With “A Dangerous Maid” I’m not so much disappointed in Boardwalk Empire’s inability to gain a little steam this far into the season, so much as I am impressed by how little it manages to move its plot in an hour of airtime. That isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with the show’s frequent scenes that serve to develop character relationships rather than move the story forward, but it still feels like with the exception of just a couple of key events you could skip what we saw in this episode entirely and find that you’ve missed almost nothing.
There is one major development here, which is what gives us the episode’s title. Margaret receives mail saying that a certain “Peggy Rowan” died 12 years prior. Later, a maid acts too forward with her mistress and it’s clear that she’s aware that Margaret may in fact be an impostor. Or, you know, not. Where this is headed it’s hard to say, but it could mean a complete reconfiguration of a character that previously seemed like she had no more secrets left.
However, Margaret’s plot seems unlikely to have much to do with the bigger picture going on, which is the unraveling of Nucky’s life. Here the only substantial change is an alliance between Nucky and the Irish hitman Owen Slater, who stops a shipment of liquor from being delivered to a casino that previously worked with Nucky. His brief showdown with the masked Richard Harrow is the most exciting part of the episode, both because it shows some real action and because it delves more into Harrow’s character. Previously Harrow has shown that he’s a cold-blooded murderer with absolute loyalty to Jimmy and his causes. Here, he seems to have his doubts and decides to let Slater stop the shipment without any shots being fired. This in itself is a positive turn for Nucky’s otherwise poor fortune, let alone the strength we see in this new ally.
Other than those two, rather brief parts, “A Dangerous Maid” mostly just emphasized what we already knew. Nucky’s betrayal by everyone else continues, which we see when he tries to call up the attorney general for a favor he’s owed. We get the same message when Al Capone delivers a message for Torrio, saying that Chicago will no longer be buying liquor from Atlantic City. Likewise, Nucky’s own people are looking for new sources of booze because his liquor’s pretty much dried up. But this is all material that if it weren’t shown, could have just been assumed to have happened off-screen. Nucky’s betrayals seem pretty total and, as entertaining as it is to watch Capone and Nucky interact, the specifics of it aren’t particularly important. The episode answers questions like why hasn’t Nucky used his political contacts for help, but for the most part it’s just more of the same.
This ultimately results in a showdown between Nucky and the Commodore at the end of the episode, in which Nucky finally gets angry in public with the man turning his life upside down. Nucky seems pretty content with what occurs here, but other than allowing Nucky to air his grievances this explosion has no real effect. It’s exciting to see Nucky blow up, but it accomplishes nothing.
Largely apart from everything else, the episode’s other subplot concerns the prohibition agent Van Alden and his kept woman who’s pregnant with his child, Lucy Danzinger. We’re shown what we already know: that they’re terrible together and that life with Van Alden must be completely awful. Lucy considers forcing a miscarriage by throwing herself down a flight of stairs, but moments before this she receives a delivery with a record player, and apparently that’s all she needed to keep her happy. The 10-minutes of screentime this story received basically moved from Lucy hating her life to Lucy hating her life but now with a kicking soundtrack from the ‘20s.
There were few individual scenes in “A Dangerous Maid” that weren’t interesting. They were as well-written as always and the show’s cast knows how to wring the most out of non-events. But this is the first time where it’s really felt like they’re padding things out in order to just have one or two substantial events occurring in an episode. Boardwalk Empire needs to transition its focus from endless portentousness about events about to occur to the events themselves.
•All I think about when I watch Van Alden/Lucy talk is how their child must clearly have fetal alcohol syndrome.
•Suspenders and a wife beater: Jimmy’s a classy man
•One word: flibbertigibbet.
•“Everything written here, is what the actors are supposed to play.” – Van Alden’s confusion about the theater is pretty entertaining. Like, has he really never heard of this “acting” thing before?
•”That is a sacred charge, from the lord… and a financial agreement between us.”
•Throwing old timey phones is hilarious.
•Speaking of phones, why exactly does calling on the phone cause Margaret’s maid to cry?