‘Boardwalk Empire’ 5×2 Recap: ‘WHY MUST IT ALWAYS BE PANDEMONIUM?!’

Gillian's relaxing dip on Boardwalk Empire. (HBO)

Gillian’s relaxing dip on Boardwalk Empire. (HBO)

In crime, as in life, one must have a partner. Sure, we can all try to make it like Nucky, who has been looking over his shoulder ever since a botched hit in Cuba, convinced the Meyer Lansky is trying to take him out. Now in New York, Nucky meets with Johnny Torrio who is just happy that Capone didn’t put him out of business the usual way…with a bullet to the head. (Well, he kind of did, but you know, he still gets to feed his birds and go to the movies and be alive.)

While taking meetings with legitimate business partners on the off-chance that liquor ever becomes legal again–spoiler alert!–he runs into a Kennedy and holds a fraught meeting with Gyp Rosetti’s back-stabber of a henchman Tonino Sandrelli, who admits that the hit on Maranzano wasn’t just Lucky being a good little foot soldier. One of them is sent home without an ear. (Admittedly, I wondered why Nucky had Sandrelli killed when he was ready to turn for him, but I must have blinked and missed the Billie Kent reference on the wall…of course, Nucky remembers Sandrelli as planting the bomb that killed his beloved showgirl.)

But Nucky is still stuck in his old ways, and even if he’s pulling the “it’s still complicated” with his marital status, he’s always been a lone wolf. He’s pushed away Eli, he’s pushed away Margaret, and now the only tether to a family life he has is William, who may or may not be scheming to turn his beloved uncle in for an attaboy at the New York prosecutor’s office, where he’s looking to work. Willie’s always been a little weasel, in my opinion…the only thing that keeps him redeemable is that magnificent bone structure of his.

Gillian also finds herself alone and all wet, chilling in hydrotherapy in a looney bin that could at first be confused for a spa retreat. In dulcet voices, the women lay in tubs discussing summering in Saratoga and their husbands. But as soon as a nurse snaps off the radio (The Agony Aunt, perfect), the ladies flip out and jump from the tub–which, wasn’t that what the restraints were for??–shattering the illusion that Gillian is enjoying her time in the company of other refined ladies. Luckily, she’s in cahoots with an Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS type, who is willing to barter Darmody’s old outfits in exchange for stationary. (Though none as nice as Gillian is used to.)

But while Boardwalk has proven that you can never trust anyone, it sure seems way more fun to be part of a team. Example A: Lucky and Meyer Lansky, who we were thrilled to see back together, working again! (Seriously, the Internet wants these two to be shipped, so someone make this happen.) The BFFs have recruited Sandrelli and Bugsy Siegel in an attempt to reorganize Cosa Nostra, which means handing “retirement papers” to old bosses like Nucky and Maranzano. Now that Nucky is wise to their scheme, will those two crazy kids draw a truce? Doesn’t it seem like Nucky’s barely even a threat anymore? He’s not really out to get his kingdom back, just a slice of the pie. And enough money to never have to bury a family member in the backyard again because daddy’s gone and drunk away his sister’s tombstone money. Keep chasing those dreams, Nucky!

But the best odd-couple pairing this week wasn’t Lucky and Lansky, but Eli and Van Alden/Mueller. Now working in Chicago under Capone, the two men are like the Oscar and Felix of murdering gangsters: whereas Mueller is a giant, fastidious ball of rage held together only by his rigid belief in some sort of external order to the world, Eli’s the messy lump who has dissolved without his family, smelling like piss and drinking himself to death while crying alone in his motel room.

You wouldn’t think that these two would make for the funniest scenes in this week’s episode, but that’s only because you haven’t been paying attention to how grim this show has really gotten. With Capone back in the picture, at least you get some sense of the joie de vie of being a gangster–giving out press statements, throwing money around, getting tailored for fine suits while doing all of the above–but with Eli and Nelson, the humor comes from a darker place: the juxtaposition of the comedy (the elevator scene, Mueller screaming “WHY MUST IT ALWAYS BE PANDEMONIUM?!” after a botched robbing, the fact that one of them is short and one is tall, etc., etc.) with the existential agony of these two deeply unhappy, flawed men. Maybe Capone isn’t too far from knowing that darkness himself, now that it’s been revealed that one of his lieutenants, Mike D’Angelo, is secretly working for the Feds.

Good times, you guys. We can’t wait to see what happens next week, when fan favorite Mickey Doyle returns to annoy everyone to death.