First off, I must commend HBO and Boardwalk Empire for sponsoring a relief concert to benefit the victims and survivors of Hurricane Sandy this past week. The Atlantic City boardwalk and much of the Jersey Shore was destroyed by the storm, and many areas along the East Coast, including my hometown on Long Island, were decimated. It will take an unimaginable period of time until people are able to piece their lives back together and rebuild their homes. If you are financially able to, please consider donating to one of these fine charities: the American Red Cross, the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity, the ASPCA and the Salvation Army.
In this week’s episode, entitled “The Pony,” Nucky seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place in both his personal life and business dealings. Al Capone is gaining in power and prestige in Chicago. And of all people, Gillian is pulling the strings when no one is looking.
We begin with Gillian and Richard Harrow at a crematorium. Gillian is having Roger (fake Jimmy) cremated. She somehow gets Jimmy’s death certificate to list “accidental drowning” as the cause of death. Before the coffin is put into the oven, Gillian had the nerve to ask Richard to say a few words since he was Jimmy’s best friend. Harrow simply says, “Jimmy deserved better than this.” This was brilliant on the part of Harrow, because of its double entendre: Gillian believes that Richard means that Jimmy didn’t deserve to die that way, yet in reality, Richard knows that Jimmy was killed by Nucky and is really expressing his displeasure over Gillian’s deception.
Nucky is planning to buy a pony for his daughter Emily’s birthday and asks Owen, who knows a thing or two about horses, to go to the farm to pick one out. However, Nucky’s butler Eddie interrupts and announces that Jimmy is dead. Caught by surprise at first, Nucky regains his composure and goes over to Gillian’s house. He pretends to offer his condolences, but Gillian throws a drink in his face when he proposes a toast, knowing that Nucky killed Jimmy. Nucky denies this, warning Gillian, “whatever you’re trying to pull, there’s something you’d best keep in mind…you exist in this town because I allow you to.”
Nucky then heads to New York, where he meets with Esther Randolph and the slippery Gaston Means to discuss what to do about Attorney General Dougherty. Means informs Nucky that Treasury Secretary Mellon, who is also an enemy of Dougherty, will be having lunch at the exclusive Union Club.
Nucky’s meeting with Mellon is a fascinating scene because it shows the decadent top crust of society at the time that frowns upon even reasonably powerful people like Nucky, an ex-politician with a lucrative bootlegging operation. Here, it seems that Nucky is uncharacteristically out of his element and does not have much leverage. Nucky proposes a deal to Mellon to take down Dougherty, which he appears not to accept and orders Nucky to leave the club or be arrested. However, he later calls Nucky back to agree to the deal in exchange for Nucky managing a distillery for him that would generate a profit.
Nucky then heads over to see Billie Kent, who is trying out to be a movie star. She is at her apartment drinking with her friend and another man named Gus. Nucky tells Gus to leave, and the two get into a fight. Nucky breaks Gus’s nose, and he leaves. Nucky and Billie are now alone, and the two argue over their relationship. We finally see a human side to Billie, who has been extremely one-dimensional up to this point. She laments her aggressive father.
We also hear Billie state what has been implied throughout the whole series: Nucky sees himself as a father figure for the women he courts. Nucky makes it up to Billie by giving her an annuity. Billie Kent finally opens up, telling him her real name, and agrees to be exclusive to Nucky from now on.
At the hospital, Margaret is confronted by one of her students, asking for a diaphragm because she does not want to get pregnant again. Margaret asks for diaphragms from the doctor, wanting them both for her student and herself as well. Margaret and Owen then go look at the ponies for Emily, but end up making out in the car afterwards. The storylines of Nucky and Margaret are becoming increasingly divergent and separate, speaking to both of them finding love in different places and their alienation towards each other.
In Chicago, Torrio has come back from holiday in Italy, and Capone is forced to tell him that he killed Dean O’Banion’s associate Joe Miller and that there is a meeting tomorrow with Dean. Much to Capone’s surprise, Torrio is accepting of his actions, acknowledging that Capone “did what he thought was right.” This is a sign that Torrio is getting a bit tired of being the guy on top and is willing to pass over the baton to his protégé in Capone.
This implicit transfer of power is further solidified at the meeting with O’Banion. Torrio physically steps aside and walks away to let Capone negotiate with Dean. As I’ve said in a previous recap, I love how Capone has become a multi-dimensional, complex character this season rather than a caricature, and hopefully this is in anticipation of Capone’s character taking on a greater role in the series.
Nelson Van Alden is brewing alcohol for O’Banion in his house as a debt for getting rid of the FBI agent that he killed. O’Banion also has Nelson serve as one of his muscle men for his meeting with Torrio and Capone. At work, Nelson is constantly being harassed by his coworkers and boss and finally, what we have been waiting for all season: he snaps. In the most memorable scene of the season so far, Nelson burns a coworker’s face with an iron, turns over desks and typewriters and leaves as if nothing happened.
At the end of the episode, we see Gyp paying a visit to Gillian’s whorehouse, and he meets Richard for the first time. Gillian, in an act of revenge, purposely lets slip that Nucky is having a meeting with Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano at Bassettes, a supper club on the Boardwalk.
As Nucky, Arnold and Lucky are outside the restaurant on the Boardwalk, Nucky gets distracted by a particularly annoying street peddler. Billie Kent runs to the entrance of the supper club, while Arnold and Lucky walk away to look at the ocean. Nucky keeps looking at Billie as the scene goes into slow motion, just before a huge, fiery explosion destroys the restaurant, killing Kent and scores of other people as well. I can’t say I’m too sad at her passing, and I give credit to the writers for listening to popular opinion and killing her off. But as we fade to black, Nucky falls unconscious, lying on the Boardwalk as Lucky helps up visibly hurt Arnold.
Gyp has just officially declared war on Nucky, Arnold and Lucky. Nucky will no doubt want to avenge Billie Kent’s death, but will her death lead him to reconcile with Margaret? Find out next week.