Episode 10: “Emerald City”

Grade: B+

Jimmy Darmody hasn’t had the ideal non-marriage, but he at least made an attempt to reconcile the damaged relationship with the mother of his child, telling the struggling artist that her paintings remind him that despite the horrors he witnessed in war, there can still be beauty in the civilized world.  He even stood behind her, hugging her as their hands entwined while she painted, giving us the painter’s version of the famous Ghost scene (unlike NBC’s Community, where “Ghosting” is expressly forbidden).

The inhabitants of Atlantic City (and Chicago) are all searching for beauty in an ugly world.  For Jimmy, his family is his beauty.  But, his family also brings out his ugliness, as his son’s revelation of “mommy’s kissing friend” was the catalyst for a misguided public beat down that then served as the catalyst for Angela’s planned Parisian exodus – where her son can grow up speaking a beautiful language and not inherit his father’s ugly traits.

Meanwhile, Jimmy’s old buddy Al found beauty in maturation.  After an exploding cigarette prank, Capone’s mischievous nature had him in the doghouse with Chicago’s premier booze provider – who was more concerned with his perceived lack of profits than babysitting his cronies.  In a scene that was surreal even for Boardwalk Empire, Al Capone learned the beauty of the Jewish faith and what it means to be a man.  His bar mitzvah revelation was the catalyst for getting a new hat and putting aside his childish ways to accept more responsibility in Torrio’s syndicate.  Torrio relented and gave Capone the responsibility he sought, unaware of the monster he’s helping create.  With all the action in Atlantic City, I doubt we’ll see Capone’s rise to power in this season, but hopefully we will in seasons to come.

In Atlantic City, Richard Harrow (the man with half a face) can only find beauty in his dreams, where his restored features gaze lovingly upon a prostitute strolling on the beach.  Yet, ugliness rears its head even in dreams, as his beauty is interrupted by the screams of Margaret’s four-year-old daughter who is terrified by the disfigurement that is usually covered by the mask with half a drawn mustache.  The war hero is now relegated to being the bodyguard for Nucky’s newest lady after the attempt on the treasurer’s life, where he watches a woman struggle with the ramifications of the beautiful life she thought she wanted.

Margaret has money, power, security and she’s no longer regularly beaten.  She’s the envy of Atlantic City, yet the moral Margaret buried within haunts the woman who celebrates suffrage with champagne.  She’s proven herself to be the most intelligent character on the show, and she calls Nucky on his b.s. when he wants her to lie about Bader’s mayoral qualifications.  She’s too smart to be another cog in his machine and doesn’t buy the argument that he provides continuity of leadership rather than being a backdoor dictator, yet she compromises her integrity and delivers a winning endorsement of Nucky’s Manchurian candidate.

While Margaret has easily been my favorite character of Boardwalk Empire, they’re really beating it over our heads that she’s conflicted about her situation.  We’ve known that for several episodes now and didn’t need her staring into a mirror to understand that she, like Richard, no longer recognizes her own reflection.  We get it.  Now, show us if she’ll be Carmella Soprano and turn a blind eye in order to retain her comfort or if she’ll stand against the most powerful man in Atlantic City.

Speaking of which, Nucky recruited the tragically underused Chalky White to enact his plan to make Rothstein the richest corpse in New York.  Aided by Mickey Doyle’s information, Nucky sets up the D’Alessio brothers to believe they’re siphoning Chalky’s loyalty, but Chalky escalates the plan after a reference to his vehicle outs his friend’s lynchers.  After a bullet to the brain and the best strangulation scene since No Country for Old Men, Nucky released “Michael Lewis” with instructions to tell Rothstein what he saw.  Hopefully, this is building to a face-to-face confrontation between Nucky and Rothstein, but giving Rothstein’s methodology, he might fight this war by proxy and rob us of the showdown we deserve.

Finally, just when you thought sex scenes on this show couldn’t get any more disturbing, Van Alden hit rock bottom after losing his star witness and being rejected by Margaret and meets up with Lucy, another outcast.  While Lucy may be physically beautiful, Van Alden’s bedroom tryst with her represents the pinnacle of ugliness for the lawman who believed that like Jake and Elwood Blues, he was on a mission from God.  However, his downward spiral may have netted him the one person in Atlantic City willing to turn on Nucky Thompson.  Van Alden spent the episode warning Margaret of her destiny in Hell and now may be the benefactor of the fury of a woman scorned.

Yes, the closing mirror shot was a bit overkill, and the Wizard of Oz references forced the viewer to think of Nucky Thompson as “the man behind the curtain,” but heavy-handed metaphors aside, Boardwalk Empire is meticulously building to its first season finale; and it’s the glacial pace that is either captivating or isolating you.  Personally, I love the pacing and the time dedicated to character development, but I can see how the repeated lingering on the same themes and ideas can be cumbersome to viewers who aren’t picking apart every scene in an attempt to write something clever about it.

Additional Thoughts

  • To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, enjoy the glacier reference because your grandkids will have no idea what a glacier is.
  • Nucky tells Eddie, “You’re Tom Mix all of a sudden?”  Mix was a silent movie star who pioneered the Western movie genre.  Poor Eddie saved Nucky’s life, shot his would-be assassin and does all his bidding but is still treated like dirt.
  • Agent Sesbo’s great acting earned him a quick exoneration, but we still don’t know who’s behind his betrayal.
  • Do you think Mickey Doyle is really fed up with Rothstein or is his feeding of information all part of a Rothstein plan to give Nucky false confidence?
  • Richard claiming to be the Tin Woodsman made the children laugh and earned their favor, but I thought it was the creepiest thing he’s done thus far.  Still, I love the character and hope we see more of him.
  • Speaking of creepy, don’t ever tell a woman you can see into her soul when you look at her picture at night.
  • Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky) is one of the few men who can rock a bow tie.  And did you see the look in his eyes when he was strangling the D’Alessio brother?  Chigurh-esque.

Home Culture Boardwalk Empire Recap: Searching for Something Beautiful in the Civilized World