A trip to Ireland, a heartbreaking ailment, more and more backstabbing, and a cleaver to the head are just some of the moments in the most recent Boardwalk Empire episode, ‘Battle of the Century.’ Nucky promising to “give up” the life was indeed a front, as he has plans he’s setting into motion. Emily’s sickness from last week ends up being much more than a simple fever, and Jimmy has completely forgotten that he once was smart and made good decisions. All this and more made for yet another excellent entry into this incredible second season.
Despite having Federal charges pending against him, Nucky has convinced ADA Esther Randolph to allow him to travel to Belfast, Ireland to give his recently deceased father a proper burial. Arriving in Belfast with Owen and coffin in tow, Nucky is quickly off to a meeting with IRA leader McGarrigle. It seems Nucky hasn’t brought his father to be buried at all. Instead, he has filled the coffin with a dozen machine guns to donate to the IRA’s cause and, in turn, hopefully get the IRA to supply Nucky with as much Irish whiskey as he can get.
What Nucky has perceived would be a worthwhile trade for both parties is met with some stubbornness by McGarrigle, who has recently lost his own son to the ongoing fighting his people are involved with. This loss is causing McGarrigle to search for a peaceful resolution, which not only puts a wrench in Nucky’s plans, but is also taking him out of favor with his group, many of which are still willing to kill and be killed to see their dreams realized.
Meanwhile, back in Atlantic City, Emily’s health has worsened. She awakens one morning and is unable to move her legs, and after an immediate visit from the doctor Margaret’s worst fears become realized; it seems Emily has polio. Emily is quarantined off to the hospital and given a spinal tap so that the doctors know 100% that polio is indeed the cause.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but after almost two seasons of some of the most realistic violence I’ve ever seen portrayed on Television, nothing on this show has made me grimace more than the scene of poor Emily receiving the spinal tap. Couple the young girl’s screams with Margaret’s helpless and horrified facial expressions make this one of the most difficult, yet powerful scenes this show has portrayed. Whereas Emily’s pain is physical, Margaret’s is layered. Fear for her child’s health, being unable to help her in anyway, and also feeling as though her daughter is being punished because of her own sins. To add to all of this heartache, Margaret and the remaining maids gather and burn all of Emily’s things, to ensure that none of the disease remains in the house. Watching a child’s doll slowly burn on most shows would have come across as a bit heavy handed, but this episode connects on so many emotional notes that it simply adds to the overall tone and sadness.
Jimmy continues on his road of rashness and questionable decision making. Having called together a meeting with Capone, Luciano, Lansky and, surprisingly, Mickey Doyle (freshly broken and bruised from being thrown off a balcony by Jimmy last episode), Jimmy has decided to make a deal with George Remus to obtain alcohol for Atlantic City. After a deal is decided upon, Mickey brings up cutting Manny into the deal, which Jimmy is completely against. Lansky suggest simply paying Manny the money he’s owed and keeping the peace, but Jimmy, seeming to have let all the new found power go to his head, has other ideas.
During a visit with Waxie Gordon, Manny’s top enemy in Philly, Jimmy informs Waxie of the two murders of Waxie’s men that Manny has committed, even though Jimmy did the final deed on one of those. Waxie makes it evident that he’s going to take out Manny, but wants to make sure Jimmy is good with it. Jimmy sees this as a chance to be rid of Manny for good, and gives Waxie the go-ahead.
What they don’t realize is that Manny isn’t going down without a fight. Although he’s clipped in the shoulder by Waxie’s hired gunman, Manny is able to get the upper hand, with which he drives a cleaver directly into the head of his would-be assassin. Manny checks the body and find a matchbox from Atlantic City. Instead of paying the man and maintaining a relationship, Jimmy has now alienated Manny and created quite the fearsome enemy in the process. This also makes the second botched assassination attempt Jimmy has been involved in. I can’t help but think that’s going to look bad on him amongst his “friends”.
Not only do we get a bit of Chalky this week, but also the return of his loudmouthed cellmate from earlier this season, Dunn Purnsley. Purnsley, still sporting some bruises from their first encounter, and also some new gold teeth, is now part of the working force at the Ritz thanks to Chalky. As Chalky and Nucky briefly discussed last episode, the overall terrible conditions that Chalky’s people are subjected to have gone on too long, and, with Dunn’s help, Chalky has called in for his people to strike and prove to everyone just how much of this town runs because of them. Purnsley incites a stand in the kitchen that he works in, which at the time is little more than a food fight, but history tells that hostilities shall escalate very quickly.
Watching Chalky and Purnsley converse is seriously some of the best work I’ve seen on this show. What these two wonderful actors can do with simply dialogue is breathtaking. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we see them together, at least I hope it’s not. As much as I like them together, Purnsley is obviously a means to an end for Chalky. He’s able to use Dunn to incite the strike while remaining on the outside of things, at least to those on the outside. Once Dunn has fulfilled his purpose, I could see Chalky ridding himself of any connection.
ADA Esther Randolph gets a little bit more screen time this week, showing that she is having a relationship with her investigator, and, in a moment telling of the times, has to remind him that she is his boss. The following day the pair call in Deputy Halloran and give him quite the runaround of questioning, hoping he’ll slip up and spill some precious beans on either Nucky or Eli. Halloran makes it out without giving anything away, but his reactions seemed to be enough for Randolph to be satisfied.
With all of the battles currently ongoing on the show, this week’s episode ends revolving around the much hyped Jack Dempsey boxing match. Jimmy and Richard are in an auditorium enjoying it via the new wireless radio, as well as garnering the attention of some young flappers who recognize Jimmy as the new “King” of Atlantic City.
At the hospital, all of the doctors and nurses are huddled around a tiny radio themselves, completely distracted by the fight and allowing Margaret to sneak into the closed off room that Emily and a dozen other children are being kept in. She finds Emily’s bed and curls up with her, trying to console her daughter and, in her own way, herself.
As they prepare to leave Ireland, Nucky confronts Owen about McGarrigle’s murder and if he knew about it. Nucky informs him that he doesn’t like secrets, which works equal parts to show Nucky is still shook up from the own attempt on his life, but also comes across as some slight foreshadowing that Nucky will discover Owen and Margaret’s secret, especially now that Margaret is filled with guilt over her actions.
‘Battle of the Century’ was another slow burner of an episode, serving more or less to set up the remaining three episodes of the season. I’m honestly not quite sure what Nucky’s plans are with the booze, as it didn’t seem to be a problem for him to obtain that before. Now that a court date has been set, I am anxious to see how Nucky’s trial will go, especially with the addition of ADA Randolph to the cast, although it seems like she’s doubting Nucky’s hand in all the bad things leveled against him. I’m also curious how long Jimmy is going to continue his current trend of bad decisions. I feel like it’s going to take someone he cares about getting hurt to wake him up, and now that he has Manny as an enemy, that seems quite likely to happen.
– Matt Hardeman