Boardwalk Empire ep3.09 ‘A Milkmaid’s Lot: Nucky goes a few quarts short of a pint

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Boardwalk Empire Episode 3.09 ‘A Milkmaid’s Lot’

Written by: Rolin Jones

Directed by: Ed Bianchi

Airs Sunday 9.00pm EST on HBO

Three episodes out and we’re building for the season finale. This is always a difficult time for a series fan. The writers have to keep the big plot twists both secret, but also completely explicable in terms of what has gone before. This often leads to shows that are masterclasses in fudging and uncertainty. Sentences are started and not finished. Events are left dangling like misplaced participles. Decisions are made but in such a way that nothing has really been decided.

This, along with the slowing of the story to a snail’s crawl, can be frustrating. But I’m guessing the finale will make the wait worthwhile.

Currently, we have Nucky suffering a horrible reaction to the explosion which caused the death of his girlfriend Billie. He’s so traumatised, he’s blocked her whole existence from his mind, which, along with the tendency to forget who he’s talking to and to act strangely in front of small children, are all clues to the viewer that all is not well with him mentally. This, of course, is timed to coincide with Gyp Rosetti’s resumption of power in Tabor Heights, this time as Masseria’s henchman. Demotion from head sadist to evil minion doesn’t appear to have affected Rosetti’s sense of his own importance. I’m going to lavish more praise on Bobby Cannavale here, who, although fully clothed, still managed to keep me hypnotised every time he appeared on the screen.

To increase the pressure on Nucky, his own request for support is turned down by wax dummy Rothstein. This hardly came as a surprise, as Rothstein had already chastised Nucky for presuming to have a sex life earlier in the season. The bathos of the scene where Rothstein gathers up his acolytes like so many skirts and flounces out, was underlined by the sense that none of Nucky’s acquaintance would have risked even turning up for the meeting. Masseria is not the kind of guy who would nod understandingly while one anxiously explained that one only went to the meet in order to turn Nucky down. They would have stayed away in droves.

But having Margaret agree to run off with Owen Slater was a much smoother piece of plotting. We want Margaret to be happy (not surprisingly, as Kelly McDonald is as likeable as the day is long). We know Owen is a much better match for her than Nucky. Yet we also know she won’t leave her husband, because of the safety and security he offers her and – crucially – her children. So even while her decision makes Nucky’s position even more precarious, because now she is his only support, it also makes us very anxious for Owen and for Margaret. Nice job, writers.

The same goes for poor old Richard Harrow, who is finally within a hairsbreadth of getting the affection he craves. Strong hints are offered that Gillian Darmody, who murders young men the way the rest of us sample bonbons, will coolly destroy Harrow’s hopes if she so much as gets a whiff of them.

No sign of Van Alden or Capone this time, which suggests that a show will be devoted to nudging their respective stories in the direction of Nucky’s big showdown with Rosetti. This will require some dexterity- so far the points of contact between events in Atlantic City and those in Illinois have been few and far between. It may be the threads won’t be drawn together (in which case I will feel let down), but if they are it has to be done in such a way as to feel natural. But with the previous performance of the Boardwalk Empire team in mind, I’m confident it will be handled with finesse.

Cath Murphy

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