Boardwalk Empire Review: "The Milkmaid's Lot" (Episode 3.09)
This season has been chock-full of gobsmacking conclusions. Gyp sets a person on fire. Gillian draws a deadly bath. The Boardwalk explodes. Bobby Cannavale bares all, internet swoons, etc. True to form, last night’s denouement delivered a shocker, but this time of the less graphic variety: Nucky tells his wife the truth. And it only took losing his wits to get him there.
At the beginning of “The Milkmaid’s Lot” we learn Nucky has undergone a concussion from the Babette’s explosion, and we spend a great deal of the episode dealing with the effects of the injury, from both his point-of-view and those closest to him. As he struggles to keep names, faces and the whereabouts of the birthday pony straight, the big question, until the last 10 minutes, is whether or not Nucky will get it together in time for his hopeful war council.
Trying to get him to focus, Margaret repeatedly asks her estranged husband whether he can “hear” her, but as the irony of Boardwalk would have it, it’s more significant that she “hear” him. Since he had Hans Schroeder whacked in episode one, the true nature of Nucky’s business “affairs” have always been a point of contention in their relationship, but in this period of fog and confusion he inadvertently drops all pretenses. The first bomb comes when he insists Margaret (or the woman he seems to believe is Billie) sit in on his meeting with Eli and Owen. Her usual stoicism gives way, ever so slightly, to appalling realization when she hears Nucky’s plans, including his intention to wear Gyp’s guts “like a neck-tie.”
Later, another moment of unprecedented honesty unfurls, but this time it’s for real (as the sight of Nucky puking his guts outs in the toilet would suggest if we’re reading metaphorically). After the reemergence of the missing hummingbird earring induces the haunting image of Billie’s amber-lit face once more, Nucky tells Margaret in the privacy of his bathroom: “She’s dead. She’s dead and it’s my fault.” And then he explains his situation, as straightforwardly as he can. He can’t walk away. And he can’t be alone, which he tells her is “as good as dead.” Once more, Jimmy Darmody’s final words (“All you gotta worry about is when you run out of booze, run out of company, and the only one left to judge you is you”) still appear lodged in his mind. Vulnerable and guilty are things Nucky Thompson doesn’t concede to out loud. And here he does both.
But any shrouds of empathy Margaret showed earlier towards her sick husband, evaporate here. She recoups her distance, coolly telling him to get dressed and attend to his business, which he just confirmed is the thing she always feared (and to an extent, denied) it to be. Margaret then leaves the bathroom and finishes her conversation with Owen from earlier: “We’ll go. As soon as we’re able.” (Again, I hate to project star-crossed anything on these two, but when they continue to talk of the future, it fills me with sadness and dread.)
And then, for a moment, it appears Nucky has done it again. He starts out shaky, but manages to deliver a fine speech to Waxey, Rothstein, Luciano, Lansky, et al. about building a peaceful gangster world, all the way to California—the only caveat is they need to take out Gyp Rosetti first. Unfortunately Rothstein, who has been deriding Nucky for his state of distraction all season, convinced the men prior that doing business with him is “more trouble than it’s worth” and wishes Nucky the best of luck on their behalf.
The war seems to be over before it even started, but events in Tabor Heights certainly lead us to believe otherwise. Gyp has donned his general’s hat, literally (courtesy the local museum), and issued this official proclamation to the town: Bible Camp’s canceled, folks. But when Masseria told Gyp he could make a good general, he certainly didn’t mean today, and thus foolhardiness tips things back in Nucky’s favor. Or so I assume, because there’s three episodes left and viewers be damned if they don’t get their gangster stand-off.
-Meanwhile “Remus doesn’t get arrested” (he does). But he has “receipts,” to which Esther Randolph naturally replies, “Then Randolph would be very interested in seeing them.”
-Also, Harrow gets a kiss from the lovely Julia and Tommy learns the facts of life, in a Sally Draper sort of way.
-Just when the Van Alden story was getting good, he sits out an episode. The closest we get to Chicago are regrets from Johnny Torrio by way of Owen Slater.
-Speaking of Torrio, last week we heard a cautionary tale from Pompeii, and this week we got yet another allegorical gangster quip inspired by the world’s wonders. As Masseria tells Gyp, the business is like a smooth ocean rock, requiring time and patience. Visual aid included.
-Gyp calls Nucky to read Billie’s obituary. Harsh.