When “Cuanto,” the title of this week’s Boardwalk Empire, is uttered in the episode, it’s instantly translated into “How much?” It’s a question some characters — and viewers — basically ask themselves throughout the episode. How much is Margaret willing to sacrifice now that she has come to Nucky asking for help? How much does Nucky have to convince Margaret that he’s helping her because he (most likely) still cares about the girl? How much self-congratulatory bombast from Capone is Luciano willing to sit through just to get Capone to join forces with him? How much does Van Alden have to say to stop Capone from killing him when his Fed past comes back to haunt him? And how much cocaine is Capone going to snort before he realizes that it’s probably not a good idea to bash in the heads of your underlings?
And let’s not forget about young Nucky, who practically has a mini-meltdown on the beach and asks himself how much pain and suffering he has to go through before he gets a taste of the good life. He and little bro Eli briefly sample that life twice during this ep: first, by sneaking inside the Commodore’s hotel to witness the wonder that is indoor plumbing, and later, having dinner with Sheriff Lindsay’s family, a clan whose flair for loving and enjoying each other’s company incites young Nucky to start crying at their dinner table. It’ll be interesting to see how Sheriff Lindsay — Boris McGiver does some fine work this week — will play a role in Nucky’s evolution, especially after he turns down Nucky’s request to “take care” of his father, gives him a stern warning about staying on the right side of things, and appoints him as deputy sheriff. At the moment, Lindsay appears to be a better father figure than both Old Man Thompson and the Commodore, who spent his brief moments in this episode torturing the boy with verbal head games.
Back in 1931, Nucky, stuck in rain-drenched Atlantic City and unable to fly back to Cuba, wakes up to more bad news as his estranged wife tells him about her firm and how the widow Rothstein is looking to shake them both down. This gives Nucky and Margaret time to both hatch a plan (which Margaret continually hopes doesn’t involve murder) as well as reconnect. The scenes with Buscemi and Macdonald had a quippy, Hawksian crackle to them as they went back and forth with dialogue that either dripped with sarcasm or malice. (“Is this a fight? I can’t tell,” Margaret eventually asks Nucky.) Their chemistry was so palpable, it seemed obvious that they would get back together — or at least hook up for old times’ sake — especially after Margaret laid a big, drunken wet one on Nucky on the boardwalk. But Nucky, who’s still in lone-wolf mode these days, sets her up at a hotel.
As Nucky was saving the hide of her former lady love back home, he couldn’t save new flame/partner Sally, who, unbeknownst to him, caught a bullet in the chest from a Cuban cop. (So long, Sally, you ball of sassiness.) He’s been flanked with bad news for most of this ep, so I’m guessing Nucky isn’t gonna take the news well. (Hopefully, he doesn’t find out the last guy she talked to was Doyle — this might send Nucky into another cane-whipping tizzy on the dude.) He already had Joe Kennedy personally turn down his offer to do business with him (that is, when Kennedy wasn’t flirting with a very pleased Margaret in front of him) and he gets a late-night phone call from Eli, who rings him up so Capone can tell him what Luciano has planned for both of them.
Jesus, Capone. As much as I’ve been impressed by Brit actor Stephen Graham’s portrayal of the Chicago gangster as a stunted man-child over the years, I don’t know how much I can take of this Joe Pesci routine he’s doing. Hanging out in his suite, flanked with goons, coked out of his mind, watching newsreel footage of his bloody reign is one thing, but seeing him basically go Goodfellas on a poor schnook for laughing and joking at the wrong time — not once, but twice — just seems like lazy writing. Especially when, halfway through the episode, there’s the appearance of a miniature Empire State Building statue, given to Capone by Luciano as a gift, that you know is going to be used as a murder weapon soon.
Luciano basically got Capone in a killing mood, first by busting his chops for being “the Italian Wallace Beery” and trying to convince him that Van Alden was a Fed who once pinched him, which he did with Jimmy Darmody way back in season one. (It’s quietly cold-blooded how Capone fails to recognize Darmody’s name when Luciano mentions it.) Van Alden, being the crafty sociopath that he is, fortunately persuades Capone that he is a loyal lackey, halting him from blowing Van Alden’s brains out in the middle of his suite. (From trying to speak with a gun in his mouth to his “I think I soiled myself” line to D’Angelo, Michael Shannon continues to be weirdly funny during the show’s most tense moments.) However, now that undercover agent D’Angelo has found Van Alden’s most-wanted file, there’s a definite possibility that Van Alden will be answering to the Feds again in future episodes.
Once again, some stray thoughts:
- The mystery of the Nellie Bly letter was not solved in this episode. While I said in last week’s recap that it might come from the kids, citing that it’s possible callback from season two (I wasn’t the only recapper who thought this), a commenter or two pointed out that Nellie Bly might simply be Gillian Darmody. After all, we last saw her with a pen and paper about to write her thoughts down. And she’s currently in an institution pretending to be nutty, which Bly did in a well-known exposé. If this is the case, then I gotta learn to stop being suspicious about everything being a callback. (Damn you, Lost, for making me like this!)
- I loved watching Margaret bring out the giddiness in the devious Kennedy and the downright dangerous Arquimedes — a.k.a. “Archie” — who was practically learning English from her. (Tell me his “I am pleased to meet you” line to Nucky didn’t make you chuckle.) It’s a reminder of what made Nucky fall in love with her in the first place: her innate ability to be charming amid a den of savage beasts.
- By the way, having Bing Crosby’s “I’m Through With Love” as Nucky and Margaret were mending fences at the restaurant was a nice touch.
- Apparently, since you guys have better memories than I, is this the first time Capone’s well-documented fascination with collecting elephants has been casually mentioned?
Talk amongst yourselves.