Boardwalk Empire: Would I Lie to You?

We've reached the pleasurable point in the season when an HBO drama (at least one that's well done) begins to gather steam for its climax. Last night's

Boardwalk Empire

continued to draw together the strands that have been laid out so far and pull them together, and it did so in such a pleasing and believable way that the scripted actions felt completely natural. It was also a damn funny episode: the script, credited to Meg Jackson, was packed with fantastic one-liners that acted as grace notes for the characters who got to deliver them, and that little bit of color made them even more real. Another predictably wonderful episode.

When I graduated from college, my uncle gave me a great piece of advice. He told me to periodically take a look at my life and ask myself two questions: What am I pretending not to know? What am I pretending not to cause? Those were the questions facing the main players in last night's "Hold Me in Paradise," and nobody was happy with the answers. Nucky headed to Chicago for the Republican National Convention -- placing the episode in June of 1920 -- to find a way to get the road money he's wanted for months; happily for him, he was able to make a play for it by screwing over Senator Edge at the same time, keeping Edge from getting the VP nomination with Warren Harding as the presidential candidate. Yet his trip away was also a wake-up call, with the D'Alessio brothers and Mickey Doyle (partnered with Lucky Luciano) continuing their assault on Nucky's holdings, including a grab at the casino that left Eli shot in the gut and in critical condition. Nucky finally realized that these weren't minor incidents, but battles in an all-out war. His mistake was thinking that things used to be different. In the words of Slim Charles, "Game's the same. Just got more fierce." His interaction with Eli after the incident was also touching and illuminating: touching for the way he showed genuine brotherly affection, and illuminating in the way Nucky seemed genuinely surprised that a life lived as the king of a criminal empire would invite violence and strife.

Jimmy, though, had the same epiphany when Nucky paid him a visit and pointed out that Jimmy's Irish blood would keep him from advancing in Torrio's Italian group of Chicago gangsters. (Torrio's best line was in reference to Nucky: when Nucky told Jimmy he'd been making trips to Chicago for decades, Torrio piped up, "Who do you think lit that fire?") Jimmy also started to realize he could do some good at home for Gillian and Angela, even if he hasn't been around much. The sad thing is that he's been trying to do right by Angela only to have the money he's sending her intercepted by Van Alden, who seems determined to make up the law as he goes. Yet Van Alden's curved line in the moral sand led him to send Angela the money as long as it meant taking a horribly rigid stand against his wife's desire to have a surgery that might help her get pregnant.

However, Margaret was the one whose worldview crumbled the most, when she paged through Nucky's ledger and discovered he was running a criminal organization built on the things she'd spent years protesting. She's such a smart character -- her refusal to deal with Lucy is fantastic, and slapping the jilted lover was a shocking but cathartic moment -- yet sometimes she's just as blind as the rest. I'm eager to see how she deals with her new knowledge and whether she leaves Nucky or caves to moral compromise.

Scattered thoughts:

• The blunt discussions of a politician's infidelity seem shocking when removed from a world of cable news. Harding's campaign manager was stunningly honest about the man's infidelities, but that's just the way they played ball.

• Arnold Rothstein's appearance felt somewhat tangential, especially since all he did was go over his testimony for his upcoming appearance in the investigation into the Black Sox scandal. Still, it's enough (for now) that he's tied to Lucky. I just want to see him get more involved.

• "Hague's an even bigger backstabbing chiseler, not to mention a friend." Nucky's summation of political rivals and necessary evils couldn't have been better.

• Nucky visits Torrio's brother at four in the morning to make a pitch for Jimmy's return. Four a.m. seems to be the preferred time of night for re-examining one's life.

• That fortune-teller was right, Mrs. Harding: Warren Harding, after winning in the biggest popular-vote landslide in U.S. history, went on to die of a heart attack in 1923.

• Who knew 1920s porn was so hardcore?

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