The flirtation between Margaret and Nucky heats up, but will creepy Van Alden get in the way?
Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

On last night’s second episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Omar from The Wire (Michael Kenneth Williams) is a no-show, but we learn his character Chalky White will be taking over for Mickey Doyle at the underground distillery. Kelly Macdonald’s Margaret returns from the hospital after losing her baby and must immediately invite federal agent and ribbon thief Van Alden into her home. Van Alden (Michael Shannon), who originally intended to investigate Arnold Rothstein, now thinks Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is the “bigger fish,” living like a pharaoh on the eighth floor of the Ritz and making him wait around all day. “Shouldn’t you be out raiding a barrel of still?” Nucky asks Van Alden. Why is he so hung up on the murder of Margaret’s husband, Hans Schroeder?

Jimmy, who had come into some money from the pilot episode’s woods massacre, buys a thousand-dollar necklace for a showgirl who couldn’t believe he’d waited over a month to come and see her. The showgirl is his mother. Angela and Jimmy’s son Tommy get presents, too: a truck for the little boy and an emerald bracelet, “vacuum sweeper,” and decaying old Christmas tree for mom. Jimmy’s not in the clear, it turns out. He tries to go back to work, clocking in at 4:30 p.m. as usual, but Nucky won’t even let him sit down. Jimmy apologizes, says he thought the woods job would never get traced back to Nucky. Not good enough. “You wanna be a gangster, kid? Go be a gangster. But if you wanna be a gangster in my town, you’ll pay me for the privilege.”

So Father Christmas suddenly owes Nucky an extra $3,000. Al Capone blows him off over the phone, so Jimmy lashes out at an innocent phone operator, then swipes back mom’s fancy necklace to get Nucky the money. And how does the county treasurer show his appreciation for such a hefty sum? He loses it all in a single roulette spin right before his former protege’s eyes. Roulette! The ultimate burn. Roulette!

There’s confusion over who killed “Big Jim” Colosimo, but it seems pretty clear to Arnold Rothstein in his private billiards parlor. Rothstein and Lucky Luciano demand to know who ordered Frankie Yale to kill Colosimo. Rothstein once got some sap to swallow a cue ball and die, just because he felt like it — imagine the terror he can impose on someone when something actually matters to him personally. Speaking of which…Rothstein tells Nucky over the phone that Nucky still owes him a hundred grand. “Show your face again in Atlantic City!” Nucky fires back, begging for trouble.

Meanwhile, a reporter in Chicago questions Al Capone about a possible link between the Big Jim murder and Al’s man Johnny Torrio. Al is much obliged to go on the record, and proceeds to smash a bottle over the guy’s head and kick him repeatedly. At least the newsman got his three-dollar whiskeys. Al Capone was making a statement!

NEXT: The award for most intriguing Boardwalk Empire character goes to…

Margaret reads Henry James’ The Ivory Tower in the hospital before heading home, her appetite for unspeakably corrupt people with money recently whetted by her friendship with Nucky. Sheriff Elias visits her to present yet another envelope of cash and remind Margaret that her husband Hans could have been involved in the bootleg shootings. Margaret was clearly hoping that the announced “Mr. Thompson” had been Nucky instead of Elias. She’d tied a blue ribbon in her hair and everything. And now Nucky will never see the ribbon…because creepy Van Alden swiped it from her kitchen table after questioning her relationship with Nucky! With his deep inhalation of blue ribbon and the way his facial expression cycles from slightly sinister to uncomfortably placid, Van Alden is officially the Boardwalk Empire character I find most intriguing. It also helped that the letter he wrote to his wife Rose was possibly the least romantic letter home in history. What’s his story?

Margaret, shaken by the losses of her baby, favorite ribbon, and maybe even her deadbeat husband, visits Nucky late at night, or what he would call “midday.” Their connection intensifies as she attempts to clarify that she was never looking for a handout. She just wants to provide for her children. “Tell me what to do. What do you want from me?” They share a long, meaningful, dare I say sexually charged look, and then Nucky breaks the ice: “I want you to vote Republican!” He’ll probably give her a job, because she needs to stay involved in the plot (and I’m guessing Van Alden’s sudden obsession with Margaret’s follicular aroma is one-sided). We learn Margaret was a parlor maid in Ireland and read many of the books belonging to her barrister employer. Nucky learns that George Sand was a woman.

George Baxter, a rather icky man who sells cutlery to Atlantic City restaurants, attempts to entertain the most annoying 19-year-old to ever dress up in period costumes, Claudia, in Atlantic City. Claudia succeeds in setting the world record for the speediest purchase of saltwater taffy, but George has less luck getting this twerp to put out. On their drive back to “Bal-tee-more” late at night, these two roll into the dreaded patch of land just beyond the Hammonton, NJ sign. Just as George is falling under the spell of Claudia’s disinterested attempt at manual stimulation, The Fifth Man from the woods massacre splays himself across the windshield. He’s bleeding, he’s hungry, and if Jimmy Darmody wants to remain in Nucky’s orbit, this guy better not talk.

Most infuriating moment: When Dabney Coleman’s Commodore Kaestner used his uneducated maid as an example for Nucky of what type of woman would get to vote.

Sad but cute: Margaret’s daughter stomping around in her dead dad’s shoes

Racial slur of the night: Mickey Doyle is sharing a jail with “Slanty Eyes” — oh, and some guy’s recruiting on the boardwalk for the KKK.

Nucky and I have the same thought: “Did the envelope catch on fire?” he questions the purveyor of a lowly money clip

Most fabulous: Eddie, who has taken over for Jimmy as Nucky’s driver: “The chauffeur must have a cap!”

Whaaaaaaaat? The modern-day blow job was considered exotic and French in 1920s America? Quel horreur!

Did the second episode of Boardwalk Empire hold your interest? Share your reactions and favorite moments in the comments below while I glare at all of the envelopes in my apartment because they don’t contain cash.

Episode Recaps

Boardwalk Empire
Steve Buscemi stars in HBO’s sprawling Prohibition drama set in Atlantic City.
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