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‘Boardwalk Empire’ Review: “The Milkmaid’s Lot”

HBO

It’s time for the men to grow up and head off to war in this week’s ‘Boardwalk Empire‘ — but will they fight together or stand alone? And just how entitled are you to help when you’ve made your business so personal?

Following last week’s explosive conclusion, Nucky is coping irritably with a concussion, which — much like the dream episodes of ‘The Sopranos’ — has left him confused with everything around him. He thinks it was Margaret who lost her hummingbird earring and not the dearly departed Billie Kent; he mistakes Chalky White for a shoeshine boy; and he confuses Eddie with his own brother. The agitation is heightened with the recurrence of a disorienting ringing sound, accompanied by the blurring of faces so that we too can feel as lost and confused as Nucky. But he’s not content to rest — instead, he’s more concerned with rallying the mob bosses to help him go to war with Gyp Rosetti, whom he believes to be backed by Joe Masseria.

Meanwhile, Gyp’s back in Tabor Heights, and he’s going to let that good ol’ Sheriff Ramsey “keep on sheriffin’” as long as he can pay the townspeople $200 a month to keep quiet while he does his dirty work. And Gyp’s quite taken with a wax figure of a presumed Italian man — a brigadier general of the continental army, and the kind of man who Gyp would like to be seen as. Powerful, commanding, and respected, but he’s in the shadow of Joe Masseria, and Masseria isn’t about to get mixed up in Gyp’s war with Nucky because his business is smooth — like the stone he hands Gyp on the beach — and it’s taken years to get it that way. Masseria is an experienced, intelligent career criminal, and while he’s interested in protecting his business, he’s not likely to find himself wrapped up in what has become a petty war about personal feelings.

So Nucky is wrong  and Gyp isn’t backed by Masseria and his army of men at all, but Nucky thinks that he is. And Gyp is walking down the street with that brigadier general’s hat on in a moment that’s become something of a Gyp trademark — jarring, but hilarious. The connective thematic tissue this week seems to be little boys pretending to be men. While Nucky is asking why everyone’s acting like a bunch of kids, he himself is in need of mothering. He can barely cut Emily’s birthday cake without making it look like a horror show (and it is delightfully gruesome with that jam spilling out as if he beheaded the damn thing), and so Margaret has to step up more than she’s used to, which includes sitting in on a discussion with Eli and Owen about killing Masseria and Rosetti.

But all the while Margaret has plans of her own, and she and Owen flirt with ideas throughout this week’s episode of fleeing Nucky and his empire. They aren’t the only ones who want to leave Nuck alone  – Rothstein, Luciano, Waxey Gordon, and several other bosses gather and decline to go to war against Rosetti and Masseria for someone who, as Rothstein maintains, is more trouble than he’s worth. And isn’t it true? Nuck himself admits to Margaret that it never ends, and there’s no walking away from it — someone is going to do these things, and it will be him or it will be them, but there’s no leaving it behind. He’s a stubborn child, much like Rosetti, and his disorientation this week leaves him more closely connected to Rosetti than ever. It’s almost as if the tables flip in “The Milkmaid’s Lot” with Nucky losing his cool and Rosetti collecting his, and with the concussive nature of the episode it almost feels like a different show at times.

Take, for instance, the Thompsons in the Ritz Carlton, and the way that they mention several times that they are living in a hotel. The camera cheats and at times we believe them to be in their own home, but it’s always hard to tell where they really are as we glide from room to room seamlessly — a door closes and opens into a completely different place, and we become unsure of what we know. It makes you question what we’ve been told and led to believe, and that’s the point: we need to feel just as confused as Nucky.

But back to that idea of men growing up: It’s illustrated well with Tommy, who is left in the care of Gillian while Richard takes a night off to take Julia Sagorsky to the American Legion dance. And while Richard has a lovely evening, Tommy walks in on his favorite prostitute Josephine having sex with a John. Gillian is furious because Tommy shouldn’t see or know such things and Richard should have been there to care for him. Aside from the fact that this is Gillian’s house and we all know how she treated Jimmy, it’s almost as if she’s just angry that he should have to grow up at all. But Tommy would eventually see those things in a whorehouse, and there are some things we can’t protect children from — the thing is that at some point, we have to leave them alone.

Gyp is left alone by Masseria. Nucky is abandoned by the men he does business with, and even his promises of making them his official partners do nothing to incite them. Business is business, but this is clearly personal. When you go off to war, you are supported by your fellow troops, but this isn’t really a war. This thing between Gyp and Nucky is a duel — a personal battle between two men where only one can walk away.

And speaking of living and dying — when Margaret tells Owen that they’ll run away from Nucky as soon as they can, did anyone else start writing Mr. Sleater’s obituary, or was that just me?

One more thing — Lest we think that Nucky’s deal with Esther Randolph and Gaston Means has been put on hold, we get a peek at George Remus’ house (15th century menagerie?) as Randolph arrests him this week and he throws Jes Smith under the bus.

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