“The Fire Down Below”
You’re damn right I just referenced a Bob Seger song! Not only was the fire in the greenhouse the plot catalyst in this episode, but two of Boardwalk Empire’s central female characters had a fire burning down below as well.
Gillian is in a headlong death spiral right now. She’s so far gone that she’s picking up stray men by offering them cigarettes (fire!). After catching Charlie (her only living boy toy) snorting a little H with one her girls, she hits the boardwalk and snares Kansas farm boy Roger with his military background and slicked back hair (sound familiar?) and lets him take her back to his crash pad. While they are en flagrante, she calls him “baby.” But, not in the sexy Telly Savalas saying “baby” kind of way. More in the creepy cougar-cradle robbing-Oedipal kind of way. Yeesh! And then, to top it off, she tells Roger that she’s going to call him James. Roger is excited because it’s the first time he’s done a woman older than him. Oh Rog, I mean James, you have no idea what you’re in for.
Meanwhile, Margaret apparently has a little fire starter on her hands (and not the kind Prodigy sang about). When Teddy tells her it was a gypsy (“Gyp” Rosetti, maybe?) and she later discovers the oilcan and matches in his bag, she does what any good mother would do. She gives Teddy three ineffectual swats on the butt and then has sex in the burnt out greenhouse with a former lover who currently works for her husband.
Wait. Let me back up a second.
Fire is, indeed, the central theme here. And while most people think of fire as destructive, an equal number regard it as cleansing. Especially the devoutly religious. In Judaism, for example, before a kitchen can be declared Kosher, it needs to be cleaned. Not with soap and water, but with fire. In many religions, fire washes away sin in a way that no other form of absolution can. Why do you think witches were burned at the stake?
With the greenhouse turned to cinders, Margaret’s slate has been wiped clean. All the sins of her past, real and imagined, have gone up in smoke with the potted palms. Now she is free to start sinning again. Enter Owen Slater (Get it? Clean “slate.”). Mr. Slater represents the incarnation of the fearsome Pooka, a malevolent Irish fairy who comes out at night to take his share from the local farmers. This is not to be confused with Owen’s Mr. Pouffle, who also comes out at night to get his share.
Frankly, this re-coupling surprised me. I thought Owen had as much contempt for Margaret as I do, but apparently he just can’t quit her. Katie must not be paying enough attention to Mr. Pouffle because it isn’t out of loyalty to her that Slater first rebuffs Margaret. He’s thinking of his boss rather than his girlfriend when he says no. In the end, Maggie gets her way and they both rise like phoenixes from the ashes.
A brief word about Teddy-boy here. I’m glad to see he’s graduated from fire to knives. They’re much easier to conceal after all. The only question left is who he shivs first (Or is it shanks? I still don’t know the difference.) My guess is that it will be one of the anonymous nursemaids who refuses him a lemon drop and gets a cold, steel blade for her troubles. We’ll see.
Down in DC, Nucky finds himself at odds with the man he helped install as the Attorney General. When Nucky confronts him and threatens to expose the whole operation, AG Dougherty puts him in his place.
“Who are they gonna believe? The United States Attorney General or a liquor bootlegger from Atlantic City?”
It seems that big-time gangsters and big-time government officials are fond of tagging Nucky as a small-time crook. Not good for the Nuckster’s street cred. However, it does precipitate the reunion of Nucky and Esther Randolph. The surprisingly fetching DA can’t get Nucky’s possession charge to stick, but she is willing to listen to his proposal of how to take down her boss. Esther correctly points out that Nucky always wants to be the father figure. He’s certainly done it with Lucy, Margaret, Billie and Jimmy. He even did it with Gillian to a certain extent. Although that was more in a Billy Ray Cyrus pimp/dad sort of way. At any rate, Nucky thinks he has Means in his pocket. But, he doesn’t know that Means was in the closet when he was fighting with Dougherty. When Nucky tells Esther that he has the juice to oust the AG, he’s only half-right at best.
Gaston Means (played by Stephen Root) is emerging as a truly engaging character. He appears to be available to the highest bidder. Whether he can play both ends against the middle remains to be seen. By the way, Stephen Root’s most memorable TV role? Jimmy James on News Radio. Gillian will be pleased to know that, somewhere out there, Jimmy James rides again.
Elsewhere, Richard Harrow has a new woman to obsess over and/or stalk. Julia Sagorsky is the lovely daughter of a man who is chasing ghosts. She and Richard have so much in common, it seems they were made for each other. My guess is that dad won’t approve. Until Richard makes the bartender disappear, that is.
And finally, Eli and Mickey pay a visit to the new sheriff of Tabor Heights, a.k.a. the next guy Rosetti sets on fire (See, again with the fire!). Eli is asserting himself more and more. But, we’ll see how much that improves his standing with the Nucky, the only guy he really wants to impress.
Remember, kids, don’t play with fire. You might get burned.
Until next week,
- C.J. Kaplan
First, let me correct your assertion about the great Stephen Root. While he was consistently brilliant on News Radio as Jimmy James, his standout role was (is) as the gun packing Judge Mike Reardon on Justified. He was also wonderful as sad vampire Eddie Gaulthier on True Blood. One could say that he has the work ethic of an old Michael Caine.
You know, when I first saw Gillian pick up New Jimmy I thought she was going to seduce him, kill him, burn him (again with the fire!) and use his corpse to finally legally declare Jimmy dead and take ownership of the house. But then things went wrong.
Seriously, Boardwalk, we were weirded out long BEFORE you had Gillian call him James. That was really unnecessarily gilding the lily.
Bringing back Esther – this time as a potential Nucky ally – was genius, however. I love how she instantly went for the kill in her opening statement at court. It was a suspenseful rope-a-dope for the viewers but the long-term prospect of taking down Dougherty is much more intriguing than getting Nucky on possession of a pint.
(Side note: I always thought the “two bacon and egg sandwiches” special at the South Street Diner was a solid late night deal, but Esther got a killer meal for just 20 cents. How did a businessman like Nucky pass that up?)
I like how the show is rotating storylines and characters this season. Just when we miss Chalky we got him intimidating Eddie Cantor last week. Just when I was missing Richard we get introduced to his new love interest – plus a surprisingly exciting bare-knuckle brawl at the VFW. I disagree with you about the stalking charge – Richard is a good man and he’ll woo her in an appropriate manner (by killing her father’s enemies).
Poor Little Teddy is just misunderstood. His “father” isn’t around anymore and he’s just trying to protect his sister. He even wanted Owen to move into the house. Of course, as the old saying goes, “people in glass houses shouldn’t have sex with the sexy help when their kids are watching out the window”. I think Teddy might have a different spin on what “Pooka” means.
And Mickey Doyle speaks for all of us when he says, “I heard Gyp was wearing a dog collar. Tee hee hee!” Well played, Mickey.
We’ll sweep out the ashes in the morning,