‘Boardwalk Empire’ Review: “Blue Bell Boy”
This week’s episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire‘ is about loyalty and toughness and where these two attributes collide — at least where the men are concerned. Margaret is going to need a different kind of toughness to continue her women’s health crusade.
We start off “Blue Bell Boy” a little lighthearted, as Owen Sleater finds himself on the receiving end of some oral action from Katie, who lovingly refers to his penis as “Mr. Poofles.” Nucky doesn’t seem too pleased by Katie and Owen’s sexy interactions when he calls Owen up to head into work, and spends most of the episode trying to remind him who’s in charge. It’s such a small, perceived slight — the blow job — but to Nucky, this could very well represent the way Owen has Katie in his service, and the way Nucky cannot have Margaret or Billie in his; perhaps, then, his anger is more about emasculation.
Owen and Nuck head over to Mickey Doyle’s base of operations — Nucky has caught wind of the sheriff’s little “accident,” and knows full well that this is the handiwork of one Mr. Gyp Rosetti. He suggests, then, that Doyle’s bootlegging crew use back roads and avoid Tabor Heights altogether, but Owen notes that the back roads are too icy. Doyle decides to continue on with the Tabor Heights route and pays off the new sheriff to keep looking the other way, while Eli pleads with him to delay the shipment until they can find a better solution. In the end, Eli is right — the new sheriff is in Gyp’s pocket now, and he’s allowed the Rosetti gang to stage an ambush. Like Mickey Doyle says, “You ain’t the only sheriff who ever lived, Eli.” And those words prove alarmingly true this week.
Eli catches wind of the ambush when he goes ahead of the crew to scope out the Heights, but is unable to warn the cavalcade because Doyle told them not to stop for anyone. Ultimately, there’s a slight air of satisfaction to Eli’s face at episode’s end, knowing that he did the right thing, and although Nucky isn’t willing to put him back in his pocket just yet, that isn’t going to keep Eli from staying loyal to his brother’s wishes. It’s a brilliant bit of staging this week, as the pieces are all set up within the first few minutes of the episode, and the persistent themes of bullying versus loyalty lead to not one, but two shocking conclusions.
The other major development comes at the end of a delicious slow burn — Nucky and Owen are on the trail of a thief named Roland Smith, who has a house stockpiled with a ton of Nucky’s booze. He’s also got a healthy amount of Waxey Gordon’s supply in there from Philly, as well. The feds in Waxey’s pocket are onto Smith, too, and Nucky, Owen, and Roland end up hiding out in the house’s cellar, waiting for the suits to leave. Smith turns out to be a young guy (15 he says, at first), and as the episode progresses, Owen keeps asking Nucky what they should do about the kid. It seems that Nucky might allow Roland to come work for him as the kid is pretty damn conniving and charming — the kind of guy that might fit in pretty well in this business. But when the feds finally leave and the trio head back upstairs, Roland admits that he’s really 19, and just when he thinks he’s palling it up with Nucky and Owen, Nucky shoots him in the back of the head — much to Owen’s surprise.
Nucky treats this moment as a lesson to Owen about estimation, as Owen spends most of the episode questioning Nucky in small ways — first with his desired back roads route to get around Tabor Heights, and then by suggesting that he should kill Roland so Nucky can keep his hands clean. Owen seems to think he knows his boss pretty well, but that kind of smugness isn’t what Nucky wants. He wants a subordinate who does as he’s told and never assumes to know better. Nucky doesn’t want to be predictable, and he certainly doesn’t like Owen thinking he knows what Nucky wants best. It’s an interesting little exchange of masculinity and posturing, and it reminds us how Nucky’s insecurities — and how the insecurities of many men in positions of power — bleed over into his business dealings.
Margaret and her doctor pal are successfully kick-starting the free women’s clinic classes to help instruct local ladies on hygiene and reproduction. They’re running into issues with the head nun of their very Catholic hospital, however, who has a problem with words like “vagina” and “pregnant,” and suggests some pretty silly substitutions. Margaret keeps her chin up, though, even when faced with the nun’s disgust at giving away sanitary napkins in the classes as “gifts.” It’s at this time that we’re reminded that sanitary napkins were a relatively new product, and such items to help women during their menstrual cycles were neither talked about nor seen publicly. What the hell did women even do back then when they got their period?
There’s a nice touch at the end of the episode, when Margaret reads about that female pilot from a few weeks back, whose plane debris is found — it seems that pioneering woman crashed and burned on her way to achieve her goals, but will Margaret suffer the same fate?
Capone is dealing with some bullying issues when his deaf son is beat up at school. He tries to teach the boy to fight because that’s his way, but his son crumples under the pressure. When Capone’s collector, Jake, is similarly bullied during a routine cash pick-up by one of O’Bannion’s men, Capone projects his rage toward his son’s bullies by beating the man to death.
Luciano is still having some territory issues, so he has a meeting with Joe Masseria, who demands a percentage of his heroin sales across the board — not just from their shared territory. Masseria asserts, in his very thick Italian, that Jews are heartless and it’s Luciano’s “people” who will ultimately be there for him, so he should pay 30% out of loyalty. Masseria seems confident that Luciano will oblige because they share something he calls “heart” — this money, it’s not about business. It’s about something intangible and understood.
So while Capone is dealing with bullies, and Luciano is dealing with the idea of loyalty, Nucky, Owen, and Eli are dealing with a combination of both. The way “Blue Bell Boy” unites the two themes from its minor plots this week for its two bigger arcs is a startling thing of beauty — but where does this leave Margaret?