"Boardwalk Empire" Episode 5 recap

This week’s episode was entitled “You’d be surprised.” And boy was I surprised. From Gyp Rossetti’s sexual fetishes to Nelson Van Alden rediscovering his old self, last night opened a ton of doors psychologically into many different characters and was memorable enough to not be overshadowed by last week’s outstanding episode.

I was caught off-guard as soon as the opening credits stopped rolling: We open with Gyp being strangled with a belt by his mistress during sex. He is one sick crazy dude, who derives pleasure from this bizarre experience. Psychologically, it plays into his own perception of himself as an uncultured brute who hasn’t fully evolved yet and needs to be punished for it.

Down in Atlantic City, Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano meet with Nucky, Owen and Eli to discuss their rapidly disintegrating business partnership. Nucky wants to put a hit on Gyp for what happened, but Rothstein refuses because of a prior agreement (unrelated to Nucky’s business) with Joseph Masseria, who is the only man that Gyp listens to. In a rare display of anger, Rothstein berates Nucky for what he perceives as a haphazard running of his bootlegging operation and leaves in a rage with Lucky. Rothstein and Lucky then go to Tabor Heights and hammer out an agreement with Gyp. I suspect that in this particular scene, Lucky may be seeing that Rothstein in fact does not value loyalty and that Masseria in the last episode may have actually been telling him the truth.

Margaret is continuing her women’s health classes at the hospital. Nucky tells her that he is leaving town for a few days. He heads to New York, where he finds the show that Billie Kent is starring in is about to close. He tries to convince his friend Eddie Cantor to fill in for the male lead, but he refuses, citing a prior commitment. Even though Billie does not want Nucky’s help, he sends Chalky White over to Eddie’s hotel room to convince him otherwise. In what amounts to a comical reversal of roles from the old vaudeville shows, Chalky, a black man, coerces Eddie, who is white, to put on a show for him. Eddie caves into pressure and agrees to star with Billie.

Nucky takes Billie back to Atlantic City and is helping her shop for a dress at the shop that Margaret worked at back in Season 1. At the same time, Margaret comes into the shop advertising her class at the hospital coming across Nucky and Billie together. Even though Margaret has been aware for a while that Nucky has an extramarital affair, the fact that he brought it home is what makes her angry. Nucky and Margaret realize that they have both changed and need to ask themselves tough questions. However, Margaret is not totally blameless either: she had an affair with Owen last season before they were married and now has some feelings for a young doctor at the hospital.

In Chicago, Nelson is being followed by an FBI agent and he is becoming increasingly paranoid that his new identity may be blown. The agent finally comes to visit his apartment when he isn’t home and Nelson finds him talking with his wife Sigrid in the living room. The agent just wants a refund on a defective iron that Nelson sold him, but in one of the major surprises of the episode, Sigrid, fearing that he is about to arrest Nelson, beats him to the ground with a hammer. Not turning back now, Nelson has to finish the agent off by suffocating him with a handkerchief. For a practically nondescript, undeveloped character like Sigrid to pull off something like this was a huge shock and shows that Nelson still has his killer instinct after repressing it for so long. Nelson then goes to O’Banion’s flower shop, and asks for his help in disposing the body. Finally, it seems like Nelson’s story will be reintegrated back into the rest of the plot.

In Washington DC, the Treasury Secretary is in a Senate hearing where Senator Edge, who betrayed Nucky when he diverted highway funds away from Atlantic City last season, is presiding. He testifies that Prohibition is getting increasingly expensive to enforce. Gaston Means is keeping track of the meeting for the Attorney General, who is not prosecuting bootleggers. He fears that that someone will uncover their corruption, hinting at the various scandals that plagued the Harding Administration.

Gillian Darmody is becoming delusional and is seen actually writing a letter to Jimmy. She is only shown for about a minute though and no further developments with her are shown this episode.

Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky are holed up in their New York City apartment, opening up a shipment of heroin hidden in miniature statues of Buddha. They’re worried about Masseria taking a greater share of their operation. Seigel goes off to Tabor Heights and disguises himself as a paperboy to get inside Gyp’s house, and “interrupts”, shall we say, Gyp getting strangled by his mistress. In the ensuing shootout, the mistress is killed, in addition to three of Gyp’s me, and an innocent paperboy as well.

A questionable choice by the director here is having Gyp’s front side showing several times throughout this particular scene. Look, I know that its HBO and I am the last one to say anything in favor of censorship, but in this scene it felt forced and gratuitous. Rear nudity is commonplace and acceptable, but everything hanging out? Yuck. Regardless, it showed Gyp in a rare vulnerable state and we actually got to see a fleeting glimpse of empathy when he saw the innocent paperboy lying dead in the hallway. However, in his daze, he did not seem to care about his own men dying in front of him, and even stepped over a couple of them in the process.

We end with Nucky being informed that Gyp survived an assassination attempt and Eddie, in a way of getting back at Nucky, tells Billie that Nucky’s next mistress won’t even know that she existed.

How will Gyp react to the failed attempt on his life? How will Nelson fit into O’Banion’s plans? And will Nucky finally, mercifully, cut it off with Billie? Find out next week.

 

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