I’m not sure if this week’s episode was the best installment of “Boardwalk Empire” to date, but at the very least, it was the first episode where those of us who’ve been watching since the beginning of the series felt like we were finally getting some payoff to the storylines we’d been diligently following for the past month.

Margaret is awakened by a bustling at the garage across street, and given that it’s a garage, you could almost believe that it’s barrels of oil being rolled in…right up until the point when the gentleman takes a sip of the product. It seems at first that Margaret isn’t terribly bothered by the sight, nor even by being awoken so early, since she heads straight to the kitchen to whip up a batch of soda bread. As it turns out, however, she’s baking up a plan of action. Cut to Nucky and Eli, neither of whom are in the best of moods: Nucky isn’t exactly ecstatic about St. Patrick’s Day, and Eli quickly matches him with his annoyance over being slighted at breakfast. It’s not really about the breakfast, though. It’s about being considered of lesser importance by everyone all the way down to the waiter. Looks like the Celtic dinner is going to be interesting, what with Eli’s speech and the brothers’ dad being in attendance. It isn’t long before Margaret turns up to deliver the soda bread to Nucky…but what’s this? After several episodes of the show underlining Nucky’s interest in Margaret, suddenly he’s blowing her off? Interesting. He says, “My life’s complicated enough,” but something’s got to be up…and, clearly, Margaret’s pissed off by the reception, given that she promptly throws the soda bread into the wastebasket.

Her next move: to attend a meeting of the Women’s Temperance League…her first in quite some time, based on the reaction she receives when she strolls in…but when the topic turns to what can be done to prop up Prohibition, Margaret chimes in about what she witnessed earlier that morning. As I watched, I couldn’t help but suspect that neither Thompson brother would be quite as much of a friend after St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone. Little did I know that one would be decidedly more than a friend by the end of the episode.

Can’t say as I expected that Nucky’s offhanded “I’m a little short” joke would ultimately result in a storyline devoted to the vertically-challenged – who knew there was such a substantial population of midgets in Atlantic City? – but they’re apparently none too thrilled about the way they’re being treated with this whole Celtic parade. Carl Healy comes to visit Nucky, who’s not in the mood to put up with small talk…no pun intended. Carl asks for a raise from $5 to $10, but Nucky’s not having it. He is, however, willing to cut a deal where the guys get a slight raise and Carl gets an extra cut. Not a bad deal, but somehow I envision it going wrong. When Margaret comes in, she’s clearly a woman on a mission herself, only taking time to confirm her suspicions that Nucky’s just another sheister politician (yeah, that soda bread sure wasn’t tasty, wasn’t it, Nuck?) before getting down to business. Clearly, no matter what these two may have thought of each other in the past, there’s nothing but annoyance between them now, thanks to this latest development. “This isn’t a personal favor, Mrs. Schroeder.” Yeah, no shit, Nucky.

Margaret’s understandably pissed when, despite Nucky’s assurances, Neary’s back at business come the next night, unloading more barrels of booze. He assures her that it’ll all be over after St. Patrick’s Day and tries to bribe her with a taste of the good stuff. Unsurprisingly, she declines. Instead, she puts on her Sunday best…or some equivalent thereof…and goes to visit Nucky again. To her horror, she’s passed in the waiting room by Neary, who goes straight in and closes the door, though not before she can hear that there’s plenty of merrymaking going on within…and the look of betrayal on her face is downright painful. A line has clearly been drawn. Off she goes to see Agent Van Alden, who takes her as seriously as a heart attack, blocking off the doorway to make sure no one interrupts or overhears what information she possesses. Unfortunately, it turns out that what she’s witnessed is only one out of 117 reported locations of illegal alcohol, and he’s so short on men that there’s not a damned thing he can do to stop the flow. He lays the situation on the line for her, she grows infuriated at once again having to deal with “men who speak boldly and do nothing,” resulting in a short-lived stand-off where she spills the beans both on Neary’s involvement and his connection to Nucky.

Not that I thought so terribly ill of Jimmy – though given that he’s cheating on the mother of his child, I clearly should have – but I admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see him not only staying by Pearl’s side but, indeed, making her fresh-squeezed orange juice. Still, he pointedly doesn’t match her “I love you,” instead taking advantage of her being startled by a slamming door to avoid having to respond. When she strolled downstairs in her finest lingerie, showing off her horrific scar for everyone in the bar to see, then wondering aloud to Jimmy who’s going to love her now, he was quiet. Still, he’s trying his best to stand by her, but given that she’s off the clock and he’s having to pay for the cost of her room and board that she ain’t using to turn tricks, we were left wondering how long he’d be able to keep convincing himself that she was worth the time, money, and effort. But then there were the moments when, even through the bloody bandages, you could see just how beautiful Pearl was, and as Jimmy lay beside her in the bed, offering that fantastic monologue, it really seemed that they just might make it together…which, of course, is why Pearl’s subsequent suicide was such a major “oh, shit” moment.

Meanwhile, back in Atlantic City, Gillian’s just being the best mother-in-law ever, offering Angela the opportunity to skip out on Tommy and have herself a fling or two. At first, Angela seems horribly insulted, but then we see a look on her face which is clearly meant to imply that she’s considering it. Given what’s happened to Jimmy, I think we can expect her to take advantage of the opportunity, thereby breaking Jimmy’s heart in the process. There’s little doubt in my mind that all of these events in Jimmy’s personal life are building blocks to turn him into someone who’s just as much of a bad-ass as his buddy Al.

The big St. Patrick’s Day bash begins with a nice Irish ditty, followed by Eli saying a few words. Daddy is less than thrilled (and isn’t afraid to say so loud enough for everyone to hear it), and the Commodore’s expression indicates his uncertainty about the impending speech as well. The man’s perceptive: Eli’s attempts at spirited pro-Irish remarks quickly lead the crowd to descend into yelling. Were it not for Nucky, it quickly would’ve turned into a riot. Quick, bring on the dancing leprechauns! But even their fancy wee footwork can’t keep the assembled gentlemen from noticing the absence of green beer. The tension between Nucky and a decidedly drunk Eli is interrupted by the arrival of Van Alden and his men, with Van Alden punching out a blowhard attorney and stalks up to the podium with his arrest warrant for James Neary. Party’s over. As everyone heads home, Eli ultimately tries to throw a punch at his brother, but although he fails to connect and is promptly helped away, you can bet that his actions won’t soon be forgotten.

So Angela’s thinking, Eli’s puking, Jimmy’s smoking, Gillian’s fretting, and, God help us, Agent Van Alden is smiling as the streets fill with green beer. Margaret, however, is wide awake, which proves convenient when she receives a late-night visit from Nucky. Is it a booty call or the beginnings of an actual romance between the two of them? Either way, I can’t say as I entirely expected it. Man, when Margaret plays hard to get, she plays it in a seriously hardball fashion!

I guess the only other moment during the episode that we haven’t discussed was the otherwise-unconnected scene with Rothstein at the barber shop, stressing out about being associated with the baseball controversy. His attorney assures him – with the help of a manure-related metaphor – to cool his jets, but he’s still pissed off about the way things went down a few months prior and refuses to believe that things are just going to be swept under the rug. I think that’s probably wise of him.