It sounds crazy, but we’re now more than one-third of the way through Boardwalk Empire’s final season. The question is, will the next five episodes be enough to resolve all of the loose subplots still flailing around from Chicago to New York to Atlantic City to Cuba to wherever the hell Chalky White is (an off-hand reference to the town of “Chambersburg” suggests he’s somewhere in Pennsylvania)? Already it feels like certain characters are being sacrificed for the greater good of giving Nucky a Walter White or Don Draper-worthy send-off: Jeffrey Wright’s much-lauded villain Dr. Valentin Narcisse makes his eagerly awaited season 5 return in “What Jesus Said,” only to be relegated to a single scene. Michael Kenneth Williams, meanwhile, continues his quiet, tortured performance as Chalky, but he spends all his screen time stuck in a seemingly unrelated bottle episode-esque story line.
Still, this episode was momentous as it brought Boardwalk‘s two leads back together again after a two-season estrangement. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Nucky and Margaret are going to ride off into the Atlantic City sunset, leaving behind years of adultery, betrayal, and murder in their wake. Sally Wheet, despite her lack of dependency on Nucky to fulfill her sexual needs, is clearly his better match (the two share a sweet moment this week listening to “Happy Days Are Here Again” on the radio—with Nucky holding up the phone receiver so Sally can hear it all the way in Cuba). But, as mentioned in last week’s recap, there had to be a reason for the Thompsons to remain married, even if it was just to serve the plot. Margaret is still in hot water following her Wall Street boss Mr. Bennett’s suicide, with probate proceedings unearthing her involvement with Bennett’s client “Abe Redstone” (a.k.a. Arnold Rothstein). While Rothstein has been dead for three years, accountants reveal to Margaret that Redstone’s account has been “very much alive,” with a grand total of $111,000 having been withdrawn since 1928. The withdrawals may have been made by Mr. Bennett for his personal gain, but the signatures of “Margaret Rohan” are all over the paperwork. Not to mention that Rothstein’s widow, Carolyn, is suing the firm.
Kelly Macdonald and Shae D’lyn (who plays Carolyn Rothstein) absolutely kill in their one scene together, in which a desperate Margaret puts on her trusty naive Irish-immigrant facade and attempts to feign complete innocence in her involvement with Carolyn’s late husband. Margaret’s faux-surprised “Do I?” in response to Carolyn’s accusation that she’s been living in one of Rothstein’s apartments all this time is a perfect blend of her seasoned role as a gangster’s-moll with just the right dose of fear. The bottom line is, Carolyn knows full well that plain ol’ Ms. Rohan was well-entrenched in Rothstein’s business affairs, and that she is in actuality Mrs. Enoch Thompson—so procuring $111,000 should be a breeze. Or else, she warns, Margaret will be reading her “name in the paper next to ‘Notorious Husband.'”
So nearly eight years after escaping her gilded Atlantic City prison, Margaret has no choice but to return Nucky in the episode’s final scene, sitting in silhouette while her husband awakens from his latest 1884 flashback/dream (in which we learn that the prissy little girl who taunted young Nucky with her prepubescent feminine wiles that summer wound up becoming his first wife, Mabel). Nucky’s initial disappointment that the figure isn’t Mabel slowly turns to beatific relief when Margaret snaps the light on and reveals herself to her husband. Their pleasure in seeing each other again is nice to see because there was a time, albeit a decade ago, when they made a great team. Now that Margaret has had time away to build up her own criminal credentials using the skills Nucky taught her, perhaps by consolidating their talents they can end the series at the top.
Margaret’s arrival comes just in the nick of time, because if anyone needs a confidence boost, it’s her husband. By the end of the episode, Nucky has been completely emasculated by his latest frenemy, Joseph Kennedy. Nucky’s pathetically obvious desire to emulate the Boston businessman had Steve Buscemi chasing Matt Letscher like a lovesick schoolboy all over the boardwalk, making the flashback scenes between Nolan Lyons and young Mabel a distinct parallel. Nucky’s desire to bring Kennedy in on his Bacardi deal seemed secondary to his lousy attempts to transform himself into a teetotaling Irish Catholic family man who can seamlessly disappear into the Episcopalian upper class. But it’s not so much Nucky pretending to be something he’s not that Kennedy calls him out on—it’s his lack of a legacy. Kennedy notices there are no photos, cards or drawings on Nucky’s office walls, correctly deducing that Nucky is alone in his quest for money and power. At least Kennedy, with his euphemisms for breaking the law (and not being caught) as “good business,” knows that he and his family are going to end up in the history books. Nucky, on the other hand? Whether or not he emerges from Prohibition on the right side of the law, no one is going to remember the little Irish Catholic social-climber from Atlantic City. So maybe now is a good time for Nucky to ask Margaret to bring the now-teenage Teddy and Emily along on her next visit.
NEXT: Survivor’s Guilt