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Boardwalk Empire 4×09, “Marriage and Hunting”

While last week’s episode was about getting your house in order, this episode dealt with family. But, as we see in life, and in this episode, sometimes marriage and hunting are two sides of the same coin.

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The episode opens on a fight in the Van Alden/Mueller household, complete with wailing baby. Trouble in paradise is an uncommon scene for these two and we can see the rage that’s been percolating under Van Alden/Mueller’s flaccid exterior since last season. With the exception of a few break-out moments, he’s been wholly reserved but now, we’re seeing cracks, and it is glorious. It seems the prospect of heading out for a day’s work being bullied by O’Banion and abused by the Capones after being berated by his wife about the faucet not working in their Sears and Roebuck build-by-numbers house is wearing on his waning patience.

After Capone threatens Van Alden/Mueller to give him intel on O’Banion, Van Alden/Mueller instead offers to do the hit himself for $1000. His attempt is almost botched by his (suddenly) pushy wife and then actually botched when a scarred co-worker from his past comes back to exact his revenge. Unfortunately for iron-face Magee, Van Alden/Mueller’s dark passenger can’t hold back any longer. He’s back, baby! Van Alden comes full surface and cooly executes iron-face and his two buddies who have come along as back-up. His next attempt is botched one more time by the bell of the shop door ringing. Though, instead of customers, O’Banion is met with the barrel of a few guns and blown away. Newly resurfaced Van Alden doesn’t think twice to steal the $1000 from the flower shop cash box and step over O’Banion’s body. At home he “Van Alden’s” the shit out of his wife by flaunting his gun, his real identity and his wad of cash.

Back in Atlantic City, Chalky’s patience for Nucky is slipping away. After confiding in him about the dust up with Purnsley (at the will of Narcisse), Nucky, with a hint of racism, accuses Chalky of being reactionary and entitled. Nucky suggests that they are square because of the strings he had to pull to get Chalky a spot on the Boardwalk with the opening of the Onyx (failing to see just how successful this endeavour of Chalky’s has been on its own merit). Chalky doesn’t see it that way after he and his entire stable of supporters protected Nucky during the almost coup of last season. While Chalky wants to end Narcisse, Nucky tells him not to act and to let him talk to him first.

Chalky’s not having a lot of luck in this episode, with his business “family” or his home family. Suspecting his infidelity, Chalky’s wife is icy as they prepare for a visit from his daughter Maybelle’s soon to be mother-in law. They snip at each other until a phone call from the pianist at the Onyx interrupts the afternoon (and some wholesome family fun as his son plays the piano in the parlour) with news about Daughter. Chalky leaves one daughter for the other.

And, speaking of luck, it seems Arnold Rothstein’s has run out. He shares a story about being a little boy – his first time playing craps. Melancholy, he tells his muscle that at nine years old he won $32 – lucky little boy, or so he thought. Later, in an act of desperation, Rothstein visits Nucky with a $500,000 death warrant. Having taken out a life insurance policy on Nucky’s employee (and local douche) Mickey Doyle, the two discuss the merits of cashing in on it. When both indifferently decide they don’t want the blood on their hands Nucky instead buys the policy from Rothstein for $100,000.

Out on the boardwalk, a fresh-faced and content Gillian looks out to the lively beach. She’s peaceful and healthy, thanks to Mr. Piggly Wiggly, who is standing by her side. Having seen her at her worst, she lets him in once more by telling him a terribly sad story that gives meaningful background to the state of her life now. One warm summer day she kissed a freckle-faced boy named James under the boardwalk. A day later, Gillian makes her way to the front of the crowd at the local festival and is hand-picked to be taken to the Commodore, the ultimate owner of Atlantic City in his day. Gillian admits that night, shy of her 13th birthday, she was raped and taken over by the Commodore. Nine months later, she named her baby boy James, the last pure thing she could remember.

Gillian has always been a powerful (albeit ruthless) woman on the show. This season she has been so sad and so broken. This admission was not only heart-wrenching in its matter-of factness, it was a moment when we can almost understand her lack of regard and childish pursuit of power up to this point. At the end of the episode we’re meant to feel even more sorry for Gillian as we catch the latter part of a shady phone conversation Mr. Piggly Wiggly is having with someone. I knew it was too good to be true! This might be Gillian’s karma coming back around to bite her.

Later, while in court still fighting for custody of Tommy, Gillian admits (some of) the problems with her past and alludes to the dysfunction of her family while Julia makes an excellent case for maintaining custody. But, in form true to the sexism of the time, the judge considers Julia’s lack of a marriage to be a problem for the proper care of Tommy.

Now, remember when Richard was nothing more than the creepy guy with the twisted book of twisted family fantasies? It looks like those fantasies are closer to reality than ever. While Tommy and Julia’s dad play in the backyard, Julia awkwardly suggests he propose to her. We know that these two care for each other, but Julia is, above all, a pragmatic woman. She does what needs to be done. With the admission of her ailing father just a moment earlier, and the judge’s vague threat looming, Julia insinuates that she and Richard should be married. This moment was incredibly entertaining as Julia suggests Richard say something or else it will be awkward and he answers with “yes.”

Anxiously waiting at City Hall (a sign beside them reads “Marriage and Hunting licenses”), Julia asks him if he’s sure he wants to go ahead with it. Richard simply replies, “It’s just hunting, right?” And, with that, Richard, Julia and Tommy have become their own content version of the one of the patchwork families from Richard’s diary.

While Richard’s family comes together, another falls apart. Narcisse is paying Daughter a visit. The director, Bianchi, shows us the width of this divide and foreshadows Narcisse’s violent reaction by showing Narcisse’s face split in two by the door frame he stands in, and Daughter’s face in profile as she sits on the nearby couch. Eventually, we see the wrath of Narcisse’s broken heart when Chalky finally gets to her chambers following the phone call. With Daughter’s face beaten to ground beef, Chalky vows to end Narcisse at the protest of Daughter, his life-long victim.

Narcisse sits front and centre with Nucky in the front row of a “modern-day” minstrel show at the Onyx. Amidst the jungle-themed performance and white faces laughing at the black man, Chalky confronts Narcisse. This scene was uncomfortable (as it was meant to be), and I think serves to illustrate that despite all of the protection and help and financial and political stability that Chalky gives to Nucky, he will not see Chalky as an equal. Narcisse sadly rises above Chalky in Nucky’s hierarchy because of his demeanour and vocabulary. This decision is sure to not be taken lightly by Chalky or the army of Atlantic City pride that Nucky seems to keep forgetting about.

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