"Boardwalk Empire" Episode 4 recap

I was talking to my uncle, a student of American crime history, after last week’s episode.  He felt that Season 3 was extremely weak so far. He lamented that Jimmy’s death made for the introduction of dull characters and plotlines and an almost soap-opera like feel to the show.

Although I too was extremely upset that Jimmy was killed off, I realized, after thinking it over for almost a year after the end of Season 2 that he almost had to die in order for the show to move forward.

Granted, I was critical of last week’s episode primarily for the overfocus on Nucky’s new love interest. I also neglected to mention Margaret and her crusade to open up a women’s health clinic because it seemed extremely disjointed from the rest of the plot. But in this week’s episode, entitled “Blue Bell Boy”, the dreaded Billie Kent was never seen and only mentioned once in passing.

I definitely believe that this episode was the strongest installment this season. There were touching, suspenseful and simply brutal scenes all throughout the hour and the episode served further set Nucky and Gyp’s paths on a collision course.

We begin with Owen, Nucky’s right hand man, and Katy being interrupted in the bedroom by a phone call from Nucky. He tells Owen to meet him at Mickey Doyle’s warehouse. Once there, Nucky announces to the entire bootlegging operation that the sheriff of Tabor Heights was killed by Gyp and that only the backroads are to be used for transporting booze to New York.

Mickey is not happy about this, since it is the middle of January and the roads are frozen. Eli tries to approach Nucky about the Tabor Heights situation, but to no avail. Nucky is more focused about the whereabouts of a certain Roland Smith, who is suspected of stealing booze from the warehouse. He has Owen on the case.

Owen enlists the help of an FBI agent on Nucky’s payroll, Agent Sawicki, (who formerly served under Van Alden), and together with Nucky they find a couple of hundred cases of stolen Canadian whiskey in Smith’s house. Smith is not there, but when he comes home, Owen quickly subdues him.

However, they soon have company from G-men on Waxy Gordon’s payroll and in a memorable, brilliant scene almost reminiscent of Chris and Paulie getting lost in the woods in The Sopranos episode “Pine Barrens”, they hide in the cellar for a day and a half. Here, the suspense is immense because the agents check the cellar twice and it seems like at any moment that Nucky and co. will be discovered.

During their time in the cellar, Smith attempts to charm Nucky with his wit and relative youth. We are led to believe that Nucky may take him under his wing, but we also see the bond between Nucky and his underling Owen strengthened. Once the feds leave and the three men get out of the cellar, Smith makes the fatal mistake of revealing that he is nineteen, not fifteen, and when he has his back turned, Nucky shoots him in the head at point blank range.

Owen thought that Nucky was going to let Smith go, but Nucky replies “Why would you think that?” Here, we see Nucky’s second kill and this further solidifies that Nucky is descending into darkness and is not afraid to pull the trigger himself, even in non-personal matters.

Another accomplishment of the episode was making Al Capone a multidimensional, complex character. For the past two seasons of the series, we've see the Capone of the history books: a one-dimensional, ruthless gangster.  However, he is also a guy who sticks up for the defenseless with a mixture of toughness and tenderness.

Capone’s five-year-old son is deaf and was beaten up by a bully at school. Capone tries to toughen him up by teaching him how to punch, but this ends up his son crying. Capone immediately tears up at this sight and embraces his son. However, later in the episode, Capone almost beats Joe Miller, a man who works for Dean O’Banion, to death because he attacked Capone’s man Jake Guzik when his back was turned and made fun of him for the way he smelled.

In New York, Lucky Luciano is summoned to a meeting Joe Masseria, who demands a stake in the heroin operations run by Lucky, Lansky and Rothstein in his territory. To hammer home his point, Masseria talks to Lucky in Sicilian, admonishing him for associating with Jews, telling him that they have no heart, are not trustworthy and are strictly business.

This dynamic and tension between Masseria and Lucky speaks volumes. It signals a division between the older generation of Black Hand mob bosses who cut their teeth in Italy and the up and coming “Young Turks” who are not beholden to tradition, but follow the money regardless of ethnic affiliation.

While Nucky and Owen are trapped in the cellar, Mickey Doyle receives a phone call from Rothstein demanding his delivery on time. Mickey then disregards Nucky’s prior order and proceeds to order the convoy to go through Tabor Heights, despite the protests of Nucky’s brother Eli. Eli then drives ahead and discovers that Gyp’s men are getting ready to ambush the convoy. He tries to warn the convoy but it’s too late. With almost twenty men killed and a ton of booze lost to Gyp, Eli drives back to Atlantic City to tell Nucky what happened, where the two reconcile their differences.

The episode then ends and fades to black with Capone holding his son and singing him a lullaby.

A couple of final thoughts about the episode: I absolutely loved seeing the softer side of Capone.  He is becoming an extremely likeable character whose personality and character are endearing. Hopefully, this episode serves as a springboard for Capone to play a greater role in the show and his turf war with O’Banion could mirror the coming conflict between Nucky and Gyp.

Also, I loved how the cellar scene allowed us to see not only the increasing ruthlessness of Nucky, but also his strong bond with Owen. Once again, I neglected to mention what Margaret’s been up to this week; she is preoccupied with advertising her women’s health clinic on the boardwalk. Even though her side plot is dull, if anything, I think that this shows the major disconnect between her and Nucky.

What’s next? Will Mickey get killed for disobeying Nucky and getting the convoy ambushed? (I hope this happens, any man with this laugh has it coming for him). How will Rothstein react to his shipments not coming in? Will O’Banion retaliate against Capone? We will find out next week.

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