‘Boardwalk Empire’ – ‘Family Limitation’: Nucky vs. Lucky

Senior Television Writer
10.24.10 57 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Boardwalk Empire” coming up just as soon as I escape from the check…

“Not how you treat a buddy.” -Al
“Is that what we are?” -Jimmy
“What do you think we are?” -Al
“Accomplices.” -Jimmy
“It’s the same thing.” -Al

This review is going to be a little shorter than the last few, as we’re now coming on more than two months since I actually watched “Family Limitation,” and while my notes are very detailed, they’re still no substitute for the experience of having recently seen the thing.(*) But the brevity shouldn’t suggest a dissatisfaction with the episode, since it continued the expansion of the depth and breadth of the show’s world and characters.

(*) And since this inevitably leads to the question of why I don’t just write the reviews as I watch, or vice versa, it’s not that simple. In order to write the review before the series begins, my goal is to see as much as possible, since a flashy pilot could lead to a lame series, or we could have a show that starts off weakly but improves, etc. I watched the first six inside a few days, and there would have been no time to stop and write as I went, and I haven’t had time to go back and rewatch this episode in the weeks since. HBO sent out the next five episodes after this one, and my plan was, in fact, to ration them out so I was only seeing them at the rate at which I could review them. Then I got an interview with Michael Kenneth Williams a few days from now, and now I need to keep watching until the next Chalky-heavy episode. It’s complicated sometimes, this reviewing thing of ours.

What we see throughout “Family Limitation” are characters trying to lie – to themselves and/or others – about who they are and what they’re doing, and others forcing them to confront what may be the truth.

Margaret wants to believe that she’s just moving up in society, that Nucky is going to love her like no other, but Lucy (who’s smart enough to know what’s what with the shopgirl) suggests Nucky will tire of her, her old neighbor calls her a whore, and one of the other kept women in her new neighborhood refers to them all as “the concubines.” Given how quickly, almost eagerly, Margaret has gotten over her dead husband, multiple miscarriages, etc., to throw herself into this affair with Nucky, who can say all these women are wrong?

Capone keeps talking up his fictional war record and is embarrassed when Jimmy calls him on it. He considers himself a big man in the Torio organization when it’s Jimmy who comes up with the plan to take out Sheridan and his men – a problem that only needs to be solved because of how Al antagonized them in the first place. He tries to ignore his son’s deafness when it’s immediately obvious to Jimmy, and Al can only admit the truth when he’s alone with Jimmy and feeling sentimental.

Nucky tells himself “I try to be good, I really do,” and Eddie calls him a very nice man, but Nucky’s saying it as he’s messing around with the topless ukelele player, and Eddie’s comment is followed immediately (and hilariously) with Nucky screaming and calling Lucky Luciano a “greasy cocksucker.”

Agent Van Alden keeps telling himself that he’s a crusader for a just cause, but his boss can tell he’s become obsessed with both Nucky and Mrs. Schroeder, and at the episode’s end we get to see the ritual of mortification he performs with his knotted belt to punish himself for all his impure thoughts.

And as all these characters lie and are confronted about those lies, we see just how big a mess all this is. Margaret’s resorting to Lysol as a contraceptive. Nucky thinks that one Italian (Lucky) has robbed his bagmen, when in fact it’s another group of Italians (Mickey Doyle’s pals from Philly) entirely, and Frank Hague suggests Nucky’s backing the wrong political horse in Senator Edge. Jimmy gains Torio’s respect, but Capone’s temper and jealousy won’t stay dormant for long. And Van Alden has been ordered to deliver numbers – or else.

Nucky has set himself up as the man in control of a sprawling empire that starts on that boardwalk, but everywhere we look, pieces of that empire are spinning out of control.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What did everybody else think?

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