‘Boardwalk Empire’ Recap: Battle of the Century

Owen SlaterS2E9: Despite the title of this week’s Boardwalk Empire, “Battle of the Century,” it is actually a pretty calm, introverted episode of the series. Sure, there is a murder. And an attempted murder. Not to mention disease, adultery, betrayal, the incision of a strike, and some scandalous office romance. But still. Somehow, in spite of all this, the tides are calm in Atlantic City this week.

Not to say the episode is dull—as a matter of fact, my personal tastes are more in line with some of these subtler episodes. It is particularly fun to hold Season 2 Jimmy up against early Season 1 Nucky. His flaws aside, Nucky is foremost a cerebral, logical criminal, whereas Jimmy is a young man destitute of emotional stability. We will see just how much damage he imparts unto himself in episodes to come, but I don’t imagine a personal or professional success ever skyrocketing much further than a couple of promiscuous women approaching him during the Dempsey fight with physical intentions.

“I think there’s blood on the ground sufficient for your lifetime and mine.” – McGarrigle

Nucky heads to Ireland, under the guise of burying his father, to deliver a sampling of guns to John McGarrigle, a leading figure in The Cause (Ireland’s rebellion against Britain), in return for the supply of Irish whiskey. Some particularly inconvenient timing engulfs Nucky’s business proposition, as England has suggested a truce, to which McGarrigle is willing to listen. Though a steadfast and humorless supporter of Irish independence, McGarrigle is also willing no longer to spare the lives of his men—one of his associates tells Nucky that McGarrigle lost a son in the battle recently, thus tiring him of the bloodshed.

McGarrigle gets to reunite with Owen (who has come with Nucky to Ireland) in this episode, telling the young man that he has changed, and lost the spirit of his country since moving to America. When you consider the ending of the episode, this scene is incessantly intriguing: after Nucky accepts that his deal will not go through, McGarrigle has his assistant see Nucky to the port to go back to America. At this time, McGarrigle is shot by his own men who wish to usurp his position so that they may continue on with The Cause and reject England’s truce (all of this, Owen knew about beforehand). What Owen must have been thinking, being lectured about losing his cause by a former mentor who was about to be executed for himself losing his cause.

Nucky takes issue with Owen’s involvement with McGarrigle’s murder, clearly because he himself was the victim of his own former protégée’s betrayal. Nucky keeps lining himself up with pretty disloyal right hand men (his brother not excluded)—although considering the fact that Owen slept with Maggie, one shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that he’s not exactly a reliable second-in-command.

“Manny Horvitz is a dead man. Before we go any further, you need to tell me if that’s a problem.” – Waxy Gordon

“Maybe. But it’s not mine.” – Jimmy

Even in brief, more or less uneventful scenes like the one early on in this week’s episode, I love it when Jimmy gets together with the other restless protégées (Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky), as well as Richard and Mickey Doyle. The group meets with George Remus this week to elucidate a business deal. Meanwhile, however, Jimmy has the nagging problem of Manny Horvitz, to whom he owes a great deal of money that he just doesn’t feel like paying.

Jimmy meets with Waxy Gordon to discuss the removal of their mutual enemy, Horvitz. Here’s the thing that nobody seems to get: Manny Horvitz is unstoppable. I say this with an esteemed Zionistic pride—he is the biggest rock star on this show. A hired gun makes an attempt to kill Horvitz, but the butcher wrestles the man from his own weapon and then kills him with one of his butcher’s knife. Manny will persist as a thorn in Jimmy’s side—this might be the straw that turns him into Jimmy’s primary source for concern, especially since he found an Atlantic City matchbook on the would-be murderer.

If you recall, one or two episodes ago, Jimmy promised Richard that he’d find himself a nice girl with whom he’ll someday settle down. We learn this week that Richard took this as mockery, understanding himself to be fit for no woman’s affections. Both men attend an auditorium radio broadcast of the titular battle of the century, the boxing match between Dempsey and Carpentier. While there, Jimmy earns the eyes of a great deal of the audience—his fame is escalating rapidly around A.C.—especially two woman who pursue him flirtatiously. Jimmy demands foremost that one of them offer Richard company, trying to solidify the friendship that he insists to Richard the two of them share.

This is a tricky one to crack: what exactly is being built up between Richard and Jimmy? For a few weeks now, there have been traces of a fragmenting friendship. But why? Richard isn’t the type to betray Jimmy, to take action out of rage, or to develop any large ambitions. The only thing I could see happening is Richard pursuing Angela, but she’s got her own romance brewing with that woman Louise from last week. So what’s with the Richard/Jimmy angle?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I know the law. And I don’t have to go on sitting here if I don’t want to. … Do I?” – Deputy Halloran

More Esther Randolph. She and her subordinate—the investigator named Cliff, who resents Van Alden’s new involvement in the case thanks to his hefty sum of files accumulated on Nucky that he gave to Richmond—are both romantic partners as well as an adept interrogation team. After finding out that Nucky lied about going to Ireland to bury his father, they interrogate Deputy Halloran about various crimes Nucky and Eli may have committed, including the murder of Maggie’s late husband. Scene rating: fun as hell.

Remember Dunn Purnsley, the loudmouthed inmate who antagonized Chalky White for being uppity and self-righteous until Chalky had all of the other inmates, whom he had personally helped out in the past, beat the hell out of him? Well, Chalky and Purnsley are in cahoots now. Chalky wishes to incite a strike in the black community in A.C., and the silver-tongued Purnsley is his key to this: Purnsley, working in a kitchen now, encourages all of his black coworkers to rebel against their jerk of a boss and begin a strike. It goes as all dramatic strike scenes do (and should).

“Forgive me for what I’ve brought upon you.” – Maggie

Finally, the most human problem in this week’s episode: Maggie’s daughter Emily has contracted polio…and considering her dismissal of the Quarantine sign in Emily’s hospital room, Maggie might be getting a bit sick too. Things have gone horribly wrong for Maggie over the course of the last few weeks. Her own brother wants nothing to do with her. She succumbed to her weaknesses by sleeping with Owen. Now, her daughter is ill. And the idea of one of his surrogate children unwell is apparently the only thing that can bring horror to Nucky’s stone face.