Episode 9: “Belle Femme”

Grade: B+

Relationships are so exciting in their infancy.  When you’re initially getting to know a person, their every quality is endearing and spending every moment together is pure joy.  However, as time goes on and familiarity sets in, relationships can become strained and the person you grew to love becomes the person you blame for ruining your life.

For the first three quarters of Boardwalk Empire’s first season, relationships were built.  Strangers became friends, friends became lovers, lovers became enemies and enemies became victims.  Now these relationships are bending – some to the point of breaking.  With the finale only two episodes away, the tension among the characters is palpable as the relationships built over nine episodes are now Jenga towers teetering on the edge of collapse.

Our main relationship, Nucky and Margaret, are past the honeymoon stage and are now using each other for personal gain.  For Nucky, exploitation isn’t shocking.  He wants Margaret to use her eloquence to garner women’s support for Nucky’s preferred politicians (including his latest Manchurian mayoral candidate).  But moral Margaret is learning the backroom politics game very quickly and used Nucky to gain the upper hand in one of her other strained relationships.

Margaret completed her Pretty Woman transformation by returning to Mme. Jenuet’s Belle Femme as a VIP customer, lorded and praised by the French owner who once berated the Irish immigrant prior to her ascent up the social ladder.  Mme. Jenuet knows Margaret has the ear of her landlord and tried charming her into convincing Nucky to lower his cut from the apparently struggling boutique.  Margaret, for reasons I still don’t understand, went to bat for the woman who treated her (and her Polish replacement) like dirt and got Nucky to lower his demands.  Then, in what can be seen as the pinnacle of Margaret’s turn to the dark side, she refused Mme. Jenuet’s expression of gratitude – a dress for her daughter – saying, “My daughter didn’t help you, I did.”

Her cold selfishness (which Nucky would never hold against her) was the chilling embodiment of who Margaret has become.  Yet, karma rewarded her selfishness with innocent bystander blood spattering on the over $400 dress (not adjusted for inflation) she demanded as recompense.  Margaret is learning the price you pay as a gangster’s girlfriend.  Sure, you can lord your power over people who treated you like crap and get a beautiful expensive dress, but you’re going to get a strange lady’s insides all over it.

Meanwhile, Angela Darmody had her burgeoning threesome interrupted by the return of her estranged common law husband (I hate when that happens!).  Jimmy returned from Chicago, ready to resume his relationship with the mother of his child as if nothing ever changed.  But Jimmy’s return means the death of Angela’s freedom.  She was exploring her sexuality and pursuing her dreams, but is now again relegated to being an oppressed housewife who’s technically not even a wife.  Jimmy also strained Angela’s relationship with the swinging photography couple, who seem to have lost interest in helping her art career since the gangster’s homecoming basically shattered their ménage-a-trois hopes.

Jimmy then grabbed the reigns of power in his turbulent relationship with Nucky, agreeing to be Nucky’s guard dog only if his conditions are met.  Jimmy insured he will never again be accused of taking matters into his own hands and got Nucky to admit what he is: a murderer.  Nucky also admitted his utilitarian leadership principles, telling a befuddled Margaret that good men shouldn’t be elected, but rather men who should be “useful to those who support them.”  These views are a valuable insight into Nucky’s psyche and how he values the relationships he’s formed.

In addition, Van Alden, who surprisingly still hasn’t burst into a fit of blind rage, has deteriorating relationships with his co-workers who believe (correctly) that he has developed an unhealthy obsession with the Thompson case.  His partner, Agent Sesbo, hid a telegram announcing Jimmy’s return to Atlantic City and was on the receiving end of a crazy-eyed Van Alden verbal beat down.  However, Agent Sesbo had the last laugh as he rose from the sand with a self-inflicted rock-to-the-head injury that will serve as his cover for sabotaging the Feds’ best shot at nailing Nucky.

As soon as Sesbo pulled over to pee, I knew the witness would be dying, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it happen at Sesbo’s hands.  I expected an ambush, a car bomb, a sniper bullet to the face, anything but what actually happened.  Now, the big question is who exactly is Sesbo working for?  The obvious answer is Nucky, but this show revels in dodging the obvious solution.  Even if he is working for Nucky, how long has he been on his payroll and how much is he telling the slimy treasurer about the investigation?

This episode also had major advancements in Rothstein’s plans to eliminate Nucky so he can seize the eastern seaboard as a hub for distributing imported British scotch.  Rothstein is only onscreen for a few minutes each episode, but Michael Stuhlbarg absolutely steals every scene he’s in as the shady, yet ambitious criminal mastermind.  Rothstein hired the Italian trio and took out life insurance policies on them to ensure their loyalty and subsequently expressed his disdain for them.  He even played pool by himself – the internationally accepted symbol for a vicious villain.  With all the political and emotional intrigue in Atlantic City, the Rothstein situation should’ve been siphoning all of Nucky’s attention, but it wasn’t.  However, a stray bullet may have changed that.

Additional Thoughts

  • Poor Charlie’s cougar fantasy was shattered as Gillian turned out to not be the worst mother in history, but rather the most manipulative lover.  She took the saying “keep your enemies closer” very literally and kept her son safe by keeping Charlie’s pants off.
  • What does it say about a show that inspires me to say, “Hey, there’s not any nudity tonight”?  Or, maybe, what does that say about me?
  • Again, no Omar, I mean Chalky.  Why must they tease me?
  • I didn’t notice any historical references that required a trip to Wikipedia.  Let me know if I missed one.
  • Margaret thought Houdini’s brother, Hardeen, (an essential part of a past episode) was running for president instead of Harding.  And she admitted it while wearing that big ass hat.  She may be slowly turning evil, but she is so adorable.
  • Eddie saved Nucky’s life and even shot his would-be assassin.  Will this finally earn him Nucky’s respect?  I hope Eddie gets a gratitude-expressing expensive blue dress, too.

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