This week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire finds its characters struggling to regain control over lives that have been rearranged by the dealings of the newly-birthed prohibition underworld. The real issue, however, lies in how they each go about it—and the ways in which they fail.
Nucky Thompson and "the Widow Schroeder," as he refers to her at the beginning of the episode, have got just a little bit too close for the thin veneer of their benefactor/woman-fallen-on-hard-times relationship to hold for much longer. Nucky responds by distancing himself from Mrs. Schroeder, entrenching himself in what their relationship is supposed to be: removed and socially unequal. Mrs. Schroeder, miffed and a little humiliated by Nucky's cold shoulder, however appropriate (not to mention subtle) it may have been, responds by throwing herself into a campaign to eradicate the bootleggers who have set up in a garage behind her house. Bootleggers who are, of course, working for Nucky.
Meanwhile, in New York, Jimmy is caring for Pearl, the prostitute whose face was slashed at the end of the previous episode. She’s horribly scarred and has lost not just her salability as a prostitute and her lodgings in the brothel, but her dreams of one day being an actress in LA. She spends the episode in a haze of laudanum and denial.
In Atlantic City, Mrs. Shroeder goes to the ever-creepy Agent Van Alden to report the bootlegging and he raids the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner to arrest one of Nucky’s lackeys. Nucky knows precisely who is responsible. His attempt to distance himself from Mrs. Schroeder is a resounding failure, and he shows up at her door in the middle of the night. A tryst, it is (more than) implied, ensues.
In New York, Jimmy gives Pearl more opium and tells her a story. When he steps out of the room for a moment, she takes his gun and shoots herself. We leave Jimmy smoking in a Chinatown opium den.
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