Recap: Boardwalk Empire “Resignation”

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If last week’s Boardwalk Empire was about mixing new cocktails—but not too strong—, “Resignation” reminds you to tip your bartender. Servants and henchman of all colors took center stage, and they want respect. “Resignation” shows the relationships of those in power, those who want it, and those just looking for recognition in a compelling and succinct hour. 

Van Alden makes his return to the show as a flower delivery boy for gangster Dean O’Banion. When he comes back with a good haul and few complaints, O’Banion recommends Van Alden be his eyes at a meeting held by Al Capone. Van Alden gets a slight promotion, despite his plea to stay at the bottom, with O’Banion recognizing his finer qualities—namely, that this guy is a violent psychopath.

While Van Alden hesitates to take O’Banion’s offer, it’s clear he needs the money. His wife wants a real home with real couches and walls. He has to make some moves, but this promotion seems oddly familiar to the ones Van Alden’s made in the past. Wasn’t it his gumption and desire to succeed that landed him in Chicago in the first place? Oh, that also might have been due to his violent outbursts when things don’t go his way. This guy’s a lot like the Hulk.

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I’m sure the way everyone keeps touching Van Alden makes him angry, and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Eddie, Nucky’s loyal servant of over a decade, on the other hand, has fallen on hard times. After being shot last season, his leg ain’t what it used to be and neither is his cooking. Disgraced by his own performance as a butler, but more so the lack of respect Nucky has for him, he gives his boss an ultimatum: change your game or I’m out.

Their relationship seemed to have pretty low stakes (Eddie has never been the most important character), but their argument was indicative of the larger themes of the episodes. Low-level employees that pack your bags and make your eggs play a huge part in your organization. Their loyalty should be a priority, and, for a long time, this loose cog Nucky’s machine has gone largely ignored.

When we last left Richard, he was welcomed home by his sister Emma outside their childhood home. This week, when we catch up with them, he expects to be the man of the house, but finds the position held by Emma. Orphaned, widowed, and pregnant, she gives Richard a book to read, The Chessmen of Mars, because presumably all the other chores are done. Well, except the bills; Richard finds a note from the property tax assessor in the book’s binding.

Still a hitman, Richard heads to Milwaukee on the job, but when he finds the mark, Richard spares his life. His new role with Emma replaces his old one with the mob; though, the mob doesn’t seem to thrilled that he let the mark live. Most of the episode looks at things from the top down; Richard’s story is the reverse of this. He’s no longer the boss of his household and is probably going to get fired for sparing his mark. Richard has a lot of trouble pulling the trigger in this episode. Big changes may be in store for this guy.

Chalky, too, finds himself in hot water with a new boss. The missing woman from last week turns up at Chalky’s club with a gangster from Harlem, Dr. Narcisse. He belittles Chalky for pretending to be king of the Onyx Club, when he’s really just another servant that allows his richer, whiter patronage to take advantage of him. Narcisse offers a major opponent for both Nucky and Chalky in this season. The opening of the Onyx Club has dominated the last two episodes and the emergence of a character who not only enters the VIP area uninvited, but now collects a share of the profit signals a huge disturbance in Chalky’s dream. But it all circles back, Chalky could not control his employee, so now he has a new boss of sorts.

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This all culminates in two major developments for the world of organized crime. The first, is the show of power by Al Capone, who orchestrated a major attack on Mayoral candidate William F. Pflaum. Pflaum, whose promises to smudge out crime don’t jive with Capone, presents a changing of the guard, a change cemented by the first appearance of Edgar J. Hoover and the reveal of Knox as an undercover agent. Suddenly the chain of command in crime and law changes, but the players and their roles are still being revealed.

“Resignation” plays a lot of on our understanding of this chain. The Chessmen of Mars was no accident. It’s a book about how people can be used as pawns, literally.  But you can’t control these pawns forever, especially when a pawn turns out to be a knight.

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