Boardwalk Empire 5.03 Review: “What Jesus Said”

Boardwalk 5.03

“That’s how we are, men like us–all or nothing.”

It’s always been everything or nothing for Nucky Thompson throughout the past four-plus seasons of Boardwalk Empire, and he continues to illustrate this mindset in the show’s fifth and final season with his attempts to get more legitimate business men to join him and help finance the new Bicardi rum operation. However, like Mr. Beckard, the man who tells young Nucky in the flashbacks that the two of them are so much alike, will Nucky’s efforts to have it all cost people their lives? Even more pressing, will they cost him his own?

That ponderous question, plus tonight’s Chalky storyline, the return of Narcisse, and the final scene reunion between Nucky and Margaret, all work together to easily make “What Jesus Said” my favorite episode thus far in Boardwalk Empire‘s final season. It’s still mostly setup for the big and bloody events that I expect to come later–Chalky finally and violently cuts ties with Milton, Luciano and Siegel make a move against Narcisse, and Margaret returns to Atlantic City–but it’s really strong setup, and pretty much all of it makes me excited for the final five episodes that we have left of Boardwalk Empire.

Not to mention, all of the storylines tonight did a great job of connecting with the characters’ pasts. Boardwalk Empire is a series that resets itself from season to season, with a new big bad and a new problem for Nucky to solve, and even though jumping in time to 1931 may be the biggest “reset” the series has ever done, “What Jesus Said” is ultimately as much about the present as it is about the past. Whether we get actual flashbacks to those past events (like Nucky’s exchanges with Beckard, the Commodore, and the sheriff) or if they’re just simply referenced or hinted at (like with Margaret and Chalky), the point is that these characters’ histories, which are dark and tragic, still continue to haunt them.

Chalky still bears the scars left behind by the death of Maybelle, whom he didn’t directly kill but would have never been in a position of danger if it had not been for his gangster lifestyle. The scenes between him and Milton and Marie and Fern were my favorite of the night, as we got to see Chalky’s softer side, as he tries to connect with Fern as if she is something like a “surrogate daughter” to him, and we also see his aggression and hatred for himself when he refuses to continue to talk about Maybelle and eventually kills Milton with the hammer after he points his gun at Fern’s head and cocks it.

Similarly, Margaret cannot move past her “sins,” if you can really call them that. Her storyline with Rothstein from season four comes back into play in a big way tonight, when his wife, Carolyn, reveals that she knows that Margaret is Nucky’s wife and that she wants the money that Margaret has stolen back–even if she has to personally sue her. Despite no longer living in Atlantic City with Nucky and carrying his last name, Margaret cannot escape her past life and must not only acknowledge it but confront it by returning to Atlantic City to ask for Nucky’s help.

And then we have Nucky himself, who does his best but fails to convince Joe Kennedy to join him on the Bacardi rum deal. All of the scenes between the two of them emphasize the differences between the pair: Nucky was only raised Irish Catholic but doesn’t practice, while Joe still tries to live a religious life; Nucky talks about his criminal past, while Joe claims that he’s technically never broken a law; and Nucky fights off the urge to drink, as Joe claims that he doesn’t want to feed the stereotypes that all Irishmen are “drunkards.”

Most interestingly, however, is how the Nucky/Joe Kennedy storyline reflects the quote that I  opened my review with. Nucky is the type of person who can never just let something go–whether it’s business, a relationship, etc. This Bacardi deal is a chance for him to regain what he lost, the money, the prestige, all of it. The answer to Kennedy’s question about why or who Nucky is doing this for is simple. Nucky’s doing it for himself, and now we just have to watch and see whether or not the deal will actually happen and, if it does, if Nucky will be alive along enough to enjoy its rewards.

Other thoughts:

– I didn’t talk much about him in my review, but I am so, so happy to see Narcisse return in tonight’s episode. Jeffery Wright is always a welcomed presence on my television screen, and I wonder how the good doctor will respond to the killing of his men and prostitutes by Maranzano.

– Infamous undercover reporter Nellie Blye died in 1922, so it’s obviously not her sending Nucky mail. Who do you think used the pen name?

– “There’s forgiveness for everyone. That’s what Jesus said.” “Baby girl, Jesus was wrong.”

What did everyone think of tonight’s episode of Boardwalk Empire?

Photo via HBO

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