Boardwalk Empire Watch: A New Jimmy?

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Macall B. Polay/HBO

Charlie Cox, Steve Buscemi

Spoiler alert: Jimmy yourself into a dank basement and then watch “Blue Bell Boy”—or don’t read further.

We start with Sleater, who’s getting both a service from a prostitute  Katy (who may or may not be a prostitute) and a phone call from Nucky. It’s unclear which one means more to Sleater, who takes the latter before allowing the conclusion of the former. Loyalty is the theme of this episode. Loyalty is more important to Nucky than money, but it’s difficult for anyone in this show to love, be loved, or especially to be loyal.

No one thinks of Al Capone as a particularly loving figure, which is the smart thing about how his character is being written this season and how Stephen Graham is playing him. Capone’s son, 4, is deaf and seems weak to the schoolboys who beat him. Al Capone—being Al Capone—wants his son to be able to fight. The boy’s weakness is a sign of his own. In a truly gifted piece of writing and directing, Graham kneels before the boy, gets him to raise his little fists, and then alternates among bullying the kid, teaching him how he might punch, and helplessly hugging him. Boardwalk Empire portrays a hardened world, but the show orchestrated this scene with moving delicacy.

Boardwalk is also a show free from advertising obligations, which means its vocabulary can be like part of an SAT. So in place of “pregnant,” the nun who is helping Margaret start her women’s clinic suggests “gravid.” It’s such a rare word for pregnant that they settle on “with child.” The nun also says that menstruation is “a regrettable neologism.” My dictionary got some use as I watched the episode.

Onto the main set piece of the episode: His liquor transports threatened, Nucky shows up in Tabor Heights the center of Rosetti’s small but growing empire,  at the a Pennsylvania house where his brother is helping load liquor for New York. Nucky arrives to meet someone who calls himself  whom Sleater calls Roland Smith and claims to be 15 years old. Smith is apparently helping guard the one of the houses that serve as Nucky’s a way station for whiskey shipments from Atlantic City to New York.

All of this sets up a fantastic conundrum: Nucky distrusts Sleater, who cuckolded him, and Sleater knows that the young man calling himself he called Smith is lying. Having shot another young liar in the face, Nucky may be seeking another stand-in son. Nucky isn’t a gangster because he murders people but because he manipulates them. He gives the kid a cigarette, which is simultaneously an act of kindness and an act of harm. In an earlier episode, it might have stopped short of that. This time, Nucky decides to kill him before all the drama.

A few thoughts before I shoot up the place:

How far will the writers go to make Capone a sympathetic figure? He defends his smelly employee and sings for his son, but he ends up a monster, right? And yet in the Boardwalk version, even as Capone beats a man to death and throws money out for the funeral, I think I’m supposed to root for him.

Eli is slowly asserting himself again. I don’t think there’s a way for Doyle to win their battle. I hope not. Please, again–let Doyle be shot. Let us see blood run from that giggling mouth.

Every time the writers need a villain too distant from Nucky to hurt him, they seem to choose Waxey Gordon. I suppose we will see him again, but when? Will he be saved for the finale?