S2E6: It’s a testament to creativity in writing when a television show like Boardwalk Empire can maintain a larger, introspective theme among several of its subplots within an episode, even loosely—especially since Boardwalk is a show with a dozen disparaging storylines going on at once. The themes of this week’s episode, “The Age of Reason,” are religion and God—such are focal in the storylines of Nucky Thompson, Margaret Schroeder, Nelson van Alden (big surprise there), and, subtly and interestingly, Jimmy Darmody and his business partner, Manny Horvitz (the horrifying new character played by William Forsythe). On the secular side of things, Nucky’s legal matters take another dip when the malleable prosecutor is set to be replaced by someone more suited for the position.
“I’m pretty confident that between the three of us, we can save his soul. I’ll be in the car.” – Nucky
It is time for young Teddy Schroeder’s first communion, which is not exactly a comfortable endeavor for Maggie. Upon meeting with the priest with Nucky—a particularly non-God-fearing individual, despite his abundant familiarity with the practices of Catholicism—and her son, Maggie is provoked to endure a confession herself, which inspires a lot of anxiety in her. Nucky is suspicious that Maggie, taking the deed quite seriously, will reveal incriminating information about his practices, indicating that he doesn’t trust even men of the cloth (which is both unsurprising about Nucky’s character, and none too unwise—there are few individuals in this show who warrant anybody’s trust).
Ep. 18 Clip - Father Brennan, Margaret and Teddy
However, Maggie is plagued by guilt that is entirely unrelated to Nucky’s criminal dealings. As we’ve all suspected, Maggie has been harboring an attraction to Owen Slater, which finally manifests openly in this episode. First, she scolds Katie for her romantic rendezvous with Slater inside the house, tense and frigid over her own jealousy that Slater finds Katie attractive and not she. Buried somewhere in this is Maggie’s identity crisis of which we’ve been seeing a lot: is she the woman she used to be, the “lowly working girl” like Katie? Or is she of the upper-class now? And which does she wish to be? She doesn’t seem to be able to decide. Slater, however, is smoother than Cool Whip, and manages to induce a minor catatonia in Maggie with a simple touch of her hand. Maggie finally admits her feelings for Slater aloud in confession, still keeping them a secret from both Slater and Nucky.
This is good news for Maggie’s character. The more time the series invests in her, the more she strays from the woman she was at its inception. She began in the neighborhood of van Alden, and might even surpass Nucky in terms of corruption. She has already proven, at times, to be one step ahead of him in the crime game (stealing his ledger book from the office). Now, even her visceral makeup is turning; her affection for Slater is unlike her previous actions as there is no measure to protect her family involved. This attraction to the handsome, risky young criminal indicates that she’s simply changing, and not really for the better (as a person, that is—as a character, she’s great).
“I see you. I know what you did. Come out of there.” – Agent Clarkson
Nelson van Alden becomes undone. The detective leaves the very pregnant, frighteningly disheveled Lucy to go pay a visit to Agent Clarkson, who is hospitalized after the explosion at Mickey Doyle’s warehouse. While Nelson is gone all day, Lucy—whose only request was that he pick up some lemons—breaks water and endures a long, painful, lonely labor. The steps of the birth are interspersed throughout the episode to show how Lucy, originally the flimsiest, most value-less person in Atlantic City, strengthens and comes into her own in delivering her own child: a girl.
Nelson’s got some other problems, however. At the hospital, van Alden prays for Det. Clarkson (much to the discomfort of the other officers present). Clarkson awakens and tells van Alden that he “knows what he did.” This sends a stir through the detective, who is worried that G-d is sending a message through his bedridden coworker about his dealings with Mickey Doyle, his child with Lucy, and maybe that whole murder of Agent Sebsoe that seems to be of no consequence to anyone—including the dozens of witnesses. Thus, van Alden phones his wife, frantically but ambiguously admitting to his misdeeds. He prepares to do the same to his boss, but he realizes that Det. Clarkson is nothing more than a delirious burn victim who is reciting the “I know what you did” speech to everyone, channeling a childhood memory.
Van Alden returns home to meet his daughter, who incites a faint but existent smile in the tortured soul that is this great, great character. However, his phone call provokes his wife, Rose, to pay a visit to Atlantic City. Once she realizes that he has fathered a child out of wedlock, she grows furious and storms out, leaving the man, as he was doing in the episode’s opening scene, to ruminate his battered interior, alone. Van Alden is consistently my favorite, save possibly for Richard, and to see him tossed into a state of rare emotionality and panic is a testament to the great Michael Shannon and his character.
“You can’t kill everybody, Manny. It’s not good business.” – Jimmy
Jimmy takes some lessons from two new father figures tonight (as if he didn’t have enough). First, Leander Whitlock, who chastises him for his nonstrategic method of dealing with Jackson Parkhurst last week. Second, Manny Horvitz. Now, Horvitz is a less obvious “mentor,” but his insistence that Jimmy slit the throat of Chaim/Herman, a man who betrayed both of them to Waxy Gordon, was sort of a lesson. Up until now, Jimmy’s mentors have been godless. But Horvitz’s avoidance of killing anything injured, as Herman is (treif—that’s the opposite of kosher) reflects some sort of spiritual code.Jimmy and Horvitz make a deal with Lucky and Meyer as they are making a delivery to Chucky for Nucky/Waxy/Rothstein. Under the bosses’ noses, they are all going into the heroin business together.
After an episode like last week’s, it is unsurprising that the show would scatter the attention a bit more. However, even in a multi-plot episode like this, we get to see great internal developments for great characters like Maggie and van Alden. Plus, the religion theme is one that is a hit or miss on television. Here, it’s a big hit.