“Remember, sport….safety in numbers.”
-Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
Quantity: quan·ti·ty noun \ˈkwän-tə-tē\
1.) An indefinite amount or number.
2.) A determinate or estimated amount.
3.) A total amount or number.
4.) A considerable amount or number, often used in plural.
In Spanish, the word cuánto translates to “how much?” or “how many?”. I think the word served as a fitting title to last night’s episode of Boardwalk Empire. Not only does it denote how much (or little, depending on your point of view) remains of the series now that its midpoint has been reached, but also poses the question of how the events in the episode will affect the main characters for the four final episodes. Also, the definition of quantity is included as an additional epigraph to reflect and clarify its presence as the episode’s overarching theme.
The episode begins with a flashback to 1884 during the end of summer on the Boardwalk. Young Enoch spends time sweeping the front of the hotel before being called in. While inside, he’s clearly fascinated by the expensive furniture and lavish objects. He meets with the Commodore who lets Enoch in on his plans to expand the Boardwalk. Curiously, he also shows him photographs of young girls who I think will work in his brothels in the future. Though Enoch has learned much from him, the Commodore fires him as he is only a summer employee. Despite his persistence, he still gets sent on his way. Returning home, he finds young Eli sitting on the porch because of a locked front door. Enoch knows there father is home, and takes his brother to the back window to have a look. Enoch sees his father having sex and gets physical with Eli to prevent him from seeing. To apologize, he offers to buy Eli a corn ball from the boardwalk. While there, Nucky vents his resentment and jealousy of the rich. But he’s so aggressive about it that Eli compares him to their abusive father. Later, the Thompson brothers sneak in to the hotel to see the amenities that come with having money, such as indoor plumbing. Atlantic County sheriff Peter Lindsay (Boris McGiver) catches them and scolds them for trespassing. But instead of reporting them to the Commodore, he takes them into his home for cleaning and a family meal. Nucky starts to cry since he’s not accustomed to the treatment, but enjoys being with the Sheriff’s family. Lindsay brings the boys home where Nucky first asks him to arrest his father for domestic abuse and then subtly suggests that he have him killed. Lindsay clarifies that such work is done at the Commodore’s behest. However, he proposes to tell Mr. Thompson that the boys were working for him all day. The segment ends with Lindsay calling young Enoch deputy sheriff Thompson.
How Much? Young Nucky Thompson is enthralled by opulence and power after being exposed to it in the form of the Commodore. He’s also taken aback by the kindness shown to him by Sheriff Lindsay’s family. As though he couldn’t believe that people with so much (or, at least more than him) could have such generosity. We know that Nucky becomes a protégé to the Commodore in later years, but currently he’s getting his lessons from the Sheriff. It foreshadows not only the Thompson brothers’ ascendance in the Atlantic City Sheriff’s department, but of Nucky Thompson’s envy of those more powerful than him.
Continuing from last week’s ending, the present-day Nucky Thompson awakens to find his bodyguard Arquimedes learning some English from Margaret Thompson. He doesn’t seem amused and his mood is further deflated when he learns that flights to Cuba have been cancelled due to the inclement weather. Nonetheless, he wants to know why Margaret has returned. She tells him about Arnold Rothstein’s involvement with her, her boss and the brokerage firm. When she tells him about Mrs. Rothstein’s scheme to blackmail them both, he listens but with a certain flippancy. After calling Sally Wheet to have her continue the rum deal without him, he finds Margaret laughing with none other than Joseph P. Kennedy. Like before, Nucky’s expressions around Kennedy shifts into a mixture of jealousy and admiration. Kennedy flirts with Margaret and bonds with her over their shared Irish heritage, but backs off when he learns that she’s Nucky’s wife. He bids Margaret adieu in Gaelic and delivers this review’s opening epigraph as departing words to Nucky.
Over lunch, Margaret points out Nucky’s niceness and his insecurity regarding Kennedy. They have some verbal jousting before Nucky seemingly agrees to help her. During the lunch, Margaret gets drunk from half a bottle of wine and gets sassy. Nucky admires Margaret’s hustle (in terms of shaking down Rothstein and raising her children). They bring up their mutual infidelity, but then shake hands to form a truce. While on the boardwalk, Margaret observes the level of changes that it’s undergone. Nucky observes Margaret’s change of character to which she admits that Nucky has left an impression on her. They embrace in a kiss before Nucky reveals his solution regarding Mrs. Rothstein: He doesn’t plan on having her killed, but wants Margaret to offer her 25% of her request instead. Nucky tells her that if she could get want she want from Arnold Rothstein, shaking down his wife should be no problem. At the end of this portion, he gives her money to stay in a luxurious hotel.
How Much? Both Margaret and Nucky have changed in the past seven years, with Margaret having some of Nucky’s business sense and the latter distancing himself further from his gangster forays. Margaret’s less timid and helpless than previously portrayed while Nucky has tempered his vengeful sense of business. They both clearly have some connection to one another that can’t be denied. Considering their respective changes, who will renege on this business alliance first? Also, it’s evident how much Nucky wants Joe Kennedy’s respect. He feels locked out of the lively conversation between him and Margaret and looks on like a wallflower. The same feeling is evident in Arquimedes reciting some phrases in English to Nucky. It’s like he’s envious of the easy rapport with which his lawful and long-estranged wife establishes with his business associates. It’s probably why he keeps his distance from her at the end. Giving her money to stay in a nice place that’s further from him will probably quell that envy.
Lucky Luciano travels to Chicago to meet with Al Capone. While there, Capone subjects Luciano to testaments of his raging ego. He has him watch a film dedicated to his exploits before entertaining Luciano’s business proposals. It’s here that Luciano, at the very least, plants the seed in Capone’s mind for what later grows into the Commission. But the highlight of this part of the story is Luciano recognizing Mueller as the Prohibition federal agent who arrested him ten years prior. Capone at first laughs off Luciano’s accusations, but when the latter persists, he has Mueller brought before him. Mueller’s questioning by Capone is rife with unpredictability and a point at which Capone sticks a gun in Mueller’s mouth. He gives Mueller thirty seconds to convince him of his identity and, to his credit, manages to cleverly turn the tables on Luciano. By pointing out Luciano’s outsider status and presumptions about his identity, Mueller manages to save himself. Meanwhile, Mike D’Angelo is present for the interrogation and once he returns to the U.S. Treasury office, he verifies Muller’s identity as rogue agent Nelson Van Alden from a “Wanted” poster. When Luciano leaves, Capone and his people mock him. However, one unlucky thug makes the wrong comment and gets beaten to death by Capone for his trouble. Though Capone refused Luciano’s deal of an alliance, he knows he might make a move on Atlantic City since Nucky Thompson is not Italian. At the end of the episode, Eli Thompson and Capone call Nucky to let him know “we got a problem“.
How Much? Lucky Luciano has gained much in the way of self-control, he’s no longer the young hot-head that he was in previous seasons. Michael Shannon’s Mueller is hilarious even without intent. At the end of his inquisition, he tells D’Angelo with his usual deadpan affect that “I need to use the restroom, I may have soiled myself“. Capone’s megalomania about his own fame takes new heights judging from his willingness to beat and kill his own men for minor infractions. To be honest, Stephen Graham’s performance is among the best, yet over the top at times. Considering the introduction of Eliot Ness a few episodes back, how much time will he have to make a dent in the series? Now that the double-agent D’Angelo knows about Van Alden/Mueller, how much time does George have left before he becomes a casualty?
Sally Wheet has to make the rum deal go down all by herself. She has to deal with Cuban sugar cane farmers to ensure the continued production of the rum, but things are just not going her way. By then end, some Cuban soldiers catch up with Sally en route to Mirimar. They tell her that she’s violating a nationwide curfew to which she offers a bribe. The head soldier is enraged that she’d do that and has her searched. After she grabs a gun in defense, one soldier hastily shoots her dead. With an American shot dead at night out in the open, there’s a problem.
How Much? Patricia Arquette’s Sally Wheet was one of the better female characters of the series. With wit and grit, she could hold her own in man’s world. With her dead, Nucky’s ambition as a legitimate liquor businessman dies with her. How will her death affect him? Also, her bribery proposal (voiced by the question of “¿Cuánto?“) to the soldiers sealed her fate, it seems. RIP Sally. With her death, begins the second and final act of the final season. The episode’s writing team of Howard Korder & Cristine Chambers & Terence Winter deserve credit for how this transition was made. By removing a character significantly connected to the protagonist, they’ve freed Nucky Thompson to regress to the violence he may need to potentially eliminate his rivals in spectacular fashion. It’s now just a question of if he ends up taking himself out in the process as well. Grade: A
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, movies, hip-hop, et. al.