Feeling woozy yet?
Our boy Nucky is. The effects of last episode's boardwalk explosion rock our main character both physically and psychologically. Whilst most weeks Boardwalk Empire focuses on multiple characters with a slant toward Nucky Thompson, this one centers chiefly on the kingpin of New Jersey. We see Eli, Owen, Margaret, Rothstein, and Gyp, but they all seem to be there to complement Nucky's journey through a pretty bitchin' concussion.
Steve Buscemi plays the hour a little heavy-handed, but it does appear the effects of the bomb have made Nucky tentative, forgetful, and oddly violent. It's a performance reminiscent of Kelsey Grammer's Tom Kane over on Boss: an incredibly powerful man, noticeably off-balance. Nucky is spooked by recurring visions of ember and flame engulfing Billie Kent, and makes an ass of himself several times throughout the episode, from wrecking his office, to confusing his wife with two separate former lovers and even beheading a birthday cake. The coup de grace of questionable calls comes when he requests every gangster-ally in the United States to convene in Atlantic City to discuss how to handle a war with Gyp Rosetti and Joe Masseria.
When the group of bootleggers finally show up, Nucky delivers a speech about prosperity, profit, and peace, but only after Masseria is dead, and Rosetti receives his due justice. His crowd does not appear pleased, and through the mouthpiece of cake and milk lover Arnold Rothstein, the gang of crime bosses wish Nuck "all the luck in the world" and exit to leave him alone in his battle against Gyp, Joe and his "army".
Little does Enoch know that Joe Masseria has effectively cut off Gyp.
Masseria: "Your problems are yours. See them through."
For all intents and purposes this pits the two men head to head with no backers or chance of retribution. What's interesting is both men think they're going against empires, when really this is just a small, almost meaningless spat between two hoodlums with a shared ability to hold a grudge. I mean sure, they're big time agents of organized crime, but the rule of crime is that someone is always there to take your place. To prepare for war Gyp moves back into his old fort of Tabor Heights, even paying off the residents to keep quiet. For added effect Gyp decides to kick it old school and steals the hat of "Mad Dog" Anthony Wayne. Can the imagery get any clearer than this?
As Nucky deals with both his pending New York City problem and incapacitating head woes, his wife plans to flee with his number one enforcer. Owen, seemingly fed up with his brutal lifestyle, proposes that he and lover Margaret hit the road, go far away and live a new life. Margaret assumes he's joking, but he when he implies he's serious, she later agrees to leave with him as soon as possible. The affair has been around since last year, and rekindling felt like a given, but the fact that these two are planning on abandoning Atlantic City is a surprise. I'm not feeling much realistic tension from it; while I believe Margaret and Owen do want to leave I just think it's inconceivable they will. Likely, the move marks Owen for death, but then again, everyone is primed to go at any given time.
In a quick throwaway scene we find George Remus chased around his massive, gaudy house. It represents the advancing of the Washington subplot, and even has an appearance by the always lovely Esther Randolph.
The main non-Nucky thread followed in "The Milkmaid's Lot" centers on Richard Harrow and his date with Julie Sagorsky to the American Legion dance. After a brief mocking at the hands of his veteran peers Richard manages to wow Julie with this surprising dancing moves, and even earns a kiss. When Harrow returns to the brothel where he's employed as caretaker and male nanny he's greeted by a livid Gillian, mad her unsupervised grandson Tommy had to be exposed to the house business because Richard called the night off.
The parallel between Tommy and his deceased father Jimmy is haunting, both boys growing up in strange situations, surrounded by females and an atypical father figure (Richard and Nucky respectively), makes me wonder if there any punishment fit for Gillian. On another note, the entire concentration on Richard and his development as a human does not feel indirect (like Van Alden's storyline does). It's possible that in the upcoming confrontation between Nucky and Gyp, the seasoned killer will play a role in the overall events. After all, Nucky knows Richard has killed 63 or more people, and now that his entire league of backers have refused to help, not to mention the fact that his right hand man is sleeping with his wife, Nucky most likely will need to call someone who has proven he can take human life without frill or fuss.
Consistently entertaining, this show has a great formula — An almost alternate realty approach to history, violence and sex (sometimes in unison), ridiculously flawed and interesting characters, along with tediously designed set pieces, costumes, and atmosphere. It's a show that builds on the historic dramas before it, meshing the audience's love of history with their love of fiction. Notice, however, I have yet to really break a B+ level rating this entire season. I'm still waiting for the "Oh snap!" episode. However, with 1923 cruising by, I'm sure it will arrive sooner than later.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.