I feel like I have to start off this week’s write-up by noting that, as a result of having been watching the show via advance screeners that I received way back in August, this week is the first time that I’ve ever actually seen the opening credits of “Boardwalk Empire…and, hey, they’re pretty awesome! I particularly dug the shot of the ocean filled with bobbing bottles. And as far as the theme song goes, I was briefly convinced that I was hearing an instrumental portion from Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” but, no, it’s The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Straight Up and Down.” Fair enough.
Things start out in Chicago, with a cop keeping close tabs on a gentleman indulging in a bit of corned beef hash and eggs. Bad news for him: turns out the cop is one of Capone’s informants. Worse news: I didn’t recognize him at first, but he’s the son of a bitch who slashed Pearl. How nice of Al to help Jimmy extract his revenge. I had no idea he was so sentimental. Now that they know where they can find the bastard, Jimmy heads over to the doctor to get his leg checked out (it’s the one that was wounded during WWI), since it’s been giving him trouble, describing the pain as “a dull ache inside.” A la the medical history lesson we got from Margaret’s pamphlet last week, this time we find out about Dr. Robert S. Woodworth and his so-called “Personal Inventory Test.” Jimmy agrees to take the test, though he’s clearly skeptical of its worth, but then he sees a guy who’s lost an eye and is wearing a colostomy bag. Surely he thinks the same thing we do: it could’ve been a hell of a lot better off.
Who’s the eccentric old codger in the bathrobe, wielding a fireplace poker? Shit, is that Nucky and Eli’s dad? Sure is. All the money Nucky’s got up his sleeve, and this is how his father lives…? Looks like the old man has a reason for preferring Eli…and not just because he was the first son to arrive on the scene after his accident. After Eli makes sure that his pops is in safe hands, he sets onto Nucky for seeing Margaret, reminding him between the lines that he was directly responsible for putting Margaret on the market by making her a widow. Nucky assures him it’s not an issue (though you know it will be one of these days), then shifts the subject back to their father, suggesting they put him in a home. Eli nixes the idea and, after Nucky dismisses any possibility of paying for a live-in nurse, suggests that he and his family can take him in, thereby underlining further why he’s Daddy’s favorite, but it’s the moment where an annoyed Nucky muses on how much the toaster cost ($9) and how it was never used that’s the more telling: Nucky wants to show off his wealth on his own terms, and he’s pissed when his gestures aren’t appreciated.
Well, it’s about damned time Chalky White showed up again. Ever since Michael Kenneth Williams’ powerhouse performance a few weeks ago (“Well, I ain’t buildin’ no bookcase“), I’ve been anxiously awaiting his return. Chalky’s bitching about sub-pair labels when he gets a visit from a gentleman named Michael Lewis, who comes bearing a $10K bribe in order to purchase liquor straight from him, avoiding the middle man. Nice try, but it’s not enough for Chalky, who tells him to shuffle on back to Nucky and let him know that “it’s gonna take a lot more than $10K to get me to fuck him over.” Somehow, though, I don’t think Nucky sent him.
Margaret has a chat with Harry’s current significant other, trying to figure out the status quo with her and Nucky’s relationship. She makes it clear that, first and foremost, she doesn’t want to leave the wonderful surroundings she finds herself in, but beyond that, she doesn’t quite know what she wants. She’s fond of Nucky, but she won’t say she loves him, and, besides, she’s pretty sure he hasn’t yet gotten over the death of his wife. At the moment, the lessons her new friend imparts upon her go against everything she knows about relationships, but somehow it isn’t too hard to imagine her starting to squirrel away some dough sometime in the near future.
Nucky meets with Damien to pitch the idea of giving him the Thompson family home, but before he can formally do so, Lucy bursts in, seemingly drunk as a skunk, and, after complaining about Nucky’s refusal to answer her calls, asks him that old chestnut of a question, “What’s she got that I don’t got?” Nucky isn’t going to tackle the subject right then and there, so he assures her that he’ll take her out and talk about it. It’s a horrifyingly embarrassing moment, but the moment she’s gone, Nucky shrugs it off and gets right back on topic, offering Damien the house, “no strings.” Damien is understandably thrilled, but…I dunno, something’s up here. There’s no way this is going to be the end of it.
Leo D’Alessio, Mickey Doyle, and the boys are hangin’ out when Lucky Luciano blows in, along with his pal Meyer Lansky, who we’ve already seen once this episode…as Michael Lewis. Turns out it was Leo who had the punk kid take down Nucky’s bagman, but Lucky reminds them that this is a plan of action that can’t last them forever. Lansky starts talking about the economics of the situation, and Lucky says that he might be able to get Leo and his gang into Rothstein’s crew, suggesting that they’d really impress him if they knocked over one of Nucky’s casinos. Oh, man, whether they succeed or not, this ain’t gonna go down well…
Poor Billy Winslow. He might be selling out to save his mama, but being a narc has rarely gone well for anyone. Still, he sure made Agent Van Alden’s day…and totally ruined Jimmy’s, even if Jimmy won’t know it for awhile. Not only is he obviously still in Chicago, but he’s also in the midst of bonding with the guy he spotted across from him earlier, a fellow named Richard Harrow, whose face was badly damaged during the war. (I have no doubt that they really used those sorts of masks in the ’20s, but, wow, talk about creepy.) It’s the first time Jimmy’s really been able to talk with someone who’s had the same experiences as he has, which is great in principle, but given that he’s already throwing his weight around in the friendship, I feel like this could be a case where he’s looking to have the upper hand on someone, anyone, in a relationship, even if it’s just a friendship. Nonetheless, they return to Jimmy’s place – the whorehouse – and, after a discussion about firearms, Jimmy hooks Richard up with one of the employees in a demonstration of patriotism.
Angela’s gone lesbian? Didn’t necessarily expect it (though from what she said about having been seen by Nucky), I guess I missed it in a previous episode), but nor am I rejecting it. Besides, at least she’s found someone who cares for her and only her. That counts for a lot, you know?
Nucky and Margaret go to visit his father’s old homestead, having gotten a bunch of local firemen to fix up the place for Damian and his family, but one of the first things he sees upon arriving is that his father has thrown out Nucky’s knot-tying exhibition from when he was with the Atlantic City Junior Beach Patrol, and, frankly, the frown on his face is more than a little understandable. That had to hurt. As he begins to talk, however, it becomes clear that there’s more the relationship between him and his father than we’ve really seen, and it involved a great deal of physical violence against Nucky. Suddenly, he and Margaret bond in a way that I never saw coming, as she says, “Sometimes, it’s best to leave the past where it is.” Despite what she was told earlier, it would seem that the fact that Nucky and Margaret actually share weaknesses could well lead to a stronger bond between them.
Meanwhile, Nucky’s listening to a performance of “Crazy Blues” (by Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds?) at Chalky’s place while getting the scoop from Mayor Harry on the phenomenon of international reply coupons. Soon, Chalky’s at the table, giving Nucky what for about “Billy Lewis” coming by to test him. Nucky, understandably, has no idea what he’s talking about. Soon, the Mayor and his mistress are on the dancefloor, while Margaret’s trying to get the details on Nucky’s baseball glove, which he referenced earlier. Seems like another one of those things that best left in the past…and seems like Margaret knows it, since she brings it up indirectly the following night, simply by letting him know that he can confide in her, should he want to do so. Whether he does or doesn’t, he still tells her the story: some kids stole his baseball glove, his dad ordered him to get it back, and they beat him so badly that he ended up in the hospital. Kids do the darndest things…or, as Nucky says, life can sometimes be horrible. (Eh, six of one, half dozen of the other.) And speaking of kids, the scene wraps with Nucky taking Margaret’s son with him to check out his father’s house, which is finally finished. The fact that he tells the kid to call him “Uncle Nucky” speaks volumes about how close he’s willing to get to her kids…and what he thinks of the depth of the relationship he has with Margaret.
Hey, it’s the Commodore! Man, I love Dabney Coleman. I wish we saw more of him on the show. Unfortunately, given his comment about his stomach being on fire, I knew it wasn’t looking good for future appearances, but then for the Commodore to admit outright that he was dying, followed almost immediately thereafter by the pukefest…? Uh, yeah, nice knowing you, Commodore.
The episode wraps up much as it started, except this time the man behind Pearl’s slashing is joined at breakfast by Jimmy. Instead of killing him outright, though, he sits down with him for a cup of coffee, and we’re witness to another one of Michael Pitt’s great monologues, this one about the horrors of war and a lesson he learned from the experience. I knew from the moment the scene began that we were going to see Richard Harrow turn up to take the guy down, but I did not expect the “Phantom of the Opera” music cue. Awesome. (Also a nice Halloween touch: having Lucy going to see the silent version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”)
The final scene with Nucky encountering his Eli and his father in the house was interesting, first of all to see that, even though the old man’s in a wheelchair, both his words and his actions can still make Nucky flinch. You know, for a moment, when Nucky and Margaret’s son were walking up to the house, I had this feeling that it was going to blow up. I didn’t expect that the sight of his father in the house would cause such a surge of anger that he’d want to burn the place to the ground. Talk about wiping your memories clean…