Well, that was quite the Bible-y episode of Boardwalk Empire, no? And while I mean no offense to the Lord, I must confess that “Georgia Peaches” was easily my least favorite episode of this season, in large part because of that redolent stench of incense and scripture. I’ve got no issue with sincere depictions of religious faith on TV—or religious hypocrisy for that matter—except when it’s steeped in cliché, or when it turns a promising character into a stone drag.
And Margaret had been having such a good season too, peaking with her trip to Brooklyn, which deepened her character in ways far beyond where she’d gotten to in season one. But now, in the wake of Emily’s polio, Margaret’s back in fretful and superstitious mode, wondering if she can turn the tide for her daughter if she gets right with God. She feels chastened by Emily’s doctor’s reminder that money can’t solve every problem, and also by his testament that his daughter says prayers for the polio-afflicted every night. So Margaret goes to see her priest, who carefully hides his glass of alcohol before telling her if that she asks for miracles but offers nothing of herself except—again—material goods, she can’t expect to find mercy.
Look, it’s not like Margaret’s behavior in “Georgia Peaches” is unmotivated or inexplicable; she is a desperate mother of a gravely ill child, after all. And it’s not like it doesn’t have a larger thematic connection to the arc of this season. But the writers have spent so much time over the past two seasons establishing Margaret as clever and even sophisticated, and here, wringing her hands over whether she can say the right combination of magic words, she just comes off as a simp. And worse: a common simp, like so many we’ve seen in movies and on TV before.
Along the same lines, where have we seen this before: a man engaged in a criminal enterprise wishing he could go back to be some ordinary sap on the beach without a care in the world, and promising his best girl that he’s “gonna get everything settled” so that they can live together comfortably, on the good side of the law at last? Answer: just about every work of crime fiction ever, including the recent likes of Breaking Bad and Sons Of Anarchy on cable television. Which means that what should’ve been a poignant moment between Jimmy and Angela Darmody fell more on the rote side—which was unfortunate, given Angela’s fate at the end of “Georgia Peaches.”
That said, I don’t want to underplay the importance of Angela’s sudden and violent departure from Boardwalk Empire. Thus far this season we’ve seen character after character come close to getting offed, only to wind up wounded but still ticking. And now here’s Angela, an actual in-the-opening-credits-type person, who just got her own real storyline this season with the arrival of the libertine lesbian Louise. Then Manny shows up at the Darmody’s door, expecting to shoot Jimmy but instead gunning down Louise, followed by Angela, after letting her know, “Your husband did this to you.” There have been a lot of threats and secret plans and near-misses this year; so, mopey characters aside, “Georgia Peaches” deserves credit for finally springing some of the traps that the writers have been carefully setting.
Because it’s not just Manny’s retribution that qualifies as a “well, here we go” moment in “Georgia Peaches.” We also see—I think—the full shape of Nucky’s plan. We already knew that he was planning to work behind the scenes to make running Atlantic City a difficult proposition for Jimmy Darmody. Now we know how his Irish whiskey order plays a part in all that: by covertly supplying the city’s bars and restaurants with top-quality hooch (“straight from the old girl’s tit,” as Owen Sleater touts it), Nucky makes it all but impossible for the Darmody consortium to move their own product.
And as we also see this week, even making that product has become a massive pain in the ass. Doyle has his crew diluting George Remus’ government booze and rebottling it, which requires large facilities both for manufacture and storage. All the more reason—according to Lansky and Luciano—for Jimmy to get into the heroin trade, which is so much smaller and simpler, and with fewer middlemen. Plus, given Atlantic City’s large community of artsy types and musicians, there’s a market already. (Although Manny will later eliminate two potential customers from that crowd. Boy, Jimmy really can’t catch a break lately.)
Some of Boardwalk Empire’s more vociferous critics this season have pointed to Jimmy Darmody’s inconsistencies as a boss as an example of the show’s sloppy plotting. Me, I disagree. Until this week’s stock “heavy hangs the head” horseshit, I haven’t really had a problem with Jimmy’s character of late. Sure, one week he says he can’t kill Nucky and the next week he orders a hit. And sure, one week he’s in business with Manny and the next week he’s trying to orchestrate Manny’s murder. There’s a simple explanation for all of that: He’s not a very good leader. Jimmy gives in too easily to the whims of his colleagues and underlings, because he wants their respect, even though he has yet to do anything to earn it, beyond being born into fortunate circumstances. And for everyone who’s been wondering why Jimmy hasn’t just paid Manny what he owes, “Georgia Peaches” underlined what I had thought was fairly obvious: he doesn’t have the funds. Heck, Jimmy just now got access to the whiskey he promised Manny long ago. His best hope is that Manny will accept that belated shipment, and will allow the Darmody crew to sell in Philadelphia what they can’t peddle in AC.
While all this is going on, Jimmy is also unsure how to handle the “colored” strike that Nucky and Chalky have set in motion. Jimmy’s rich white backers want to send in Klansmen—or at least strike-breakers with billy-clubs—but Jimmy would rather negotiate, even though The Loyal Order Of Racist Old Coots is worried about the precedent that will set for future summers. The stroke-ridden, profanity-spewing Commodore’s no help: he suggests that Jimmy, “Show him your cock. Lift up your dress, let yourself get fucked.” Following that advice as best as he can, Jimmy goes hat in hand to Chalky, who says he can end the strike if Jimmy’s people will pay off the families of the men the Klan killed, and if he’ll deliver the shooters to Chalky. Jimmy can do the former, but not the latter. So no deal.
Which brings us back to the Bible. As Margaret’s priest might put it, the picketers have righteousness on their side, not money, and that righteousness is keeping them strong as they preach from Deuteronomy—fairness is not to be parceled out, so they say—and sing “There Is A Balm In Gilead.” Even after the Loyal Order—via Eli—sends out hired goons to crack some black skulls, the protestors’ efforts redouble. Apparently, some problems—like institutional racism, or pre-vaccine-era polio—exist outside the conventional modes of resolution. Money does nothing. Brute force does nothing. Some of the symptoms can be treated, but for the most part, they just have to run their course.
The title of “Georgia Peaches” has two meanings. “The Georgia Peach” was the nickname of Detroit Tigers star Ty Cobb, a “bad man”—at least according to Teddy—whose autograph is displayed proudly by attorney William Fallon, the man who’s been handling Arnold Rothstein’s Black Sox case, and the man now taking over Nucky’s defense. Nucky tells Teddy that though Cobb may be a villain to some, “When you’re team’s down, he’s the one you want at bat.” The same could be said of a man like William Fallon. In Fallon’s world though, money does matter, as the lawyer emphasizes to Nucky when Nucky asks whether he can get a favorable verdict without bribing judges. (It’s also worth noting that when Fallon generously gives Teddy his signed Cobb baseball, he immediately replaces it with another. Never a shortage.)
“Georgia Peaches” also refers to the cargo left rotting on the Atlantic City pier during the recent strike. I was bummed that this episode was weighed down so much by the angst of Margaret and Jimmy, but I did like the simplicity of the rotting peach metaphor. Jimmy’s been wheeling and dealing in a panic ever since The Commodore was stricken, and through it all, no actual business has been conducted. He’s been coming up in the world, and yet he hasn’t gotten whiskey—or money—to anyone. It’s like the punchline to that joke that poor doomed Angela tells Jimmy about the man who walks into a hotel and asks for a room and a bath: “I can give you a room, but you’ll have to take the bath yourself.” In more ways than one, Jimmy doesn’t get it.
And for all my beef with Margaret’s routine religious hand-wringing, I’ve been loving another man of faith on this show: one Manny Horvitz, who may be the most forthright and honorable gent in this whole goddamned demimonde. He warned Jimmy the first time they met that he doesn’t take deals lightly, and he’s given the young man ample opportunity to make everything right. Manny has rules, and answers to a higher authority. That’s why for me the key scene of this episode is the one between Manny and Doyle, the latter of whom comes to Philly to try and buy Manny off with alcohol. From the moment Manny tells Doyle not to sit in the good chair in his living room, it’s clear this meeting will have ominous undertones. It doesn’t help either when Manny takes a sip of Doyle’s whiskey and winces at the taste, or that when the devout Jew quotes Shakespeare to the Jew trying to pass himself off as an Irishman, the latter just smirks and says, “Bible, huh? Lot of wisdom in there.”
- Meanwhile, on the Van Alden front, just as Nelson’s giving his nanny money for groceries, and mentioning how much he’d like some shortbread cookies, he finds a letter from Rose he’d overlooked: a divorce petition, with the politely worded personal note, “Please attend to this as soon as your activities allow.” In the background, the baby wails. Not very Van Alden-like, little lady.
- Manny’s running a special on lips and assholes this week.
- In his review of last week’s Boardwalk Empire, Time’s James Poniewozik asked how the show had avoided mentioning Sacco and Vanzetti to this point. From his lips to God’s ears. (“Call those two guinea anarchists from Massachusetts. Tell them to relax. I’ve found them a new lawyer.”)
- When Nucky’s lawyer suggests that his hand injury should be enough to force a change of venue, he rolls his eyes. “This wouldn’t even stop me from jacking off.”
- After having Deputy Halloran beaten on the Boardwalk for talking to Esther Randolph, Eli encourages him to think, “What did I do? What should I make sure I never ever do again? May be a good time to reflect about it.”
- Teddy’s cruel “I can’t move my legs” gag was hard to watch, though I did laugh when Nucky came rushing in after Margaret’s slap and snapped, “You were just praying!”
- No matter the era, Moms never change. Margaret explains Emily’s new doll by saying it’s her old doll’s “sister,” and when she sends Teddy off with Nucky, she tells Nucky to make sure Teddy brushes his teeth and keeps his fingers away from his nose. (“It’s a disgusting habit.”)
- On their trip, Nucky tries to bond with Teddy by telling him the story of his consumptive sister Susan, but Teddy is more focused on a few things he’s noticed during his time with his new “Dad.” He wants to know if Nucky’s father loved him, and wants to know if Nucky’s in trouble for burning his father’s house down. I had my qualms with this episode, but it was very well-observed when it came to the children.
- So it’s back to Princeton for our man Jimmy, to sell some booze. Given that the title of next week’s episode is “Under God’s Power She Flourishes,” I’m betting that we’re going to see some of Jimmy’s trip back to his alma mater. Should be rich. I should add too that while I wasn’t so keen on this episode, I do feel like the pieces are in place for an exciting resolution to this season. Will Jimmy rally? Will Nucky reclaim his throne? Will Margaret become interesting again? Stay tuned.
- And speaking of future Boardwalk Empires It doesn’t look like I’m going to get a screener for the last two episodes, so look for both of the reviews much later than usual. In addition, I’ll be watching next week’s on the road, so it’ll likely be a fairly short review as well. I’ll count on you all to pick up a lot of the slack.