SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, take out your belt, lash yourself strongly across the back and watch last night’s Boardwalk Empire.
With “Family Limitation,” you’ve now seen as many episodes as I did of Boardwalk Empire before reviewing it. (I have the next five episodes, but am planning to hold off watching them until closer to air, the better to blog them.) And in this episode, we see the arc of several of our characters go on—for now—a sharp rise. But of course, as with everything in these parts of Atlantic City and Chicago, there’s a price.
Having finally embraced Nucky at the end of the last episode, Margaret decides to fully embrace the implications and prerogatives of being Nucky’s girl. But as opposed to her rival Lucy (though at the moment the rivalry seems fairly one-sided), she comes to the decision reluctantly, not necessarily seeing it as her every dream come true.
Margaret is independent and a feminist at heart, and we first see her consulting with her mentor from the Temperance League, who puts her decision in terms of economic practicality: Margaret should do what she needs to do to get a Room of One’s Own. (Even if it this case, said room is at the Ritz.) In the process, she also mentions that temperance, like financial independence, is simply a means to an end: “Temperance was meant to protect women, Margaret, but the ballot box will free us.” (Another tool toward that goal: family planning, as evidenced by the Margaret Sanger pamphlet she consults to douche prophylactically with Lysol. How’s that for a product placement, by the way?)
Margaret takes to her new role quickly, showing confidence and savvy, and carrying herself ably in the showdown in which she tells Lucy that “maybe your cunnie isn’t quite the draw you think it is.” But by the end of the episode she hs no illusion about what she is for now: a “concubine,” among many others, albeit better situated than most. And while Lucy may deceive herself about her own hold on Nucky, she’s right about one thing: that there’s a battle between Good Nucky and Bad Nucky, faithful and unfaithful, and Bad Nucky is not going to be kept down for long.
In Chicago, meanwhile, Jimmy Darmody and Al Capone are rising together, behind a hit against Sheridan that really took them both to make happen: if Jimmy’s tactical mind was behind it, it was Al’s headlong brazenness at moving in on Greek-town that put them in the position in the first place. Both of them are heading up in a big way, but that also brings to a head the resentment that Al has been showing toward the newcomer for a while.
Jimmy—military minded as he is—sees the weakness in Al’s defense: his phony experience in the war, which he uses to explain away the scars on the side of his face. (I’m guessing Al’s lie is probably an open secret to those around him, given how quickly they laught at the “Lost Battalion” joke.) Jimmy witnesses another private weakness of Al’s, though—his son’s deafness, which Al seems to be only pretending to ignore—and reacts compassionately, and this seems to do more to cement their bond than the mob hit. Al comes by to deliver some steaks packed in salt, and to unburden himself of his anguish over his son, in another fine scene that made me marvel to remember that Stephen Graham is a Brit playing a Brooklynite transplanted to Chicago.
Both these stories of ascension, though, played out against the backdrop of Nucky’s, who is rising in his own world, but as a result getting further into conflict with New York, and running up against the intransigence of Trenton and Washington in getting his roads. The episode closes on Van Alden—a reminder that the investigation may be set back, but it’s still out there—and the reminder that, rise as people like Margaret and Jimmy might, there are always higher powers: “Guys like [Senator] Edge will come and go. But bosses like us, we’re here to stay.”
As am I, but I’m going to restrain the urge to watch those next five episodes right away.
Quick hail of bullets:
* I cited Van Alden’s self-punishment scene above, and it makes for a strong visual, but on reflection I didn’t like it much: he’s been established well enough as a twistedly repressed straight-arrow that you don’t need to, well, beat us with it by showing him literally flagellating himself.
* “Those fucking Italians, they don’t respect the rules.” After not only The Sopranos but pretty nearly every other major work of Mob film in recent history, it’s intriguing to see an organized crime world where—at least in the East Coast portion—the Italian Mafia is still up-and-coming or peripheral.
* I was interested to see the mayor of Jersey City warning Nucky off Senator Edge, since I had been wondering how the show would pay off Nucky’s suggesting earlier that he was hoping to benefit from Edge’s eventually being elected President. (I hope this doesn’t merit a spoiler alert, but there’s a reason you don’t remember studying about a President Edge in history class.)