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‘Boardwalk Empire’ Recap: Family Limitation

S1E6: Quite a bit happened in last night’s Boardwalk Empire. We had a little murder, some self-mutilation, and a whole buncha boobs. This is the type of episode I imagined when HBO first announced the show.

Let’s start with my favorite scene so far this season — the ambush in Chicago. After a few relatively bloodshed-free episodes, we finally witnessed some real gangster drama. Jimmy, Capone, and Torrio set up a meeting and sit down with Sheridan to discuss the control of Greektown. They’re frisked, and they all discuss who gets what in Chicago. Jimmy lifts his leg and accidentally reveals that he’s carrying a knife — his weapon from the war — in his sock. Tension rises, but Jimmy claims it was a mistake. Everyone calms down and has a drink, but we sense that something is up in this scene. Something is hinting towards chaos — we’re just not quite sure what yet.

And wow, it’s amazing how fast a situation can turn. The group finishes their discussion and exits, but one of the Torrio’s girls — we met her earlier when she consoled Jimmy and his loss of Pearl — is now the coat checker. She gives Jimmy, Capone, and Torrio their hats and coats — and weapons. Suddenly, the lobby is a bloody massacre, and Jimmy — before exiting the hotel — holds a gun up to Sheridan. “I think it’s safe to say who controls Greektown,” he says, before blowing his brains against the wall.

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What made this scene so great is that it not only was totally badass, but it revealed that Jimmy and Capone are really getting their act together. Just compare this murder scene against the hijacking of booze earlier this season. That was sloppy, out of control, and just reckless. In the hotel, both Jimmy and Capone showed poise. They knew their job. They did their job. It not only shows their growth and maturity as characters, but we finally are seeing that they both aren’t idiots. After last week’s opium-filled episode, I was starting to wonder when we would see these two not mess up everything they do. And successfully murdering Sheridan? Well, it’s easier to see now why Al Capone is a household name.

Jimmy and Capone are celebrated by Torrio and the rest of the girls at the house, but this doesn’t go as smoothly as the actual murder. Both take shots (insults, not bullets) at the other, and although the rest of the room laughs, we see there’s some tension between the two characters. Later, Capone knocks on Jimmy’s door and we’re for sure that something is going to go down. Turns out, Capone is just there to give Jimmy some steaks and offer a bit of a truce. He tells him about his deaf son, and how Capone plays the mandolin for him, but he has to hold the kid’s hand to his throat so he knows he’s playing music. It’s very sad, and the most humanizing moment of the season for Capone. We learn that he really does have a soft side, and the fact that he’s sharing it with Jimmy speaks a lot to their relationship. Even though they get on each other’s nerves, they are beginning to understand one another. I feel like this moment ended the awkward tension felt throughout this season anytime Jimmy and Capone were together — like we were just one misstep away from Capone losing it and shooting Jimmy in the forehead.

So while all this is happening, back in Atlantic City, Nucky and Margaret — after getting physical at the end of last week’s episode — have taken their relationship to the next level. Nucky is officially her sugar daddy. He’s set her up in a fancy new three bedroom apartment and they’re spending lots of time together. Nucky promises to take her out, just the two of them, to see Hardeen — Houdini’s brother (“who’s just as good,” Nucky hilariously tells everyone). So it seems, for a moment, that Margaret is very happy with her decision to let Nucky take care of her and her family. But that changes.

Margaret goes to work and ends up helping Lucy, Nucky’s old (or current, I can’t quite figure it out) girl. The two of them get in a passive aggressive disagreement as Lucy demands that Margaret try on a dress in front of her. Margaret, still high on her relationship with Nucky, feels confidence and shuts down the insults from Lucy. She refuses to be embarrassed by her and quits her job.

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It was nice to see Margaret gain some confidence around Lucy (who seriously, by the way, is always showing her boobs). But it’s a sad type of confidence. She’s gained it from her new relationship with Nucky. And that’s just something I don’t understand. Margaret — especially after last week’s episode when she practically seduced Nucky with her confidence — strikes me as so much smarter than she acts in this episode. We quickly see her confidence shattered when Nucky breaks their date. She learns that to Nucky, she’s just another gal. And on top of that, she discovers that her new apartment is in a palace of women in her similar situation. The rich men of Atlantic City take care of their girlfriends and mistresses. And when Margaret learns this, we see her new mentality crumble. She’s suddenly not special, not a priority.

On the business side of things, Nucky is having trouble establishing his roads to Atlantic City. He’s relying on Senator Edge, but didn’t realize that Edge had his own paving company in Jersey City — the main competition. He’s also struggling with robberies from Italians on the boardwalk. He blames Arnold Rothstein from New York City as the reason, but again realizes his assumption was wrong. Suddenly, Nucky doesn’t appear so smart. Combine that with the powerful scene from Chicago, and suddenly it appears that Jimmy and Capone know more about crime and alcohol than Nucky.

And lastly, let’s take a look at Agent Van Alden and his weird obsession with Margaret. Seriously. What is with this guy? First, it’s creepy that he looks at her file just to see a photo of her, slowly rubbing his thumb over the picture of her face. But then, because of these thoughts, he ends up flogging himself with a belt. Yeah. For real. Not just one or two lashes either. He does it numerous times, over and over again. And that’s how the episode ends. What it means? I don’t know. But his creepiness makes it difficult to decide who I should pull for in this series — the murderers or the weird, self-mutilating cop.

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