After a totally and completely badass episode last week (that featured a tin-faced former soldier sniping people in the forehead), this week, Boardwalk Empire took the opportunity to slow down, relax, and reset. "Hold Me in Paradise" re-focused the show and established a clear direction for the final few episodes of the season.
We opened with Eli sitting in the big boy chair (Nucky's office), watching over Atlantic City as Nuck had ventured to Chicago for the Republican National Convention. And sadly, at the expense of poor ol' Eli, this is pretty funny. Through the season, it's been hinted at pretty loudly that Eli is jealous of the position Nucky is in. Eli dreams of being the boss of Atlantic City, but just doesn't have the same smarts (or maybe a more appropriate term: balls) that Nuck has to get him to this position of power. So since Eli is finally found himself in this position, he's milking it for all it's worth. Unfortunately, it's not worth much. When Nucky leaves town, Atlantic City shuts down.
And I think that opening scene, although it was focused on Eli, was a strong representation of what the characters in Boardwalk Empire are going through. Each one of them has found themselves in a position that, although initially appealing, is no longer making them happy. Look at Jimmy. Yeah, he's doing well for himself in Chicago (wearing that $70 suit all the damn time), but when Nucky comes for the convention and stops by to see him, it's fairly obvious that Jimmy misses Atlantic City -- specifically when Nucky reminds Jimmy that he's Irish, and he'll always feel like an outsider with the Italians. So even though Jimmy doesn't head back to AC with Nuck immediately, I have a feeling that he will soon.
Now, let's go even further with that idea that no one is where they want to be. For starters, why is Nucky in Chicago? Yes, for the RNC, but in reality, he's there to make sure he's taken care of first. That's why he is so quick to throw Senator Edge under the bus. Edge didn't help him like he originally promised -- Atlantic City doesn't have the roads it needs (or rather, that Nucky needs for smuggling booze). So, Nucky decides to back long shot Ohio Senator Warren Harding for president, which results in him getting the nomination. Nucky has now removed himself from a situation he wasn't happy with, and put himself back where he feels most in charge. But still, getting to that point wasn't easy, and I don't think he's happy with the path he had to take to get there.
And what about Margaret? Good ole Margaret Shroader. She's been one of my favorite characters in the show, and I've long argued that she's one of the smartest, but unfortunately, I think -- until this episode -- she suffered from a little self denial. She's had to know that Nucky is shipping booze. It's so obvious. This man just works as the county treasurer, but yet, he lives like a king! But I think Margaret had blinded herself with her feelings towards Nucky -- and her motherly instincts to provide for her children -- as long as she's known Nucky. So even though Nucky is providing everything for her and her family, deep down, she knows that there's something not quite right (and perhaps illegal) going on that she doesn't want to know more about. But she's forced to face that when Nucky needs her to go to his office and and hide his ledger. And like smart person who wants to know the real truth -- she breaks the promise she gave Nucky and looks inside the ledger, learning all about his alcohol business.
And speaking of Margaret, how about that interaction with Lucy? Man, Lucy is such a bitch. But Honestly, I don't really blame her for feeling distraught. Nucky left her out to dry -- with no money, no help, no nothing. And -- whaddaya know, my theory is correctly -- Lucy is in a position that she hates, so she's taking it out on everyone else. And wow, Margaret sure did a good job of putting her in her place. Hopefully, it's somewhat of a wake up call for Lucy.
And to end the episode, Eli lies in a bed, wounded from a shotgun blow to the gut, Nucky stands over him. "It never used to be like this," he says. And he's right. It's all crumbling.
So now, despite the plot advanced quite a bit during this episode, every character found themselves in the exact same position they were in at the beginning of "Hold Me in Paradise." Nucky is losing control. Eli feels helpless. Margaret confirms what she thought she knew. And finally, Jimmy stands as an outsider. It's heartbreaking, really, to see all of these characters continue to find themselves in helpless positions. The moment they can actually advance themselves, another piece falls apart. But I have a feeling that next week, we're going to see a different side to Nucky Thompson -- an angry side. Perhaps it will be time to see the balls that got him to this position in the first place.