Episode Title: "The North Star"
Writers: Eric Overmyer and Howard Korder
Director: Allen Coulter
Previously on "Boardwalk Empire:"
One of the most frustrating things about “Boardwalk Empire,” is its main character’s inability to open up. In “The North Star,” while visiting Tampa on business, we finally hear Nucky (Steve Buscemi) talk about his feelings, or rather lack thereof, about the life he’s made for himself and the people in it – people whom Nucky could seemingly care less about as long as the money’s coming in. Listening to Nucky express astonishment at his own behavior for the first time in a long time, we get the sense that this could be a major turning point for a man so dispassionate and unflinching, living in the midst of so much chaos. And then Sally the bartender has to go and punch him in the face.
In all fairness to Sally (Patricia Arquette), she’s really just a just a product of the environment Nucky’s created for himself. He had someone who was willing to listen to him “whine” in Margaret, (whom he reunites with briefly at the top of the episode in Penn Station on his way to Florida) and then there was Eddie, a man who by Nucky’s own account, “lived for him.” And yet, not surprisingly, Nucky is only concerned about secrets Eddie might have kept from him. It’s disappointing not only to see how outwardly unaffected Nucky is by Eddie’s suicide, but also that he can’t even talk about it without being drawn back into the endless cycle of making deals, thwarting rivals, avoiding prosecution and sleeping with random women. Perhaps Nucky is on the verge of some sort of epiphany that will play out in a future episode? But more likely the purpose of the scene with Sally, in which an attempt at drunken introspection ends in angry sex, is to demonstrate just how broken Nucky’s life is.
We get the same idea in an earlier scene with Margaret (Kelly Macdonald). Considering it’s her first appearance of the season, her reunion with Nucky is a little anti-climactic. Like Eddie, Margaret knows Nucky all too well, as she points out the fact he’s ordered a cinnamon roll, something she knows he wouldn’t eat. But the point here is that to know Nucky “well,” doesn’t really extend beyond knowledge of the type of pastry he prefers.
There’s more than punch-drunk sex and cinnamon rolls in this episode, of course. Eli (Shea Whigham) cleverly enlists Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty) to retrieve the money in Eddie’s safety deposit box when a banker turns Eli away. Knox is reminiscent of Van Alden in a past life, when he was a tenacious prohibition agent, bent on taking down Nucky, despite the odds against it. Knox is playing a dangerous game, going “undercover” as a crooked prohibition agent and Eli may have him figured out. While at Eddie’s apartment, Eli gets emotional about the possibility of leaving his own family behind. Knox hands him a handkerchief. Eli notices the monogram “JTM” on it, which could mean trouble for Agent Knox aka "Jim," as J. Edgar Hoover called him.
In other developments, down in Tampa Bill McCoy (Pearce Bunting) finds a replacement investor for the late Auggie Tucker in Vincenzo Petrucelli (Vincenzo Amato), who has ties to the north and more importantly, Joe Masseria. He recognizes Lucky (Vincent Piazza), who’s in town with Meyer (Anatol Yusef) to solidify the deal and mentions Masseria. Lucky contemplates killing Petrucelli causing Meyer to cut Lucky out of the deal. Words are exchanged and the two former partners leave things on less than amicable terms.
Back in AC, the ongoing tension between Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) leads to the second angry sex scene of the episode. We can trying guessing where this is going as Dr. Narcisse probably won’t be pleased to learn that Chalky is bedding his talent and he and Dunn Purnsley are already looking to take over Chalky’s territory. Meanwhile, Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) returns from Wisconsin to learn that Julia’s father, Paul is dying from cirrhosis. Julia (Wrenn Schmidt), herself, is hesitant to let Richard back in her and Tommy’s lives after he fled Atlantic City, but knows she can’t go it alone. And now that he’s back in town, we can’t help but wonder if Richard’s decision to abandon a life of violence will hold in the place where it all began.
“The North Star” chugs along like a typical “Boardwalk “episode; there’s plenty of deal making, a few minor revelations that could mean something more down the road and the usual sprinkling of sex. It’s nice to see Patricia Arquette’s character, Sally again, as she seems to challenge Nucky in ways other women don’t, though she could have picked a better time to punch him in the face. And then there’s the sort-of return of Margaret, whose post-Nucky life we haven’t been privy to. Nucky may be untouchable when it comes to the feds, but his personal loses are starting to pile up to the point where they cannot be ignored. As viewers, we feel it. And as this episodes hints, Nucky may be starting to, as well.