Nucky asking Meyer to tell him something about himself was an important moment for Boardwalk Empire. At first Meyer wanted to repeat his resume and his credentials — all important things — but there are lots of men with money with whom Nucky could partner. His hesitation regarding Arnold Rothstein had nothing to do with funds, it was about A.R.’s singular resolve to win. Meyer eventually did tell Nucky a story about where he came from and how he came up (with Lucky). That vignette told Nucky wanted he needed to know — that Meyer was strong, loyal and determined. It also reminded us of something even more important; for all of its showmanship and tangled seasonal plots, what we really want from Boardwalk are personal stories. Hit the jump for more.
One of my continued criticisms of the show has been about Boardwalk’s dedication to chronicling all of the gangsters of the era. As Knox’s map for Hoover showed, there lots of them and, yes, they are all interconnected. That network is fascinating, but unless they have stories that stand out to us, the show becomes more of a history lesson than a compelling drama.
But here is where “All In” had great success. It took two (and a half) of the most memorable sideline gangsters (Capone and Rothstein), and showed us new sides to them. Have we ever seen Rothstein so out of control? Maybe Meyer should have gotten him some milk to calm his ulcers. Rothstein losing, spectacularly, to Nucky and the others at the table was like seeing behind the curtain that there is a man behind the mask. Meyer eventually gets him away from the table by reminding him just that: “don’t let them see you like this,” he cautions.
“All In” was about boundaries, and what it means to cross them and change sides. Nucky saw a new side to Rothstein, and it became fatal to their business deal. Elsewhere, Van Alden became trapped between the Capones and O’Banion, and after existing between them for some time, took the chance to crossover away from O’Banion and join the Capones when he shot as his former co-worker (an act which a maniacal Al finished up for him).
The expansion of the Capone family has been another great move for the show. While Al was always one to keep our interest with his explosive temper and heartbreaking situation at home, his brothers engage with him in a way that livens things up exponentially. We got to know Ralph and Frank a little better this week: they’re both charmers, much more so than Al, but neither shies away from violence. They also — through Van Alden and Eddie — have caused the Capone story to become more entangled with the original gang.
In Harlem, Purnsley seems to be changing sides, too, by taking up with Narcisse (which I am still convinced is a ploy). It’s also another example of racial positioning that the show has always focused on. Italian, Jewish, Irish — the “Nordics,” as Narcisse calls them, have long been separating themselves into racial sub-groups and doing their best to raise up their own people through the wealth of illegal trading. Narcisse’s desire to do the same for “Libyans” is not so different. Him shaming Purnsley about following Chalky, who he considers to still be controlled by the white man, is not that far from Masseria embarrassing Lucky for hanging out with and doing business with Rothstein and Meyer. But Narcisse has his own boundaries he sticks too regarding business, too — no mixing business with improvement societies, for one.
The show has always been about groups — mob groups, family groups, racial groups. It’s one of the more interesting subtexts of the show, and one the series never shies away from. But changing alliances have always meant violence and unrest, and there’s little doubt of that changing here. As Van Alden sees the Capones share the same kind of hellish “humor” his other boss does, the reality of the world he has chosen to be a part of is shown to be as bleak and chaotic as it is. However, “All In” also gave us some of that hope I talked about early in the season, and that is despite the twists and turns and violence that the plot will bring us, it looks like we’ll be getting a healthy dose of good character development, too. In the end, like Nucky, it’s what we really want to know.
Episode Rating: B+
— Willie, oh Willie. A prototype to Walter White, perhaps, trying to solve his problems through chemistry. But the mixture was wrong and he killed someone in probably one of the worst ways possible (public humiliation by shitting your pants, followed by shitting and vomiting to death). I have a feeling that his problems are only beginning (and they start with that weakling friend of his, who better not squeal!)
— “There’s a time for levity. I do have a sense of humor.” – Van Alden. Yeah, sure you do. By the way, I’m persisting in calling him Van Alden because it helps keep me sane.
— Loved setup of that scene when the Capones threw the guy out of the window, “for old times”
— Van Alden’s house looks like an Ikea project gone mad.
— “Happy?? You’re there to get an education!” – Eli
— Knox explaining to Hoover about who the gangsters are and where should be shown before every episode of Boardwalk Empire. It was a very helpful reminder!
— According to Wikipedia, Meyer was friends with Bugsy Siegel as a teenager, but didn’t meet Lucky until later. Nice story, though.
— Eddie and Nucky’s relationship was further explored in such a great way. Again, it was a question of boundaries — Eddie wanted to keep his new duties separate from “being Nucky’s wet nurse.” Unfortunately, such enhanced duties also mean, in Nucky’s world, enhanced risk. He had a nice “last night” before being picked up as Nucky’s weak link, though (does “weak link” here mean the one person left who Nucky will fight for?)
— Speaking of great interactions, I really love Eli — his conversation with Willie about school was just so great. Too bad his son is a murderer now. Things might have ended with the public shitting had it been another show, but you had to know with Boardwalk that it would escalate to something even worse.
— Purnsley killing the “vampire” for Narcisse … some things never change.
— Chalky is keeping his boundaries, too (for now). He has an eye for the new girl, but he stays faithful to his wife by offering her “no complaints” (yet no compliments, either).
— “Nobody likes to lose. But sooner or later we all have to learn how.” – Nucky