‘Boardwalk Empire’ Final Season Discussion: ‘Cuanto’

“Is this a fight? I can’t tell.” “We’ve had all the fights we’re going to have.”

“Cuanto” is Spanish for “how much?” As in, “How much money are you going to foolishly offer the authorities before they shoot you in the head?” or “how much of this episode of Boardwalk Empire could you predict before it happened?” The answers: not enough and much of it! But despite feeling like Miss Cleo, if Miss Cleo was really good at guessing what happens in prestigious HBO dramas, “Cuanto” was a lively episode and a solid midway point for the final season.

Yes, the flashbacks are still around and still frustratingly inessential, but the actor who plays Young Nucky Thompson is doing a fine job, and the transitions to and away from those scenes weren’t nearly as jarring as they’ve been in the first three episodes. There are solid shifts from then to now (well, “now”), from Nucky and Eli being thick as thieves to Nucky and Eli talking for the first time in months (years?) when Capone orders the younger Thompson to call his brother in Atlantic City.

He’s got a problem, you see, and that problem is named “Charles.”

Luciano pays Chicago a visit in order to convince Cocaine, I mean, Capone to join his criminal organization. Capone’s having none of it, but he is willing to listen to his guest’s story about the man once known as Nelson Van Alden. Back in season one, he and Jimmy were both arrested by the former Prohibition agent, and even though Luciano’s face is damaged, his mind isn’t, and he knows who the Cigar Store Indian in Al’s gang is. That leads to a tremendously tense scene where Capone sticks his symbolic penis in Mueller’s mouth and tells Herc from The Wire to count to 30.

If Mueller can’t convince him that he’s not a no-good rat in time, BOOM.

Michael Shannon’s at his best when he plays to Capone’s ego. The only thing he hates more than hearing someone call his friend a “jerk” is being undermined, something Mueller reminds his boss before he gets filled with lead or, worse, stabbed to death by the Empire State Building (“When you see an Empire State Building in act one…”). As a f*ck you to Luciano, Capone calls Nucky to warn him of the danger that’s brewing. And to think, Nucky WAS having such a nice night getting drunk with Margaret, who’s an entirely person now than she was seven years ago (for instance, she’s able to say the word “nipple” without shame). Then the guys in Chicago just HAD to give him a ring, and Sally just HAD to get shot. Poor Sally. The last person she spoke to in the United States was that horndog Mickey Doyle. That’s a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, and Patricia Arquette will be missed.

But back in Jersey, Nucky and Margaret were bringing out the best in each other. There’s a lived-in breeziness to their conversations that Nucky isn’t able to have with anything else, with the possible exception of Sally. She sees him for what he truly is: someone who’s so full of secrets and schemes that you can see straight through him. But Nucky walking away from Margaret, after he gives her a place to stay in Atlantic City that isn’t his bed, that’s a new development. He’s up to something, and while you knew someone was going to get beaten with Al’s gift and Sally wasn’t going to make it when she was stopped for being out past curfew, I’m not sure what that “something” is yet.

I’m soiling my pants in anticipation.