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Monday, November 15, 2010

"Boardwalk Empire," Season 1, Episode 9

You know, Mr. Monopoly looks like the Commodore.
  • You know, "Mr. Monopoly" looks like the Commodore.
Prodigal baby-daddy Jimmy Darmody returns home to Atlantic City this week, and over breakfast suggests to his “fiancée” Angela that they move to someplace nice, like Marvin Gardens. References to such familiar street names, including Baltic Avenue and Boardwalk itself, remind us that, oh yeah, the board game Monopoly took its property names from Atlantic City landmarks. Apparently the famed realty competition began as “The Landlord’s Game” and caught on with Americans later in the 1920s, so “Boardwalk Empire” probably won’t nod to its origins. But given the show presents politics, organized crime and gender-relations as one big interlocking game, what Monopoly pieces would the characters be?

As the crown of Atlantic City, Nucky can only be the Top Hat, a symbol of class, wealth and intellect. (He probably doubles as the banker as well.) At Eli’s bedside, Nucky proves more concerned with politics than the health of his brother, who could qualify as the Scottie Dog with his loyalty and lack of gravitas. It’s an election year, and Eli’s gunshot at the casino raises scandalous questions about Atlantic City’s sheriff. With a popular Democrat mayoral candidate on the rise, Nucky consults with the Commodore and opts to run a new Republican for mayor, and probably replace his brother as well. Eli won't care for that.

Nucky extends himself in other aspects of game play. Jimmy, that hard-charging, country-crossing Racecar, takes a meeting about his new job as Nucky’s enforcer and insists that Nucky be explicit about his orders. “Or are you just trying to kid yourself?” “About what?” Nucky counters. “The fact that you’re a murderer, Nuck.” Nucky verbally assents that he wants Jimmy to kill the Italians, leaving himself vulnerable should Jimmy decide to testify against him. Incidentally, Jimmy also gets a job for Harrow, aka "The Man in the Iron Mask," but we don't see his, uh, face this week.

Nucky also gives Margaret mixed signals about her role on his team. He suggests Margaret campaign for the Republican Party by addressing the Temperance League and other organizations in advance of women receiving the right to vote. Her banter with Senator Edge from the "Anastasia" episode seems like ample qualifications for Nucky. But when Margaret intercedes with him about Madame Jeunet’s shop, Nucky emphatically shuts the conversation down.

Given Margaret’s domestic background, I’ll suggest that she’s the Iron, with an option to upgrade to a more prestigious piece later on. Madame Jeunet, sucking up to her former subordinate, says, “You have power you do not suspect.” Margaret, a talented newcomer in the power game, may be learning from bad role models. She pretends to be more frivolous than she really is, claiming that she wants Madame Jeunet’s shop to stay open for selfish reasons: It’s like she’s imitating Lucy Danzinger (who may be off the board entirely). Nucky acquiesces and, later, Madame Jeunet shows her gratitude by offering a child’s dress and an ivory brush. Margaret declares, icily, “My daughter didn’t help you, Mrs. Jeunet. I did.” Cut to Margaret on the town with the nearly $500 dress (and that’s 1920 dollars — not pastel play money) we saw earlier. Margaret’s assistance may have cost Madame Jeunet more than she would've paid under the status quo.

Nucky takes Margaret for a walk on the bustling Boardwalk, and a hitman takes a shot at Nucky. The bullet strikes a woman on the street who falls into Margaret’s arm, staining the expensive dress with blood. The heavy-handed symbolism reveals the cost of power games, and maybe Nucky should’ve been less worried about ink than blood this week. The highlight found Nucky’s manservant Kessler wrestling the weapon from the would-be assassin’s grip, and then blast the gunsel while making his getaway. Who knew Kessler was such a badass, when he seemed to be such an old Wheelbarrow?

Federal agent Nelson Van Alden, our tough, well-traveled Shoe, gives Agent Sebso a verbal ass-kicking when he learns his junior partner intercepted and concealed a Western Union telegram about Jimmy’s return. Sebso says he did it given their federal supervisor’s skepticism over the Darmody investigation. That might be partially true — when Van Alden calls his superior about Jimmy’s arrest, the boss fed sounds enthusiastic but looks concerned.

Jimmy's arrest marks the end of a delightful series of switchbacks. First, Gillian leaves Luciano's bed, goes to fetch him some coffee, but Jimmy enters and throws it onto Luciano's chest. Ouch! Gillian set up Luciana in classic femme-fatale style. Jimmy's about to take Luciano "for a ride" but - surprise! - Van Alden and Sebso bust them in the stairwell. While interrogating Jimmy about the ambush, Van Alden's head doesn't seem to be in the game - he switches from questions about Al Capone to Margaret Schroeder, proving too obsessed to trip up Jimmy's alibi.

Jimmy doesn't use Angela to account for his whereabouts, which is probably just as well, since she's in no mood this week to cover for him. Angela strikes me as a Thimble, but this week she's playing something more like Spin the Bottle with the photographer and his wife. Does the husband know and approve of Angela's Sapphic assignations with his spouse? We'll never know, as their impending menage a trois gets interrupted by Jimmy's return home. At episodes end, the photographer gives Angela a harsh brush-off, suggesting that his mysterious art buyer friend never existed, and was just an excuse for sex.

Will Jimmy go directly to jail? Apparently not. Sebso suggests they move their witness against Jimmy out of Atlantic City for protection. On a remote coastal stretch, however, Sebso guns down the witness and then smashes a rock into his own forehead to support his claim of a struggle. Apparently Sebso wants in on the game, but if Rothstein's the Battleship and Al Capone's the Cannon, there may not be enough pieces to go around.

Questions:
When Jimmy's in jail, asks about whether his father can help, raising Nucky's eyebrows. His father's alive but either dangerous or unreliable. So who is he? The Commodore?

Who is Agent Sedso actually working for? If he's working for Nucky, why didn't he tell Nucky about the telegram? Perhaps he's freelancing with plans to get money later.

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