This week’s Boardwalk Empire — after some action and murderin’ the past few weeks — slowed things down a bit. The episode, appropriate titled “Home,” spent the majority of its time developing our characters by revealing a bit more about their pasts. And guess what? Surprise, surprise — Nucky Thompson has daddy issues.
I say that because it’s been clear throughout the show’s first season that Nucky Thompson has had something to prove. Until this episode, we didn’t know much about his background other than he was Irish and his brother was the police chief. There weren’t many hints as to why he got into a life of crime or what makes him break the law (except for the obvious monetary factor). And quite frankly, I didn’t believe Nucky just wanted to be rich. He has too much to risk in his life for it to just be about the cash. So, this week’s entry into the series answered a few of my questions. Nothing specific, but I think I understand him more. Nucky had a tough childhood with an abusive father. Whether he knows it or not, he operates like he has a chip on his shoulder.
But what’s so interesting to me about Nucky’s career as a criminal (or, “politician” as he prefers) is how smart he is about it. He’s a thoughtful, pragmatic man who doesn’t act on a situation without knowing all the angles and potential results. How he learned this approach versus, say, his brother who is quick to lose his temper, is still a bit of a mystery. But regardless, it works for Nuck. And my theory was underscored near the end of the episode. “You were never worth a damn,” his father says, standing in their completely redone kitchen. Nucky stands stoically, appearing to not be shaken by his father’s harsh words. And then seconds later, he burns the place to the ground and tosses his associate Damian Fleming, the man who was going to take the house for his new family, a wad of cash and tells him to find a better place to live.
I can’t write enough about how well Nucky’s character arc was done. He began with the idea that he could heal his childhood wounds by being a good man and giving the house to one of his friends who needs it. He feels that rebuilding it would make the pain of what he went through with his father go away. But the more the house becomes an actual home again, with painted walls and clean floors, the more his plan works in reverse. Instead of making him feel better, seeing the property restored just reminds him of all the awful things his father did. For example, he reveals the scar on his hand to Margaret, telling her how his father put it there with a fire poker because Nucky grabbed bread first at dinner. And that’s just one instance. Each time Nucky arrives at the house, it’s obvious he’s more and more disgusted until finally he can’t take it anymore and acts on the pain, burning it to the ground. But sadly, I fear that this irrational act — very uncharacteristic of Nucky — only momentarily relieved him and he’ll continue to want to prove himself to his father.
Now let’s talk about Margaret for a moment. First let me say, I really, really like Margaret. She’s one of my favorite characters, mainly because I think she’s smarter than everyone she talks to. She’s very perceptive. She talks with Harry Prince’s girl — her neighbor — about her situation with Nucky. The woman advises her that she needs to look out for herself, because there’s no guarantees in the situation she’s found herself in (the woman notes that Lucy was with Nucky for a very long time, and now was kicked to the road). Her neighbor also tells her how she can’t be too involved in Nucky’s personal life. And for a moment, it seems Margaret listens to the woman. While at the house as Nucky is telling her this childhood sob story, she quickly stops him. “I’m not stranger to a man’s cruelty,” she says. ” Sometimes it’s best to leave the past where it is.” This surprises Nucky, because he’s not used to being called out like that, and initially, it feels cold from Margaret, like she’s taking her neighbor’s advice. But then later, at dinner, we learn that Margaret wants to be close with Nucky. She wants to be more than just someone to share his bed, and her comments earlier were not out of coldness, but actual care. She thought he should move on. And now, she wants to know how he feels, his thoughts, his past. And I think this is brave, and smart, of her. She does the opposite of what her neighbor says. She pushes into Nucky. She wants him to understand that they are connected. And I genuinely believe that Nucky feels the same way about Margaret, so he does open up, once again proving that she is different from other girls in Atlantic City.
Meanwhile, back to crime in Chicago. Jimmy’s leg hurts (understandably too, did you see that effin’ scar? Jesus.). He goes to the doctor and the doctor wants him to take a psychology test to see if he’s crazy and if the pain is just in his head. At the doctor’s office, he meets the creepy, missing-half-his-face-so-he-has-to-wear-a-tin-mask Richard Harrow, a former sharpshooter in the war. (A note of awkwardness: Jimmy is reading The Tin Soldier when they meet). The two find solace in one another, probably because they’re actually both war veterans. They eventually have drinks, share their stories, and Jimmy gets Richard laid. What a guy!
This is really important for Jimmy, because I think this is the type of relationship he initially hoped for with Al Capone. But Al lied about being a vet and the two just never gelled on a personal level (at least not to the level he’s approaching with Richard). Richard is a broken soul, and we all know that Jimmy considers himself a changed man because of the war. So, they are a perfect bro-mantic match. And the fact that Richard is more than willing to help Jimmy out and murder the man who killed Pearl shows that they’re now close, and as they say, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Now that I’m writing about the assassination, let’s talk for a moment about how beautifully that was shot. Simply seeing the glass pitcher explode, and pausing a few seconds to comprehend what had happened before seeing the results, was a brilliant way to show the man’s death. Plus, it followed a very intimidating and threatening monologue from Jimmy.
And speaking of Jimmy, Boardwalk set itself up for some action. Agent Van Alden finally found his link between Jimmy and liquor heist earlier this season. The owner of the car that blocked the road to stop the cargo. And the man committed to testifying in court. Did you see the smile that crept across Van Alden’s face when he got that information? That must have been how you said “booya” in 1920. And one more notable piece of narrative development: Arnold Rothstein’s boy Lucky Luciano talked to a bunch of thugs about robbing Nucky’s casino. Uh oh.
So despite the slow development, “Home” was one of my favorite episodes of the season. We learned so much about our characters, so much that we’re finally understanding how they’re thinking and why they’re thinking that way. And, the episode definitely set things up for the next few weeks. Maybe now we’ll have some car chases and shootouts.