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Monday, October 31, 2011

"Boardwalk Empire," Season 2, Ep. 6

MAY WE SUGGEST... BEEF? Michael Pitt and William Forsythe
I feel kind of bad for Dabney Coleman.

At the end of “Boardwalk Empire’s” first season, The Commodore seemed poised to become season two’s Big Bad, a formidable opponent to Nucky Thompson. Instead, on the fourth episode, apoplexy — or Diana’s righteous punishment — struck him down, and now he’s a paralyzed invalid. This week, he sits in on a power meeting, growls incoherently and then gets unceremoniously wheeled off like a dessert cart. No more horn-lifting for him, it seems.

It’s like the kind of Big Bad switcheroo Joss Whedon did all the time on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Set up one villain, then kill it off and reveal the actual threat is someone else. The Anointed One gave way to Spike and Drusilla, Mr. Trick to Faith. But does Jimmy have the resources and killer instinct to be Nucky’s big bad? Jimmy vs. Nucky seems like a one-sided battle, although the scale shifts again this week

At the Commodore’s house, Leander Whitlock (Dominic “Uncle Junior” Chianese) officially steps into the gap as Jimmy’s new mentor/power broker, and gently scolds him for scalping that guy last week. He also compares Jimmy to Alexander the Great, who vastly exceeded his father’s accomplishments, and there’s a shot of Jimmy standing next to a stuffed lion like a piece of classical artwork. Whitlock advises Jimmy that not every insult requires a response in kind.

Jimmy's immediate priority is how to placate the Atlantic City elders and Manny in Philadelphia. He catches a glimpse of Manny's lieutenant Herman on the boardwalk with Nucky and Waxey Gordon, and Jimmy kisses Angela so his rivals don't recognize him. Over the phone, Jimmy accuses Manny of betrayal, but Manny seems just as angered. Manny calls Jimmy up to Philadelphia and back to the cave-like back room of his butcher shop, where Herman's strung upside down. Herman spills the beans about Nucky's new smuggling operation, and Manny convinces Jimmy to spill Herman's blood: “I can’t touch him. He’s injured. That means he’s treyf. We all gotta play by the rules.” Incidentally, I really like William Forsythe's stiff, blocky body language as Manny — it makes him look like an aging bruiser.

Jimmy and Manny get the idea to ambush the Philadelphia shipment. That night the smugglers drive through the woods en route to Atlantic City and get a suspicious blowout before Jimmy's team starts shooting. When they discover that Lucky and Lansky are delivering the booze, they lower the guns to parlay. Lansky suggests they make a deal to let the booze as the first step in a bigger racket involving heroin and the overthrow of the Nucky/Rothstein generation.

By the way, am I the only one who roots for whichever character is the underdog on a given week? If Nucky’s down, I'm against Jimmy, and vice versa.

Nucky gets an ominous reversal this week. Everything seems fine with his hand-picked, green-shoed federal prosecutor, who gets Nucky's case put under federal jurisdiction. The junior lawyer's main sin is an expectation to be "entertained" Atlantic City style. But the Attorney General gets a visit from New Jersey’s Senator Edge (played by Geoff Pierson, who was police boss on “Dexter” and specializes in dickish authority figures). Apparently the Senator has a constituent — The Commodore? Some unknown rival? — who hates Nucky, so the Senator demands a more rigorous prosecution of Nucky, or he'll investigate the Harding Administration's fishy-sounding veteran's board plan. Nucky realizes case might go badly, so they toss out Greenshoes before he's even finished with his lady of easy leisure.

Nucky hosts a big meet-up with all the players to make sure the Philadelphia shipment will go smoothly, which seems a little contrived, especially given Nucky's legal trouble. It's nice to see most of the characters in the same room, but alas, nobody made the introduction, "Waxey, Chalky."

On the homefront, a framing device involves Teddy’s first confession. Early on their priest recites the Catholic line about the sacrament, and Nucky interjects,“We need to wrap this up, Ed.” Margaret frets that she's expected to confess, and Nucky subtly pressures her not to give away any of his secrets. Later, she gets all mad when Sleater flirts with Katy, and we realize that the young maid's not just on Margaret's bad side for seeing her boss's vulnerability. Margaret's jealous of Katy for Sleater's attentions. I have to say, I prefer Margaret’s Skyler White side, serving as Nucky’s accomplice, a lot more than her Betty Draper side as an icy, jealous killjoy. Sleater knows Margaret’s into him, squeezing her hand when she helps her sweep up cornflakes. At confession, Margaret admits it's been four years since she voiced her sins, but reveals none of Nucky's secrets, only that she's had impure thoughts about Sleater.

Things become very active with Valden. He leaves the morning as the vastly pregnant, wild-haired Lucy hunkers witch-like in kitchen. Lucy shatters a plate when her water breaks.

Cut to Van Alden in a hospital hallway. Is it the maternity ward? Nope, he's visiting Agent Clarkson, who got burned Two-Face style in the warehouse explosion. Clarkson looks up at Van Alden and says, "I know what you did." Clarkson probably knew that Van Alden was skimming money to pay off Lucy, but Van Alden clearly believes he could know anything, even the murder of Agent Sedsoe. He notices a buzzing light in the hall, as if it's a signal of divine retribution. In a confessional-like phone booth he calls his wife Rose and blurts, “I am neither fit for you, nor fit to wear this badge. I love you,” and hangs up.

In labor, Lucy calls for help, but kid across the way shuts his blinds. She realizes that she’s going to have to give birth on her own and does the first self-reliant thing we’ve ever seen: she brushes out her hair, puts fresh linens on bed and gets a’birthin’ like a frontier wife.

Van Alden’s about to confess to his superior when the nurse informs him that Clarkson says “I saw what you did,” to everyone, and apparently remembers a pie-stealing incident from his youth. Enormously relieved, Van Alden makes his way home and finds that Lucy gave birth alone. He leaves again and when he returns with a doctor, he discovers the apartment has been tidied up. Just when you think “Wouldn’t he be in trouble if Rose came down to Atlantic City and found Lucy?” he goes to the bedroom and learns that Rose came down to Atlantic City and found Lucy. Van Alden offers a lame excuse that he was trying to provide her with a baby they couldn’t have, but Rose doesn’t want to hear it. When he tries to hold her still, Rose BITES HIM in the wrist — one of my favorite acts of violence on the show — and runs off! Where’s your messiah now, Nelson?

Notes
Was Van Alden's intention always to adopt his baby with Lucy? If he'd been less duplicitous about it with Rose, he could've pulled it off.

Nucky takes a phone call George Remus that ends badly: “Remus can go fuck himself.” Since Cincinatti now supplies booze to Chicago, is this a means to get Al Capone involved in the show again?

“Jesus, Manny!” “Not in my shop, boychick.”

I like to think that’s Leander Whitlock doesn't have muttonchops, but long ear-hair.

Hey, the boardwalk has wireless now!

I love Noel Murray’s observation at The AV Club: “What I’ve grown to like about Nucky is his profound annoyance with how everyone around him seems so eager to screw up a good deal. If this were "Survivor," Nucky would be the castaway who sets up a strong, seemingly secure alliance on the first day and then watches in disbelief as it deteriorates into blindsides and personal attacks after the merge.”

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