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Boardwalk Empire 1.9 – The Road to Oz

Eli may still be stuck in bed, recovering from his gunshot wounds, but he’s doing well enough to finger the guys responsible for taking him down while robbing the casino: the D’Alessio brothers. Their reputation as a bunch of full-fledged thugs more than precedes them, and Eli wants them taken down before they do any more damage. (The Thompsons’ take on criminal activity is of a much higher class, you know.) Nucky, however, is concerned about a mayoral candidate named Derwood Fletcher who’s been talking about all the corruption in the city. Eli shrugs it off, but Nucky’s concerned about how it’s going to affect the election. Something tells me that Eli’s desire to get out there and perform a bit of spin control is only going to backfire. I don’t know if it’ll damage Nucky’s career or Eli’s health, but I just can’t imagine something’s not going to suffer as a result.

Meanwhile, on the boardwalk, Nan Britton – a.k.a. Warren Harding’s mistress – is musing to Margaret about how Warren’s love for her can’t compete for his love of America…not that she’s rationalizing her situation. They soon pop into Margaret’s former place of employment in order to get Nan a few new frocks, but Margaret also gets an earful from Madame Jeunet, who complains how much of her income goes straight into Nucky’s pocket. Oh, that woman: her complaints are valid, but the way she’s trying to play Margaret is despicable.

Hey, look, Jimmy’s back in Jersey! Once again, he confirms that his family isn’t his priority by conceding to Nucky that he came straight from the train station to his office. As I suspected last week, Richard Harrow is going to play a part, with Jimmy telling Nucky that he wants Richard to help him on the D’Alessio job. It’s interesting that Jimmy wants Nucky to admit outright that he wants him to kill the brothers, then makes a face when he gets confirmation that “the kid” has a death sentence as well. Criminals have the strangest take on ethics.

Speaking of the D’Alessios, they’re meeting with Rothstein, who clearly outclasses them by about 10:1, if not more. He knows it, too. First, he underlines the fact that he’s got a reputation to uphold, thereby indicating that he’s not sure they won’t embarrass him, then he discusses the methods of making money via bootlegging in such a way that he gives hem the opportunity to put their foot in their mouth with their stupidity. He wants to set up a scotch-importing business, and he’s hopeful that they might be able to assist him in bypassing Nucky in the equation, though he has them sign insurance policies to cover his bases. I had to laugh at Rothstein’s closing joke about the monkeys at the zoo, because he’s right: he and the D’Alessios are two completely different species of criminals.

I like how Nucky’s a fan of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books. I don’t know if you’ve read anything beyond the original “Wizard of Oz,” but there’s some really great stuff to be found in Baum’s exploration of the land of Oz…but I digress. He and Margaret soon descend into a political discussion, where Nucky lays out his theory on politicians: “If we only elected good men, we’d never have leaders.” Is that an original quote? Somehow, it seems too profound for Nucky. The topic quickly shifts to Madame Jeunet and her business, causing Nucky to tense up at the unsuitable nature of the topic and leave abruptly. Whoops: power struggle in the Thompson house.

Angela looks horribly uncomfortable with a man’s arm around her, doesn’t she? Not so when she’s being kissed by another woman, though. Hello, menage a troi…? If so, it’s going to be a decidedly uneven affair. But, no, the proceedings are interrupted by the return of Jimmy, who’s acting pretty shitty for someone who’s been away from home and virtually incommunicado for as long as he has. Her friends make a hasty departure, leaving Jimmy and Angela to…interact? I don’t really know what you’d call it. It hardly starts off as consensual, but it appears to end up that way, unless she’s just resigned to her fate.

When we shift over to Agent Van Alden’s office, we learn that the reason none of Jimmy’s telegrams to New Jersey never made it to their destinations is because they were being intercepted. Unfortunately, they never actually made it to Van Alden, and he’s pissed. You can’t really blame him, either: Agent Sepso opted not to pass them on to him because he wanted to keep his job, not because he was actually ordered to keep them from Van Alden. I love the crazy eyes Michael Shannon has when he’s playing Van Alden. I hope he pulls an Emmy nod for his performance.

Angela and Jimmy are discussing their relationship – unsurprisingly, he’s far more enthusiastic about the future than she is – when he gets a call from Gillian, asking him to swing by and see her. As he sits down at the table, watching his wife and daughter perform their daily breakfast rituals, he’s inspired to suggest that they have another baby. After Tommy cheerily agrees to the idea, Jimmy says, “Then it’s settled,” without waiting for Angela to so much as open her mouth on the matter. Methinks she’s going to have something to say about that…

Oh, man, Jimmy throwing hot coffee on Lucky’s bare chest was awesome. Just before it happened, I was typing the lines, “It’s a shame that half the reason Lucky’s sticking with Gillian is because he knows he’s screwing Jimmy’s mother. They’re actually a really cute couple.” Whoops. There wasn’t a lot of suspense in Jimmy’s threat to kill Lucky, since history reveals that he lives for several more years beyond this point, but I was surprised when they came down the stairs to find Van Alden. Who’d've thought that Lucky would owe his life to the revenuers?

Looks like Nucky’s not the only one concerned about Fletcher’s run for the mayoral seat. Funny how I made the comment last week about Eli’s lack of comfort in a position of authority. As it happens, his absence has shaken up the status quo, giving Deputy Halloran the balls to step up and mention that it couldn’t hurt to have someone ready to step in and serve in Eli’s stead. Nucky looks mildly horrified at first, but you can see in his eyes that he’s considering the validity of Halloran’s suggestion.

Actors, take note: you can learn a lot about your craft by watching Michael Shannon and Michael Pitt square off in the squad room. There was a whole lot of threatening going on between those walls, but Jimmy refused to give up anything to Van Alden and kept his cool right up until the point when he saw Billy, the jewel thief who gave up the goods on Jimmy a few episodes ago. Uh-oh…

Clearly, the tension between Nucky and Margaret over Madame Jeunet’s business dissipated between the sheets. His comments about the way she handled Senator Edge inspire her to take him up on his suggestion to speak out in favor of the party, but, oh, baby, look at those sexy eyes when she decides to play Nucky like a fiddle and use her sudden position of power to get him to help out Madame Jeunet. She gets what she wants, of course, but their conversation comes to an abrupt end when he gets the call telling him that Jimmy’s behind bars. Unfortunately, with five counts of murder against him, there ain’t a whole hell of a lot that Nucky can do about Jimmy’s situation, and it’s a testament to how nervous the kid is that he asks Nucky to call his dad. You’ve got to like the way Nucky said, “The legal system is not your ticket to freedom.” Wonder what that means. I was mildly surprised that Van Alden’s boss was pleased to hear that he’d snared Jimmy, but I guess all that matters is results. I did think it was suspicious that Sepso suggested that Billy should be moved to Manhattan.

As I’ve mentioned before, The Commodore is clearly not long for this world. If he survives the season, I’ll be very surprised. For now, though, Nucky’s still in need of his counsel, and his suggestion is one which you’d think would’ve occurred to Nucky before: replace the current mayor with another candidate who’ll also be in his pocket. The Commodore also echoes Halloran’s comments, telling Nucky to replace Eli.

While Madame Jeunet is helping Nan to get ship-shape, Margaret is getting kissed on the cheek for helping save the business. How laughable, however, for her to claim that she thought highly of Margaret from the first moment she met her. Margaret has no amnesia on the matter and reminds her precisely what she said, just as she refreshes her memory on who was responsible for rescuing her store from oblivion. This is definitely a case of “payback is a bitch and so am I,” and good on her for being that way.

Yep, I was right: as soon as Sepso said he had to take a piss, I knew that was all she wrote for Billy. I’m not surprised that someone else can afford to pay Sepso more than the revenuers, but I’m very curious to find out who it is. At the moment, given the long, lingering look at the Atlantic City sign, I have presume it’s Nucky.

As poor Angela gets some decidedly harsh criticisms of her artistic abilities, Nucky, Margaret, and Nan are enjoying the boisterous comedy and song of the legendary Sophie Tucker. Nuck quickly and politely tells Margaret and Nan to get lost so that he can sell Ed Bader on the idea of running for mayor. (Historical spoiler alert: he wins. Second historical spoiler alert: don’t feel bad for the outgoing Bacharach, as he manages to find his way back into office in 1930.) On their way home, the evening takes a horrifying turn when an assassination attempt on Nucky is just barely thwarted by Eddie, who seriously deserves a raise after tonight. Shame about the poor lady who ended up taking the bullet instead of Nucky, but, my God, at first I was absolutely convinced that Margaret had taken the bullet, given the way she twitched.

Harsh ending. Fantastic episode.

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