from their jacket, stuffed a slab of liver inside and undid their zipper,” Abbott wrote. “As a lark, the house drummer occasionally got in on the act, asking a patron in the front row, ‘Am I keeping the right rhythm for you? You want me to go any faster?’” Damn, that’s nasty.
  • Am I the only one who’s reminded of the 1991 Christian Slater–Richard Greico gangster flick Mobsters, about the early days of Luciano, Lansky and Siegel, every time I see Luciano, Lansky and Siegel pop up in an episode? Much like in that movie, the show is having no qualms characterizing this trio as arrogant, young punks hellbent on wiping out their elders and taking over New York. I’m certainly getting that vibe from Michael Zegen’s snotty portrayal of Siegel. He plays Siegel as such an insufferable, cocky tool, you hope he gets whacked before season’s end. But, then, you sadly realize that’s not going to happen, since Siegel was knocked off when he was in his 40s.
  • Although Mickey Doyle still remains the most annoying, bafflingly irrelevant, how-is-this-dude-still-alive character currently on a TV show, Paul Sparks still managed to get in a few amusing moments in his first appearance this season, from slipping the hooch back in the bottle after Nucky orders it back to chop-busting the railyard bums. (“Enjoy your soup — or whatever that is.”)
  • So, how many times we’re gonna hear someone in Nucky’s past tell him how certain things — like, let’s say, a murder — is “bad for business”? First, it was the Commodore in the season opener, now it’s the sheriff. Is this going to be some sort of running theme — how Nucky learned what was and what was not “bad for business”?

Well, what do you have to say about it?

Watch full episodes on Amazon Prime Instant Video.