Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 2.10: “Georgia Peaches” lacks grandeur, but builds to a compelling finale

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Nucky’s new source of booze means he can begin to regain his hold on the Boardwalk and it doesn’t hurt that his rival Jimmy is struggling to control his partners and deal with the consequences of previous poor decisions. But Nucky’s court case is looming and his home life is fracturing as Margaret tries to come to terms with her daughter’s paralysis.

Boardwalk Empire ep 2.10 “Georgia Peaches”
Written by Dave Flebotte
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO

Boardwalk Empire is now beginning its build to the season finale and the four plot threads established in the previous episode are beginning to converge. The strike of black workers and Nucky’s deal with the Irish are forcing Jimmy Darmody to make difficult decisions. Darmody is aware that violence isn’t always the right course, but he isn’t strong enough to insist on negotiation when his partners push him to take action. He also seriously underestimates his opposition, a mistake Nucky never makes. Thomson has set up Jimmy perfectly: encouraging the strike in the sure knowledge Darmody doesn’t have the skill to settle it amicably and at the same time unloading his whiskey to hotel owners sitting in empty kitchens and desperate to have something to sell their guests. Darmody’s past decisions are also catching up on him in the form of Manny Horvitz, who has survived Jimmy’s attempt to have him killed and is now out for revenge, butcher’s cleaver in one hand.

But it isn’t all going Nucky’s way. A further plot strand concerned a polio outbreak. Margaret’s daughter Emily has survived the disease, but is now paralysed. Her mother has sins on her conscience, in particular an afternoon spent with Owen Sleater, Nucky’s second in command. Margaret wants a miracle and her attempts to buy one from the church demonstrate not only her desperation but how she’s fracturing inside. And at the same time as his home life is beginning to disintegrate, Nucky’s legal troubles continue. His attempts to rig his election fraud case are faltering and with the cooperation of Federal Agent Van Alden, Prosecutor Esther Randolph is homing in his involvement in the death of Margaret’s husband.

Events are lining up, but the adjustments are delicate and the action small. Concentrating on the characters mean the big set pieces are once again absent, apart from a wonderful opening shot of Nucky’s consignment from Ireland being unloaded at the docks. The black workers’ strike is a missed opportunity in that respect. Despite modern day resonances with the Occupy Movement, this protest ends up looking as decorous as a tea party with neatly dressed protestors walking around in circles holding up neatly painted signs. It’s as though every black person in Atlantic City is secretly a librarian with a stencil set and dictionary to hand. The picketing seems to be directed at embarrassing the hotel owners into capitulation: we never see any attempts to bring in substitute labor thwarted, which means that when the bully boys go in with their baseball bats, the violence seems unmotivated and stagy. Inconsistencies in acting ability are also thrown into sharp relief in this show. Aleksa Palladino as Darmody’s wife Angela has never made much impact, although it can’t have helped her that she is written as the kind of undecided/curious/bisexual whose choice of bedpartner follows the whims of the plot rather than the internal logic of the character. She’s as pretty as the picture on a chocolate box, but equally as inexpressive so at the episode climax, when Horvitz breaks into Darmody’s house and Angela must plead for her life, the yawning crevasse between her performance and Forsythe’s as the enraged butcher makes assassination seem like the kindest option.

But these are minor weaknesses. The melding of history and fiction continues to be superb and with two episodes left to go, the tension both between the two rivals and within their personal lives, is building to what promises to be a compelling finale.

Cath Murphy

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