Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 5.02: “The Good Listener” tightens the noose for several necks

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Boardwalk Empire, Season 5, Episode 2: “The Good Listener”
Written by Terence Winter
Directed by Allen Coulter
Airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO

There are revelations aplenty as we catch up with a few more members of the cast after the crash, and in the beginnings of the Great Depression.

Gillian is seen early on under surprising circumstances; in not a prison, but a mental institution. Her initial sequence, in which she dozes comfortably in a steam bath while discussing frivolities is rapidly dissipated when one of her fellow patients loses control over a radio program, and riles up the other patients in kind. Gillian remains calm and is paid a particular level of attention from the institutions warden, in what initially appears to be a lesbian infatuation (something Boardwalk is no stranger to) but is instead revealed to be the youthful longings of an insecure woman seeking confidence through vanity. What Gillian gets in exchange for giving away her possessions remains cryptic, as she only remarks over her pen-and-paper prize that she needs to gather her thoughts.

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Eli also appears. As an underling of Van Alden, he is appropriately brow-beaten and downtrodden, but he’s lost none of the calculating opportunism that has come to define him. With his family absent, he drinks himself into oblivion and weeps openly while listening to family programs on the radio. When his carelessness lands him at the wrong end of a raid from the bureau, he escapes by the skin of his teeth; and when Al Capone demands recompense for the money lost, he simply steals it from Capone’s own bagmen. The lust in his eyes when he looks at the overflowing money pile that Capone’s bookkeeper is sorting is painstakingly obvious, and whatever scheme he is hatching in that regard will likely be his end, possibly Van Alden’s as well.

Speaking of Van Alden, he is a character who hasn’t changed much at all in his downtime. Still retaining an obsessive level of self-control amid the occasional outburst, Van Alden is like a coiled viper quietly hissing in the dark. His equal impatience with his wife, his son, and Eli suggest that he will lose himself very soon but, as per usual, the results will be hard to predict.

J. Edgar Hoover makes a couple of brief appearances, however each is iconic and notable. First as the leader of the raid on the Capone warehouse, and later in delivering a speech to the press in which he name-drops treasury agent Elliot Ness. One hopes that this is only a taste of things to come, as Ness would be a fantastic addition to the show.

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Like last week, we’ll end by getting to the Nuck, whose storyline also ties in with several of the other big players. Still suspicious, Nucky brokers a deal with Salvatore Maranzano and Lucky Luciano via the happily retired (and happy to be alive) Johnny Torrio. It turns out that the “mugger” who made an attempt on Nucky last week was indeed a play to take him out, although not in the way one might expect. Meyer Lansky is revealed to be the culprit behind the  failed hit but only because he didn’t want his boss to get word that he was in Cuba.

With that in mind, Nucky’s numbers are not looking good, and may in fact be up. High profile enemies like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel do not speak well for his health and longevity. Nucky is intent on sending  a message, though, even if he will go down fighting. When he meets with Tonino Sandrelli, a man he once used to take out Gyp Rosetti, the arrangement initially appears mutually beneficial. That all changes when the meeting ends and Tonino realizes that they’ve been parleying under a caricature of Nucky’s former flame, Billie Kent. A look from Nucky’s Cuban bodyguard (an excellent addition to the show, by the way) seals his fate in a seconds notice. His cutthroat delivery to Lansky is a declaration of war, and it closes the episode wonderfully.

Unlike last weeks deliberate plot separation, “The Good Listener” ties the threads together with a careful deliberation, one that suggests that a few of them might soon be clipped for good.

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