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Review: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 5 Episode 4, ‘Cuanto,’ Brings Clarity to Margaret and Nucky

Review: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5 Episode 4, 'Cuanto,' Brings Clarity to Margaret and Nucky

The Whole Kit and Caboodle

Entitled “Cuanto,” a Spanish word translating roughly to “as much as” or simply “how much,” this episode is among the finest “Boardwalk Empire” has produced. It is heavy on dialogue, but not short on thrills, as the story becomes increasingly about two unique (though not totally independent) trajectories: the mafia world of Luciano and Capone, and Nucky Thompson’s affairs in Atlantic City and Havana.

In Chicago, Lucky pays a visit to Capone’s outfit, where Alphonse shows both his increased mind for business and his knack for outlandish episodes. On the Thompson front, Nucky’s deal with Kennedy may have fallen through, but he comes to respect his wife more than ever. In the six-year jump between seasons 4 and 5, Margaret has come a long way. 

What We Learn About Nucky This Week

This was a big week for young Nucky, but also young Eli. Nucky is summoned by the Commodore, who, in his own way, tests Nucky: The boy is being bred to play a role in the dream that was Atlantic City, but most of all he is proving himself a formidable leader and guide, though still immature. Eli, who is almost completely absent from the 1931-line, is central in showing how Nucky’s character is developing. The older brother protects the younger’s innocence by preventing him from looking in the window at their parents while the door was “locked.” He tells Eli that they must go to school and that Eli has to “start figuring out things for yourself.” The flashback installment in “Cuanto” concludes with a shocking and rewarding line of dialogue — when Sheriff Lindsey brings the boys home after their long day of trespassing and hot meals, he addresses Nucky “Deputy Thompson.” His hard work sweeping the porch, learning the mind of the Commodore and staying in the sheriff’s good graces is paying off.

READ MORE: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 5 Episode 3 ‘What Jesus Said’ Breakdown: Optimism on the Boardwalk

The Most Shocking Moment of Violence

For a long time, “Cuanto” threatened to be the second straight week in which the most shocking thing was the lack of violence, but Al Capone wouldn’t let that happen. Twice threatening to lose control after one of his guys, Ralph, is guilty of making a bad joke, he finally explodes in an inexplicable rage near the episode’s end, not long after Luciano heads back to New York. Speaking of New York, Capone’s deadly weapon of choice is palpably symbolic. New York crushing down on the skull of a helpless Chicagoan — the Empire State Building trinket Capone was given by Lucky was put to violent use.

Most Flagrant Flouting of the Law

George Mueller may not have done anything illegal this week, but he certainly disregarded the law head-on when confronted about his history as Nelson van Alden. It’s about time he and his new friends had this talk, as the Capone outfit would surely not appreciate a federal agent in its ranks. Van Alden’s back story is impressively rehearsed, but more impressive is his final plea for life, which turns Capone’s gun from himself to New York. He even managed to do so by confessing his past. In all crime drama, this is one of the first times someone actually succeeded at sweet-talking a would-be murderer into sparing him. “You can rule by fear,” says Capone, “or you can rule by love.”

Most Memorable Dialogue

Episode 4 of this final season was full of rich, revealing dialogue. Between young Nucky and Eli; Lucky and Scarface; or anyone else, the relationships of “Boardwalk Empire” were on display, but none more than Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. Still married after all these years (“you can thank your religion for that”) Nucky and Margaret enjoy a day together when Margaret comes to catch Nuck up on their impending legal issue. Their conversation over lunch is so genuine it almost feels like they were never apart, where the wife bugs her husband about having his coffee and he tries to make her laugh. “Why are you being so nice?” she asks. Nucky’s answer is typical for him, so blunt yet kind that it seems like a silly question: “Why wouldn’t I be? You came to me in need. Anything else would be rude.”

But the most rewarding lines from this lunch come later, and act as an excellent bookend for the final season. When we meet Margaret, she is a passionate member of the Women’s Temperance League. Here, she says what the worst thing to ever happen to her is: “Pro-hi-bition.” Nucky, true to form, responds, “I hear ya sister.”

Smartest Editing Choice

What Margaret has returned to Atlantic City for, strictly speaking, is to solicit financial help from Nucky regarding her conflict with the Widow Rothstein. She tries to spin this as a problem for the both of them, threatening that his name would get dragged through the mud. No longer a public official, Nucky knows that there are worst things than bad press, so he doesn’t see himself as the man with a problem; he sees himself as the man with the solution (No, Margaret, he’s not going to kill Mrs. Rothstein). Right after noting his superior position, there’s a cut to a close up of him pouring wine into Margaret’s glass. For years, alcohol seemed like the only solution.

Where Story Meets History

A newsreel plays for a room full of gangsters: “Public Enemy Number One, Al ‘Scarface’ Capone.” Lucky Luciano is in Chicago to discuss business with Capone, and their conversation marks a landmark shift in the history of the Cosa Nostra. “Change is coming,” Luciano says, “maybe you heard.” What he proposes to his friend from Chicago is what becomes the Commission, the board of the nation’s top Italian crime dons. Luciano wants everywhere in country to be run the same, with the same rules, like a nationwide business enterprise. And he wants it all to be run by Italians.

The Commission came into being with seats for the head of the newly-organized Five Families of New York, and the boss of the Chicago and Buffalo outfits. In the episode, when Capone gives Lucky his Machiavellian advice — to rule by fear or by love — he finishes, “If you’re ever in charge.” This isn’t the only time in the episode Luciano is put down for not being a boss, but all that will change. He is on the fast track to take over what will come to be known as the Genovese Crime Family — when he becomes the first head of the Commission, he’ll be the most powerful mobster in the country. Keep an eye out, because soon Sal Maranzano’s funeral is due to come up, as is another, more eventful meeting in Chicago.

Of greater concern to “Boardwalk Empire” is the implied fate of Nucky Thompson. Knowing what comes of these men, Nucky’s fate is the lone mystery to unfold in the final four episodes. He gets a call from Capone at the end of the episode warning that they have a mutual annoyance named Charlie Luciano, but history shows that Capone and Luciano make amends. So, what did Lucky mean when he said Atlantic City was “all gonna get tidied up”?

Drink of Choice

The California wine industry was crushed by Prohibition (except, funny enough, select vineyards that were allowed to make wine for Church ceremonies). Harder to produce than hard liquor, wine has been largely absent from the boardwalk until “Cuanto,” where Margaret and Nucky share a bottle of red.

Best Musical Interlude

“We’re waiting in the wonder of why we’re here / Time hurries by, we’re here and gone / And we face the music together.” So goes Bing Crosby’s hit “Dancing in the Dark,” with its strong message of companionship and affection. That’s what makes it the perfect soundtrack to the scene in which Al Capone beats a man to a pulp with a miniature Empire State Building. None of the rest of that makes much sense, why should the song? As the music goes full up and the scene ends, those lines provide a bit of a haunting interlude. Life in mafia circles can go from mundane, to incredibly violent, to strangely reassuring in moments.

The Biggest Flopperoo

Sally’s short reign as the long-distance Queen of the Boardwalk came to an end tonight when she was gunned down in Cuba, but hers isn’t the biggest flopperoo from “Cuanto.” That title belongs to the men who did it. Killing an American, a woman guilty only of missing curfew, who has ties to Nucky’s operation cannot possibly end well for anyone remotely responsible. One thing her death did was make Nucky a single man once again. Read on…

Best, Most Killer-Diller Moment

Nucky and Margaret, back on the boardwalk again. The emotional climax of Episode 4 packed little in terms of thrill or reveal, but really struck those of us who have spent five years with these characters. “I thought, ‘If I can save her, maybe I’m not so bad myself’,” says Nucky, reminiscing back to their first encounter in the pilot over a decade ago. Margaret’s reply: “And I thought, ‘The whole floor of a hotel and he’s the only one that lives there, that must be very lonely’.” 

Besides their touching and nostalgic bearing of souls, the greatest bit from their night on the boardwalk was Nucky’s acknowledgement of Margaret’s completed arc. She came to ask him for help, but he realized that she has spent the past six years shaking down Arnold Rothstein and raising two children on her own in the big city. “Don’t sell yourself short. If you can put one over on Arnold, you can do this.” You can do this. It is amazing how far Margaret Schroeder has come, and though the two share a kiss, it is dwarfed by the moment of clarity between them that has never been there before. The perfect ending to the primary storyline in a near-perfect episode: As Nucky walks away, she hollers, “What are you up to?” Because he’s always up to something.

Grade: A

READ MORE: What Makes ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Great, And What Keeps It From Breaking Out?

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