S2E8: I say this with all due respect: Terrence Winter must have some pretty hardcore daddy issues, and this week’s Boardwalk Empire is dedicated to exploring that theme. In regards to Nucky, Eli, Jimmy and Agent van Alden, we get glimpses into the pangs attached to fathers and fatherhood—a connectivity of four men playing four different corners of the game board that is this series.
“That was June, your brother’s wife…Your father has died.” – Maggie
“Okay…I’ll eat something at the office.” – Nucky.
The episode is bookended in a fashion unusual for the series: a surreal dream sequence. Nucky—who, as you might recall, was shot last week—dreams that he is in an elevator with a man who comments on a boxing match that has yet to occur. Nucky then enters a silent room of well-dressed ladies and gentleman, noticing a punctured baseball mitt, followed by what seems to be a younger version of himself with a bullet wound in his hand, to whom Nucky tells, “Father eats first,” as he stands over a suffering deer in his office. Now, unless they’re planning on bringing Richard Dreyfuss in to play Sigmund Freud, we likely won’t be getting much of an analysis of the dream, but Nucky is and has been overcome by a dangerous resentment of his father for his entire adult life. Last season, we saw Nucky burn down his childhood house in an act of latent rebellion against his abusive father. This week, while Nucky is recovering from his injury, he finds out that his father has died, and reacts with almost no emotional reaction.
The death of Nucky’s father comes during a subpoena serving at Eli’s home. After explaining to Margaret that he feels nothing for his father’s death, Nucky decides to pay his respects, in honor of his late mother. Not expecting to see Eli there so early in the morning, Nucky is unprepared for brotherly conversation, and the two trade kempt hostility. Their primary topic of conversation is the degree of evil that their father represented. Eli tearfully defends their late dad, who always favored Nucky overtly, but Nucky condemns him to hell. Once Eli has had enough of Nucky belittling him and rejecting his weak reaches for whatever kind of rekindling can occur between a 1920s Cain and Abel, he leaves, allowing Nucky to burst unexpectedly into tears over his father’s passing.
“Manure. But what can you expect when you conduct your business in a stable?” – Rothstein
Now, there are a number of ways to look at Nucky’s next move: his resignation as treasurer. What you make of it all depends on how his actions play out over subsequent episodes. All logic points to this as purely a strategic move to take down Jimmy and his cooperatives—with some intangible aid from Rothstein and Torrio. To cement this, Nucky even recommends a community strike to Chalky once his successor takes over, and speaks to Owen Slater briefly about attaching themselves to the Cause. But noting the theme of the episode, there is something more genuine to Nucky in this move than just a tactic. He considers a joke about a drowning man ignoring signs from God while considering the family he has accumulated—this occurs just as Nucky asks Maggie’s children to begin calling him Dad. So, to ignore the obvious business aspect of Nucky’s resignation would be foolish. But I’m inclined to believe there is more of a genuine reformation involved than there might seem.
“Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan.” – Gillian
Jimmy is, professionally, on the climb. By the end of this episode, he is the de facto head of Atlantic City. But there remain thorns in his side. For one: his business associate Manny Horvitz, to whom Jimmy still owes a shipment of alcohol (and he’s not too pleased about waiting). Horvitz accuses Jimmy of not being man enough to run the town, having spent his entire life hidden behind one father figure or another. As Jimmy is plagued with his issues of which father to which to align his allegiance, this surely resonates.
And back at home, Jimmy’s problems are fair from sparse. An unexpectedly honest conversation occurs between Jimmy and the most unlikely of recipients of this kind of candor: his wife, Angela. Jimmy admits that he was behind Nucky’s shooting, and he admits that his mother was the one who pushed him into it. And Angela—who spends a good deal of the episode meeting, attending a party with, and kissing a San Francisco novelist named Louise—admits that she does not really love him.
So, although Jimmy has risen to his desired position, he is still plagued by just about everything he has been until now. At his victory party, he solidifies his rejection of these threats by ignoring Eli’s warnings about Nucky’s capability, and throwing Micky—who is linked to Manny—over the balcony. Jimmy is crumbling, and there aren’t many dips he has yet to venture.
“It’s the latest model.” – Van Alden
Van Alden has hired a Scandinavian nanny to care for his infant daughter Abigail while he spends his time working. This storyline attacks the issue of fatherhood from the other end: the “Cat’s in the Cradle” end—Van Alden is neither literally nor emotionally capable of being there for his daughter, as much as he does genuinely care about her. Last week, it seemed as though Van Alden was favoring morality over monetary gain for his daughter. This week, after a conversation about the grey areas of morality and ethics with his new partner—one he actually seems to get along with, for a change—we see him stuffing away sums of cash (no doubt ill-gotten-gains earned for Abigail’s well-being).
The greatest strength of this episode is the return of the show’s unappreciated hero: Nucky. Yeah, Nucky—the main character, remember?—has taken quite the back seat to more “interesting” characters like Jimmy, Van Alden, Richard, Gillian, Eli, Maggie, Meyer and Lucky, Chalky…you get it. The point is, Nucky, while more subdued and “normal” than these other nutjobs, is still capable of delivering intriguing character stories. And an episode focused majorly on him is a welcome treat once in a while.