Boardwalk Empire 2.02 – Ourselves Alone

Sadly there was no nudity this week. But what the show lacked in dancing girls, it made up for in violence. And racial and ethnic commentary. And more violence. I got to type words I would never say and even had to look up the spelling of one.

We get a couple new faces this week too, one of which is very handsome indeed. Meet Mr. Sleater (left) as he meets Mrs. Schroeder and I wonder where it all will lead.

The episode opens with whispering in the dark and then Margaret coming downstairs to find the help looking at the paper and speaking in hushed tones while the children are at breakfast. She asks for the paper and they hand it over. Nucky’s on the front page “Treasurer Thompson Arrested.” Margaret asks what the prediction is… For the weather. The ladies are clearly uncomfortable but we get word that it will be nippy today and Margaret focuses on what the children should wear. She’s not going to be affected by this. It’s business as usual, at least in front of the help.

The nanny hands over a card the children made for her. It’s Valentine’s Day and the homemade card is sweet. We also learn that there are guests expected that evening and Margaret says they should go forward with preparations.

Meanwhile at Nucky’s office, the place is being torn apart. In the midst of this, Margaret calls Mr. Kessler who is trying to oversee the search of the office. He says Nucky’s innocent and he’s being bailed out of jail, then he hangs up to return to being upset about the destruction of the office.

Margaret asks one of the maids for her coat. I’m thinking she’s going undercover.

Down at the jail Nucky and Chalky are sharing a jail cell. We find out that Chalky was picked up on his front steps. Nucky’s not impressed given where he was picked up. Nucky asks Chalky where he was on election night. He was handing out dollar bills to Negroes to get them to vote. They talk about what was going on in other wards.

Nucky’s attorney has posted his bail. As he leaves he tells Chalky to be patient. “Please,” he adds. Chalky says he’ll get his “own Jew lawyer down from Camden.”

In New York City Jimmy is meeting with Mr. Rothstein and telling him how much he respects him. Charlie (aka Lucky Luciano) is there as well. Charlie says not to let the past get in the way of the future. Jimmy tells Mr. R that HE can supply them with all their liquor needs. That Mr. R is the kind of “discerning customer” he’s looking for. It’s made clear that Nucky is not part of this. Mr R. asks Jimmy who he is, because a year ago he was nobody. He tells him he’s a businessman, a husband, a father, a veteran. Mr. R. applauds his audacity and basically says he won’t tell Nucky about the offer. But he has Charlie shows him out.

Before he’s out the door:

Mr. R:  Mr. Darmody, don’t you think it’s curious that neither of us mentioned that Mr. Thomopson spent last night in jail?

Jimmy either didn’t know or he’s played it very cool here because it sure looks like he didn’t know. Outside Mr. R.’s office, Charlie invites Jimmy to come play poker at Meyer’s place. Jimmy takes it for a set up. Just give it to him straight. “Meyer thinks we should talk,” Charlie says.

Nucky’s shaving while Kessler attends him and attorney talks. He doesn’t have a copy of the indictment yet, but the word is that there’s a leak in Nucky’s camp — two confidential witnesses. Accusations include voter intimidation, fraud, theft of ballot boxes, and bribery. Attorney will get to work. They’re going to look into how honest the state’s attorney is, because what’s a better way to get off of charges that involve bribery than to bribe somebody else, right?

Kessler informs Nucky that Margaret has read the paper. Kessler has been banished from the suite but found it very upsetting how the investigators touched Nucky’s things. He seems quite troubled about being unable to stop it. The poor guy.

At Nucky’s office, Margaret has shown up looking like a poor (and possibly pregnant) woman asking for Mr. Thompson. She’s pretending to be upset and in need of help; she wants to know when he might return. She hasn’t read the paper because she’s too poor to buy one. She very slickly gets them to let her into the office to use the facilities. She is awesome. And we know from last season that she knows about the ledger and the money.

Nucky leaves the jail/courthouse building and comes out to face the press. He tells jokes and doesn’t answer anything. He says he will not be tried by the press, and he’s going to put this story in the trash.

At the Commodore’s place, Eli and others (Jim Neary, Patrick Ryan, and George Somebody, and Damien Somebody) are chatting when the Commodore comes in. He’s dyed his hair and mustache black. It’s freaky. One guy whispers, “Did he fall into the shoe polish?” The Commodore then proceeds to humiliate Damien and it’s all kind of sad and pathetic and bizarre.

The Commodore says Nucky is going to jail thanks to Jim and Patrick and their eye-witness testimony. There’s still the concern of handling the booze, however. Commodore says what they ship comes in, what Nucky ships doesn’t, and that Jimmy’s going to handle it all. It won’t be easy but “When you come face-to-ace with destiny, do you want to be the bear, or do you want to be holding the shotgun?” That grizzly bear’s getting more screen time than half the cast.

Back at the Ritz, Margaret is walking out through the lobby. Her coat is all bundled up and she looks like the cat who ate the canary. There’s no way she doesn’t have the ledger and money from the shoe closet. No way.

At the jail, Chalky’s wife is visiting. He’s still alone in the cell he’d been sharing with Nucky. He’s awaiting the advice of counsel and his Mrs. White asks if the lawyer is competent. Lester wants to visit by Mrs. W. said that wouldn’t be appropriate. He did send a long a copy of David Copperfield though. Chalky says it’s a good one, to thank him and tell him he’ll see him soon. There’s a tip to his eyebrow that suggests something to the whole book situation.

As Mrs. W. walks up the stairs a man in another cell whistles and asks who she is. He thinks she’s fine, no offense. We learn that this dude is Dunn Purnsley and he’s up from Baltimore. He dressed all snazzy and tells everyone why he’s in jail, establishing his street cred. Dunn asks what Chalky has in his hand and he says it’s Tom Sawyer. Dunn says he should read some to them.

Another guy in the cell tells Dunn that he’s talking to Chalky White. Dunn finds it hilarious that a black man would have the names Chalky and White. There’s some interesting racial commentary going on throughout and Dunn’s the only one amused by himself. Then the jailors come down and move Chalky over to the other cell now that his wife’s done visiting (there’s only two) because they can’t be mixing the races. They need to keep one cell in case Nucky comes back, I guess.

Nucky shows up at what I presume to be his actual government office. He doesn’t know his secretary Eunice’s name or which office is his. He asks Eunice to get his brother, the aldermen, and the mayor to come to the office. He also needs a florist. Me thinks he’s sucking up with to Margaret. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day, he spent the night in jail and he hasn’t been home or called yet.

Back at the Schroeder/Thompson house the kids are running around. Tommy’s chasing his sister with a hammer. Awww, sibling love. Margaret stops them and yells at Tommy as the nanny hurries in and says they were building a birdhouse. She hustles the kids away as there’s someone knocking on the side door. Margaret answers it with the hammer in hand and a brilliant series of miscommunications occur. He thinks he’s got the maid, then he thinks the maid is Margaret’s daughter. Margaret isn’t amused by any of it, but he’s got a great smile that reaches his eyes, and I’d forgive him the foot-in-mouth disorder if I were standing there.

His name is Owen Sleater and he’s there to make sure the house is safe for Mr. John McGarrigle’s visit that evening. He’s got to watch out for threats like that hammer in her hand.

Back at the jail cell my sense that Dunn Purnsley’s going to become a problem is growing stronger. The man just will not shut up. He’s a shit stirrer and the smack talk gets tense. He suggests things he might do with Mrs. White. But it’s Chalky, and we know he can handle himself. And he does.

The mayor arrives at Nucky’s government office (which is pretty boring and governmental compared to his suite at the Ritz). It took Mayor Ed 90 minutes to get there and Nucky’s pissed, but there were reporters everywhere the Mayor explains. Nucky wants to know if he was approached, if anyone came to him. Neary, the bosses, the Commodore? Mayor Ed asks how bad it is and Nucky doesn’t know yet. Mayor Ed also wants to know if they’ll be coming after him next. Good question considering the fraud got him elected.

Nucky: “I’m gonna beat this Ed, and when I do I’ll remember who showed up here today. And who didn’t. Depend on that.”

Mayor Ed leaves. Eunice says Mr. Kessler called from his real office and it’s safe to go back there now.

All the conspirators (minus Eli and the Commodore) are talking about why they’re in it. There’s conflict about getting involved and how this is going to fall back on them. Jim Neary is all in but Damien’s clearly nervous about the whole thing. He’s afraid of Nucky and he’s also afraid that this might ruin things like the road project. This guy lacks the ability to think of alternate ways of doing things. I want to smack him. So does Neary.

Back in New York, Jimmy’s at Meyer’s place. Charlie tells him they’ve got other games going in addition to the poker room. Jimmy asks if Mr. R is in on them as well. Things are not real friendly between Jimmy and Charlie and then:

Jimmy: What are we friends now? You fucking come near my mother?
Charlie: She begged for it.

Jimmy flies out of his chair and lunges at Charlie. Meyer intervenes. He’s running a business here and they’ve all three got a lot in common. If they put aside their differences they could be good trading partners. He’ll buy liquor from Jimmy, what does Jimmy have to buy from them? Well… they’re thinking about getting into the heroin business.  “When you run the numbers it starts looking very attractive,” Meyer says. Oh no, I say.

I forget about drugs like heroin being in use at the time, but they certainly were. It’s just not something I was expecting to run into on this show. I’ve been so fixated on prohibition and alcohol being the drug of choice. Very interesting development.

Back at the Thompson/Schroeder household, Margaret is doing housework in preparation for that evening’s dinner guest. Sleater helps her adjust the rug in the entryway and there’s a moment of uncomfortable (for her) chemistry there. They chat some about his traveling the country with McGarrigle collecting money for the “cause.” I’m sensing IRA here and between that and the drugs I’m starting to wonder if Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) is writing for the show. Sleater critiques Margaret’s Gaelic (not a way to win her over, young man). Then she tells him that her family is all in the US now and he says at least she won’t have to choose sides. Definitely IRA.

At the Ritz, Nucky goes to his shoe closet and finds his secret compartment is empty. We already figured out that Margaret probably took care of that when she “used the facilities” earlier. Nucky, of course, still hasn’t spoken to her so he’s in the dark. No doubt he’s assuming the state investigators found it.

Damien shows up and tells Nucky that he tried to talk to the others. That they wouldn’t listen to him. They only see the dollar signs. He’s pretty worked up and then the phone starts to ring as Damien keeps talking about the Commodore casting some kind of spell over everyone.

It’s Eli calling. “How does it feel, sitting at your fancy desk by yourself?” What an idiot. Nucky gives him a chance right now and only now to get out of this if he wants. He’ll help him if he tells him now. “In a minute, it’s going to be too late.”

Eli: You know the funny thing. Nobody takes power. Somebody else has to give it to them. Look around big brother. What do you got?

Well, he’s got a dinner engagement.

At the Commodore’s house it looks like they’ve got dinner too, because the Commodore is in fancy dress. Eli’s there (dressed as well as he manages) to meet the men who made this happen. A bunch of old white guys. Who toast him (in Latin I think). IMDB tells me the crazy-haired guy up front is Leander Cephas Whitlock. He looks like someone I actually know, but doesn’t seem nearly as nice as my guy.

Smoking hot.

At Meyer’s, Jimmy is playing poker and smoking and his gun holster is turning me on. Look at him? It’s crazy.

Straight flush. He wins. Then he cashes out as we get some lovely kyke/dago banter that sends me to dictionary to find out how to spell the later. It seems that while Jimmy was winning at cards a couple of Tony Soprano types were doing business with Meyer. They come out of the office a little high strung. Jimmy asks what that was about. Apparently they work for Italian boss Masseria.

Back at the jail (this is all still the same day in case you’re wondering), Chalky has made a lot amazing progress through his copy of Tom Sawyer/David Copperfield. I don’t anyone who can read Dickens that fast, which is just one more clue to the viewer that Chalky cannot read. But he’ll be damned if he’s going to let on to that.

Dunn asks what Tom’s up to now and Chalky points to an illustration on the page and makes up a story.  Dunn points to a spot on the facing page of text and asks what it says. Chalky says it says, “Get your finger out of my face.” The “before I break it off and shove it up your…” is implied.

Dunn doesn’t like Chalky’s clothes or his light-skinned wife (the term “high yellow” was used earlier). Dunn says Chalky thinks he’s better than them but he’s really just another “jigaboo in a jail cell.” (It’s just another day of mutual respect and political correctness in Atlantic City.) Dunn pulls the book out of Chalky’s hand so that the illustrated page rips out and that’s all that’s left in his hand. It’s actually a really cool effect and further illustrates how Chalky stands apart from everyone else in the cell. He stares at the page for a second and then we see the calm, but totally in control Chalky we know and love.

Chalky names one of the guys, then another, asking after them and their mamas and daddies. Then another man and another. Every one of them is grateful to Chalky for something he’s done for them or their families. Dunn realizes he’s surrounded by men who have Chalky’s back. So rather than back down, he goes after Chalky, because — as we’ve already established — he doesn’t know when to quit. And these guys take care of the problem. I love it. It’s violent and fast. Chalky doesn’t even move from sitting on the bottom bunk while the guys beat the crap out of him. A final kick to the head might have been a bit one too many. It’s not clear if Dunn’s still alive.

After, Chalky says, “Purnsley be Done.”  Well punned, sir. The whole scene is brutal and perfect and then it’s calm and quiet again. One of the men returns the book back to Chalky saying simply, “Sir.”

Chalky asks which of the men knows his letters. One of them says he does and Chalky hands him the book to read out loud. And we get to hear the opening of David Copperfield. He won’t be narrating books on phonograph, but he’s not a bad reader.

At the Thompson/Schroeder home, Mr. McGarrigle isn’t eating because they’ve served lamb and he doesn’t eat anything from an animal with cloven hoof. Wow. I know a lot of people don’t eat lamb for various reasons, but this is one I haven’t heard in a long time. (I personally love it — bring me the babies baa-ing on the plate.)

In addition to objecting to his meal, McG also objects to the United States. He’s not a fan of all the “licentiousness” here. Margaret doesn’t seem to care for him nor does she appreciate his implication that she doesn’t remember where she came from (and I read him as commenting not just on forgetting Ireland but forgetting her class and gender as well).

Nucky finally arrives mid-meal. McG comments on Nucky’s very “Protestant” name and it’s clearly not going to be a fun evening for anyone at that table except maybe Mr. Sleater who seems amused by Margaret.

Back in New York Jimmy lights up in the doorway of Meyer’s place and it’s pretty sexy, much as I hate smoking. Jimmy then walks across the street to stand before a statue of Temperance. Two of the guys he beat in cards have followed him there. With guns. And they want the Jack. (Before he cashed out he’d won with a straight, 9-King. Clearly they think he cheated.) He says it’s in his boot. One guy holds him at gunpoint while the other takes Jimmy’s gun and then bends down to get the card from his boot. All of a sudden Jimmy moves faster than Jet Li and slits the throat of the gunman and then stabs the other guy and leaves him bleeding out in the pool of water below Temperance. It’s fast and bloody and gurgling and awesome.

Dinner at the Thompson/Schroeder home is over. They’re having after-dinner drinks. But only one because of McGarrigle. He’s godly and all that. But forget God, they need guns to fight the English. Nucky asks what would be suffient. McG asks what does he have. Nucky writes a check to the Ancient Order of the Celts because today is not the day for cash. We’re reminded again that McG is done with the disgusting state of the States. He’s got one more stop in NYC then he’s back to Ireland. Lucky us.

Mr. Sleater, however, is staying behind. Ward Boss O’Neil (who gave Nucky money last week to get in on this) has been at dinner too and he had suggested that Nucky might be able to help Mr. Sleater out. Nucky says to bring him to the Ritz the next day. O’Neil is glad Nucky’s back at the Ritz. And to celebrate it all, McG will have another glass of Port, after all.

In the dining room Margaret helps clean up and the maid is surprised. She’s more surprised when she learns that Margaret was once in service too. As the guests are leaving, Mr. Sleater looks up the hall from the front door and the maid thinks he’s smiling at her, but I’m pretty sure he’s focused on Margaret. The maid said he recited a naughty poem earlier in the kitchen about a cow going into a saloon. Margaret clearly can’t decide what to think of this man.

With everyone gone, Nucky’s sitting before the fireplace. Margaret seems to be heading for bed when he stops her, saying he knows they need to talk. She joins him and asks if the state has a case. He says “yes” and I’m reminded that I love that he can be honest with her. He isn’t always, but he knows he can be.

She wants to know who is against him. And she wants specifics. I love how demanding she is, how forward and unafraid. She wears the some well starched pants under her pretty dresses.

Nucky says it’s ward bosses and the Commodore and he’s certain Jimmy’s in it too. She calls him on not naming Eli.

“Eli… Eli is betraying me.”

Margaret’s upset he didn’t send word to her all day. He didn’t want her to worry and she asks how could she not. He likes to keep people satisfied. He says they turned the office upside down and the ledger and some cash are missing. She asks how much. $20k. “Give or take.” She says that’s not a lot in the scheme of things. Then she goes to a side table and pulls it all from a locked drawer.

We knew it was coming, but the look on Nucky’s face is priceless.

“You are smarter than your enemies and you will persevere. But you’re not thinking clearly now. You must concentrate and not give over to emotion.”

He asks where she got the stuff and she says from the closet. She hands over the money but she says they must burn the ledger and commit future dealings to memory. Then she puts it in the fire.

Nucky’s voice is soft through all of this. He looks up at her and says he sent flowers for Valentine’s and never signed the card. She says she knew whom they were from then tells him to come to sleep “in our bed” and heads upstairs. I adore them as a couple because she keeps him in line. That said, I wouldn’t object to some shenanigans with Mr. Sleater.

Next week: Van Alden and his pregnant lady. Capone. Potential bloodshed. And Nucky and Jimmy come face to face.

As always, you can learn more about the show at the HBO website.

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