The Federal Children’s Bureau, now known as the U.S. Children’s Bureau, operates under HHS and regulates/sponsors things like adoption and foster care. In Margaret Schroeder Thompson’s day, it cast a wider net. From the 1912 act that founded the agency:
"The said bureau shall investigate and report to [the Department of Commerce and Labor] upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life among all classes of our people, and shall especially investigate the questions of infant mortality, the birth-rate, orphanage, juvenile courts, desertion, dangerous occupations, accidents and diseases of children, employment, legislation affecting children in the several states and territories."
Desertion! Dangerous Occupations! If the Federal Children’s Bureau were a middle-of-the-dial doc-type show Honey Boo Boo would be just a dab of spinach on America’s big bib. Margaret, as technical consultant, would see to it.
You Are At Odds With Menstruation? she thunders at the nun who’s also running for Congress as a straight white man, now, in 2012. The nun makes it clear she’d rather girls not know how that particular sausage gets made, leaving Margaret and her pipe-chewing co-chair on the Committee to Free Women From the Tyranny of Clueless Male Doctors to keep sort of sidling up to each other, turnabout. Now that she’s for all intents and purposes in parallel play with Nucky as far as the show’s concerned, Margaret is the picture of revival. A de facto separation doesn’t become a cause for everyone, but it should.
Boys Will Be Boys Whether They Can Hear Each Other Or Not, says Capone’s bully-enabling wife. More even than Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire tempts the retro-PC lens; almost as much as MM, it declassifies history as a linear system. Progressive politics existed in the twenties, but we still have bullies in schools and medical idiots in public office because nothing ever felt so good as looking the other way.
Nucky and Owen get stuck in a cellar. Male enclosure in a cramped space is textbook Sopranos diffusion, except on Mad Men it’d be an elevator or a stairwell. Nucky’s acts of violence are getting more casual, even as he plans them more deliberately. Move by move, like a tennis player, he set up that poor kid for removal while lulling him and Owen and anyone watching into thinking he gave a shit. For a glimmer, Rowland was the next Jimmy, moody and Prada-verified. Then he really was the next Jimmy, dead and unburied.
Who Wants To Get All Killed Over A Few Crates Of Booze is the Unfo epitaph for Rowland. Ultimately, it might be the show’s own; another episode without Harrow or Nelson, not much of Rossetti, and more of the endless taciturn brooding the makers keep mistaking for mood is another one toward really drying things out. Maybe they, and we, were wrong—maybe Prohibition just isn’t that exciting (which reminds me of Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon on the doomed-by-the-darkness-police third-wave HBO oddity Lucky Louie: “maybe we just have a shitty kid.”). Nucky’s half-a-gangster dilemma was cool on Frank Ocean’s Instagram, but he’s not really weighed on by much normativity anymore. He’s quit pretending he cares about his wife, and her creepy son just makes him see dead people. The number of his imagined enemies is rounding up to the number of his real ones, but he’s still just a hood selling whiskey. As developed by Winter and his team, those stakes are starting to look really low.
There are enough shots like the crane-up from the boardwalk that ended the episode to keep watching at least anecdotally. But Capone snarling things like You Smell Like A Sardine’s Twat is so much fun I’d rather watch a show about him and Lansky and Luciano—and don’t get me started on Rothstein—than one about Nucky’s tired bullshit. Fully a gangster, he’s still about half as interesting as the full-time crooks around him.