‘Boardwalk Empire’ Open Thread: Family Matters

This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 13 episode of Boardwalk Empire.

In a decidedly dour season, Louise’s arrival, via an altercation with an Atlantic City matrons and a pack of “beach lizards,” is something of a delight. Angela’s been looking for an actual kindred spirit all season long, and while Richard’s too melancholic and too damaged to truly lift her up, Louise, who uses the fake names of one of the characters in her novels as an alias, and hollers, “Let ’em gawk. They’re called knees, fellows!” at her pack of admirers on the beach, appears to be exactly who Angela is looking for. It’s nice to see Angela lit up a bit, galvanized both by overhearing Jimmy’s inept scheming, and by the kiss she shares with Louise at a joyfully bohemian party. And her conversation with Jimmy is bruising. When he asks her why she married him (after evading a question about whether he really loves her), she’s blunt: “Because we have a child together. It’s what society expected from me. Because you kept pushing it.”

And that’s sort of the key to Jimmy’s problems, isn’t it? He’s not a complicated man, and he’s not very good at seeing complexity in other people, or in assessing what people expect of him, particularly his mother. He’ll toss a fellow off a balcony for upsetting his party, incapable of thinking through what it might mean for a long game. In fact, Jimmy doesn’t particularly seem capable of seeing that there is a long game, that his moment of triumph is really Nucky’s victory. Inspired by a lecture from Arnold Rothstein, who tells him that “Some days I make 20 bets. Some days, I make none…so I wait, plan, marshal my resources. And when I finally see an opportunity and there is a bet to make, I bet it all,” Nucky rolls big. He quits his treasurer’s job, retires to private life, and prepares to unleash absolute hell on Atlantic City. “You sure this what you want?” Chalky asks when Nucky tells him to call a general strike and that Nucky will back him. “In about 30 minutes, it won’t be my problem,” Nucky says, relishing the thought of complicating everyone else’s life for a change — and planning a trip to Ireland to enlist Sinn Fein in his campaign.

And he’s not the only one who’s making plans. Nelson Van Alden appears to be rather aggressively breaking bad, though what exactly his motivations are remain somewhat unclear. Whether he’s stealing for his daughter, or out for revenge at a bureau that he thinks has failed him, he’s taking free lunches! He’s allowing questions about their mission to be asked around him! He’s kissing Abigail before leaving for work! He’s advertising his Victrola as a benefit of the nanny job! He’s giving the nanny a full day off a month! I’m joking a bit here, but for this extraordinarily repressed man, these are large steps towards a more open humanity.

One imagines that other characters’ humanity will be tested, too. I have a sense that Margaret’s daughter may not be long for this world — and that the “something” that’s going around may prove to be a more general scourge. And it seems that in addition to an illness, she may be gaining a father — Nucky’s asked Margaret’s children to start calling him “Dad” in the wake of his own father’s untimely death. “Was he that bad, Nucky? Really?” Eli asks at their father’s empty memorial service. “You’ve obviously forgotten key events from our childhood,” Nucky snaps at his brother. But he breaks down tying his father’s shoes anyway. One wonders what he’s learned from his own father, and if he can be a genuine husband to Margaret and father to her children.