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Boardwalk Empire Recap: What is Our Fascination with this Schroeder Character?


Episode 6: “Family Limitation”

Grade: A-

Lysol’s public relations department will have some possibly unexpected work tomorrow, as tonight’s Boardwalk Empire made a “Don’t use this product as birth control” PSA necessary.

Not-so-moral Margaret took advice from a pamphlet written by the founder of the American Birth Control League (from which this episode derives its title) and used the cleaning product as self-sanitation after playing house with Nucky.  She’s aware he won’t be making her Mrs. Thompson any time soon and has to take desperate measures to not derail her ascent to the peak of Atlantic City – and she doesn’t care what she has to put inside herself to get there.

As Van Alden’s superior interrogated him about his building case against Nucky, he mentioned the stern-faced agent’s thorough research into Margaret’s late husband and asked, “What is your fascination with this Schroeder character?”  This question, while in context refers to the late Mr. Schroeder, speaks to the show’s biggest reason for success: the audience’s fascination with the other Schroeder character, a woman who has fascinated powerful men on both sides of the law.

A fellow Culture Mob contributor recently wrote about how television provides better roles for women than contemporary mainstream film.  Though Margaret Schroeder wasn’t mentioned in his listing of great female television characters (an omission I’ll forgive this once), Kelly Macdonald is masterfully portraying one of the most interesting and complex female characters of any medium – a truly fascinating character.

In four short months, a timid widow preaching prohibition has channeled her inner George Jefferson and is movin’ on up in Atlantic City and is poised to become its new queen thanks to booze-bought power.  Her changing demeanor was most evident in her verbal beat down of the current queen of the boardwalk.  After weeks of turning the other cheek to Lucy’s degradation, a newly confident Margaret took exception to her breasts being disrespected and told the giant-cake-topper that her “daddy” didn’t seem to mind them.

Margaret’s fitting room exchange with Lucy perfectly illustrated why the king of Atlantic City is replacing queens.  Lucy’s insults were repetitive shallow claims of superior physical beauty.  Margaret’s rebuttal was a parable that harkened back to Ireland and her growing childhood boredom with a traveling performer with only one act that she compared with Nucky’s growing boredom with Lucy.  Though she missed the irony that she will likely be the next disposed if Nucky so easily tires of women, she displayed beauty and wit, whereas Lucy could only display one of the two.

And Margaret also said, “Maybe your cunny isn’t quite the draw you think it is.”  That was awesome.

However, Margaret’s ego was soon deflated, as her planned public revelation as Nucky’s new girl at a performance of Houdini’s brother, Hardeen, instead ended with her sitting by the phone in Atlantic City’s harem house as Nucky “tried to be good” while cuddled up with a topless mandolin-strummer in a bordello.

Speaking of Enoch, I don’t believe his “I try to be good” cry for a second.  He’s not a good man, and the show settled that argument by juxtaposing a scene where Eddie calls him a “very nice man” with a jump cut to Nucky berating, “You tryin’ to sass me, you greasy cocksucker?”  Yet, this episode showed that Nucky, like Boardwalk Empire as a series, is about more than just prohibition.  Nucky thinks big; instead of contentment with his growing bootlegging fortune, he wants roads to and from Atlantic City – the city he now openly claims to own.

Meanwhile, the action in Chicago is finally heating up.  I was prepared to again write off the Chicago story line as boring and irrelevant until the whores with hidden guns helped Jimmy and Capone pull of a thrilling, yet gruesome execution.  Then, after a roast gone wrong, Jimmy and Al’s friendship (or accomplice-ship, as Jimmy would put it) was on thin ice, but Capone told him a heartbreaking story about his deaf son and gave him steaks.  Any time someone gives me meat, I forgive them for however they’ve wronged me, but Jimmy may not be so cheap.

Still, I wonder where the Chicago story line is headed in relation to the main Atlantic City narrative.  How will Jimmy’s rise as Torrio’s right-hand-man affect the boardwalk and how will the two stories come together?  Most importantly, when all is revealed, will time spent in Chicago ultimately be a waste?

Finally, after an elaborate fake out, Van Alden did not masturbate to a picture of Margaret when she was 16.  Instead, he went “DaVinci Code” and flogged himself with his belt.  Now, it would be easy to dive into the symbolism behind this scene and how it represents Van Alden’s guilt for his feeling for Margaret, but the scene was really only shock value.  We already know he’s creepy and has feelings for the widow that he channels into inappropriate behavior.  This scene didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about the character and felt kind of cheap.

But thank God he didn’t masturbate.  This show definitely pushes the envelope, but that would’ve been too much.

Additional Thoughts

  • It’s safe to say Gillian is the only grandmother with the ability to cure erectile dysfunction.
  • There was a lot of nudity tonight, even for this show.
  • Another history lesson to make the show comprehendible: Sinclair Lewis’ Free Air (Pearl’s book given to Jimmy) is described as a “cheerful little road novel…about Claire Boltwood, who, in the early days of the 20th century, travels by automobile from New York City to the Pacific Northwest, where she falls in love with a nice, down-to-earth young man and gives up her snobbish Estate.”  Sound like the dreams of a certain dead hooker with a heart of gold you might remember?
  • When Stephen Graham (Capone) talks, I close my eyes and hear James Gandolfini.  If Capone has a scene where he drinks orange juice from the carton while wearing a wife-beater, then I’ll cry copycat.
  • A non-cited Wikipedia entry claims Al Capone’s son really was partially deaf and went by the nickname “Sonny,” which inspired the name of Vito Corleone’s son in The Godfather.  It’s not cited and on Wikipedia – take it for what it’s worth.
  • When Van Alden was setting up for what appeared to be a self-pleasuring session inspired by the photo of an underage girl, I found myself saying, “No.  No.  No.”  The last time I chanted that during a TV show was during the Lost finale when they were revealing that the Sideways world was some type of purgatory.  Van Alden bailed me out, though.  Lost ended with everyone dying and going to heaven together.  I’m still a little upset about that.