Previously: Nucky turned Prohibition and women’s suffrage into financial and political gains while alienating his brother, mentor, surrogate son and everyone within a 500 mile radius of Atlantic City who also wanted to turn Prohibition and women’s suffrage into financial and political gains. Jimmy, Eli and the Commodore band together to take Nucky down. Margaret went from beinga downtrodden baker’s wife to Nucky’s #1 mistress but isn’t exactly happy about it. And Van Alden continues to be a Bible-thumping human wood statue with a boner to ruin the fun of everyone in Atlantic City. When he isn’t busy getting drunk and knocking up Lucy.
Can you tell which is Van Alden?
Before I start, I have to point out that HBO A) still makes opening credits and B) makes the best opening credits, ever. Boardwalk Empire’s are awesome because the song is great, the visuals are very Magritte and there are a lot of close ups on Steve Buscemi’s eyes. Which are both comforting and disturbing.
The Eyes of Steve Buscemi
We fade in on a stray rum bottle on the Jersey shore which leads into a montage of our cast as they go about their criminal activities to the strains of this season’s theme song After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want What You Get and an extra starts questioning all those acting classes and SAG’s nudity waiver when her two seconds of screen time amounts to shaking her boobs at Steve Buscemi. But this wouldn’t be Boardwalk Empire without its sad sack party poopers, so there’s Van Alden picking up the missus and still looking like a wooden statue, and there’s Margaret sitting in silent Catholic judgment of Nucky’s drunken, whoring ways.
Over at Chalky’s, he and his team are going about their business, loading booze onto delivery trucks and living the dream when someone knocks on the door. It’s one of Chalky’s guys and he has a slit throat and a truck full of Klansmen with a Gatling gun behind him. Not a good way to start your day. The Klansmen open fire on Chalky’s warehouse, killing or injuring everyone inside except Chalky, who’s scuttled off.
A couple of Klansmen come in to make sure their work is done and find Chalky huddled in a corner. One Klansman wastes just enough time spouting Klan hate for a woman at the warehouse to shoot him in the arm, but the other one shoots her and they both run off. Chalky’s collected himself by now and takes a shot gun, firing on the truck and hitting one of the Klansmen in the neck. That’s good shooting.
I told you for the last time I don’t WANT the New York Times home delivery.
Nucky drags his ass home to the domestically blissful scene of Margaret having a heated argument with her six-year-old son, Teddy, as he hides under the table, refusing to go to school. Really, why would Nucky want to hang out with a bunch of hookers when he could be here? He tries to use his best adult reasoning on Teddy, asking if he wants to be a fishmonger, but quickly loses patience when the kid says yes.
After hearing he got in trouble at school and Sister Bernice wacked his hand with a ruler, Teddy refusing to admit he did anything wrong and Nucky points out that he’d get a worse beating from his dad if he got hit by a nun at school. Margaret was hoping for more “love” and less “tough” from Nucky, so she dismisses the children and the maid to give him hell for being a degenerate because she clearly didn’t watch last season. Nucky uses his Steve Buscemi eyes and starts wooing her by telling her how ravishing she looks but kids will be kids and they start acting up, disturbing their happy home life, again, as Nucky heads to the office for some sleep.
I don’t know if it’s the morning light or my bleary, hung over vision, but you look lovely.
Jimmy’s also coming home after a long night, but his scene is more serene as Angela, Gillian and Tommy all sit around eating their breakfast with minimal fuss. Jimmy and the family have moved way on up to a beautiful, sprawling beachside house, but Jimmy wouldn’t be Jimmy if he didn’t go looking for that black cloud around his silver lining and asks if Nucky called, to which the answer is “Duh, no.”
Jimmy pouts his big, pillowy lips and asks for some breakfast but before Angela and her bob can move toward the kitchen, Gillian says she’ll do it because she “knows how he likes it.” Then mother and son share yet another seemingly inappropriate kiss on the lips before Jimmy and Angela share a similarly intimate peck. Nothing creepy to see here, folks.
She’s his MOTHER!
Not even bothering to read the room or his wife’s hesitation, Jimmy asks his toddler son if he wants to go shoot some gulls who delightedly says yes because he’s three and hasn’t a clue of mortality. Showing she was raised a little better than Jimmy, who was raised by a 13-year-old and the sheriff who pimped her out, Angela questions him but Jimmy and Gillian are like “Jimmy did it all the time and look how good he turned out?” Not a selling point. But Angela relents because it’s easier than dealing with Jimmy’s PTSD.
Once the boys are gone, though, Angela quietly but firmly asks Gillian to stay the hell out of her marriage. Gillian just smiles the smile of the crazy and says she wasn’t trying to overstep her bounds but boys will be boys. Then, to really drive home the crazy, she overshares with Angela that she used to kiss baby Jimmy’s “winkie” when she’d change his diaper. Oedipus would have been less tragic if Gillian were his mom.
Don’t look directly at the crazy, Angela.
Van Alden decides that the best way to kick off his anniversary weekend with the wife is to bring her by the Post Office and show her just how little respect the Bureau has for him and his work since he’s working out of the sorting room with two buffoons, Clarkson and Zewicki, who, when Van Alden’s away, decided to wrestle. Nelson’s not amused, the agents are shitting themselves and Rose Van Alden remains in her stupor. Fun times.
In an attempt not to further anger Van Alden, Clarkson hands Mrs. Van Alden a tourist guide to Atlantic City called If Jesus Ever Came to Atlantic City. Sounds like good, clean fun. Rose thanks him and Nelson informs the agents he will be staying at the Hotel Metropole if he’s needed, but catches himself and says that he doesn’t expect to be there much as they’ll be taking in the sights. Then the Van Aldens leave on their merry way and just when the agents think they’re safe, Nelson turns back and reminds them to save the roughhousing for their own time. The death by baptism is only implied.
Things to do in Atlantic City when you’re dead.
Time to hop on over to Chicago and see what Capone’s been up to. Still hanging out at Torrio’s brothel, conducting business, and not being the brightest bulb in the pack as he takes a meeting with a truly odd duck named George Remus whose habit of calling himself “George Remus” in conversation totally confuses Capone to the point that he wants to pistol whip him. That, and the fact that George Remus called Capone Torrio’s washer woman.
Torrio and his googly Muppet eyes lumbers into the scene and sets up George Remus to exposit about why George Remus moved to Cincinnati. George Remus informs us that if you draw a 300 mile circle around Cincinnati you have 80% of the bonded whiskey in the US. George Remus’ cut is large enough to keep Torrio’s clubs in booze and George Remus also owns the distribution so George Remus can easily cut Nucky out of the picture. Because George Remus is a smart man. Capone, not so much.
Torrio sends George Remus over to one of his hookers so he can tell Capone that before he goes off to Brooklyn he needs to stop in Atlantic City to tell Nucky things have changed. Capone’s still peeved that George Remus called him Torrio’s washer woman but smartly chooses to just bitch about it under his breath once Torrio’s left like the good middle manager he is.
Nucky, his corrupt aldermen and crooked Mayor Bader all meet to discuss with Ernie, an “investor,” how they’re going to bilk highway funds out of the government by buying junk property around Atlantic City then selling it back when the highways get built. And the Mayor is also in construction so he’ll magically get the bid to build all the highways. With a stack of bills, Ernie’s in and then they smoke and drink and smarm because it’s not like “Pride goeth before the fall,” is a Biblical proverb.
Doesn’t see it coming.
While Nuck’s squirreling away his ill-gotten gains poor Eddie comes in and tell Nucky a reporter’s calling about Chalky shooting that Klansman in the opening scene. But Eddie’s gotten better at his job during the hiatus and called Eli before telling Nucky, so Nucky doesn’t berate him and point out how he doesn’t have any friends like he used to do last season. Progress!
It’s a glorious winter day on the boardwalk and the Van Aldens are taking a cab ride to enjoy the sights. Nelson tries to make small talk about a hotel in Margate in the shape of an elephant, proving that Atlantic City was tacky way before Vegas or the Jersey Shore. He’s in a good mood, for Nelson, which means he still looks like a wood statue but less ominous, until Nucky strolls out of the Ritz. Rose notices the glacial shift in Nelson’s demeanor and asks who Nucky is and Nelson says “No one of any consequence,” implying that Nucky is someone of great consequence.
Nelson shifts back to trying to get Rose to do something other than judge by suggesting a soda shop for “cornishes”, but she gets her “Christian” on when she sees the wholesome tour guide was actually a cover for a guide to bars and brothels. Ah, the free market. This gets her juices flowing and she bemoans how low our morals have sunk and that they’re probably better off without children and to the strains of Claire de Lune an honest emotion passes over Nelson’s face. Melancholy or regret? Who knows, but it’s like that anti-littering commercial with the Indian chief crying.
Don’t make the statue cry, he’ll get root rot.
The scene dissolves to Chalky’s son Lester playing the piece on his family’s piano in the family’s lavish sitting room and Damn! Chalky’s house is as grand as the Commodore’s. Chalky’s wife, Lenore, offers some exposition, letting us know that the Whites are a family with ambitions and status until Chalky asks Lenore and Lester to give the men some privacy so they can figure out how best to handle the situation so that Chalky doesn’t get lynched.
Chalky’s not feeling too apologetic about the two injured Klansmen, what with about a dozen of his workers shot or killed in the ambush. Eli tries to explain how the Klansmen were “respected” members of the community and Chalky’s like “Fuck that noise. Fix this or me and my people will rain down hell on Atlantic City.” Nucky wants some clarification on exactly what Chalky means by “his people” and Chalky kindly points to the 10,000 African-American residents who helped get Nucky elected. Oh, those people.
Yeah, THOSE people!
Nucky plays his trump card and mentions that the Thompsons are the only thing between Chalky and the lynch mob and if that happens, Chalky, his family and the Atlantic City African-American community have a whole lot more to lose than Nucky does. The truth hits hard and Chalky walks off, telling the brothers grim to see themselves out. Alone with Eli, Nucky takes the opportunity to stoke his brother’s Cain complex and Eli reminds us why Nucky’s the likable brother.
Margaret marches down to Teddy’s school in her fur stole and velvet hat, adapting nicely to her kept woman status, and visits Sister Bernice to discuss what happened. According to Margaret, Teddy said he did nothing wrong but Sister Bernice is a Catholic nun and uses her Nunja skills to take out Margaret with a well-timed “You’re raising a liar, Mrs. Schroeder,” and a box of matches from Babette’s, that Teddy was playing with in the coat room. Then she delivers the knockout blow asking about Margaret living with Teddy’s “uncle” who’s friends with the priest who kept Teddy in school. Margaret slinks out. Nuns are hardcore.
Bitch, you best respect the wimple.
So it turns out that the Commodore was behind the ambush, which puts Eli in an interesting position what with his having to protect Chalky at Nucky’s insistence to suppress a likely uprising of the city’s African-American community. Eli’s wondering what to do about it, and the Commodore points out that they have the Klan behind them. This doesn’t really answer Eli’s question and he wonders what he should tell Nucky. The Commodore suddenly turns into a girl whose best friend started dating her crush which prompts a shared wary look between Eli and Jimmy that says “Same crap, different boss.” Eli swigs his Scotch and then takes his leave, passing Gillian, who’s “arranging the flowers” just outside the library door, but he’s Eli so it doesn’t register.
With Eli gone, father and son bond over how Jimmy’s going to learn what real power is by being the booze conduit to the governorship and outlying cities like Philadelphia. Jimmy glums about Atlantic City and, showing how pure his heart is, the Commodore mocks about how it’s an open market now with Chalky out of business and a whole warehouse full of his booze just there for the taking. Jimmy stares off and showing that maybe he’s not the doddering fool he can appear, the Commodore tells Jimmy not to feel badly about Nucky.
Jimmy gets his back up too quickly and the Commodore launches into a speech about survival of the fittest and how he killed all the dead animals in his library but the bear was his greatest kill because he was about to maul the Commodore when he shot the bear in the gut and just when it seems to be going off the tracks he brings it all back around by telling Jimmy that he’ll be “judged by what he succeeds at, not by what he attempts.”
Fight me without a gun and see who wins.
This leads into Nucky addressing an African-American church denouncing the Klan’s attack on Chalky and how he will not dignify or tolerate their attacks on his friends which seamlessly segues into Nucky addressing a white church letting them know that he will make sure that they feel safe and protected from the “obstreperous Negro.” He plays both crowds like a pro and everyone seems placated until a townsperson runs in with the news that one of the Klansmen has died. Nucky sends Eli to arrest Chalky for his own safety.
Nelson and Rose are at a restaurant for their anniversary dinner. The solicitous maître’d slides over and makes small talk for a bigger tip but the Van Aldens barely speak to each other let alone others so Nelson cuts him off to place their order. The maître’d, still tallying up his tip, asks if they’ll be “imbibing” without explicitly offering alcohol which causes Rose to full-body clench while Nelson orders coffee for “the lady” and a glass of cold buttermilk (eww) for himself. Rose feels a righteous tingle, but Van Alden just wants to have a nice dinner. As disappointment begins to creep across Rose’s face, Nelson has the depressing realization that he married the only woman more rigid than he is and excuses himself to wash his hands because of ‘public spaces.”
Have to wash up. Public spaces have cooties.
Nucky’s at the Klansman’s wake when he sees Jimmy. He asks Jimmy why he’s there since politics is Nucky’s business and Jimmy says the guy was one of his high school teachers. Nucky presses about what Jimmy might have seen since he was at Chalky’s that morning and Jimmy’s all “Nope, nothing. Gone before it happened,” then hobbles off before Nucky can use the power of the Buscemi eyes to pull out the truth.
Later, out on the porch for a smoke, Jimmy and Nucky share an expository bonding moment where they joke about all the good tablecloths that get wasted on Klan uniforms which leads into Nucky asking about Jimmy eloping with Angela without even seeking Nucky’s advice and then they reminisce about how Nucky used to take Jimmy shooting and fishing and how they both miss those times.
Throughout the scene Nucky never looks away from Jimmy who never looks at Nucky and since Nuck isn’t a fool he asks if Jimmy has anything to tell him. Jimmy feigns ignorance and Nucky reminds Jimmy that his father is a “duplicitous” man. Because Nucky is the very model of loyal, steadfast and true.
Look him in the eye, Jimmy.
Back with the Van Aldens and Nelson is ready to chuck caution to the wind by enticing Rose with butterscotch pudding that she turns down. Strike one. Next, he gives Rose a gift, which is rare indeed, and it’s a lovely cameo brooch. She’s clearly moved, but that bun’s still tight on the back of her head. Strike two. So finally Nelson asks the maître’d if he has any champagne or whiskey available to celebrate. He very helpfully informs them that they do and right when Rose is about to clench at how far her husband has fallen, he beats the crap out of the guy with two blows and orders a raid on the restaurant. They clear out the cash drawer, seize all the liquor and arrest the maître‘d. Home run! Rose is heaving and trying to form her tiny, thin lips into a smile.
Scene dissolves into what looks and sounds like an energetic boning at the Hotel Metropole but it’s just Nelson showing Rose where the springs on the bed are broken. But all is not lost. Rose admits that she was thrilled to watch him work and they start to make out, but Rose needs Nelson to turn off the lights.
And when it makes that noise it means we’re doing it right.
In a far less repressed household, Margaret and Nucky are preparing for bed and discussing Jimmy. Nucky feels that something isn’t right between him and Jimmy, because it isn’t, but he also misses how close they were when Jimmy was growing up. Nucky was the only parental figure Jimmy had but now that he’s all grown he’s reconnected with his father and left Nucky behind. Margaret accurately determines that Nucky’s jealous, but that’s a weak emotion so Nucky says he’s angry. This leads to them discussing Teddy and his fire-starting ways, but Nucky can’t for the life of him remember that it all started when Teddy witnessed Nucky burning his father’s old house to the ground.
With their monthly visit done, Nelson takes Rose to the train station. His face is attempting to form a smile and Rose says she had a lovely visit but could never live in Atlantic City, “Sodom by the Sea,” (like that’s a bad thing?) so they’ll continue leading mostly separate lives. They share a peck on the cheek and as Rose walks off Nelson begins to look…sad?
Speaking of sad, it’s time for Richard to break our hearts with his half face and isolation. He’s at Jimmy and Angela’s house for breakfast before they raid Chalky’s stash. Angela and Jimmy are being affectionate with each other and Angela’s smiling at Richard while she serves him breakfast and even with only half a face he makes me ache for his loneliness. He’d have followed anyone from that clinic that showed him some kindness, and has latched on to Jimmy. He furtively watches Angela when she’s near him but once she’s gone he asks Jimmy what it’s like to have everything. Jimmy just keeps eating because he’s practically dead inside.
Nucky heads up to Teddy’s room, deciding that he’ll focus his Jimmy attention on Teddy. Teddy assumes Nucky’s there to beat him which throw Nucky and he explains that he’s there to talk, and by talk all he does is tell the boy to listen to his mother and the nuns and not to misbehave. Then he gives him a buck to go get himself some candy. That’ll teach him.
After a brief swipe to Jimmy and Richard at Chalky’s warehouse, we swipe on over to Nelson at his boarding house. He walks into his bedroom and pulls out the raid money. He’s standing in front of a mirror counting it when we see Lucy’s head loll up. She’s groggy from napping and he tells her he has her money. She tries to get him to join her but he’s gently bum rushing her out of the room. The staging of the scene is very obviously trying not to show her stomach but as she comes slinking over we finally see her pregnancy bump. Did they think we forgot?
Shouldn’t his hand be burning?
Back with Jimmy and Richard and they’re selling Chalky’s stash to Mickey Doyle, who may very well be a cockroach because he is indestructible. How many times has he either been in jail or close to being shot and yet here he is, still running around Atlantic City. The luck of the non-Irish.
Nucky’s reading the newspaper when Eddie phones that a man from the State’s Attorney’s office needs to speak with him immediately. When Nucky says to put him on the phone, Eddie says he needs to speak with Nucky in person. Margaret comes to see what’s going on and Nucky’s peeved, but not concerned, and tells Margaret that he promised Teddy they’d go see the Chaplin movie but he has to go to his office first, so he’ll meet them at the pictures.
Happy musical cue leads us into another heartbreaking Richard scene as we learn his hobby is scrapbooking images of happy couples and their children. He lovingly looks at all the pages he’s put together and Jack Huston’s half-face is so damn pretty that it just makes me cry.
Continuing with the ironic happy musical cue, we follow Nucky into his office where Eddie several cops and a shark-like man are waiting. Sensing something’s wrong, Nucky gets cranky and the sharkman introduces himself as Solomon Bishop with the State’s Attorney’s office. Then one of the cops arrests Nucky for election fraud. Meanwhile, Margaret took the children to the theater and is disappointedly watching the film, the sad seat between her and Teddy emphasizing how Nucky’s failed the family again. Both she and Teddy look back to the entrance, Teddy hoping to see Nucky walk in, Margaret grimacing when he doesn’t.
Margaret won’t understand why I missed the pictures.
We close out on Jimmy coming home and opening Nucky’s gift. It’s an envelope stuffed with cash and a wooden sculpture of a boy and his father hunting. Jimmy ponders it for a while before ever so symbolically shoving it onto the back of a shelf in the hall closet and turning off the light.
And that’s it for the premiere. Like last season it’s slower pace makes it almost feel dreamy until something shocks you into realizing you’re watching thugs and gangsters.