8. Hold Me In Paradise
A number of big plot developments took place in Hold Me In Paradise, but, much in keeping with the way the rest of the series has played out, these ‘game-changers’ took place with little in the way of bombast or fanfare.
We got to see the casino heist a lot quicker than expected. First alluded to in last week’s episode in a short scene between Lucky Luciano and the pesky Italians who have been causing trouble for Nucky all season, it could have reasonably been expected that this would have taken place later in the season, given the stately pace at which events in Boardwalk Empire have unfolded so far.
But we saw the heist go down almost immediately, with thousands of dollars being stolen with relative ease from one of Nucky’s biggest earning establishments. Not only that, but police chief and Nucky’s brother, Eli, was also shot and left for dead in the process.
This was not the barnstorming, tense action setpiece that we might have expected, given the outcome, however. It was shot sedately and matter-of-factly, in stark contrast to the operatic violence we have seen in the show up to this point, such as the tearoom assassination last week and the Jimmy-led hotel shoot out the week previous.
It works, however, because although Eli’s shooting proves to be the catalyst that finally unites Nucky and Jimmy together again, the real action in this episode takes place in its languid, yet gripping conversational scenes, something that has come to characterize the series as a whole over the previous few weeks.
At the beginning of the episode, Eli, while filling in for Nucky as he attends a Republican party convention in Chicago, plays down Nucky’s politicking abilities, dismissing him as he has done previously as all mouth and no trousers: “If I bought a nickel joke book down at the five and dime, I’d be the toast of the town myself!”
But what this episode proves beyond all doubt is that nobody can do what Nucky does quite like Nucky does. The hapless Eli proves to be a useless substitute. Luciano and the Italians clearly sense the weakness when Nucky is out of the picture, and the simplistic nature of the casino heist serves to demonstrate how easy it is for them to overcome him. He can’t even watch a porno with the town high-fliers without it catching fire.
Nucky, meanwhile, pulls off some seriously badass Machiavellian maneuvering in this episode. Sensing a double-cross by his two senator ‘friends’ regarding his desperately needed road money, he quickly throws his hat in with Harry Daugherty (played by the always excellent Christopher Donald, AKA Shooter McGavin AKA the best thing about Requiem For A Dream), the similarly wily and charismatic campaign manager for the unfancied Republican candidate, Warren Harding.
With a few words in ears, and the promise to take care of Harding’s troublesome mistress problems, Nucky has ousted his friend from a locked-on vice presidential position, and firmly secured the presidential nomination for Harding. Nucky’s casually awesome power is demonstrated best in an early moment where he insists on the use of the hotel’s presidential suite, already booked by Harding: “He may be a future president of the United States, but I am an excellent tipper,” he states, whilst unloading the contents of a huge money clip into the hands of a startled concierge.
Jimmy, on the other hand, is reveling in the clothes and cash that his status as an enforcer for Torrio’s crew affords him. After a disdainful visit from Nucky, however, we see that Jimmy is still seeking something, whether it be Nucky’s approval, a sense of belonging, a family or all of the above. A scene that shows him watching Capone and the other hoods bantering in Italian from afar makes it clear that Jimmy’s a fish out of water. His heart still lies back in Atlantic City.
The disparate threads that have dangled since the end of the pilot episode are finally tied together in Hold Me In Paradise. If they’re going to survive this topsy-turvy transitional period for crime, government and America, Jimmy and Nucky are going to need each other. Not only that, they can no longer be ‘half’ gangsters, as Jimmy accused Nucky of being in the pilot episode. They’re going to have to get their hands dirty.
The most moving story strand in Hold Me In Paradise belongs, surprisingly, to Van Alden, who has skirted the boundaries of cartoonish dementedness in every episode thus far. Here, he is a much more tragic, relatable figure. He has been intercepting money from Jimmy to his family, storing the envelopes stuffed with cash in a drawer in his desk.
In another suffocating dinner table scene between Van Alden and his wife, it is revealed that she’s unable to bear children, and when she raises the possibility of surgery in order to rectify this, she is quietly dismissed. He later wrestles with the morality of the idea, and for a fleeting moment it looks as though he will send her Jimmy’s money for treatment.
Alas, it turns out to be a Silence Of The Lambs-style editing sleight of hand (is there a name for this trope? If not, someone needs to come up with one, sharpish. I’ve seen it done in three separate things I’ve watched this week).Van Alden sends the money to Jimmy’s wife, and sends his own wife a stern letter pleading with her to “trust in God’s plan.”
The sight of her despairing face as she realizes they will never have children is a more powerful image in terms of demonstrating the destructive force of rigidly enforced dogma than a thousand graphic belt whippings.
Boardwalk Empire continues to take its sweet time getting to its destinations, but if you are willing to put the effort in, there is so much packed into these episodes to enjoy. For example, I’ve written a thousand words on this week’s episode and haven’t even mentioned Margaret’s discovery of Nucky’s business dealings. There was just too much other stuff I wanted to get through.
If you’re looking for a thrill ride, then you’re still going to be disappointed with Boardwalk Empire, but it has evolved into a tremendously enjoyable watch, one that I think will perhaps stand up better to DVD/marathon viewing than to watching it week by week, mainly due to its occasionally glacial pacing.
Hold Me In Paradise was one of the best mixes of history, plot, and character study that the show has produced so far, and now that the pieces are in place, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the end game.
Read our review of episode 7, Home, here.
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