Boardwalk Empire episode 6 review: Family Limitation

Boardwalk Empire improves massively with its latest episode. Do you think Scorsese has secretly been listening to what Paul has to say?

6. Family Limitation

Great news, everyone! It would appear that Scorsese, Terrance Winter et al have been spending their downtime on the set of Boardwalk Empire wisely. They’ve been reading my reviews. And not only that, they’ve done the sensible thing and taken all the considered advice I’ve been administering on board.

Some people would argue that the three to four month turnaround time for the production of an episode of Boardwalk Empire would render the timescale impossible. Others would contend that the only people who read these reviews are me and a small party of loyal, yet baffled friends, family and well-wishers.

But we know better, don’t we? Because Family Limitation featured everything I’ve been crying out for from an episode of Boardwalk Empire over the past six weeks. For those who are unconvinced and crying coincidence, I present the following evidence for your approval.

Ad – content continues below

Firstly, I was desperate to see Kelly Macdonald given something more interesting to do besides pottering around, meekly muttering deferential platitudes. And somehow, in the space of only a few weeks, Margaret has gone from a dull drama-suck to one of the most interestingly written, well portrayed  and unpredictable female characters of this or any other show.

Last week, Margaret and Nucky finally consummated their relationship, and this week sees her attempting to adjust to life as Nucky’s girlfriend. She starts off embracing this new opportunity to escape her dowdy image and lifestyle. She leaps at the chance to engage in some high falutin’ with Hardeen, illusionist brother of Harry Houdini (“He’s just as good!” Nucky keeps assuring everyone), she indulges in playful foreplay with Nucky in a nice parallel of Jimmy and his wife attempting to do it “the French way”, and most mind-blowingly of all, when Nucky’s previous girlfriend attempts to humiliate Margaret with a Basic Instinct-esque flash, she fires back with an insult that would make Roy Chubby Brown blush. I wondered aloud a few weeks ago what it would take to make Margaret interesting. Turns out all she had to do was drop the c-bomb.

But Margaret soon discovers that her new society girl empire is built on sand. Her next door neighbour has branded her a whore, and once she is stood up by Nucky and dismissed matter-of-factly by a passively judgemental babysitter, she comes to realise that her fancy new apartment is no more than a room in a makeshift bordello. It’s a testament to the writing that I’m genuinely unsure as to where Margaret’s actions will take her next.

Secondly, I mentioned that if all else fails, the programme makers should pay heed to Troy McCLure and give the public what they really want: hardcore nudity. My goodness, do they deliver the flesh in spades in Family Limitation. There is barely a scene that goes by without some kind of naked appendage bouncing happily into shot.

However, the relentless sexual content does serve a purpose beyond pure exploitation and titillation. Twenties America was still a full forty years away from The Summer of Love, and the Puritan influence of the forefathers remained strong, leading to the almighty repression of sex and sexuality in public life. Boardwalk Empire demonstrates that this God-fearing Puritanism was just a conveniently placed smokescreen, and just as the alcohol was kept flowing in times of supposed prohibition, there was a rich mine of risky, dangerous and passionate sex going on amongst the American people, despite the facade of clean living and chastity propagated by the church.

Repressed sexual desire brings me on nicely to the third idea Scorsese nicked from me this week. Three weeks ago the antics of Agent Van Alden were so barmy that I suggested that the only way to top them would be for him to recreate the Buffalo Bill mirror dance from The Silence Of The Lambs. Well, they didn’t exactly do that, but they did include a scene where a half naked Van Alden stares lustfully at a picture of a 16-year-old Margaret whilst repeatedly flagellating himself with a knotted belt. So, all in all, I consider the nutty bar duly raised, and as a result, I am willing to hold out a few more episodes for the inevitable ‘mangina’.

Ad – content continues below

I also asked that the Chicago story strand, i.e. Jimmy and Al Capone battling the Irish for territory, either be wrapped up or provide us with a bit of action and incident. This week we got a great, tense set piece that really gave this storyline a much needed shot in the arm.

Starting with a tetchy sit-down propagated with cool, hard bitten dialogue, before segueing into a beautifully shot shoot-out, this was easily the best bit of action Boardwalk Empire has given us so far. Sure, it wasn’t exactly Breaking Bad, and I could have done without the second egregiously obvious Godfather reference in two weeks (last week the oranges foreshadowing Pearl’s death, this week the sound of trains high in the soundtrack mix as Jimmy contemplates assassinating  Irish boss Sheridan), but this was still a great bit of TV.

The rest of the Chicago storyline was also wonderful, with some lovely scenes between Michael Pitt and Stephen Graham that really served to give some much needed pathos and insight into their complex relationship.

I think it’s safe to say that this was the episode of Boardwalk Empire I’ve been waiting for, and all I had to do was incessantly needle the show runners every week.  If only I’d been doing this job when Heroes was on…

P.S. Showrunners – since you’re so amenable to taking my tips on board at the moment, next week I’d like to see the following:

  1. More nudity
  2. Lost-style Gretchen Mol flashback to explain once and for all how she gave birth when she was nine years old
  3. Aforementioned ‘mangina’ scene
  4. Chalky White AKA Michael K Williams AKA Omar to feature in every scene. Every time he isn’t on screen other characters should be asking “Where’s Chalky?”
  5. Bruce Campbell cameo


Ad – content continues below

Marty, you’re welcome.

Read our review of episode 5, Nights In Ballygran, here.

Follow Paul Martinovic on Twitter @paulmartinovic.