As Eli sits behind Nucky’s desk, trying to make everything look just so, only one thought comes to mind: “This man could not possibly look less comfortable in a position of power.” Clearly, everyone knows it, too. When Nucky’s in town, there’s always a line of people to see him, but with Eli in charge…? The place is a ghost town. As soon as Eli started mouthing off to his right-hand man about how easy it’d be for him to do what Nucky does, I knew that a major screw-up was destined to go down before the end of the episode. The only question was what it would be, and it didn’t take long to figure out that it’d have some connection to Neary’s replacement missing his route for a day to be with his polio-stricken daughter.
Similarly, it was inevitable that Nucky would cross paths with Jimmy at some point while he was in Chicago, but until that happened, we got to see him try to pull rank with a hotel concierge. I actually thought he might fail, given that he wasn’t on his home turf, but never underestimate the power of a big wad of cash. Sitting down for dinner, he flips open his brochure for the Republican National Convention and finds an ad for Colosimo’s, thereby securing a visit to that particular establishment in the near future, but before he can make any specific plans, Senator Edge swings by the table to invite Nucky to attend Harry Daugherty’s shindig on his behalf. Obviously, it’s funny in retrospect to hear them disparaging Warren G. Harding, but looking back at the race for the Republican candidate in 1920, you can see why. Even with all the bootlegging going on in the wake of prohibition, Harding’s nomination may have been the biggest crime to be committed that year, and Harry Daugherty was the man behind it.
Margaret and her gal-pal Annabelle (a.k.a. Harry’s woman) are gossiping it up over tea when a harried Madam Regina approaches, unexpectedly asking for assistance with…Lucy? Oh, God, this is going to be bad. Lucy’s trying to get a few more things on Nucky’s dime, but when Margaret tries to politely sway her into leaving calmly, it descends into namecalling that, somewhat surprisingly, leads Margaret to slap Lucy. Ouch!
Angela is just putting the final touches on a portrait of her new ladyfriend when Gillian pops by with the overdue grocery bill. Gillian suggests Angela might want to consider selling perfume or taking a stenography course, but Angela has dreams of making a living via her artwork…like that’s going to happen. Of course, times wouldn’t be so tight if Jimmy’s funds for the family weren’t being swiped by Agent Van Alden. Nice guy, that Van Alden: he’s so desperate to make a bust that he’s allowing an innocent family to teeter on the brink of destitution.
We get another quick look into Rothstein’s goings-on, practicing his testimony so that he might convince the world at large that he had nothing to do with the so-called “Black Sox Scandal,” which even those who don’t know their sports history are probably aware of, thanks to “Eight Men Out.”
Nucky arrives at Harry Daugherty’s function, and…hey, what do you know? It’s Christopher McDonald! Man, I love that guy. I don’t know if he actually looks anything like the real Harry Doherty, but he’s the master of the kind of despicable vibe that Daugherty almost certainly had, so I applaud the casting either way. Daugherty muses on the possibility that the entire state of New Jersey does whatever Nucky Thompson wants it to do (which Nucky doesn’t exactly deny), and he’s quickly introduced to the man who will – after some dealings in a smoke-filled room – ultimately become the 29th President of the United States. Before that, though, there’s an interesting moment when Nucky is distracted by the sound of a baby and its mother at the door…and if you listen closely, you can hear her say, “Please just tell Warren that I’m here.” Interesting stuff, given that Mrs. Harding is standing right next to ol’ Warren when the introductions to Nucky are being made, and it shows that someone on the “Boardwalk Empire” writing staff has been reading The President’s Daughter. Speaking of Mrs. Harding, I’m not sure I loved the bit where she mentioned that a fortune teller told her that her husband would die in office. It’s true – a clairvoyant named Miss Marcia made the prediction – but it feels pretty heavy-handed for her to mention it to someone she’s just met, and at a political function, no less.
It’s dinnertime at the Van Aldens, and, wow, it’s just as deathly dull as I would’ve imagined it to be. That all changes, however, when the topic of infertility rears its ugly head. As someone whose daughter came about via the wonderful process of invitro fertilization, I’m sure you’ll understand why I was particularly sympathetic to Mrs. Van Alden’s sobbing over her situation and her pleading with her husband about the possibility of having a doctor look into her situation. Like I didn’t think Agent Van Alden was a dick already, but this really sealed the deal. “Whatever makes you happy,” my ass. I don’t believe for a second that he’s going to pay for the doctor’s visit.
1920s porn…? AWESOME! Yeah, it’s good to see that Eli’s doing everything possible to fill Nucky’s shoes to the best of his ability. Enjoy your fun while it lasts, pal…
Ah, here we go: Nucky’s meeting up with Johnny Torrio. After a little bit of talk about the bootlegging business, Nucky brings up his encounter with Harry Daugherty and Warren Harding, which leads Johnny to call Judge Graves over to the table. The Judge gives Nucky just enough background to confirm that if anyone can put Harding into the White House, Daughtery can. The next thing you know, Jimmy comes roaring down the stairs, bouncing a customer out on his ear. Though the mood is momentarily lightened by Johnny’s suggestion that Nucky was responsible for the Great Chicago Fire, it’s a decidedly awkward encounter between Jimmy and Nucky, the worst of which comes when Nucky snaps that Jimmy ought to call his family and check in on them…which is kind of ironic, given that that’s exactly what Nucky should’ve done himself.
Obviously, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see that Eli let things go to hell in a handbasket in Nucky’s absence, but it was still pretty shocking when he got shot. After getting the call about Eli’s situation, Nucky calls Margaret to tell her what’s happened. Now, I realize Nucky didn’t have a lot of options, given the situation, but, wow, it’s pretty desperate to ask a young widowed mother to sneak into his office and slip his compromising documents out of harm’s way. It’s no surprise that he’d need a drink after that, but while sitting at the bar, in an even more desperate move, he asks Jimmy to come back to New Jersey to assist him in the war against him that’s beginning in earnest. Jimmy is understandably skeptical about Nucky’s change in tone since their earlier encounter, but it pays off for him: he brokers himself a sweet deal. (He also manages to piss Nucky off again, too, by saying that he has to think about it.) While all of this is going on, Richard Harrow is lurking in the background, which leads me to suspect that he’ll be heading to Jersey as well.
Margaret puts the kids to bed and heads into Nucky’s office, where she foolishly answers the phone. Now they…whoever “they” may be…know she’s there. This isn’t good.
This is where the stories in Chicago start to tie together. Nucky meets up with Harry Daugherty before the convention begins (and don’t tell me that shot of the ceiling wasn’t green-screened), telling him that events back in Jersey are necessitating a hasty departure, but before he leaves, he tells him that he’s willing to do his best to throw his state’s votes into Harding’s corner under one condition: that Senator Edge isn’t on the ticket. One good backstabbing deserves another, eh? And to ensure that he’s in position to get the road money he’s been after, he offers to take custody (kinda) of the young lady and baby who’d been at the door of the party. Jimmy calls Gillian…not Angela…to see what’s going on back at home, but he’s got an agenda, and it ain’t to check on his family: he wants the skinny on Lucky Luciano, and, clearly, he knows his mother can provide it. I don’t know if he knows that she’s been seeing him or if he’s just aware that she knows a little bit about everybody. Either way, the next time we see him, he’s scoping out Torrio, Capone, and the boys, and you can see by the look on his face that he’s made a decision.
Uh, wow. I wouldn’t have thought I could dislike Van Alden more than I did after that dinner scene, but to pointedly send all of the money he’d accumulated to Jimmy’s wife just so that he wouldn’t be tempted to give it to his wife for her medical procedure…? See, this is why I hate uber-churchy types. That scene was heartbreaking, plain and simple.
The look on Nucky’s face when he walked into Eli’s room looked to me like an “I’m glad you’re alive, ’cause now I’m gonna kill ya!” expression. I thought he’d just temporarily put on a sympathetic look when Eli’s wife caught his eye, but I was sure he’d wipe it off once she and the doctor left. But, no, he actually said, “It’s only money.” I did not expect that.
And, so, we close in an approximation of the same shot that began the episode, except with a difference: the person sitting behind the desk – Margaret – has opened the ledger and, having done so, has now her own degree of power…and, unlike Eli, she’s someone who’s intelligent enough to know how to wield it.
Look for the silver lining