Boardwalk Empire season 3 episode 9 review: The Milkmaid's Lot

Review Michael Noble 13 Nov 2012 - 08:24

Nucky is suffering mentally and physically in this week's Boardwalk Empire. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.9 The Milkmaid's Lot

"Joe Masseria has an army". I think it was the mixture of quiet understatement and genuine confused concern with which Charlie Cox delivered this line that made me like it so much. Yes, Mr Masseria has an army and he’s prepared to use it. Bad times are brewing. Of course, the first major act of war topped last week’s episode and it is that that, appropriately, hangs over much of The Milkmaid’s Lot, most prominently in the colossal effect it has had on Nucky’s physical and mental state. He’s not had the best of seasons, having spent much of the first half unable to deal with his killing of Jimmy and now, just when he was getting back into the swing of things, this happens. 

It was handled superbly, both in terms of Steve Buscemi’s performance and it being placed in the context of the episode’s key plot movements. The slipping between realities was dizzying to watch, funny and tragic at turns. The confusion was held together wonderfully by Buscemi, who managed to convey menace and pathos in the right amounts. Yes, Nucky is suffering, grieiving and confused, but he is too powerful to operate unchecked. Of those around him, the only one to come close to stopping him was his brother (a neat turnaround from earlier in the season), while Margaret thinks she has a solid enough exit plan that she can simply stare at him plaintively while he orders in the troops. 

The show has never shied away from depicting violence, and after last week’s events, it’s understandable that it should be toned down this week. Aside from one unfortunate sheriff, who is pointedly revealed to survive his beating, nobody really gets physically hurt. Instead, we're given a reflection on the consequences of violence, showing just how much of a toll it can take on those affected by it. There is a war coming, and despite Nucky’s inability to rally the troops it can only be a temporary lull. The mustering of Masseria’s army and Rossetti’s commandeering of the entire town of Tabor Heights contained wonderful visuals but their greatest thrill was in what they promised – a very brutal climax. 

For now, at least Chalky has returned, even if only for a single scene. I’m not sure whether Nucky mistaking him for his shoeshine was another symptom of his trauma or the genuine absence of recognition, we haven’t seen him since the fourth episode after all.  

The biggest intentional laugh of the episode was the arrest of George Remus. Remus doesn’t get arrested. Not in Remus’ house. Well, Remus does get arrested when Randolph is holding the warrant. It was a necessarily light moment in an episode that was somewhat short of them, and an entirely appropriate way for Remus to feel the heavy hand of the law on his shoulder. 

The progress of Richard’s relationship with Julia Sagorsky was touchingly handled. I like that the romance is developing in small, tentative steps, both for the two people involved and those watching it grow. It was nice that the leading hasn’t been totally left to Julia, with Richard taking the lead on the dancefloor. The lipstick left on his mask was a neat little detail, not merely because it told Gillian that she’d been lied to. It chimed in a small way with the story of Billie’s earring, in that a small token carelessly left betrayed what its bearer had really been up to. 

Talking of Billie Kent, she makes a curious absent presence in this episode. Seen obviously only through flashback – the same repeated final glance back at Nucky, she nevertheless exerts a quiet influence on events. Even though Nucky spends much of the episode not really realising who she was, and what happened to her, his unguarded words to Margaret and the incident with the earring seem finally to tip Margaret over the edge into fleeing with Sleater. Given that she contributed so much to Nucky’s early-season weakness, having her threaten to posthumously push away both his wife and with her, his number one guy, leaves him exposed just when he needs all the support he can get. As we watch his assembled hopes fade from the room and from any putative alliance, his pathetic calling out for Arnold revealed just how isolated he really is. It’s going to take all of his famed dealmaking to get things back on track. He’d better be quick about it, there’s an army waiting for him.

Read Michael's review of the previous episode, The Pony, here.

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