This review contains spoilers.
2.7 Peg Of Old
Families. Who’d have them? Well, gangsters, for one. In the annals of fictional organised crime, the bond of blood is presented as the keystone of the criminal network. Think of the troubles that Vito Corleone went to in establishing a solid succession, and how it failed to go to plan. There’s Tony Soprano enjoying all the agonies of suburban fatherhood while trying to keep his ‘nephew’ on message. It’s even in EastEnders, with the hoarsely whispering Mitchell clan and their insistence of doing things for family.
Blood relations can be as dramatic or as mundane as any human connection, but they are invariably tinged with additional drama. In this episode of Boardwalk Empire, Peg Of Old, the power of familial relationships take the leading position in the action.
In an episode brimming with family troubles, perhaps the most acute is that of new parents, Nelson and Lucy. Van Alden is still experiencing professional and financial difficulties and is unable to honour his agreement with Lucy. Three thousand dollars for the child, with no questions. It is a grotesque parody of family life. Lucy, the purported caregiver, doesn’t even give her daughter a name, although she is rather taken with her ‘cuteness’. Van Alden, a perverted breadwinner whose primary objective is to obtain the funds he owes Lucy, rather than to supply her and the baby with support. For a man normally so fastidious, it is jarring to see him shirk his responsibilities so easily. They are his responsibilities, as an enraged Lucy reminds him “it’s your baby. You bought it”.
An alternative, and more appropriate, take on childrearing comes from Nucky, who has always had a soft spot for kids. He is no fool though, as soon as Lucy shows up in his office with a baby he reminds her that he hasn’t seen her since May of last year. Nevertheless, he is able to help, dispensing largesse after his usual fashion. With Van Alden however, he wants something in return. He’ll cover the agent’s obligation to Lucy, if Van Alden will furnish him with some advance information on the newly arrived Assistant Attorney General Esther Randolph.
It is fantastic to see Nucky and Van Alden facing off again, especially now that Nucky feels he has the whip hand, cheekily offering the Federal man a drink. More to the point, it brings two formerly disparate storylines together and gives a hint that there has been a point to Van Alden’s arc all along. His business with Nucky is not done, and he may yet be playing both sides off against each other, tossing the indefatigable Miss Randolph a fat file on Thompson. He also seems to have taken a little of Nucky’s advice on board, and is seen choosing a name, something biblical, for his daughter, with whom he may yet bond.
A bond irreparably severed is that of the Thompson brothers. Eli, who is still angry, disorganised and ineffective, turns up late for a meeting with the newly-formed crew of Jimmy, Al, Lucky and Meyer. He may be late, but he is essential, the only one able to voice the solution that they had all be skirting around. They can’t outmanoeuvre Nucky politically, they’ll have to kill him.
It is worth noting that of all the men present, none of whom are squeamish, it takes Nucky’s own kinsman to state the obvious. However, when Richard Harrow (of all people!), asks him if he’s really prepared to kill his brother, Eli demurs. Someone else will have to do it. He’s Eli, not Cain, and blood ties still count for something.
Perhaps they do. We finally get to meet Margaret’s family in Brooklyn. Her brother and sisters are doing all right for themselves, modestly but honestly. The contrast between them and their sister, arriving by chauffeured car, couldn’t be more stark. They were, perhaps, expecting somebody else. They still call her ‘Peggy’, rather than the more formal Margaret by which the rest of us know her. Her relationship with her sisters is understandably awkward, they barely remember her, but with her brother, Eamonn, a deeper tension is evident.
The circumstances of her leaving were difficult. Unmarried and pregnant it was either flee or let the Magdalene Sisters take her. An obvious choice for her, but for Eamonn, it felt like a betrayal. Like Van Alden, he seems unable to distinguish between the dutiful thing and the right thing. His relationship with Margaret now seems as estranged as that between Nucky and Eli.
It is linked with a wider familial association, that of country. Margaret miscarried her baby on the crossing to New York and gave her two subsequent children, fathered by the German Hans Schroeder, American names. Part of her brother’s concern is that she has estranged herself not just from her family, but from her Irishness.
When she ends in the arms of Owen Sleater, a clinch that has been telegraphed for several episodes, it is almost as though she is seeking a connection with home. Owen is a patriot who had, unknown to Margaret, just killed a ‘traitor’. He is, like her, far from home, but he is still fighting his country’s wars. It also takes the pair of them away from Nucky, who is at that moment, facing the assassin his brother invoked.
After her confessional last week, she is also finally embracing her inner sinner. Faced with the self-righteousness of Eamonn, Margaret is better able to make her choice, though she still approaches it with trepidation, like an experiment the ethics of which escape her. “When we’re done” she tells Owen, unable to name the act “you’ll leave”.If only it were that easy.
Read our review of the last episode, here.