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Boardwalk Empire Recap: If Moral Margaret Offers You Bread, You Better Take It


“Nights in Ballygran”

Grade: A-

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned:  A cliché transformed into a riveting plot line.

Margaret Schroeder has strayed from her steadfast temperance sisters since her husband’s death and subsequent cameo in a dockside fishing net.  Moral Margaret was tempted by the desires of the world – specifically, being desired by a man who has everything in the world – and as her ascent to the top hit a roadblock, her morality became her weapon.

The fifth week on the boardwalk was full of surprises for the audience, and for Nucky Thompson, as the most popular man in Atlantic City is, much to his bewilderment, losing popularity among those closest to him.  His envious brother took a swing at him and his coldness toward New Jersey’s most eligible widow may end up toppling his prohibition-enabled kingdom.

After Nucky initially brushed off Margaret and her freshly baked gift, my wife (who only catches bits of the show while doing other, more productive things) asked, “Why is he being such a dick?  Weren’t they just dancing?”  I didn’t have a response and still really don’t.  I initially thought he was trying to keep up appearances in front of Eli, but Nucky openly danced with her in front of Atlantic City’s elite and has always treated her like an angel, regardless of who was around.  Perhaps it was that dance that cemented his feelings for her and things got weird, hence the grade school-like “ignore her so she won’t know I like her” routine.

But Margaret proved she isn’t one to be ignored.  She disposed of the bread and devised a plan to capture Nucky’s attention.  When her first attempt involving bringing the lady who looks like Maggie Smith (McGonagall from the Harry Potter films) and the dwindling Women’s Temperance League to his doorstep failed to produce a response and gave her a glimpse into his true character, the scorned widow turned to Van Alden, unaware of his ribbon-sniffing propensity.

Moral Margaret’s loose lips gave Van Alden an excuse to crash Nucky’s salute to Ireland and arrest his crony, Neary, for operating one of 117 locations in Atlantic City where alcohol is being produced, stored or distributed.  Neary, however, is probably just Nucky-bait, as Margaret’s mere mention of Thompson widened Van Alden’s beady eyes.

Then there was the ending.  Nucky showed up unannounced at the Schroeder residence, aware that Margaret was Van Alden’s witness to Neary’s crimes, but instead of continuing his coldness or chastising her for being a rat, he risked slicing her open with his jagged teeth and started a make-out session that I wasn’t expecting for another six or seven episodes (or at all, after this episode’s turn of events).

Margaret didn’t object to Nucky’s advances and reaped the rewards of her scheming, even after first-hand evidence that Nucky lies as easily as he breathes.  Her motives could be questioned, but I think her feelings are legit and she’s not some type of mole trying to take down Nucky’s empire for temperance’s sake.  Nucky’s motives, however, are baffling.  Last week, I was certain he was falling or had fallen for Margaret, but now I wonder if his hasty advance is a Machiavellian method of self-preservation – a way to shut up the one person in Atlantic City with the balls to oppose him.

Still, I’m surprised to see Nucky and Margaret kissing so early in the series.  Their dynamic had a good season or two worth of Jim and Pam “will they, won’t they” sexual tension, and The Office has been terrible since those two finally hooked up.  Yet, I’m confident there won’t be a Nucky and Margaret wedding episode any time soon and this multi-layered relationship is just beginning to grow.  I didn’t see the kiss coming, and in the world of paint-by-numbers television predictability, surprise is always welcome.

I guess I’ll talk about the rest of the episode, though it wasn’t half as interesting as the Nucky-Margaret A plot.  Jimmy (the poor man’s Leonardo DiCaprio) showed more character than I though he would by not abandoning sliced-up Pearl.  He and Scarface shared sweet moments, but when Pearl realized her disfigurement would keep her from having stories like the one Jimmy told her, she took the easy way out (even though cast-mate Michael Kenneth Williams has proven success and face scars are not mutually exclusive).

And then Gillian offered to take Angela’s baby away from her so she could basically go out and get laid while she’s still young.  That was weird, even for Gillian.

The lack of engaging subplots attributes the minus to my grade of this superb episode.  Several reviews and comments I’ve read complain about Boardwalk Empire being too slow and that the plot isn’t going anywhere.  While I’m still hesitant about the Chicago storyline, I’ve loved the deliberate character development and am thrilled to watch a show where the killer/disease isn’t caught/cured minutes before each closing credit.

Additional Thoughts:

  • The little people are tired of doing “midget shit.”  I laughed, but then felt bad about it.
  • This week’s historical lesson: Eli reads Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business by Dale Carnegie and Nucky teases him by calling him Daniel Webster, a 19th century American statesman known for being an accomplished senator and having three failed White House bids on account of not being “a man of the people.”
  • Doctors wrote prescriptions for whiskey.  I anxiously await your medical marijuana jokes.
  • Speaking of The Office, Eli could’ve learned how to give a rousing militant speech from Dwight Schrute.
  • This post ran a bit long discussing the romance, but the Nucky-Eli conflict is sure to brew for episodes to come.  I loved when Eli told Nucky, “The whole thing’s a game, so easy for you.”
  • All that spilled green beer.  What a waste.
  • Rothstein was involved in the infamous Black Sox scandal.  I can’t wait for his role to increase.
  • I’m pretty sure I’ve coined the nickname “Moral Margaret.”  Make sure it sticks and give me credit (but if everyone hates it, say you got it from Entertainment Weekly).