Boardwalk Empire Recap: Beach Lizards


The elevator boy whistles and small-talks with Nucky about the latest Jack Dempsey fight. Nucky squints and says that fight hasn’t happened yet. Time slows down as the elevator doors open and he walks into a room where everyone stands looking at him. He sees a baseball mitt on a chair. If you didn’t figure it out yet, this is a dream sequence, and if it wasn’t in-your-face enough with the symbolism of this season of Boardwalk Empire, here’s a young kid with stigmata on one palm replacing Nucky at his desk as a bleeding wild animal brays. The kid locks and loads at Nuck and we flash-cut to Nucky’s hand being bandaged and telling his doc he’s been having trouble sleeping. I don’t know about you all, but my dreams all take place at an alternate Disneyland.

Nucky admonishes Carl for withholding info about the Commodore’s stroke, since Nucky set him up with an illegal license to prescribe booze. Margaret walks in all aglow and smiling, almost as if she had some strange sheleighleigh last week. Elias Thompson lets an agent from Esther Randolph’s office into his overstuffed-with-family house, and he presents him with a subpoena. The subpoena sends his father, the elderly wheelchair-bound Mr. Thompson, into shock.

Elsewhere the phone rings while Jimmy Darmody is in the shower, forcing him to answer it in a haphazardly waist-slung towel. It’s Capone on the phone to talk about the failed assassination attempt on Nucky, in some bar that looks like the Bowery Boys’ Bada Bing! club. Angela walks in with the kids and overhears him, horrified. She says they’re going to the beach. Johnny Torio tells Capone to leave him out of it, and “don’t be fuckin’ stupid.” The doctor is taking Margaret’s daughter’s temperature (I will learn the kids’ names when they get plotlines). Owen Sleater rolls through and does the fake-polite “let’s pretend I never made you scream” head nod to Katie, who cannot hide her sadness at having to play along. He nods even more briefly to Margaret, with whom he can now not afford to make eye contact ever again. Margaret joins Nucky in the dining room and is extra-affectionate to hide her feelings at seeing Owen. He says if she’s worried about being left alone while Nucky is out on business that Owen could stay at the house. She masterfully shows no sign of reaction but says it won’t be necessary. June Thompson calls Margaret to tell them that Nucky’s father has passed. Nucky says “okay” and heads out to work. The man hates feelings.

Speaking of men who hate feelings, Van Alden lets in his new nurse, Sigrid, and shows her around the spot. She “loves to sing songs.” Van Jerkoff is basically hiring her to be the child’s mother so that he might have nothing to do with it. He says the baby’s name is Abigail, and so it is. She calls him out on not kissing the baby good-bye, and he reluctantly does.

Lucky and Meyer Lansky meet up with Rothstein in the stable to discuss business in Philly and the missed shot at Nucky in Atlantic City. Lucky says Jimmy doesn’t have it in him, and Rothstein suggests Lucky is covering for being in bed with Jimmy and his mother, both literally and metaphorically. Esther Randolph is meeting in Nucky’s parlor with Nucky and his lawyer to discuss the endless list of charges he has racked up. Esther wonders “who shot ya” aloud and suggests that Nucky’s closest friends, Capone and John Torrio, were responsible. She asks about how he met his “companion” Mrs. Schroeder, and he begs it off, saying she already knows. Randolph’s companion saved Nucky from the shot, and she says she does other favors when cooperated with. Way to top Nucky on the way out, you little historical figure, Dr. Faye, you.

The beach is full of colorful umbrellas and hilariously modest bathing suits. A local fashion corporal assaults one sassy young miss for having her shorts cut too high. She says to make the ticket out to Molly Fletcher. Angela starts flirting with Molly, and when Molly says she is from San Francisco, turns charmingly mildly predatory. A lesbian! Or at least, a potential! Molly Fletcher shows her knees to the “beach lizards” and tells them to have a long look while Corporal Nofun threatens to send her to jail. Angela pays the ticket, thrilled to have a new potential playmate. She covers the offending knees with her towel. Molly says her name is really Louise, and that Molly Fletcher is a character in a novel she’s writing. Louise asks what Angela does when she’s not “squeezing out cherubs,” and Louise says she is still trying to decide.

Gillian and Jimmy meet the butcher and his friends in the leather room, and mistake Jimmy’s mom for his wife, which of course Gillian loves. They drink a toast among the stuffed wild creatures. Manny Horvitz won’t let Jimmy bullshit him. Manny launches into a long parable about a man who brought a deer into his shop and asked for him to cut off the head to hang as a trophy. “For this alone you kill, to brag to your friends how you slain this beautiful animal.” The poor calling out the rich on their bullshit has been a major theme of this season.

Margaret holds Nucky’s hand while his other one is bandaged up. She tells him it’s okay to grieve his father, but he doesn’t care about that, he’s just worried about himself. Margaret wonders if she’ll go to jail and whether it’s worth it. She says “at the cost of your life, is it not greed to fight to keep it?” Would Nucky without the trimmings be a Nucky she wants? Nucky tells a joke about God, but any mention of God to a Catholic is a path to deadly serious guilt.

Jimmy comes home to his beautiful beach cottage. Angela is smoking alone on the porch, listening to wind chimes and wishing it were the 1990s. She tells Jimmy that he doesn’t love her, and she only married him because they have a child and he kept pushing the issue. Jimmy hangs his shoulders and wondered why he married such a smart bitch. Unlike Betty Draper or Carmela Soprano, whose innocence is partly feigned but also based in decades of blind allegiance to authority figures, particularly male ones, Angela has no such fence around her own suspicions. She can sense every lie Jimmy tells her. They have a serious talk about him ordering the hit on Nucky, and that he didn’t want to do it but caved in to his mother’s demands. She thanks him for actually talking to her honestly and walks away.

Nucky slips some bills to a guy at the arms warehouse who he’s meeting with Johnny Torrio and Rothstein. Rothstein tells him to be patient and do nothing. Nucky looks as skeptical taking life advice from a serious gambler as anyone should look taking life advice from a serious gambler. A half-man, half-woman performs on the boardwalk. Van Alden gets a sandwich and insists on paying for it, because eating free is against the rules and Van Alden loves rules as much as he doesn’t love his new baby. Being Van Alden’s weed carrier is the worst job in the universe, as the latest mustachioed worm is learning. The worm says that he joined the bureau because he believed in enforcing the law, but now that he has learned how impossible it is to enforce the law, he’s not sure anymore.

Louise takes Angela to a sexy bunnyhug party at the beach. Which is like a juke party, but in the sand. Mostly these party people, with their straw fedoras and ukuleles and complex hair accessories, remind me of a kind of Silverlake hipster that is still everywhere despite attempts to eradicate them with roach motels shaped like quaint Berlin bed and breakfasts. She introduces Angela to Arthur, a gay dancer who is terrible at bons mots. On the patio, underneath some Chinese lanterns, the goddamned ukulele man strums too loudly while Angela has her first kiss with Miranda July — I mean Louise.

The Schroeder alt-family plays a board game together. Nucky stares at the steamship in the corner and then asks the kids to call him “dad” instead of “uncle.” The Thompson brothers meet at their father’s wake. Eli tugs at Nucky’s heartstrings and Nucky budges just far enough to engage. They debate whether their father being a bastard was worth it, Eli says they “run this fuckin’ town,” which Nucky corrects to “We don’t run anything, brother. And he can rot in hell.” Eli leaves Nucky alone with the corpse and his thoughts. As much as he hates his father, Nucky hates seeing powerful men reduced to frailty even more. He breaks down. Clifford, Esther’s lackey, accepts a fruit basket sent over by Enoch.

Nucky meets with the Commodore, Uncle O’Junior, Gillian, and Jimmy. This is a bit stagey, show, even for this stagey show. He says Atlantic City isn’t worth it. The fancy material goods don’t make you happier, crooks and criminals don’t get weekends off, and worrying that your life (career) could end at any second is a never-ending tension headache. It feels like the show is actually talking, of course, about Hollywood. He says they can choose a successor for him. Jimmy, looking vaguely jealous, wishes him luck.

Van Alden shuts the door on Abigail and a faintly humming Sigrid, hiding something in an envelope behind a painting in his room. Chalky White and Nucky meet in his office, where the lace curtains are blowing artistically in the sea breeze. Nucky gives Chalky some advice and then boots him out. Nucky puts on his good suit and carnation. In the VIP Lounge of the Atlantic City club, the news that Nucky has stepped down is out. Jimmy is in charge, and the sudden expectations and responsibilities that go along with it are overwhelming to him. From a distance it no doubt looked easier to be Nucky than to be Jimmy, but now that Jimmy gets to wear the crown he’s realizing that he can never be invisible again. He has invited the spotlight of all Atlantic City upon him and he will not be able to flick it off, except the hard way. Despite his feigned bravado making the speech, and the hookers draped over his shoulders, Jimmy looks deeply unsettled. The shot that missed Nucky will now be aimed at him.

Nucky sees Margaret and Owen talking about something (Ireland, obviously). Owen pours Nucky and himself a drink. Nucky says there’s something they need to talk about, and Owen braces himself for the worst. I knew this was going to turn into the R. Kelly “Down Low” video eventually — I just figured Jimmy would be the third peg in the Peg-Nucky triangle. Nucky is just talking about the IRA, “the cause” we saw Owen going to bat for last week. Nucky wants a meeting with John McGarrigle in Belfast. Back at the Playboy Club, Jimmy is dealing with an unruly Eli, who says to watch out for Nucky, that he is smarter and more dangerous than Jimmy. Well, the first may be true, but Nucky’s more of a great order-giver than a sweet shot. The Butcher tells Jimmy to come down and dance, and Jimmy calls him a Jew-bastard. The little guy suggests Jimmy not do that, and Jimmy serves him up over a balcony.

Back in Nucky’s dream, Nucky stares at the baseball mitt, then wakes up to Margaret nursing her daughter, who has become very ill. One more episode left! What will happen? Will Crisp Denim take off? No, seriously, where will Nucky end up? Belfast? Chicago? Philly? Hollywood? Come to think of it, Hollywood wouldn’t be a bad place for a gangster like Nucky. The mid-decade transition to sound would be a perfect place for an on-the-make producer with sketchy credentials to step in. Just think of it now: Nucky Thompson Presents the Negative 3rd Oscars.

Body Count: Zero, but one dude thrown over a balcony for at least a concussion.
Sex Scenes: Zero! Even at the party. One hot lesbian kiss and some knee-baring.
Ragtime: Far too much at the sexy beach party.

Filed Under: Boardwalk Empire, HBO, Recaps, TV

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert