The first few episodes of Boardwalk Empire’s second season were plodding because they were almost entirely set-up. It’s fine if a movie’s first third is largely expository and getting pieces into play because that’s still only 20-30 minutes or so. In a television show, though, especially one without commercials, that just went on and on. There’s only so long you can care about the maneuvering when it’s just maneuvering.
But now that we’re more properly into the season, it’s much easier to appreciate the intricacy of the show’s overall story. Lucy and Van Alden’s plot, which went through an entire half a season with only the barest connection to the gang warfare occurring throughout Atlantic City, has resulted in a pretty perfect conclusion, with “Peg of Old” making them one of the the lynchpins of what happens next.
The episode began with Lucy asking Van Alden for the money she’d long been promised for having the child. By now it should be obvious to everyone, including her, that he doesn’t have the $3000 he owes her, so without any options she heads back to Nucky for help. At first he’s just annoyed with her, but when she tells him who the father is he sees this as a new opportunity, offering to pay for the child to be raised in exchange for Van Alden betraying the new assistant attorney general who’s working on the case against Nucky. The only problem with this is that the moment Lucy has money in hand, she flees, leaving Van Alden with the baby. His response is to give the attorney general the entire, massive file he’s been keeping on Nucky.
What’s wonderful about this chain of events is the way no part of it feels forced. This is these characters acting exactly the way they should, with events just lining up in a way that seems natural. Van Alden, for all of his intentional woodenness, is consistent. He’s no longer just a symbol like he was when the series began, he’s grown into a more flawed and interesting character. We’re also left in an interesting place with him because now that Lucy’s gone and he’s off Nucky’s case, what’s left for him to do?
The episode’s title refers to Margaret’s trip back to New York to visit her siblings. This was the least interesting part of “The Peg of Old,” simply because it fails to relate to the rest of the show and her siblings in and of themselves aren’t very engaging. We learn a great deal about Margaret’s backstory and how she ran away to America after becoming pregnant, but it’s nothing that feels particularly enlightening about her character. It feels like we fully know her now, but prior to her time in America what we’ve learned doesn’t seem particularly relevant to the person she’s become. The title may also refer to her actions right before the credits: having sex with Owen Slater, the Irish hitman who was busy settling an old grudge and seeing her rather than guarding Nucky’s back.
The end of this episode was explosive again, not just with the sheer violence of Slater murdering someone from Ireland, the implications of which are still unclear, but also a hit that was taken out on Nucky. Due to pressure from the rest of his conspiracy, Jimmy has agreed that they should finally go ahead and just kill Nucky, since he remains the biggest thorn in their side. The assassination fails, though, and only hits (in fact passes straight through) Nucky’s hand. Between this and the attorney general receiving a comprehensive file on him, it was not a good episode for Nucky.
As usual there were quite a few obvious gears turning in order to make things happen so neatly here, but Boardwalk Empire works so hard to make sure that motivations are in place that they work despite this. I can’t say that a little more spontaneity wouldn’t help the show at times, but now that it’s fully hit its stride, the connections that it creates are so engrossing that its cold, mechanical nature can be ignored. Like Van Alden himself, it’s overdetermined, but still fascinating to observe.
•”I’m sure you’re being tested, as well. In your fashion.” – Can’t help but wonder if Lucy’s now gone from the show, at least for a very long time. I know that she’s particularly unpopular, so I don’t think she’ll be much missed if that’s the case.
•”She’s just a little scoop of ice cream.” – Only because you put that little white hat on her.
•The implication that Gillian regularly normally just changes in front of Jimmy without having him look away is super creepy.
•Nucky drinking in front of Van Alden is a pretty great moment, as much as I’m a tiny bit disappointed the show didn’t turn Van Alden into Nucky’s agent.
•”You can’t go wrong picking something from the Bible.”