Boardwalk Empire recap: 'The Good Listener' |

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Boardwalk Empire recap: 'The Good Listener'

Nucky's return to the U.S. finds him conducting business as usual: murder and betrayal sparked by greed and jealousy.


SECRET AGENT MAN Michael Shannon's Nelson Van Alden has morphed from a Prohibition agent to a dangerous thug in Al Capone's Chicago gang. (Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Boardwalk Empire

Season 5, Ep. 2 | Aired Sep 14

So it’s not just the Boardwalk Empire audience that’s getting exhausted with the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of murders, betrayals, and murky alliances that comprise about 60 percent of the narrative each episode. Judging from Nucky’s crotchety-elder-statesman observations, even he’s getting fed up with the monotonous gangster life, too. Early on in “The Good Listener,” the Atlantic City don laments, “Year in, year out. Different dogs, same f—ing bone” (at this rate, he’ll be growling “Get off my lawn!” to the next generation of hoods by the finale). But for all his prattling about “staying alive long enough to cash out,” it’s his greed and his ego that always draw him back into the vicious, never-ending cat-and-mouse games of organized crime. This time around, it’s Nucky’s chance meeting with and subsequent envy of a certain clean-on-the-outside, dirty-on-the inside BAH-stahn businessman named Joseph Kennedy Sr. (Scandal’s Matt Letscher), that causes him to return to his old gangster behavior.

For us, this means slogging through yet another batch of mobster permutations that get more and more confusing as the seasons progress. Trying to keep up with who’s a friend and who’s a foe has become so time-consuming that it’s impossible to have any energy left when a compelling story line—like that of Gretchen Mol’s Gillian Darmody—or even an amusing scene like the one featuring Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, an elevator, two old ladies, a dog, and one comically placed feather, sneaks up on us when we least expect it.

But, if you really want to know where everyone stands, here’s the Saved You a Click version: Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano have convinced all the old-school mafiosos like Nucky and Salvatore Maranzano that they’re at odds with each other, while in actuality, these new-generation gangsters are staging a power grab. They succeeded in taking out Joe Masseria, but their hit on Nucky in Havana was foiled by the Cuban Michael Madsen. Nucky, now back on U.S. soil, responds by rebooting the age-old mobster trope of depositing a dead body (RIP, Bobby Cannavale’s sidekick from season 3) at Luciano and Lansky’s door.

Thank you for playing this week’s round of Mobster Musical Chairs, folks. Now let’s turn our attention to catching up with the Boardwalk characters who didn’t make the season-premiere cut:

With her baby daddy (the Commodore) and son/boy toy (Jimmy Darmody) dead for nearly a decade, and grandson Tommy having been squirreled away to safety seven years ago, Gillian Darmody is the most disconnected from the ongoing Boardwalk story lines, but she remains the most intriguing character on the series. Having apparently served her time for murder of her son’s doppelgänger, Gillian is no longer in jail, but she is no less, to borrow a term from The Shawshank Redemption, “rehabilitated.” We find her relaxing in a steaming hot bath along with several other women, in an immaculate room with marble statues—one of her fellow bathers even rhapsodizes about how she would “summer in Saratoga.”

NEXT: Spa Time Is Over