TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Cuanto’

Spoilers Ahead

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The Low Down: Margaret Thompson (Kelly MacDonald) hopes to enter a business arrangement with her estranged husband Nucky (Steve Buscemi) in order to avoid the financial wrath of Arnold Rothstein’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) widow. However — will this business partnership lead to the rekindling of their once hot-and-heavy romance? In Chicago, Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) is visiting his old pal Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and has a case of a deja vu when he sees Van Alden/Mueller (Michael Shannon). Will this cost the former fed his life? In Havana, Sally (Patricia Arquette) is concerned about uprising throughout the country but still goes forward with her dealings with Bacardi. In the world of flashback’s, Nucky has been relieved of his duties at the hotel because summer is over. The Sheriff, finds Nucky and Eli trespassing in the hotel, and shows them an act of kindness.

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The Body Count: Al Capone absolutely brutalizes one of his underlings and murders him with the Empire State paperweight Luciano gets him. Sally meets her maker at the hands of the Cuban Army (or what seems like the Cuban Army) after grabbing a gun from one of the officers.

The High Roller (Favorite Performance): Once again, Stephen Graham owned the episode. His portrayal of the “mad king” phase of Al Capone’s life is the stuff that Emmy wins are made of. Hell, if Bobby Cannavale can win for his hammy and over-the-top role of Gyp Rossetti — Stephen Graham should have an Emmy mailed to him after tonight’s episode. If you have watched the series as long as I have you’ll see the evolution of Al Capone and where Graham has taken it, is just awesome.

The Ace in the Hole (The Supporting Scene Stealer): Michael Shannon turned in his best performance in quite some time. Since fleeing Atlantic City in Season Two, Shannon has not had a lot of great moments. He’s had to play this subservient, sometimes bumbling fool who once a season gets a couple of decent scenes to sink his teeth into. One forgets that for the first two season Shannon was an absolute revelation as the fanatical Christian Nelson Van Alden. At times this character has been an afterthought, but tonight was a great reminder of just how quick on his feet and deceptive Van Alden can be. He also had the line of the night, “I think I just soiled myself.”

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The Little Thing We Loved: There was nothing to “love” about this scene, but there is this clever little nod to The Commdore’s perversions. When young Nuck is being shown The Commodore’s plans for Atlantic City, he quickly rolls the map over an array of photos of young girls. Remember, The Commodore had Nucky bring Gilliam Darmody to him when she six weeks shy of being 13-years-old.

The Episode Rolls Snake Eyes When (The Part We Could’ve Done Without): Honestly, this was a really strong episode, so there wasn’t anything awful here. However, if we’re nitpicking, the final scene of Sally Wheet was kinda ridiculous. She seemed to be trying to channel a tough film noir dame way too hard, even throwing on a bit of cheese ball accent. Also, pulling a gun from a military officer, what the hell did you think was going to happen? She signed her own death warrant. Frankly, I never liked the character anyway, so I could care less if she bought it.

The Jackpot (Best Part of the Episode): The entire sequence with Margaret and Nucky was probably one of the best material Kelly MacDonald has had to work with since Season 2. The scene reminded us that Margaret is a sassy, bold, and empowered woman who takes no shit from no man. The money and power she gained when she officially became Mrs. Thompson dulled all of that and soon the series relegated her to a mere background player. Margaret’s encounter with Nucky was both frank and playful. And, despite being a part for over a season, the chemistry between the two has not suffered one iota. Their relationship was one of the strong points of the first two season but became an albatross midway through Season 3. Now, in the final season, I’m really excited to see where this relationship will go.

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Final Thoughts: “Cuanto” was the perfect name for this episode. How much is the question every character in this episode has to answer and will have to answer by season’s end. How much does Nucky still need Margaret? How much of Nucky’s lies and deception can she take in order to avoid being sued by Mrs. Rothstein? How much will Sally risk to make sure her deal would go through? How much would she give in order to maintain her quality as a strong-willed woman? How much power and acceptance does Capone need in order to be truly happy? How much does Van Alden have to risk in order to main his risk?

The series, while centering around prohibition, is really about gambling. How much are all these character willing to risk in order to satisfy their (often selfish) needs and this all ties into the finale of the series. All these characters are gambling, pushing all their chips to the center — and for many of them it could mean their lives.

This is the perfect midway point for Boardwalk Empire. Things are hanging in the balance and here’s hoping the writers of the series can close this series out with an amazing finish.

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Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites