‘Boardwalk Empire’ Recap: Nights in Ballygan

S1E5: Man, if there’s one thing Boardwalk Empire is good at, it’s throwing a party.

For the second week in a row, we witnessed a big, prohibition era party. Last week it was Nucky’s birthday. This week’s occasion? St. Patrick’s Day. And undoubtedly, in the Irish-controlled Atlantic City, SPD is a huge deal. All the men come together to drink, laugh at leprechauns, and carry on about their troubled past.

But there’s one thing that’s surprising about St. Patrick’s Day in Atlantic City. The city’s king, Nucky Thompson, hates it. As his brother Eli says, “It’s the one night of the year that Nucky doesn’t drink.” And after the destruction that occurred in “Nights in Ballygan,” it’s easy to see why Nucky doesn’t.

With each week, we’re learning more and more about Nucky and how he handles his life. Slowly, it seems, the whole smuggling alcohol thing is getting bigger — almost so big that he can’t control it. As we saw when Margaret reported the suspicious activity (men loading trucks with green beer) behind her house to FBI Agent Van Alden, there’s a map of Atlantic City with each location of suspicious activity reported — 117 pins. So obviously, we’re wondering how in the world Nucky can keep control of all of that? How is he not getting caught? If Van Alden does indeed know all those locations, how long before he busts them up?

And this is where Margaret comes in. As I mentioned in last week’s recap, underneath all the booze and crookedness, there’s an odd romantic tension between Margaret and Nucky. And they both know it. That’s why when Margaret shows up with soda bread for Nucky at the beginning of the episode, he turns it down. Well, he doesn’t turn it down, but he’s a real asshole about it. “Give it to my bellhop, and he’ll see I get it,” he says. Regardless, it pisses Margaret off so she tosses it in the garbage. And what’s Nucky’s reasoning? “Life’s complicated enough,” he says. So he understands the tension with Margaret, he just doesn’t want to deal with it. But that’s not okay with Margaret. She asks him later if he enjoyed the bread, and he says yes, which makes her even more mad.

I believe that the whole reason Margaret pursued the beer in her backyard this episode was to get attention from Nucky. In fact, I don’t doubt this theory at all. She has feelings for him, and vice versa. But Nucky is too caught up in his own complications to make time for Margaret, so this forces her to pursue him. After discovering the booze in her backyard, she goes through all the right channels to get the smuggling stopped. And through this process, Margaret learns (although I already think she suspected this all along) that Nucky is in control of everything in Atlantic City and honestly I believe that suspicion makes her want him more.

So, she tips the feds and they end up busting down the door at Nucky’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration to arrest Mr. Neery, the man who was responsible for the booze in her backyard. This leads to the whole party being shut down and as the men are escorted outside by the police, we hear and see Margaret and the rest of her pro-prohibition buddies singing an anti-alcohol song. Nucky finally walks out and he sees Margaret singing. And wow, what a moment. He realizes that he’s totally underestimated Margaret. She stares back, and we see from her eyes that she’s proud that, after an episode of being pushed aside, she’s finally caught his  attention.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do believe that Margaret is genuinely against alcohol. I don’t believe she had the man arrested solely to get catch Nucky’s eye. I just think that was a big bonus for her. Then, Nucky shows up at her house at the end of the episode and they kiss (and it looked like it was headed for more). So you could say it worked out.

Meanwhile, out in Chicago, Jimmy is taking care of his lover, Pearl — the prostitute knifed in the face in last week’s episode. That poor girl. I don’t know why, but seeing her bedridden, high on opium, with a big bandage across her face, it’s just heartbreaking. And it’s a perfect example of the destruction that Jimmy brings to all facets of his life. He’s not only left his wife and child back home in AC without much contact and a price on his head for stealing booze, he brought his baggage with him and an innocent girl was hurt because of it. Pearl is sweet, but now she’s lost. As Jimmy discusses business with Capone downstairs in the house, she stumbles into the living room, strung out, bandaged, and nearly naked. He does the right thing and takes care of her, telling her a sweet story from his youth, but of course, she ends up committing suicide. So what does Jimmy do? He goes and smokes some opium. Good move, Jimmy. Your path of destruction continues.

Weirdly enough, although I love myself some Bushmills, and the final montage of this season’s episode made me think twice about drinking booze — seeing Eli take a swing at his brother, watching Jimmy fall into opium, looking at men being carted off to jail. It was a powerful scene, and a mark of more good things to come from this show.