While Walter was returning from New Hampshire in a stolen Volvo and Carrie and Brody were returning from hiatus, Nucky Thompson over on HBO was back from Tampa on a new Boardwalk Empire. And it’s all about poker and, tellingly, underlings making career moves this week.
In Chicago, obese, sweaty Capone guy Jake has a heart attack while collecting from a guy who lives at the top of a steep flight of stairs. In Washington, the FBI is mapping out the bootlegging operations across the U.S., and Nucky’s a major target; J. Edgar Hoover wants proof from Agent Knox of Nucky’s liability, and Knox tells him he’ll get that proof from Nucky’s “weakest link” — Eddie, it turns out, but we’ll get there eventually. At the Onyx Club, Chalky’s clearly taken with singer Daughter Maitland, but it’s one of those things he doesn’t want to let on — he’d rather not compliment her singing, lest she know what he really thinks. Dunn asks Chalky for permission to go home to tend to his ill mother in Baltimore (say, doesn’t Chalky know Baltimore pretty well?), which, we quickly learn, means he’s really going to visit Dr. Narcisse to do some business.
At the “florist’s” in Chicago, Dean O’Banion, after a prank that blows a rifle up in a guy’s face, sends Van Alden/Mueller back to make a flower delivery to the hospital room of Jake the Capone guy, and the Capones want to talk a little to Nelson/George (hey, Nelson George!), while in Atlantic City, Nucky offers Arnold Rothstein a piece of the action in Tampa, which Rothstein immediately distrusts, noting Nucky’s previous stance that he was happy with what he had. Rothstein invites Nucky to play poker, saying that you don’t really get to know a man until you play cards with him. That comment will backfire on him later.
But what about Dr. Narcisse? Dunn didn’t wait for him to visit A.C.; he’s in Narcisse’s Harlem office, which displeases Narcisse greatly. But the moment Dunn walks out of the office, Narcisse quickly pockets the cash. Eddie makes a cash delivery at the train station for Nucky to “Mr. Brown,” Ralph “Bottles” Capone, who wants Eddie to take him someplace good to eat lest he “get the trots” from eating at the station. (oh, right, another theme: diarrhea. Not kidding.) The other Capone boys now have Van Alden/Mueller accompanying them on their collection rounds, which is another way of saying they go to a guy’s apartment and throw him out the window onto a car roof. This amuses the Capones greatly, because that’s how they roll.
While Nucky enlists Eli to deliver the cash they expect Rothstein to invest to Tampa and Eli resists a little, saying he needs to keep tabs on son Willie, Willie is back at Temple with a suitcase full of booze and a plan to spike a rival’s drink with drugs to give him diarrhea. Ralph Capone and Eddie are at dinner at the Knife and Fork (a real restaurant in A.C., by the way; I grew up with my Dad talking about having eaten there many times), talking about their families and toasting their “new lives.” Dunn catches Narcisse on the street in Harlem to talk business, and offers to be Narcisse’s connection in Atlantic City, undercutting Nucky and Chalky; Narcisse tells him that Chalky’s time has passed and orders Dunn to beat up a guy, which he does, meaning he’s taking orders from a new boss now.
The Capones make Van Alden/Mueller an offer he can’t refuse to “bust heads for us until the election,” and when they spy a bread truck they recognize as one of O’Banion’s booze delivery trucks, they steal it, a very uncomfortable Nelson on board. Rothstein gets Nucky to the poker table, condescending to Nucky and suggesting that “everything you want from me tonight is on the table,” the pile of chips in front of them. Going all in, Rothstein gets a marker for $200,000 and there’s a pile of chips in the pot but he misread Nucky (“I figured you for a straight.” “You guessed wrong”). It’s a strange position to see a legendary gambler assume: loser. And Eddie is singing with his fellow German expatriates, to the amusement of Bottles. This, finally, is Eddie’s element.
In North Philadelphia, Willie’s plan seems to be working when Henry has to go to the bathroom and, the bathroom door being locked, takes a dump in his pants and collapses to the floor, laughter filling the room. Revenge is sweet, but, it’ll turn out, temporary. Heading out to Cicero, Al Capone tells Nelson to take the wheel while he snorts some coke, then they discuss O’Banion, the violent prankster, and Capone makes an offer — work for them through the election, get the rights to sell Aquavit in Cicero — but gets interrupted when a voice from the back of the truck surprises them. It’s Nelson’s cohort from O’Banion’s flower shop, the guy whose rifle blew up in his face; they give the man 10 seconds to flee, but tell Nelson to shoot him. After two shots, Nelson’s gun’s jams, but Al sprays the guy with bullets and they take off, laughing. And Willie’s prank goes very wrong when Henry (the dude who barged in on Willie’s make-out session last week) ends up dying from the concoction, bloodied on the floor of the dorm bathroom.
Back in Atlantic City, Rothstein is still playing poker, getting very, very testy with the dealer and demanding fresh decks. His man, Meyer Lansky, leans over and asks, “wouldn’t it be best if people don’t see you like this?” Rothstein leaves the table, and Lansky asks Nucky not to extend more credit to Rothstein. Nucky tells Lansky to tell Rothstein that the Tampa deal’s off, that he can’t rely on Rothstein, and Lansky offers to invest his own money. He gets Nucky to give him 48 hours to come up with the half million dollars to buy in. Suddenly, Rothstein isn’t the boss.
Al and Frank Capone and Nelson/George drop the ex-agent off at his still-unfinished house — “see ya in a few hours” – and Meyer Lansky is in an alley beating the hell out of the guy who won at poker all those hours Rothstein was losing. And Nucky returns home and calls for Eddie, forgetting that Eddie’s not his manservant anymore. As he sits down with a drink, Eddie’s returning Ralph Capone to the train. They’re feeling no pain, but Eddie is about to, as Agent Knox steps forward and takes him into custody without explanation. Will he be the weakest link?
We’re looking at some realignment here: Lansky’s stepping up, Nelson’s perhaps involuntarily switching allegiances, Dunn is most definitely changing his situation, Eddie moved up only to be taken out, and Willie… well, he has his own problems now. Needless to say, we’ll probably see none of this progress next week, since there are other story lines to pursue, like Gillian and Mr. Piggly Wiggly, or Richard Harrow. That’s been a problem with the series from the start, keeping too many balls in the air in an attempt to be epic and sweeping within the confines of an hour-long weekly show. But with a fifth-season order announced, there’s plenty of time to, oh, I don’t know, find Margaret, maybe. Hey, Kelly Macdonald’s still listed in the cast, so you never know.