Boardwalk Empire Review: "Anastasia"
The latest episode title “Anastasia," was really confusing to me.
I could see the connection between the wannabe Princess Anastasia and the poor Mrs. Schroeder, especially when she stole that negligee from the shop, but Margaret has never seemed desperate to belong like the pretender Anna Anderson. Perhaps it points to the grandiose pretense of some of the evening’s events.
From Nucky’s party to the “negotiation” between Capone and Sheridan, there was a lot of pretending going on, which lead to some superbly acted scenes from the characters. Even smaller characters like Chalky, Margaret, and Capone became more complex and nuanced.
Already at home with Capone, Torrio and a beautiful prostitute named Pearl, Jimmy is still a little unsure about his path. Claiming to only be passing through Chicago, he still helps Capone through the negotiation with Sheridan with some helpful advice about negotiation tactics.
However, all of this falls on deaf ears as Capone has his own way of dealing with things. Beating up local bartenders to force them into buying from Torrrio is just one of Capone’s tactics, which leads to a sit down meeting with Sheridan. As Torrio’s muscle, Capone acts the part, huffing over perceived slights and unfairly “negotiating” for half of Sheridan’s take. When Sheridan agrees, he tells Jimmy, “I knew he’d cave,” and Jimmy simply replies, “That’s one way of reading it.”
Capone’s ambition definitely has driven him this far in the series, but there is a quiet madness about him that actor Stephen Graham brings out remarkably well, especially during the opening scene. He’s like a large child with a sick sense of humor - and a gun. In this case, Jimmy is unfortunately right as Capone’s mobster routine costs Pearl her beautiful face and Torrio his peace of mind.
Back in Atlantic City, Nucky is carefully crafting his performance of “I do expect everything” for his surprise birthday party. Already rehearsing his surprise face and speech, Nucky obsesses over the details for the party. He must impress some very important politicians to ensure his livelihood for the future, and that involves paying their large bills, getting them laid, and providing them with cases of their favorite liquor.
A lipstick smeared glass sets him off and we are able to see how tightly wound Nucky really is. His position seems almost natural for the man, but it’s clear that Nucky has worked hard to get to the top and will do anything to stay there, including hunting down the man responsible for lynching one of Chalky’s men.
Chalky is the key to keeping the black vote in Atlantic City, so he is given free reign to question the leader of the KKK about the Klan’s possible involvement. Chalky’s quietly moving and terrifying speech about his father’s carpentry skills and unfortunate lynching is unsettling, especially when he takes out his father’s tools. The Klan leader asks what they are for and Chalky calmly responds, “I ain’t building a bookcase.”
Once he has taken the man’s finger, Chalky is assured that the Klan wasn’t involved and we’ve seen a more menacing side to this common bootlegger.
My favorite moment of the night was Margaret’s brilliant transformation into a well-spoken and intelligent character. Her change from a quiet wallflower with small ambitions came at the best time, during Nucky’s party. As the Commodore repeated his enraging “test” of female intelligence and political acumen on Lucy (“You’re assuming they have minds at all”), Margaret voices an informed opinion about Women’s Suffrage by stating, “In most civilized countries, women are afforded that privilege.”
She’s quite clever in her responses to the men and definitely impresses Nucky, even more so than the sexually explicit Lucy. The night feels like a dream to Margaret, but her fantasy is extinguished the next day when she discovers the Russian princess is a fraud and realizes she is just a poor immigrant without much of chance with Nucky.
Also, Gillian’s cheeky handling of Luciano was the funniest part of the episode: “Maybe he’s up your ass, have you looked there?” Her bold behavior impresses the New York mobster and he follows her around like puppy. For a grandmother, Gillian is still sexually appealing to men and has enough attitude to share.