Tonight on “Boardwalk Empire,” Atlantic City is picking up the pieces after the deadly explosion at Babette’s — but it looks like the attempt on Nucky Thompson’s (Steve Buscemi) life last week has the potential to ruin him, even though he survived the blast.
Whether or not Nucky’s concussion causes long-term damage, he’s certainly making matters temporarily worse for himself by refusing bed rest. His memory, speech, mood and coordination are severely impaired, to the point that he thinks Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) is a shoeshiner, and he doesn’t even know his own brother’s name. In the fog of his healing time, Thompson’s friends and foes are circling like impatient sharks, and it’s obvious that he can’t run his business in his current state. All sorts of wires are getting crossed, which makes for some interesting revelations — particularly for Margaret (Kelly MacDonald), who becomes privy to more than she ever wanted to know about her husband’s business.
Speaking of getting a harsh dose of reality, little Tommy Darmody is growing up quickly in the brothel — he witnesses one of the girls “at work” and Gillian (Gretchen Mol) takes it out on Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) rather tan taking responsibility.
When Nucky’s memory of Billie’s death finally comes through, he has a
dark, albiet truthful, dialogue with Margaret: “No matter what you think
of me, there’s no walking away. It doesn’t work like that. I do it to
them — or they do it to me. That’s all there is.”
But Margaret has plans of her own. Her affair with Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) has escalated, and Nucky’s injuries have made her a Real (Desperate) Housewife of the Ritz-Carlton. She wants out, and Owen tells her to “say it and we’ll go,” (which she does at the episode’s end). We’ve been worried throughout Season 3 about Sleater’s safety, and as much as the Margaret-Owen shippers have been relishing the past few episodes, the affair will probably spell disaster. “One day you wake up and you realize what’s been going on,” Nucky exclaims to Sleater in an ironically unnerving mental lapse. Here’s to hoping that Sleater can continue to keep his cool.
Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) has strengthened his reign of terror in Tabor Heights, offering to pay off every resident to ensure his liquor route. He taunts Nucky after Billie’s death and indicates Joe Masseria’s involvement. But when Nucky assembles Waxy Gordon, Rothstein, Luciano and co. in his Ritz-Carlton quarters, his somewhat-disoriented “let’s band together” speech falls flat, and the entire room exits — refusing to come to his aid. It’s a cringe-worthy moment (even more pitiful than Emily’s birthday party), especially the sight of an ineffectual Nucky repeatedly calling out for Rothstein. Full gangster no more.
Indeed, Jimmy Darmody’s prophetic last words rang true tonight: “When you run out of booze, and you run out of company… and the only person left to judge you is your—.” But will Nucky find the time in Season 3 to judge himself? Or will he be too busy trying to run his bootlegging business, scrambling to exact revenge on his former business partners, and trying to remember people’s names?
Torrio’s absence at Nucky’s failed U.N. General Assembly of Gangsters meeting (and the absence of the entire Chicago plotline from the episode) suggests that perhaps he and Capone will be Thompson’s only chance at maintaining power in Atlantic City.
Even with the wheels turning full speed on his plan to ruin Nucky Thompson, Rosetti is still two temper tantrums away from a catatonic break with reality. He’s also becoming more of a joke to the audience as each episode goes by (really, with the Revolutionary War hat?).
At least there’s one BE character who’s having a good week: Richard Harrow. His romance with Julia Sagorsky is blossoming, and he even gets to show off his impressive dance skills at the American Legion. But, as a few seasons on the boardwalk have taught us, these happy times often don’t last for long — and for each of the characters, love has yet to save the day.