S1E4: One of the most interesting things about HBO’s new prohibition-gangster drama Boardwalk Empire is that, well, it’s not about crime. It’s about love. Now that may seem like a stretch, considering there are dudes getting beat up or murdered every couple scenes, but with the young show’s fourth episode “Anastasia,” we learned that underneath all the booze and money lies a romantic tale with each of the show’s central characters.
For example, take Atlantic City king Nucky Thompson and dress sales associate Margaret Schroeder. In the first few episodes, the two danced around their feelings for each other. Obviously, because of each of their situations, neither is going to act on it. But in this episode, we finally saw some advancement in each character beyond just sitting and thinking about the other.
The cornerstone of “Anastasia” was Nucky’s “surprise” birthday party. (I put surprise in quotations because early in the episode, we see the alcohol-mogul practicing his speech — “Oh, I had no idea,” he says. Yeah right!). At this party, Margaret shows up to deliver Nucky’s girl Lucy a special dress to put on after she pops out of the cake. In our eyes as viewers, Margaret and Lucy have developed a competitive relationship because they both clearly have feelings for Nucky. At this party, we get to see them compete head-to-head. Both are questioned about a woman’s right to vote, and both give vastly different answers: Lucy doesn’t know or understand the issues, and Margaret is very vocal about her thoughts and believes that all “civilized countries” have already passed the bill.
Then, Margaret and Nucky share a dance together. After they finish (to an applause from the crowd, by the way), Margaret says she must go. But before she leaves, she sees Lucy jump out of the cake — nearly naked — to surprise Nucky. Everyone in the room laughs and Nucky appears to be enjoying himself, until he catches the eye of Margaret before she leaves. So despite having an beautiful, only-in-underwear woman in front of his eyes, Nucky is still thinking about Margaret.
This development between the three characters was much needed. Yeah, the juxtaposition between the two women was laid on pretty thick (I could almost hear the writers yelling “Hey! There’s sexual competition! Pay attention!”), but regardless, the advancement helped us viewers understand that the show isn’t just about running booze across the country. It’s about the characters and how they feel and how they’re interacting with each other. And with the way the episode ends, with Margaret stealing a piece of lingerie from the dress shop after seeing Nucky and Lucy out on the boardwalk together, we understand that Margaret has gotten a taste of what love with Nucky would be like, and she may hope to steal her way into his life.
Meanwhile, while that love triangle happened in Atlantic City, Jimmy and Al Capone were trying to advance their mobster careers in Chicago. The two meet with Charlie Sheridan (Frank Shattuck) to try and get their cut of the crime in Chicago. Jimmy wants to take a more diplomatic and respectful stance, while Capone — of course — prefers muscle. After a discussion and a few threats from Capone, they strike a deal with Sheridan. But it’s clear Sheridan is not happy about the situation.
It’s pretty obvious that Capone is reckless, and Jimmy should not be working out with him. But if I was in Jimmy’s situation — you know, basically exiled from the East coast — it’s hard to say I wouldn’t head to Chicago and team up with Capone too. But I don’t know. I don’t understand why Jimmy isn’t more forceful with his ideas with Capone. Jimmy acts like he has something to prove, but whenever he has the opportunity, he succumbs to Capone. Their relationship is quickly becoming one-sided, which is underscored by the part in the episode when Capone buys the two suits — an action that says “Yeah, we’re in business together, but I’m providing.” This isn’t a good position for Jimmy.
And by the end of the episode, we learn that Jimmy and Capone are not as high up as they think in the crime world. Pearl, Jimmy’s prostitute girlfriend in Chicago who he’s very fond of (there’s the love theme again), gets knifed in her face by one of Sheridan’s men, permanently leaving a scar, smearing her face forever. Suddenly, Jimmy’s new life in Chicago is spinning out of control.
Back in Atlantic City, outside of a birthday celebration, Nucky is trying to figure out who is responsible for the lynching at the end of last week’s episode. He sends his brother Eli to the local KKK meeting where he arrests the local Klan leader and brings him in for questioning. After no initial success, Eli brings in Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) for one of the best scenes in the series so far. Slowly, Williams delivers a heartbreaking monologue about his father, known as the best carpenter in the county, and how he was lynched. And the end, he pulls out his father’s tools.
“What are you gonna do with them,” the Klan leader asks, trembling.
“Well, I ain’t building no bookcase.”
We jump 10 minutes to Eli standing outside the room. Chalky comes out and says the man is telling the truth. He didn’t do the lynching. We, of course, already know that it was the Italians who were responsible for the lynching. Not the Klan. But regardless, Eli asks how he knows, and Chalky slowly opens his hand, revealing the man’s finger in his palm.
Through “Anastasia,” we learned that the characters of Boardwalk Empire care more about their relationships versus money or wealth. And, although we don’t know enough to tie each storyline together completely, the show is finally moving from development to action. This week set up numerous questions: How will Margaret respond to Lucy and Nucky? How will Jimmy respond to Pearl’s knifing? How will Jimmy handle Capone? Or maybe most importantly, how will love handle booze?