Apparently, New York’s unbridled derision for its sister state to the south dates back at least as far as the 1920s — as Manhattanite Arnold Rothstein tells Atlantic City resident Nucky Thompson early on in this week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, “New Jersey [is] a state I have little interest in or affection for.” Prohibition might not have lasted, but that sentiment sure did.
Rothstein is none too pleased with Nucky due to the events that closed out last week’s Boardwalk: Gyp Rosetti’s seizure of Jersey’s Tabor Heights, an important stopping point on the route of alcohol delivery between Atlantic City and New York City. Nucky begs for Rothstein’s help in disposing of Rosetti — initially, Rothstein is unwilling, due to the various parties to whom Rosetti links him presently; still, he seems to appreciate Nucky’s point that the man is hardly a reliable business associate. Or at all an entirely stable human being.
In fact, we get a glimpse into Rosetti’s off-kilter personal life this week: in addition to making hyper-aggressive catcalls at small town waitresses, Rosetti enjoys his share of sadomasochistic extramarital affairs, relishing in a painful choking. Depiction of this pastime, which bookends the episode, becomes his undoing towards the end when a screaming-like-a-banshee Bugsy Siegel (on Rothstein’s command) busts in on the incapacitated Rosetti and shoots up his entire Tabor Heights residence. Both Rosetti and Bugsy make it out alive, but several of the former’s men (not to mention his lover and an innocent paper boy) are killed. A man of passion if nothing else, Rosetti does seem to take personal issue with the murder of the paper boy, whom he had met and “befriended” (in his own horrifying way) earlier on in the episode.
So now that Rosetti had pledged an inevitable vengeance against the regimes of Nucky and Rothstein, Boardwalk’s leading man is in for his share of professional, and mortal, conflict. Adding of course to the marital (and extramarital) troubles Nucky has been having of late: Nucky’s affair with vaudeville actress Billie Kent is brought to the attention of Margaret this week when she walks in on the two of them shopping at the fancy garments store where she used to work. In a subsequent conversation, Margaret highlights the reason why Nucky might have a bit more difficulty working things out with this one: she’s independent and self-made — not in need of his rescue. But that doesn’t sit well with Nucky, whether he’s up to admitting it or not.
A Schubert play in which Billie is set to star has two problems going for it, in the eyes of Nucky Thompson: it’s destined to fail, and it casts an overly handsy actor in a romantic role opposite his girlfriend. In order to kill two birds with one stone (in a rare turn for this show, that’s just a metaphor — no killing is involved), Nucky arranges it so that the famed stage actor Eddie Cantor will usurp the male lead. At first, Cantor tells Nucky he is unwilling, due to a previous commitment to a New York production. But as we all know, when someone on this show says, “I knew you’d understand,” it’s likely that the person he or she is talking to doesn’t exactly understand at all.
Nucky sends Chalky and Dunn Pernsley to pay Eddie a visit, tacitly endorsing the breaking off of the actor’s New York commitment and the joining of Billie’s show (to keep it running and box out Mr. Handsy). And so, Nucky can view himself a damsel in distress’ knight in shining armor once again. But as Eddie ominously tells Billie at the end of the episode, getting romantically involved with Nucky is hardly permanent, and is always trouble, citing the long-gone Lucy Danziger as proof.
But it's not as though Margaret is entirely innocent in this area either: lest we forget her affair with Owen Slater, or ignore the new longing in her heart: one for Dr. Edward Holt, the House-ian physician who begins teaching Margaret's prenatal care classes this week. As he is just about the only other enlightened human being at the hospital, and one who finally drops his gruff exterior to extend appreciation for Margaret's dedication to the teaching of women, she is visibly disheartened to learn that he is engaged. He might be Dr. House, but this hospital love triangle in the making is straight out of Grey's Anatomy.
Over in Illinois, it seems as though Van Alden’s former life is catching up with him — with “seems” being the operative word. That fed he met in the bar a few weeks back has taken to leaving Van Alden his business card, both at his office and at his apartment, haunting the former detective with ideas that he might have been found by his old administration. Van Alden tries to warn his wife Sigrid about what dangers might come, but she insists (through her broken English) that she knows the truth: he was a good, innocent man who got caught up accidentally in the doings of criminals, and had to move out to the Midwest to avoid their wrath.
Her devotion shines through the episode when the speakeasy fed comes to visit Van Alden, revealing his true intentions: Van Alden sold him a faulty iron, and he simply wants reimbursement — but what he gets instead is clocked in the head with a frying pan and suffocated to death when Sigrid misunderstands his reason for coming, assuming that he is one of the “bad men” — an idea she maintains after the married couple disposes of the threat (through the help of the florist whom Van Alden befriended in the season premiere).
Finally, we actually see a bit of humanity in the most unexpected of places this week: Gillian Darmody, who seems to be clinging desperately to the idea that Jimmy is alive. Not only on the surface, to keep up appearances, but behind closed doors — Gillian can’t handle the idea that her son has been killed. The sage prophet Leander Whitlock visits Gillian, explaining that her whorehouse is costing more money than it is earning. Gillian suggests that she will mortgage her home, but Leander says she can only do this by declaring her son (the house’s owner) legally dead… something she refuses to do. As such, Gillian drops her strict codes about business and does everything she can to earn the necessary funds — even if it drags her down, she will never admit that Jimmy is truly gone. As sick and twisted as she may be, as much of an anchor she might have provided to her son’s life, she clearly does care for him.
Overall, this stands as one of the stronger episodes of the season so far, if only for its interesting examination of each of the characters: Nucky is desperate to see himself as a hero, Van Alden is desperate to keep his old life behind him (at any cost), and Gillian is desperate to believe that she is not alone. Sensing a pattern?
[Photo Credit: HBO]