Dunn’s dead, Willie’s working for Mayor Bader, the feds have their foot on Eli’s neck… but that was last week on Boardwalk Empire. This week, it’s back to Cicero and the Capones and Van Alden/Mueller, and back to Richard Harrow and the Sigorskys and Gillian in Atlantic City, too, because there are too many plot lines to cram into each episode. This week’s theme involved guys experiencing new lows — Van Alden/Mueller with repeated emasculations, Chalky and Narcisse having difficulty dealing with their situation, Arnold Rothstein coming to grips with his gambling and his changed financial circumstances. As in last week’s episode, several plot lines are taking giant strides towards a climax. And, once again, Nucky’s involvement is still minor, almost a bystander in his own story.
First, ex-Agent ex-Van Alden/present mob enforcer/florist Mueller is having problems at home with Sigrid belittling him, to which he finally explodes, and problems at work, too — O’Banion suggests that his absence with the Capones while his co-worker got ambushed was questionable, and meanwhile, the guy who he attacked a while back when he was an iron salesman, the guy on whose face he pressed a hot iron, happens to see him through the shop window. Nelson/George makes a wreath delivery and it turns out to be the Capone Bros., wanting everything he knows about O’Banion and getting rough with him (“hit me again and you’ll regret it,” he intones). But he’s willing to blow O’Banion’s brains out for a thousand bucks.
And that’s what he plans, but Iron Face shows up with two other pasty fat co-horts to beat him up. He shoots them all, which gets in the way of taking care of O’Banion. This displeases the Capones, but he promises them he’ll do the deed that night. But at the shop, O’Banion, telling him he doesn’t believe his story about what happened with the Capones, holds him at gunpoint, and Mueller tells him everything (“My name isn’t Mueller. I’m not legally married to my wife…”), even that he was a prohibition agent who drowned a man… and then the front door opens, three guys walk into the store as if they’re customers, and they blow O’Banion away with several shots. The ex-agent, his job done for him, walks out the back alley past the rotting corpses of the guys he’d killed earlier, flies buzzing en masse. He brings home a pile of money from the store, makes it rain on the nanny’s bed, tells her his real name, orders her to take off her nightgown, and it’s off to the races, meaning sex, of course. After a lot of what he surely felt was emasculation, it’s an Alpha Male moment.
Chalky lets Nucky in on what’s happening with Narcisse, but Nucky warns him to be careful and mind his business, not “some sugary piece of ass” or his pride. He reminds Chalky about his family and business — an interesting thing for him to do considering his own past ignoring family and business while having an affair with a performer — but Chalky wants something done about Narcisse right away. Nucky later calls Eli in for a chat about Chalky, Dunn’s death, and Narcisse’s involvement in the heroin trade — clearly, Nucky doesn’t want this complication to affect him, and Eli tells him to tell Chalky no while asking questions that offer a clue as to whether he’s complying with Agent Knox/Tolliver’s directive of last week.
Narcisse, for his part, after a scene that indicates that he wants an alliance with Masseria, also wants more information from Daughter Maitland about Chalky and is clearly suspicious that she says Dunn never arrived that fateful night and hasn’t been heard from since, especially since there were glass shards in the carpet. And he whacks her across the face. Repeatedly. Chalky visits, finds Daughter’s face badly bloodied, and heads out to find Narcisse, who’s at the Onyx Club joining an incredulous Nucky, who says “you can’t sit here” (in the whites-only audience). Chalky walks in and makes a scene, and Nucky warns him to back off, prompting Chalky to overturn the table and walk out. But his real daughter shows up at Daughter’s room to confront Chalky; the family knows something’s up, and while it’s never a good time for any of that, this is kinda casting a pall on the wedding….
Arnold Rothstein wants to kill Mickey Doyle and cash in a life insurance policy, or at least that’s the plan with which he goes to Nucky for “permission,” suggesting that Nucky pay him not to do the deed. But Nucky doesn’t much care, noting that a lot of people would be happy to help him cash in that policy. Turns out Rothstein is broke, thanks to Margaret’s broker boss, and needs cash; Nucky ultimately offers him a deal, buying one of his insurance policies for a hundred grand.
Gillian and Mr. Piggly Wiggly are enjoying the boardwalk on a sunny day, and she’s telling him how she was “ravaged” by The Commodore when she was a teen, giving birth to Jimmy, and how he overdosed on heroin in her bathroom, as opposed to how it all really happened. No mention of that incest part, either. Later, she goes to court in another attempt to get custody of her grandchild, and while she’s testifying, Harrow walks in; she briefly pauses, then picks up her thread again. Julia follows with her case, the judge is not impressed with a) the lack of husbands on either side and b) the lack of much money coming in on Julia’s part, and the judge says he’ll rule within a month. At the Sigorsky house, Julia, attempting to remedy part of that, awkwardly proposes, sort of, to Richard (“I guess you’d do in a pinch”), and he awkwardly says yes. They head to City Hall, and while they’re waiting, Julia asks, “are you sure about this?” Richard responds, “It’s only a hunting license, isn’t it?” That night, Harrow goes to Nucky and asks for a job. After all, he now has a family to support.
And there were a couple of late night calls to end the proceedings. Something may be up with Mr. Piggly Wiggly, who Gillian catches talking to someone on the phone late at night. Meanwhile, Nucky and Sally Wheet have a little late-night chat, in which Nucky indicates interest in doing more in Tampa and Sally is shown sleeping with a shotgun for protection, reinforcing the idea that Tampa could be even more lawless and troublesome for Nucky than Atlantic City’s been.
The series is picking up steam at the moment, moving forward at a pace that’s keeping things compelling and more satisfying than last year’s Gyp Rosetti arc. And when an episode carries through a theme like tonight, with several characters used to being in control finding their lives spinning out of control — Van Alden unable to take care of O’Banion himself, Chalky not in control of his own response to Narcisse, Narcisse looking for answers after the Atlantic City heroin operation’s untimely demise, Rothstein’s gambling and bad investments causing him a cash flow problem — and adds a second theme of confession, whether Gillian’s fictionalized account of her past or Van Alden’s gunpoint recitation — there are few series doing it better.