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'Boardwalk Empire' recap: Nucky goes on offense in mob war

'Boardwalk Empire' recap: Nucky goes on offense in mob war
Mobsters Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (Michael Zegen, from left), Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Meyer Lansky (Yusef Anatol) pump Tonino Sandrelli (Chris Caldovino, seated) for information on "Boardwalk Empire." (Macall B. Polay / HBO)

After barely escaping a mob hit in Cuba, bootlegger Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi) figures out who ordered the attack — and retaliates — on "The Good Listener," Episode 50 of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."

Nucky narrows the list of suspects by visiting former mafia boss Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci), who was forced out of racketeering by his sociopathic protégé Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

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"Take the hint and retire already," Johnny urges.

Given the slayings of Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi) and Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Nucky might be the next victim as gangsters scramble to fill a power vacuum.

Johnny arranges a sit-down with Salvatore "Boss of Bosses" Maranzano (Giampiero Judica) so Nucky can ask him face-to-face if he orchestrated the assassination attempt.

"You have nothing to fear from me, Mr. Thompson," Salvatore assures him.

"Who said I was afraid?" Nucky replies in his usual no-nonsense manner.

Nucky also questions Tonino Sandrelli (Chris Caldovino), who's caught between Salvatore and rival gangsters Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (Michael Zegen), Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and traitorous Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza).

"You know I could get killed just talking to you," Tonino nervously admits.

"And you will be if you don't," Nucky retorts.

"Maranzano has no beef with you," Tonino insists. "As far as he's concerned, Atlantic City is yours." Turns out the real threats are Bugsy, Meyer and Lucky.

Acting on this revelation, Nucky's bodyguard (Paul Calderon) delivers a bloody message to the trio by killing one of their men and pinning a postcard to his back with a knife. The card reads: "Greetings from Havana."

Meanwhile, Nucky tries to partner with a fledgling corporation so he can legally distribute liquor once Prohibition ends. All but one of the wealthy businessmen reject Nucky, however. The exception is stock market trader Joseph Kennedy Sr. (Matt Letscher), the father of a future president.

"A man like you frightens them," points out Joseph, who shares Nucky's Irish Catholic heritage. Seems like Nucky just gained a valuable ally in this Boston-based patriarch.

Episode 50 also sheds light on Nucky's troubled childhood when his sister Susan (Onata Aprile) dies of tuberculosis and the family can't afford a proper burial. Young Nucky (Nolan Lyons) gains sympathy from his boss, Atlantic City powerbroker Louis "The Commodore" Kaestner (John Ellison Conlee), who offers financial aid.

"Is there anything worse under God's blue heaven than the loss of an innocent child?" Louis asks Ethan (Ian Hart), Nucky's abusive father.

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"Think you can buy me twice?" Ethan angrily responds, referring to a land deal he bitterly regrets.

Ethan grudgingly accepts money from Louis but still buries Susan in the front yard, leaving Nucky to finish the grim task.

Finally, Nucky's brother Eli (Shea Whigham) continues hiding out with the Capone gang in Chicago after killing a federal agent in Atlantic City. Despondent at being far away from his wife, June (Nisi Sturgis), and their eight children, Eli is reduced to a drunken wretch.

Supervising Eli is federal agent-turned mobster Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), who goes by the alias of "George Mueller." Eli and George incur Capone's wrath when the feds raid a warehouse and seize a large stockpile of whiskey and cash.

Conducting the bust are Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness (Jim True-Frost) and his law enforcement team, "The Untouchables."

"It's not the meek who change the world but the fighters," Ness declares at a news conference. "The city of Chicago is at a great precipice, teetering between good and evil. So I vow to fight the Capone mob.

"Not bow out, not walk away, not give in, not give up," he emphasizes, "but to fight!"

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