"Boardwalk Empire" – Episode 9 “Belle Femme” Television Review

11/17/2010 Posted by Admin

"Boardwalk Empire" – Episode 9 “Belle Femme”

Television Review

By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz

It’s not easy being Nucky Thompson. Aside from his seemingly never-ending barrage of personal and relationship issues, his empire is in jeopardy. Arnold Rothstein schemes from the north as the heat rises from Washington. But in some startling ways, Nucky’s prepared.  In other ways, these attacks cause him to stumble. Lucky for us, a more vulnerable Nucky makes for a surprising episode in last Sunday's “Belle Femme."

“Belle Femme” opens in Eli’s hospital room. His condition is better, but his exploits made the paper. With an election on the horizon, Eli’s presence at an illegal casino is bad for business.

This is just the start of Nucky’s problems with his brother -- even if he’s somewhat ignorant of them. Eli’s a liability, so his mentors and underlings beg for his dismissal. Yet, ever the family man, Nucky is hesitant.

Meanwhile, Madame Jeunet confronts Margaret about the recent inflated rent hike and pleas with Margaret to speak with Nucky.

This episode shows great change in everyone’s relationship with Thompson. They frequently challenge his power, and in some cases, get the best of him. Margaret argues about the boutique, first unsuccessfully through logic, but when she takes a more selfish and feminine approach, she plays to Nucky’s patriarchal tendencies -- something this episode questions.

During these scenes, MacDonald shows range and sympathy through her defeated pout and manipulative smile. These complexities make her interesting and sympathetic. So, while Margaret heads down surprising and even disastrous avenues, MacDonald is strong enough to keep her likable.

Predictably, Jimmy also questions Nucky’s power. The confident new Jimmy has demands for him as well as some much needed self-reflexivity. Nucky’s a killer and Jimmy wants to hear him say it.

Michael Pitt has come a long way with the character. His cold, tortured (and somewhat boring) demeanor from early episodes is all but gone, and in its stead is a hardened, yet knowledgeable killer with a smart tongue. When Van Alden questions Darmondy, he tells his alibi with the calm contempt and bottled rage of James Cagne, a far cry from his early episode posturing.

“Belle Femme” has everything fans love: Tense discussion and shady dealings, but as these characters shift, so do our expectations. Nucky’s reach is farther than Van Alden or the audience think, and despite his role as mediator and/or punching bag throughout this episode, he’s still in control, but as the final shot asks, for how long?

Grade: B+

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