Boardwalk Empire – Cuanto
Season Five: Episode Four
Directed by: Jake Paltrow
Written by: Christine Chambers, Howard Korder and Terence Winter
The Spin: There’s been a melancholic pall hanging over Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season. Yes, it’s the last, which is sad enough alone, but it’s also strangely fitting that in the real world the actual current Atlantic City is on a generational decline with the closing of multiple casinos (most notably the lavish Revel) and nothing seeming to go the city’s way. Watching the flashbacks to “The Education of Nucky Thompson” where the city was but one resort and a modest boardwalk before the turn of the 20th century reminds those localized to its current perils just how far the city has come and how long the way down is (I fear in the real world we ain’t seen nothing yet about how down and out AC can get). You see this mirrored in the lethargy of 1930’s Nucky, a man who’s gonna have to wake up. And could Capone’s warning call to Nucky about Luciano’s insinuation that the Italians should cut out Nucky from their empire at the end of tonight’s episode be that wake up call? Nucky is a man who’s come so far (from Dickensian beginnings so painstakingly tailored in the flashbacks) and runs the risk of falling ever harder.
The episode oozed a calming dread in almost every scene.
In the flashbacks, little Nucky (Nolan Lyons) gets a glimpse of the grand map for a future Atlantic City (and in a sickening bit of foreshadowing, his mentor’s penchant for young ladies hinting at what’s in store for the future Gillian) only to be dismissed from his summer bellhop job and told to go back to school. But the kid has seen what could be and how the other half lives, and he doesn’t want to go back to his abusive home and a school that can’t teach him what he can learn by hanging out at the hotel. He wants to show his little brother this, too, and so they sneak into the hotel and enjoy the simple pleasures of the luxuries there (a flushing toilet! a bath!) only to be caught by the Sheriff, who takes the pitiful children home for dinner (and to a happy home, where women are respected…a temperance league mentioned…foreshadowing Nucky’s lifelong entanglement with the law and prohibition and his future attraction to Margaret when then first meet at…do you remember now?…a temperance league meeting?) and then brokers a deal with Nucky offering him his protection and an honorary deputization.
The old do you remember? theme carries on through Nucky’s interactions with Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) as she tells him of the trouble they are in with the widow Rothstein, and he clearly is jealous of her mild flirtations with Kennedy. As Nucky wines and dines her, he promises her a solution amidst awkward jabs and endearments. Like the audience, Margaret fears the worse of her estranged husband (just as he feared the worst of both her and Kennedy)…does he want to kill poor Mrs. Rothstein? Of course not! He just wants to get one over on her.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Luciano (Vincent Piazza) remembers this lug Muller (Michael Shannon) might have been the fed that pinched him and Darmody back in AC way back when. He challenges Capone (Stephen Graham) to take out Muller, who survives in classic Muller fashion through pleading and dumb luck, only to tip-off an actual fed hiding out in Capone’s gang to truly uncover his former Van Alden-ship. Dun dun dun…
But remember that feeling of dread and melancholy? Someone was gonna get it tonight…and in the most casual unsuspecting unceremonious way, poor Sally Wheet (the wonderful Patricia Arquette) gets taken out by a trigger happy Cuban officer at a routine curfew checkpoint on a hot Havana night. Sally was too smart of a lady to go out like this…but maybe the writers are telling us luck (and dumb luck) play just as much of a part in one’s fate as wits. We all raise a shot of rum to you, dear Sally, this evening…as another light goes out on the Boardwalk.
Wait Until Next Week: Looks like Nucky might have woken up? And there’s Gillian…getting into something.
Commentary by David H. Schleicher
To my readers and Boardwalk strollers: Thoughts, reactions, comments?