[This is a review of Boardwalk Empire season 5, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
There are many complicated relationships coursing throughout the many threads of Boardwalk Empire, but perhaps none more complicated as the one between Nucky and his now-estranged wife Margaret. The relationship is intricate because, of all the interactions Nucky has on a daily basis, this one is by far the most deeply personal – and yet, more often than not, he treats it as another part of his business.
Margaret hasn’t had the most stellar track record when it comes to her own storylines on this show. It seems like amidst all the shooting, the stabbing, and the bludgeoning (with or without New York City souvenirs) Boardwalk Empire only occasionally remembers it has Kelly Macdonald at its disposal, and even then she is little more than a moral foil for her husband who seemed to lose personal interest in her once he’d “saved” her. To the show’s credit, they did begin a potentially compelling, woman-centric story centered on an Amelia Earhart-like character named Carrie Duncan, but that soon fizzled when the cartoony antics of Gyp Rosetti began to unfold.
‘Cuanto’ brings Margaret and Nucky back together for the first time in several years (they apparently had no contact with one another during the time the series skipped over), so that a plan to handle Mrs. Rothstein can be cooked up. After Margaret surprised Nucky in the middle of the night at the end of last week’s ‘What Jesus Said,’ the slight, crooked smile on his face appeared to denote some kind of pleasure in his seeing her. Throughout ‘Cuanto,’ however, the conversation is alternately the sort of strained chatter of former lovers and the relaxed kind of interaction of a longstanding couple – which is interesting, given how Nucky and Margaret’s relationship seemed to be anything but either of those two things.
After a tense meeting in which Joseph Kennedy rejects Nucky’s business offers and manages to proposition Margaret with the promise of oysters and a ride back to New York on his private train “cah,” the would-be couple spends an afternoon sipping wine and reminiscing. They have come to an agreement of sorts, a détente wherein they can semi-comfortably address the wrongs they’ve done in their relationship without risking the start of a whole new conflict. And the relaxed tensions find Margaret in a unique place that, one hopes, the series will continue to explore before it ends in four weeks.
The hint of wistful nostalgia seems to hang heavier than a full plate of Nucky’s beloved veal parmagiana and a bottle of red wine. That fact would almost make this week’s Adventures of Pre-Teen Nucky seem almost superfluous, if it weren’t for how emotionally effective (okay, manipulative, but still) the story of a suddenly unemployed and worse yet, incredibly self-aware Enoch Thompson and his little brother proves to be.
The episode frames Nucky’s unhappiness with his current situation (both his family’s financial struggles and the physical abuse suffered at the hand of his father) by illustrating how alluring the other side of the equation is. Nucky and Eli’s breaking and entering, to enjoy the comforts of indoor plumbing, would have felt more affecting without Nucky spelling his feelings out while Eli munches on a cornball, but the dinner the siblings share with Sheriff Lindsey and his family is juxtaposed nicely with his current situation and business troubles.
And that business is in even more trouble, now that Sally Wheet’s part in it ended along with her life, following a run-in with the Cuban military. It seems likely that Wheet’s demise served two purposes: escalating the tension surrounding Nucky’s failing empire and ending any question of whether or not Nucky and Margaret would wind up together. It seemed as though Nucky and Sally’s relationship had cooled sufficiently in the season premiere, but if you were needed more concrete evidence, this will certainly do.
It’s a convenient (i.e., heavy-handed) bit of plot trickery that’s about as apparent as George Mueller’s outing as a former fed by Luciano, while he’s visiting Capone in Chicago.
In that regard, the Chicago plotline with Mueller/Van Alden, the undercover prohibition agent, Eli and Capone’s larger-than-life antics feels more than a little messy – and that’s without the blood spatter of dim-witted henchmen – but with only eight episodes this season, it seems Boardwalk Empire will need to pull as hard as it can if it wants to make sure there are no threads left dangling.
If only there was a superfluous series of flashbacks that could be cut to provide additional time for more pressing concerns.
Boardwalk Empire will continue next Sunday with ‘King of Norway’ @9pm on HBO.