We open with a strangely red-lit shot of a man who’s clearly hanging upside-down and struggling against some sort of restraints. Why, are we seeing the great Hardeen at last? Yes we (or, rather, Margaret, Nucky, Annabelle, and her idiot) are, during a semi-private show at Babette’s. Seems Hardeen’s not as good as his brother—it’s taking him quite a while to get out of those restraints, and the crowd’s getting restless. When he does finally manage to free himself, the applause is pretty weak. During the show, Annabelle notes that her idiot’s looking a bit nervous. He says it’s the show that’s making him tense, but we’ll soon learn it’s a bit more than that.
Chez Darmody, Angela’s staring off into the distance, until Jimmy calls her back to earth. Apparently she’s been doing that a lot lately. She says she was just off in her own little world, not really thinking about anything. Jimmy wonders if it’s possible not to know if one is thinking, but before things can get awkward between these two again, the phone rings. Jimmy has a brief, terse conversation with the person on the other end and returns to the table, where he tells Angela that the caller was his mother, who wanted him to know that his father’s dying. And that just confirmed for me that the Commodore is Jimmy’s dad.
At another tense dinner table, this one in a Chinese restaurant, sit Van Alden and Sebso. Van Alden gets tired of pushing his food around his plate with a fork and settles in to observe Sebso’s chopstick skills. He mentions that Sebso is quite adept with them, and Sebso explains that, back in the day, he worked as a clerk for a company with an office near Chinatown, so he used to eat there a lot because it was cheap. Van Alden manages to use this as a segue into a conversation about Sebso’s recent mortal combat with their star witness. Sebso tries to evade the subject, but Van Alden’s like a dog with a bone (as is his way) and keeps pressing for details, calling out little inconsistencies in Sebso’s story (such as: if the witness was facing Sebso the whole time, how did he manage to grab a rock and smack Sebso in the middle of the forehead with it? I have to admit, it’s a good question.) Sebso fobs him off as well as he can, then notes that Van Alden’s not eating. “The thought of what ingredients constitute this filth repulses me,” says Van Alden. Think he might be talking about more than the food here?
Over in Nucky’s suite, Hardeen’s entertaining the ladies with some parlor tricks (making Margaret’s bracelet appear on Annabelle’s wrist, pulling cards out of ears, etc.) There’s some talk of Houdini, and Hardeen, clearly smarting from any comparisons to his more famous sibling, takes credit for inventing some of Houdini’s most famous tricks. As everyone chatters, Annabelle’s guy (Harry) gets sweatier and more agitated and finally shouts “Jesus Christ!” putting a pretty firm end to the evening’s fun. The reason for his freakout? The guy’s broke. Remember back a few episodes when he was trying to get Nucky to go in on an awesome investment he’d discovered? That investment was led by one Charles Ponzi—yeah, as in, Ponzi scheme. Ponzi’s own scheme collapsed completely when he was arrested on August 12, 1920. His investors were largely wiped out and six banks tanked completely. The only ones celebrating were the reporters and editors of the Boston Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories exposing Ponzi’s fraud.
So, yeah, Harry’s pretty thoroughly screwed because, as I’ve said, he’s an idiot. Nucky speaks the words of all right-thinking people by pointing out that no scheme promising those sorts of returns could possibly be legit. Annabelle’s horrified, which Harry fails to notice as he turns to her and desperately says that they’ll be ok, right? Uh, no. Annabelle calls him a fat, worthless fool and runs out of the room with Harry the idiot right behind. Once they’re gone, Nucky turns to Hardeen and asks what other tricks he knows. Heh.
In NYC, Rothstein’s on the phone with his lawyer, who’s in Chicago with bad news: the Sox are being investigated heavily, and indictments are being handed out left and right. Looks like another swindle’s coming crashing down. The lawyer advises Rothstein to come to Chicago and to think really hard about who in the city is willing to do him a favor.
At the Commodore’s, the old man is in bed, asleep, and his little dog’s stretched out in a miniature coffin. Aww! (and I mean that as a sad aww, not a cute aww.) Someone, I can’t recall who, floated the possibility that the Commodore was being poisoned several weeks ago, and I have to say, good catch. As soon as they said it, I figured they had to be right, because the Commodore kept getting violently ill after eating, and once he started feeding the dog the food he didn’t finish, the dog got sick too.
The Commodore’s housekeeper comes in and scares the man to death by hovering about an inch over his face until he wakes up. She tells him his visitor’s arrived, and ushers in Jimmy, who looks about as happy to be there as he was to be in the VA hospital where he met Two Face. The Commodore offers Jimmy a drink and a cookie and compliments his appearance (Jimmy’s pointed answer: “My mother raised me well.”) Jimmy notes the dead dog in the casket and the Commodore says it died the night before, pretty horribly, from the sound of it. Excuse me while I go cuddle my two pups for a second. Jimmy couldn’t care less about his father’s pet, leading the Commodore to call him a “stony little bastard.” Jimmy snaps that he’s what time and circumstance have made him. I’m guessing these two didn’t spend too many afternoons tossing baseballs in the backyard when Jimmy was a kid.
The Commodore mentions that Gillian keeps him informed of all Jimmy’s doings, and somehow that leads Jimmy to say that, when Gillian and the Commodore hooked up, she was 13 and he was 54. Gah! I’m sorry, I must go vomit and scream. Eeeek! What goes wrong in a person’s head that they want to have sex with a thirteen year old? An adult person’s head, no less? I’m sorry, I have to move past this, because it’s too gross to think about. I know these people exist, and it scares the hell out of me.
Jimmy’s pretty much over the conversation and tries to leave, but the Commodore calls him back for a little trip down memory lane. He says that when he first arrived in AC, the place was a worthless swamp, but he drained it, paved the streets, and built the hotels and made it the city it is today. Jimmy scoffs, but the Commodore presses on, adding that the wrong man is running the city. Jimmy contemplates that for a moment, then suddenly turns around and heads out, saying he doesn’t feel well (clue!) He makes it into the bathroom, where he stares at himself in the mirror for a minute before vomiting into the sink, artistically spattering the mirror. Nice touch, production people!
Angela has made her way to the Dittrichs’ Photo Palace, where she and Mary are laying the last of their plans. Mary tells her to pack lightly, they’ll buy whatever else they need in Paris (with what money? Just curious.) They agree to meet at the Dittrichs’ an hour before the ship leaves. Further plotting is interrupted by Robert clanging around and cursing in the adjoining room. Mary hurries to open the door to the front room and he comes in on crutches, complaining about how awkward they are. Mary and Angela help him sit, and Angela takes this as a cue to leave. Once she’s gone, Robert asks what they were conspiring about. Mary plays dumb, and he accuses her of liking her little games. She accuses him right back of liking them himself, and he says: “Very wicked, my love,” in a language I don’t recognize. Mary comes over and kisses his head, then glances over her shoulder at the door Angela just left through.
In his office, Nucky’s on the phone with Sebso, scolding him for being dumb enough to call. Sebso’s nervous about Van Alden’s obsession with the witness death, so Nucky suggests he distract Van Alden with a new bust. He gives him a lead on a distillery on the Blackhorse Pike near May’s Landing and tells him not to call again.
Once he hangs up, Nucky calls out to Eddie, whom he knows is hovering outside. Eddie comes in with company: Annabelle, who’s very, very pissed off. Before she can get started, Nucky holds up a hand and tells her she can say whatever she wants, but don’t scream, cry, or throw anything. Ha! He’s done this before. Annabelle drops into a chair and tells her that Harry cleaned her out: that $3,000 she had hidden under the floorboards apparently went to Charles Ponzi without her knowledge. Yikes. She wants Harry arrested, although Nucky points out it’ll be a little sticky to arrest a man for stealing back money that was stolen from him in the first place. At this point, Annabelle starts to tear up and coos: “my little girl…” and we all know that’s Nucky’s Achilles Heel. He pulls a stack of bills out of his pocket, like he does, and hands over a wad to Annabelle, to see her through the summer. She offers to thank him in a special way and asks him to “ride [her] like [he] used to,” so now we have a little extra insight into their past. He strokes her cheek and says he’ll keep that one in his pocket.
Unfortunately, Margaret’s come in, unseen by Nucky and Annabelle, and this is when she decides to speak up, agreeing that he will, indeed, keep that one on standby, since he never forgets a favor done or owed. Nucky explains about Harry’s theft, but she already knows, because she gave Annabelle $50 herself already. Annabelle gets up and makes a hasty retreat. Margaret, after a chilly silence, says she just stopped by to tell Nucky that the League of Women Voters has decided to formally endorse Bader for mayor. Nucky’s happy to hear it. “Then I’m happy to be of use to you,” she snits before leaving herself.
Having successfully regained control of his digestive system, Jimmy’s checking in with Gillian and telling her that, yeah, it looks like the Commodore’s dying, and what’s up with her being friends with the guy all of a sudden? She explains that they started keeping in touch after Jimmy joined up—the Commodore was worried because he lost a brother at the Battle of Vicksburg. She’d reassured the Commodore at the time that Jimmy would come home safely, having been reassured of the fact herself by the fortuneteller on the Boardwalk. Jimmy once again brings up the squicky fact that she was only 13 and on her own when she got pregnant, but Gillian corrects him and says they weren’t completely alone: Nucky helped them out. Jimmy asks why Nucky would do that and gets more of the story: Turns out Nucky was the Commodore’s procurer, way back when he was sheriff and working his way up the Atlantic City political ladder. The Commodore spotted Gillian in some kind of parade and told Nucky to get her, so he did. Oh, ugh! Jimmy correctly calls Nucky a pimp, but Gillian’s got a much kinder approach to the whole thing. She says that Nucky’s been very kind to the both of them, and she guesses the whole affair has always sort of bothered him. As it should!
After this charming mother-son talk, Gillian takes off to go meet the doctor at the Commodore’s house, saying that nobody deserves to die alone. Actually, Gillian, I think pedophiles do. And they deserve to die horribly, too.
Van Alden and Sebso are on the Blackhorse Pike, trying to find this distillery, which Van Alden doesn’t seem to think really exists. They get out of the car and Van Alden’s Bible-radar is instantly put into play by the sound of gospel singing. Before long, they come upon a black congregation gathered around a large pond for a baptizing. Van Alden and the reverend start to engage in a bit of a biblical pissing contest, but the reverend’s a good match for the crazily righteous Van Alden. He says that every road leads to a reckoning, something he believes firmly and won’t budge on, so Van Alden, impressed, tells him to continue his baptism, like they needed his permission.
As the reverend starts talking about being saved and doing the lord’s work, Sebso mentions that they should probably continue doing their damn jobs. Van Alden whirls on him and says: “your people don’t believe in heaven, do they?” “My people?” Sebso tiredly repeats. He must be so over this nutcase. And you know what? So am I. They need to either get rid of him, make him more than a garden-variety religious zealot with too much power, or put him in a room with Nucky for a really good set-to, because I’m now totally bored with Van Alden. Anyway, Sebso’s Jewish, and he reluctantly admits that no, Jews don’t believe in heaven, per se. So how can they conceive of hell? Van Alden wonders, starting to get the crazy eyes going. Sebso doesn’t have anything to say to that, so Van Alden focuses again on the baptism, and is overwhelmed by what he sees (perhaps wishing to wash away the sin of his night with Lucy?) He bows his head and seems to weep while Sebso, looking more weirded out by the second, asks if he’s ok. Van Alden raises his head and says he is, but is Sebso? Oookay then.
The Commodore is finally being examined by a doctor while Gillian tries to feed the old man some soup. The doctor notes that there seems to be something wrong with every organ in the Commodore’s body, and he wants to run some tests that will require a hair sample. As he holds up a pair of scissors, the Commodore freaks out, certain the doctor’s trying to kill him. Jimmy, who’s been hovering in the doorway, steps in and calms his father down, reassuring him the doctor’s only trying to help him. The doctor gets his sample, and the Commodore says that Jimmy’s a good son. Jimmy turns to Gillian and asks if she’s eaten anything. Instead of answering, she merely says that someone has to stay with the Commodore (hmmm.) Jimmy offers to stay with him that night and sends her off.
Margaret and Nucky are getting ready to go out, and things are still a little frosty between them. She asks for some details on the gathering they’re going to (a DAR dinner, apparently). Nucky says she doesn’t have to go if she doesn’t want to, since most of these women were against suffrage and hate immigrants, being, apparently, narrow-minded hypocrites with no concept of history. Or, as Margaret says more succinctly, “how did their own ancestors get here?” She then coolly says that she’ll do what’s required of her, and Nucky recognizes an attitude when he hears it, so he addresses what’s really bothering her and reassures Margaret that what she saw in his office the day before was completely innocent. He and Annabelle had a relationship years ago that meant nothing, he was just helping her. “The same way you helped me?” says Margaret. Nucky says that he thought Annabelle was Margaret’s friend. Margaret turns to him, steely eyed, and says: “so you wouldn’t fook her?” And this is when I knew this was going to get really ugly.
Nucky is thrown by such crude language coming from Margaret, and he scolds her for it. She realizes he’d rather she be demure, but he says he’d rather she be rational. Margaret snaps that what he wants is for her to close her eyes and say nothing about what she sees and hears. He asks her what she’s heard, and she takes a moment before saying that she’s heard he’s capable of anything. And who told her that? Van Alden, when he stopped by while Nucky was out campaigning. She says that what Van Alden said, and, in fact, their whole arrangement, makes her sick. Nucky asks what she means by ‘their arrangement,’ and she lets loose, saying she hates having to look the other way sometimes and then helping him with his business at other times, all the while pretending she has no idea what that business is. Nucky’s starting to get pissed and says he doesn’t recall her ever complaining about anything he’s given her. Oh, sure, she squeaks a bit now and then to remind him of what a good person she is, but truth be told, a good person wouldn’t be in her position, would they? Ouch. Margaret says he doesn’t know anything about her, but he knows a bit more than she thinks. Nucky goes into the bathroom and quickly retrieves the bottle of Lysol she’s hidden there and says that after they have sex, she washes herself with that poison “like any whore.” Double ouch. Margaret says she’s not interested in having another child, and what does Nucky care anyway? They aren’t married. Did he think she was going to pop out an heir for him?
“I thought you needed saving,” Nucky says, a little nonsensically. “Is that why you chose my husband?” she flings back. Hoo boy, this really went downhill fast. She goes on to flat out accuse him of having her husband killed, despite Nucky warning her to shut up in a low, dangerous voice. She goes on to bring up Eli’s visit to her in the hospital and the hush money he offered her. Nucky reminds her that her dead husband wasn’t exactly a prize, and says he hasn’t lost one moment of sleep over what was done, and neither has Margaret. She slaps him, and Nucky, enraged, throws the Lysol bottle into the vanity mirror, shattering both. “You won’t be needing that anymore, will you?” he growls before leaving, eyes all ablaze. Well, that was quite a scene.
Back at the Commodore’s, Jimmy meets with Two Face in the foyer and admits he has no idea what he’s doing there. TF grunts that Jimmy’s there for his mother, which is spot on. TF goes on to say that Chalky heard back from his man in Philadelphia. There’s no sign of any of the remaining D’Alessio brothers, aside from one who’s a dentist. The D’Alessio mother and sisters are still in Philly, though. Without blinking an eye (sorry for the expression), TF offers to go to Philadelphia and wipe out the mom, sisters, and dentist brother to try and flush out the other D’Alessio brothers. Damn, TF. Before Jimmy can decide, the doctor comes in and, when asked, says he got the test results back. Jimmy tells TF that they’ll discuss their options later, then goes back to the doctor, who tells him that the Commodore’s full of arsenic.
Chez Darmody, Angela’s packing while the kid puts up an argument to the tune of “I don’t want to go, and why isn’t daddy coming?” Angela takes the suitcase she’s packed, leaves a note for Jimmy, and collects the kid to go “meet Aunt Mary.”
From a closeup of the note we cut to Nucky’s and Eli’s father, sitting on a porch, observed through lace curtains by his oldest son. Nucky asks Eli what their father does all day, and Eli says he just sits there, because he’s upset about the house. Nucky says it’s amazing the fire didn’t happen sooner, since the house was a firetrap. Well, it was after you doused it in turpentine, Nucky.
Eli gently asks about the fight with Margaret, and Nucky admits it got very ugly. Eli says he and his wife fight all the time. They go out to the shed so the kids don’t hear. That’s nice of them. Wish my parents had done that. Nucky darkly says that Margaret “knows.” Eli scoffs that she just suspects, because how could she know? After a long pause, he asks Nucky if he told her anything. No, but Nucky didn’t deny it either. Now Eli starts to get mad, and demands to know what Nucky was thinking. Nucky sighs that he wanted to hurt her. “What do you think these are for?” Eli asks, holding up his fists. Charming. Nucky says that’s not who he is, but Eli knows better, since Nucky did ask him to beat a man to death and all. Eli starts to panic that Margaret may start to shoot her mouth off and get the whole lot of them in trouble, and things are already pretty tense because there’s a very good chance that Fletcher might get elected mayor and start investigating all of them. He calls Margaret a liability that Nucky created purely so he could feel like a good boy for a little while. Nucky stiffly says he didn’t ask for Eli’s opinion on the matter, but Eli’s going to give it, whether or not he’s been asked, because this is his life on the line, here, and he’s got eight kids to look out for. He tells Nucky that he walks around the city like he’s a king, but nobody really cares about him, they just care about what he can give them. Nucky’s done. He tells Eli that it’s a shame he couldn’t see Hardeen the other night. The man’s an entertaining act, but if he wasn’t Houdini’s brother, nobody would give a rat’s ass about him. And on that note, he leaves.
Jimmy, meanwhile, heads to Gillian’s and tells her the Commodore made it through another night. She’s surprised to hear it and offers her son coffee, which he, perhaps wisely, turns down. He asks her how much money she thinks the Commodore has. She has no idea, but she notes that he seems to live comfortably. Jimmy sits down at the table and asks her if she and the Commodore ever discussed what would happen after the old man died. She’s not sure what he means, so Jimmy lays it out. Whatever she wants to do is fine with him, but the fact of the matter is, he ate a cookie there the other day and it made him vomit, and that day he found a can of rat poison tucked down in the Commodore’s kitchen trash. He’s even got the can of poison, and places it on the table between them. Gillian looks at it, her face inscrutable.
Nucky, Halloran, Bader, and a few of the cronies are hanging out, and Bader’s telling a bad joke about a john arguing with a prostitute over her $50 fee when Peter Stuyvesant only paid $24 for the island of Manhattan. Punchline: yeah, but Manhattan just lies there. The boys, aside from Nucky, laugh uproariously, but Nucky’s in no mood and corrects Bader’s history by pointing out that Peter Minuit bought Manhattan. He snaps at Bader to get his facts straight and says that this lack of attention to detail is killing them during a tough election. He goes on to say that people want change, and that’s what he’s going to give them, in the form of Bader, and a new sheriff: Halloran. This seems to be news to Halloran, and I’ll bet it’ll be news to Eli too, but Halloran of course accepts and promises not to let Nucky down. Everyone applauds.
I guess Angela’s a really slow walker, because she’s just now reached the Dittrichs’ studio, where there’s a For Rent sign in the window and no furniture inside. Tommy runs in through the open front door and Angela gazes in, bewildered. A man sweeping the floor in the back room greets her and introduces himself as the property manager. She asks where the Dittrichs went, and he tells her they snuck out in the middle of the night. He’s pissed they left a mess, and he has no idea where they went, although the wife was always talking about Paris. Tommy comes running over and hands Angela a messed up photograph of a bride and groom with no faces.
At the postal/fed field office, Sebso comes in to see Van Alden and announces that he’s requesting a transfer. Amen, brother. I’m surprised you held out this long. Sebso admits he knows Van Alden doesn’t trust him, and that he has a problem with that, and with Van Alden’s insinuations about his religious beliefs and his incessant questions about the Winslow shooting. Van Alden says he keeps asking because something’s not right. Sebso argues that he has no reason to want Winslow dead, so Van Alden points out that temptation can be a powerful motivator. He notes that Sebso is wearing brand-new wingtips that probably cost a pretty penny. Sebso argues that he bought them on sale, and this is exactly what he was talking about! This guy has been sent out to find illegal distilleries and he’s obsessing over his partner’s footwear! Van Alden says he needs agents he can trust and Sebso shouts that Van Alden can trust him, dammit, and what does he have to do to convince him?
Oh, dear. Way to nudge the crazy. Where do they head? Back to the baptism pond. Has a whole week passed since they were last here, or do these people do this every day? Honestly, I find it a little hard to believe Van Alden would ever work on a Sunday, so this all rings a bit false to me. Though not quite as false as what happens next.
So, the reverend’s doing his baptizing when Van Alden interrupts. The Reverend asks if he’s come to be returned to the arms of Christ, and Van Alden says he’s never left him, but he’s got a partner who could use saving. Sebso, like any right-thinking person, is horrified by this, and when the Reverend asks him to step forward, he politely declines. Van Alden puts on the pressure, and soon the crowd starts to chime in, so Sebso caves, takes off his shoes and hands them to a bystander (“I just bought these,” he says, hilariously), and steps into the water.
Van Alden asks for permission to perform the baptism himself, which the reverend grants (he’s really going to regret that, I think). Van Alden asks Sebso if he accepts Jesus as his lord and savior, and before Sebso can reply, he dunks him and holds him under, yelling for him to unburden himself. He lets him up and asks if he’ll confess his sins and accept Jesus. Sebso starts to ask what Van Alden wants him to say, but Van Alden dunks him again. He repeats this crazy pattern a couple more times, but on the last try, he holds Sebso under a bit too long. The reverend tries to intervene, but Van Alden’s mind has clearly cracked and he insists that he’s seen the devil abroad in the day and in the night and by God he’ll force him out! Or kill his partner, which is what he actually does. Yes, that’s right, Van Alden just drowned Sebso in an insane religious frenzy in front of about 50 people.
Ok, seriously? How is this ever going to play out? Are we really to believe that not a single one of these people is going to step forward and say that this insane man just drowned a guy right in front of them? I find that hard to believe. This whole thing is just completely psychotic (and yes, I get that that’s the point of the character, but still.) If anyone does go to the police, you know it’ll go right to Halloran, as sheriff, and he’ll take it to Nucky who will just salivate over getting this kind of info. That’s really the only way I can see this working out in a manner I’d find believable. If Van Alden gets away with this, I’ll be pissed (at the very least, surely someone in the Bureau will wonder what happened to Van Alden’s partner? Or maybe a member of Sebso’s family? This can’t stay a secret for long.)
Anyway, Van Alden collects his jacket, gun, and badge and, holding up gun and badge, he makes his way through the crowd, which happily parts to let him through. At least one guy got a nice pair of new shoes.
At Margaret’s, things are quiet as Nucky walks through the house with Two Face, who tells him that, when he came by the night before, Margaret sent him away, and when he returned that morning as usual, she and the kids’ bags were packed and she was hitting the road. She sent him on an errand to Annabelle’s, and by the time he got back they were gone.
Angela the slow walker finally makes it home to the (supposedly) empty house. She puts the suitcase in the bedroom, but then notices that the note she left for Jimmy is gone. Because he’s already there. She and he exchange a loooong look before she asks after his father. He’ll live. Jimmy helps her with the suitcase and then, chillingly, says “I know what you’ve been up to.” Anglea’s been looking absolutely terrified this whole time, and right there I’m pretty sure she just loses about five years off her life. Tommy pipes up that Jimmy doesn’t know, but Jimmy turns away and tells Tommy he knows they’ve been getting ice cream, because he has a little on his chin. Angela starts to breathe again as Jimmy puts Tommy to bed, asking if he had fun staying up late. Once Tommy’s lying down, Jimmy heads back toward the kitchen, tells Tommy that mommy will tuck him in, and then leaves, closing the door behind him. Angela bursts into tears. I know I’m supposed to feel bad for her, but I really don’t. If she wants to move to Paris so bad, why doesn’t she get off her ass and get a job? Oh, right, because she can’t possibly do something so menial as actually work for money to feed her kid or realize her own goals, she has her art to focus on. Poor little princess.
On the Boardwalk, Nucky and Eddie slowly make their way back to the Ritz, but Nucky pauses for a moment outside the fortuneteller’s shop, and finally he goes in and sits down. I suppose her guess about Nucky’s future is as good as anyone else’s.
So, what did you think? I don’t feel like this was quite as strong an episode as the last few were, especially with Van Alden’s insanity dragging everything down, but the fight scenes were pretty good and a long time coming. I do wonder what happened with the Dittrichs, though. Did they flee together because Jimmy terrified them, or did he somehow get wind of what Angela was planning and threaten them? I wonder if we’ll ever find out or if we’ll just have to let that one go. Only one more episode left!