Last week, Boardwalk Empire introduced some new antagonists, namely Dr. Narcisse and J. Edgar Hoover, and followed Richard Harrow to his sister’s house and a job left unfinished while Nucky headed to Tampa. But if you were hoping to get more from the G-Man himself or a return visit to Al Capone as he flexes his muscles and uses Van Alden, you didn’t get that in this week’s episode, “Acres of Diamonds,” named after the famous Russell Conwell speech that formed the basis of the establishment of Temple University. (Hey, I lived in Philly and had friends going to Temple; you pick up that kind of thing that way.)
This week, Nucky has arrived in Tampa, which in Boardwalk Empire America is right on the gulf as if Pinellas County doesn’t exist (that ain’t no bay upon which Nucky’s looking out). Richard’s burying his gun, and Narcisse is visited in Harlem by Arnold Rothstein, who is there at Narcisse’s request to sell him some heroin for redistribution to what Narcisse calls his “Libyan” markets. At Emma’s house, the very pregnant widow is being courted by a gregarious gentleman who keeps calling Richard “Rick,” and Richard offers to pay the taxes, remembering the call from the “assessor” the day before. But Emma says she paid the taxes already; she sold the Hudson to raise the money. Richard is, of course, confused. He doesn’t know that the “assessor” on the phone wasn’t the assessor, nor that Carl Billings, the guy who hired him, is now coming to get him. He’ll find out before the hour’s over.
Dining at the resort in Tampa, Nucky overhears a conversation at the next table about a shady land deal, and after the mark leaves, he engages the salesman in a conversation that gives Nucky more information about the separate land deal he’s about to be pitched: seems that the area is being developed for housing and business, and is about to become a lot less remote and isolated. Good for regular business, but not for Nucky’s kind.
A gathering at Temple University listening to the “Acres of Diamonds” speech on the Victrola is joined by Eli’s son Willie, who promises to score some booze for a party, all the better to impress the co-eds. Back in Atlantic City, Gillian and the Piggly Wiggly guy, Roy, are still looking at apartments. and he asks her to join him at a business dinner at which his client thinks he’s still married, not, as is the case, in the process of divorcing.
Chalky and Dunn are visited at the Onyx Club by part-owner Narcisse and a new performer, a jazz singer with the unlikely name of Daughter Maitland. Meanwhile, Willie and a friend try to get booze from Mickey Doyle, who refuses, and when Willie snatches a case on his way out, Doyle slugs him, and sends him on his way: “We’ll keep this between ourselves. Man-to-man. Capiche?… Take the booze, kid.” And Willie does. Oh, he’s going to be popular. (Insert State Store joke for Pennsylvania readers.)
Richard is going through things left in a barn when Carl Billings shows up with an accomplice brandishing a gun. They take his wallet, note that the money they gave him is still there, and when Billings calls him stupid, Richard pulls a knife and stabs his assailant. Billings pulls a gun, and, as he prepares to pull the trigger and says “I’m doin’ you a favor,” gets his brains blown out… by Emma, who arrived just in the nick of time with her shotgun. She’s not nearly as hesitant to pull a trigger as Richard has been lately. But this is not what a pregnant single mom needs to be happening in her household.
At Sally’s speakeasy in Tampa, Nucky is meeting with his potential partners in the bootlegging business — bootlegger McCoy and Tampa underworld big shot Tucker — and tells them he’s not interested, because he now knows the land they’re proposing to use for the operation is surrounded by land being developed for housing, schools, churches, etc. Can’t have that, Nucky reasons, not when the trucks full of booze would have to pass through town. No deal, he announces, to the consternation of the partners left hanging.
Roy and Gillian are with the business associate couple at the Onyx Club, where they listen to the new singer and Gillian goes pale when the couple says they’re from Evansville, Indiana. (Remember that kid who looked like Jimmy who Gillian killed so she could pass him off as her missing son and collect his assets? He was from Evansville, too….) She heads to the powder room, visibly disappointed when the businessman’s wife says she’ll join her. I mean, you want some privacy to shoot up, and there’s always someone interfering. At Temple, the party’s raging, and when Willie saves a girl from being hit on by a lout, he ends up making out with her upstairs. And in Tampa, bootlegger McCoy opens up to Nucky: He owes Tucker $200,000. The deal was supposed to be his way of paying it off. This doesn’t faze Nucky, who just isn’t interested.
At a diner on the Boardwalk, Roy tells Gillian, “We make a really swell team,” but at that moment a young man comes up to Gillian recognizing her and starting to tell a story about meeting her with his friend — the friend being Roger, the Jimmy lookalike from Evansville; Roy interrupts and ushers the man away, and Gillian goes to the bathroom to find a leg vein and shoot up. I guess that if you just got reminded that you murdered someone, you’d be poking holes in your veins, too. While the potential Roy-Gillian hookup gets thus delayed, so does that of Willie and the girl at Temple, whose reverie is interrupted by the other partiers walking in on the action and observing that Willie’s popped a boner, as if that’s the most hilarious and unusual thing a college student can do. Clearly, things were different in college in the ’20s.
As the rain falls in Tampa, Nucky repairs to Sally’s, where he bellies up to the bar for a chat with Sally herself. He unburdens himself to the bartender (Patricia Arquette, incidentally), who has some wise words for the Corrupt One. While idly playing with a lizard toy at the bar, he muses about sending his son a 10th birthday gift, or whether he would be better off letting the boy forget him. It’s interesting to see Nucky have a moment where he lets his guard down, and Sally is the perfect person for it — cynical, seen it all, non-judgmental.
Narcisse and Dunn encounter each other at the club, and while Dunn has his switchblade ready, Narcisse assures him that the Dickey Pastor account has been settled and that he has business to discuss — he suggests that Chalky was ready to give Dunn up to settle the Dickey situation and slides a packet of heroin towards Dunn. “Do you know what this is?,” he asks. “This is freedom.” Narcisse is offering Dunn a chance to work with him in the heroin trade. But in Tampa, McCoy is dealing with a different kind of offer — Tucker is pounding on his door, bursting in and choking the bootlegger. Before we can see what happened there, we’re back in Indiana, where Emma’s suitor reminds Richard, “you’re only visiting” and Emma tells Richard, “send me an address, let me know where you are.” And when they embrace, she adds, “you need to call yourself to account.” So Richard will move on, to what, we don’t know.
As Nucky prepares to leave Tampa, a lizard toy like the he played with on the bar arrives in a box with a note from Sally to send it to his son Teddy. She’s more thoughtful than he is. And then Nucky calls McCoy to surprise him — he’s in on the deal, as long as Tucker knows he answers to Nucky. Surprise, indeed; McCoy killed Tucker, and there’s blood everywhere. That’s how the episode ends, panning down to reveal the horrific scene as McCoy breaks down in tears.
So this episode was one to move the plot along — the side story of Willie Thompson and the Tampa reverie didn’t really seem essential, but we got some movement in Narcisse’s story and the Gillian-Piggly Wiggly situation. Next week, the episode is called “All In,” and poker’s involved, so… let’s hope it’s not more exposition instead of action.