S2E7: “Peg of Old” is, in theory, just about the perfect example of what I understand Boardwalk Empire aims to be. In one of the most enjoyable episodes of the season so far (I’d put it second to Richard’s woods outing, although this one is a better archetypal representation of Boardwalk Empire’s true and intended form), we see both the internal minefields of the three biggest non-Nucky characters on the show, and some series plot advancement involving each of their stories—all cases surrounding issues that very directly affect Nucky (to varying, but all outstandingly negative, degrees). Nucky is featured only minimally this week—as seems to be a growing trend—but this could not possibly have been a less fortunate turn of events for the poor guy. And what did he ever do to anyone?
“You’ll go now. Back to your own place, and leave us be. There’s no one here who knows you.” – Maggie’s brother
If you’ve been paying attention to Maggie lately—even passing attention—you know that she’s feeling a bit lost. We have gotten hints that she has not spoken to her family in years, but we aren’t quite sure why—until this week’s episode, that is. Maggie pays a visit to Brooklyn—a 1920s Brooklyn complete with clothesline, bustling market places, cramped apartments…this is the real treat of watching period dramas—to reunite with her brother and various younger sisters, some of whom are too young to know her. Maggie wishes only to make amends for her departure and to “be among those who know her.” Her sisters try and cater to her wishes, greeting her kindly. But her brother, the only one aware of her reason for absence, is less welcoming. The two recollect on a memory from their youth: apparently, Maggie had an affair with a young man in Ireland and, from what it seems, had an abortion. This, coupled with her absence during their mother’s passing, and her new morally grey means of sustenance, keeps her brother none too willing to rekindle sibling bonds. Maggie returns home, distraught, and—probably out of grief—succumbs to her lust for Owen Slater, who has had his own bad day. Instead of doing his job (which proved quite more a significant choice than it normally might have*), Owen spent his day on the prowl for someone he considered a “traitor” to Ireland (an old acquaintance for whom he has apparently kept some hostility). Both are feeling lonesome and isolated, without anything of familiarity, and take to one another in a physical way. And everyone who watches Boardwalk shouts, in unison, “Finally!”
“This is your baby. You bought it. The kid doesn’t even have a name.” – Lucy
Among everything else that it does, van Alden’s storyline introduces us to someone who just might turn out to be one of the most entertaining characters on the show, if tonight’s episode is a fair indication: Esther Randolph, the new prosecutor assigned to Nucky’s case—and one hell-bent on doing her job to the utmost proficiency. Esther has commandeered Nelson’s work station, with which he obviously takes issue. But, of course, he has more important matters to deal with: 1) his new baby, and 2) the mother of his new baby, who is demanding the $3,000 he promised her. Seeing as Nelson cannot pay Lucy, she retreats to her old treasure trove: Nucky, who is at first frustrated at her presence, but then warms up when he sees how earnest she…seems…about motherhood. Additionally, this new compromising position for van Alden gives Nucky an idea: Nucky will agree to support van Alden and the child in return for information on every aspect of Randolph’s case. This is clearly a deal that holds a lot of weight with Nelson.
Some time after this discussion, Nelson returns to his apartment to find the still nameless baby being cared for by a neighbor. She informs him that Lucy stepped out to get formula over twenty minutes ago, which arouses suspicion in Nelson. He then finds a goodbye note of sorts inside the symbolic record player: the cover of the script that Nelson forbade Lucy from reading pinned to the baby’s dirty diaper.
Alone with the baby, Nelson begins flipping through the Bible for an inspiration on names. He lands on Abigail, which inspires a joyful coo in the young baby—something that provokes a rare smile from the stalwart detective. It is this connection to his daughter that makes Nelson realize that no matter what his monetary situation, he needs to be an honest man for her. Thus, he visits Esther Randolph with all of the information he has compiled on Nucky over the past two seasons—specifically, all of the crimes he is aware that Nucky has committed (not excluding murder). He may go broke, but Nelson keeps his honor for his daughter. It’s kind of sweet…even though we know he’s a twisted nut.
“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re right or wrong. You just have to make a decision.” – Jimmy
Jimmy has one concurrent internal conflict this season (aside from his ever increasingly bizarre relationship with his mother): he is tormented over his betrayal of Nucky. He has come to terms, more or less, with turning on him. But in this episode, the stakes are raised. He meets with Lucky, Meyer, Capone, Mickey Doyle and Richard to discuss the overthrow of their respective bosses. Jimmy suggests that Nucky be put in jail while he seize control of Atlantic City, for the benefit of all. Latecomer Eli Thompson combats this with the idea that they kill Nucky instead, about which all of the men (aside from Richard, the only noble figure in the show) are more enthusiastic. Pressured, Jimmy gives the okay to kill Nucky, which plagues him for the rest of the episode. He considers taking his command back, but his mother convinces him that this will make him seem week. Thus, at a fundraising event for Nucky, Jimmy approaches his old father figure and offers him the following statement: “It doesn’t make a difference if you’re right or wrong. You just have to make a decision,” before one of his men shoots Nucky*…non-fatally, of course. But still. Big stuff.
Needless to say, eventful episode. Nucky gets cheated on, loses a great deal of headway in his legal case, and the whole bullet-to-the-torso thing, propagated by the man he raised as a son. On top of these developments, we get to see the darknesses plaguing Maggie and Jimmy in closer lights, and a spiritual step-up for Nelson, who has been on a pretty consistent losing streak. All this and a great new character? I’d call this week as good as Boardwalk gets.