Previously on Boardwalk Empire: Meyer and Lucky made moves against Nucky and Maranzano, prompting Nucky to go ahead and declare war. Eli managed to get out of the whole Capone situation alive (unlike Van Alden), which could make things super awkward for his eldest son, who’s now working in the US attorney’s office.
Will Thompson’s boss gets on the radio to talk about the crime wave engulfing New York and New Jersey, as we’re treated to vintage photos and headlines of said massacres. We also see how jumpy Lucky and Meyer are (with good reason). Every time a door opens they clearly start. But their time has not come. Yet. Nucky is still hitting the booze hard. He reluctantly puts down a bottle of Bacardi to go meet with a strangely chill Maranzano.
Nucky’s pissed off because there are 19 dead men and millions in lost revenue and no end in sight to this mess. Maranzano doesn’t seem in that big a rush to end this, merely saying that Lucky will make a mistake at some point. One hopes, but how many more bodies will pile up in the meantime? He says that this is a game of chess, and Nucky snaps back that he’s played chess and it usually doesn’t involve the services of a coroner. I don’t think you’ve been playing chess right, then, Nucky. It’s not a good game without a little bloodletting, am I right? Right on cue, Mickey reports the firebombing of 12 of their trucks, so that’s another $100,000 up in smoke (literally). Maranzano promises to send more men to guard Nucky’s trucks and to have Luciano’s throat cut if he shows his face. As he goes to leave, young Joe brownnoses that he gave his car a nice wash while he was waiting. Maranzano offers him a tip, which Joe turns down, earning him a slap upside the head from Mickey, who then hands the kid a pistol. Nucky steps in and insists the kid be kept out of this.
Benny Siegel goes to a rather dark and depressing looking apartment building, where he knocks on the door of his girlfriend. After learning her husband’s out for the day, he grabs her and they eagerly get down to business.
In 1897, young Gillian chews some gum and opens her book while waiting in Nucky’s office. He arrives, makes her spit out the gum, and demands the book. She insists she paid for the book, so it’s rightfully hers. He asks to look at it anyway and notices she’s written ‘From the Library of Gillian Darmody’ inside the front cover. He asks her how many books she has in this library and learns it’s just this one for now, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Writing her name in it seemed the proper thing to do. He asks her where her family is and she refuses to answer. Nucky tells her that she’s broken at least two laws, so he could throw her in a cell, or she could just answer his questions and let him help her. He asks where she came from and she gives her address as 915 Haddon Ave, in Trention. It’s an orphanage.
Will Thompson’s apparently being given really boring busywork, which he totally resents. One of his coworkers reminds him that things are a little sensitive right now, so he can’t be close to any of the important cases, lest his family connections be made part of the story. Will’s called to the telephone and, although we only hear his side of the conversation, he’s clearly talking to Eli. He tells his coworker he has to go.
In the past, Nucky has taken Gillian home to Mabel for dinner, following right in Lindsay’s footsteps. He quietly tells Mabel that he has to return the girl to the orphanage from whence she came, which distresses his wife, because she figures Gillian ran away for a reason. Nucky doesn’t disagree but says they have no right to keep her.
Benny’s done with his girlfriend and gets ready to leave. On his way out the door, he runs into her husband, Morris, who’s a friend of his. He lies that he was there to collect a debt. While he’s signing an autograph for Morris’s wife, two men come through the door of the building and Benny immediately draws his gun, uses Morris as a shield, and opens fire. The men, one of whom is Nucky’s bodyguard Archie, pursue, Archie reminding the other guy that they need to take Benny alive. The fight goes into Morris’s apartment, where not-Archie gets shot to death. Archie grabs Benny and marches him outside, past Morris, who was shot in the shoulder and is wailing that he’s dying.
In 1897, Mabel has given Gillian a girly makeover, putting her in one of her old dresses, which she had lying around for some reason. Nucky says she looks nice and they should really get on the road. Gillian offers to make amends for her stealing by working around the house, which Mabel is totally on board with, but Nucky insists she go back to the orphanage. Mabel takes him aside and says the place is horrible, according to Gillian. Nucky’s like, yeah, of course she’s going to say that, she ran away from the place. Also, we don’t have the money or the room for some runaway kid. Mabel keeps pushing, telling him that this is what helping means.
Benny is taken down to AC, where Nucky gets him on the phone with Lucky and Meyer, who don’t believe him when he says he was kidnapped. They hang up on him, so Nucky calls them back to prove this is serious. They do not hang up on Nucky. Nucky wants a meeting so they can end this nonsense. Lucky offers to think it over. The phone rings again and Nucky answers: it’s Margaret, telling him that the Mayflower Grain Corp stock has been shorted as requested. He asks her to short another 50,000 and she warns him that the market will notice that. He tells her that’s the point and advises her to short some herself. She curtly informs him she makes her own decision, thank you very much. He hustles her off the phone.
Will meets with Eli somewhere outside his office, and Eli…well, let’s just say he fits right in with the hobo look that was oh-so-chic at the time (so cute you should totally use it for your wedding!). Will, by contrast, is dressed in a sharp suit. These two don’t even look like they belong on the same planet. Eli holds out his hand and Will leaves him hanging and asks what the hell he’s doing there. Eli admits he’s screwed up and Will cuts him off, telling him he can’t hear this, because he works for the US attorney, for god’s sake. Looking stressed, he asks where his dad’s staying and gives him the key and address to his own apartment, telling him to get cleaned up and fed and they’ll sort things out later. Eli refuses the charity, because he didn’t come here for that, he just wanted to see that his kid’s doing well and has pulled himself out of the muck that surrounds their family. He turns and walks away, turning back just in time to see two armed men grab Will and bundle him into a car while people walking down the street completely ignore what’s happening, which seems strange even for that time. Eli freaks out, but nobody around will help him.
Little Gillian reads Nellie Bly’s book, and I hope the part she’s reading is the dullest, because if not, this must have been a horrible book. It’s seriously just a laundry list of what she put in her luggage. Riveting stuff. She stops right in the middle of it to beg Nucky not to take her back to the orphanage. He asks what she’ll do and she says she can take care of herself, or help Mabel once she has the baby. She adds that Mabel’s scared of something, which seems to disturb Nucky. Gillian begs to be allowed to stay, because the orphanage is a horrible place where the kids are constantly reminded that they’re the wages of sin, even though they’ve done nothing aside from being born.
There’s a knock at the door and Nucky answers it to find Lindsay there, asking him to come along on some business. Mabel comes out and Lindsay says they just have some county business to take care of. Nucky grabs his hat and coat and tells Mabel to go ahead and have supper without him. She looks really freaked out as he leaves.
Benny, tied up in Nucky’s office, loudly sings a rather funny, dirty song that annoys Mickey and Nucky. Nucky sends three guys to put a gag on him. Mickey asks what’ll happens if Lucky doesn’t agree to the meeting. Nucky doesn’t seem to quite know yet. There’s a commotion at the door as Eli arrives, demanding to be let through, pretty much out of his mind with panic. Nucky’s shocked to see him and demands to know what he’s doing in AC.
Will is remaining pretty calm, despite the fact that he’s tied up and faced with both Meyer and Lucky, both of whom he knows, right down to their aliases and family trees. He thinks he’s been snatched because of his job but Lucky tells him this is a family matter, and that it isn’t personal. After learning that this is because of Nucky snatching Benny, Will says he has nothing to do with his uncle’s business. The attending goon, Pinky, starts strangling Will with his tie as the phone rings. It’s Nucky, who demands to speak with Lucky immediately. He tells Lucky to put Will on the phone, but Lucky refuses, saying this will be a face-to-face meeting.
In the past, Lindsay takes Nucky to the Commodore’s mansion and tells him that he started out as a joiner’s apprentice before the Commodore asked for a ‘favour’. One favour turned into another, and soon he found himself badged up, doing the Commodore’s dirty work. But now he’s done. He tells Nucky to go ahead, if he wants, taking off his badge and handing it over before walking to his carriage without a second look. Nucky goes inside, where he’s greeted by a young Leander. After learning that Lindsay has deputized this job to Nucky, he explains that the Commodore (who has a taste for creepy artwork that, unsurprisingly, includes The Nightmare) takes young girls in to train them up for ‘domestic duties’ (shudder). But some of those girls prove to be unsuited to the work. This is all to remain on the down low, of course. The Commodore comes out of his bedroom, shirt mostly unbuttoned, and tells Nucky that, if he conducts himself with honour, they’ll discuss things a bit later. ‘Yes sir,’ Nucky replies. ‘Always such a good boy,’ Commodore sneers as he stomps off into another room. Leander hands Nucky an envelope and tells him to deliver it to the girl’s mother along with the message that no other payment will be forthcoming. Inside the bedroom stands a very young, scared looking girl. I’m trying to imagine the level of desperation one must reach to be willing to prostitute your own child and I…can’t. Nope, I’m pretty sure I would sell my own organs before I did such a thing. I’ve got two kidneys and the liver regrows, right?
New Jersey and New York are meeting out in the middle of nowhere late at night. New York remains in their cars, prompting Mickey to wonder what they’re waiting for. Nucky invites him to leave and Mickey asks what he’ll get if he stays. He wants the club, and Nucky gives it to him. Nucky turns to Eli and asks if he has a gun, because he can’t have this getting out of hand. He does not, but no worries, because New York, now they’re getting out of the cars, shows they’ve got enough for everyone. Will and Benny are both brought forward after Nucky reminds his guys not to shoot unless he says so. The two prisoners start to walk towards their respective sides, but as they pass, Benny punches Will in the face and drags him back to the New York side. Eli lunges after him, but Nucky yanks him back, growling that he’ll get them all killed. Eli doesn’t care, because this is his child we’re talking about, and for all his failings, we do know that Eli loves his family. Eli calms down enough for Nucky to let him go and reminds Lucky that they had a deal. Lucky doesn’t care, he just wants all of Nucky’s business. Mickey, not knowing when to shut the hell up, as usual, puts himself forward to keep running the club no matter who owns it, and Lucky straight up shoots him in the throat. Au revoir, Mickey. I have to admit, you kinda grew on me a little. Guns start going off and Archie is downed before Nucky gets everybody to just calm the hell down. He hands over everything he has to Lucky in exchange for Will. Meyer, being a petty little shit, wants Nucky to offer it all up on his knees. Man, he’s still sore about that after nearly a decade? Nucky gets on his knees as ordered and admits he underestimated Lucky, who’s much smarter than Nucky gave him credit for. Benny tells Lucky to just kill everyone, but Nucky says that won’t solve the problem of Maranzano, who’s still out for Lucky’s head. He offers to take care of it, in exchange for Will. He has 24 hours. New York drives off and Eli asks Nucky what he just did. Nucky doesn’t know.
Mike reports his tax evasion findings to a judge, who grants an arrest warrant for Al Capone. Meanwhile, men identifying themselves as IRS agents arrive at Maranzano’s office with a subpoena, only to stab him to death. They aren’t agents at all, they’re Nucky’s men and Eli. Wow, that was a pretty clever plan to come up with pretty much on the fly like that. And it’s good to know that Eli’s brain isn’t too pickled to have failed to remember what the guys in Chicago were doing to bring down Al so the plan could be appropriated on the east coast. With Maranzano dead, Will is duly dropped off back at his office.
Either he’s a workaholic or he’s so out of it he’s on autopilot, because Will goes inside, where he changes out of his bloodied shirt and basically tells his co-workers ‘seriously, don’t ask.’ One of them tells him about Maranzano’s murder and he gets an ‘I know who did that’ look on his face. I’ll bet keeping your head down at the office doesn’t sound so bad now.
Lucky and Meyer meet with Torrio and give him a rundown on how everything went. Torrio’s pleased and offers to set the meeting to work out the crime syndicate the boys want to get together, but they tell him they’re good and don’t need him anymore. Time to go back to retirement, Torrio. The younger men go off to celebrate their triumph, leaving Torrio behind.
In AC, Joe goes to Nucky’s room and asks if he wants the place cleaned up. He does not. Nucky asks Joe if he knows what happened that day and Joe says that Nucky won. Man, is he uninformed or what? Nucky tells him that, actually, Mickey and Archie won’t be coming back, which is the type of language you use with a small child. Joe wants to know if the club is staying open and Nucky impatiently tells him to ask the new boss. Joe says there are things he can do for Nucky and Nucky grumbles that he can sweep the sand (the first job Nucky did for the Commodore). He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a wad of cash, and hands it to Joe, telling him take it and go be a plumber or a bookkeeper or whatever, just get the hell out. Joe takes the cash (finally!) and leaves.
Young Nucky returns home late ant night to find Mabel making yet another stress pie. He apologises for being so late, but she wants to know what he said to Gillian to make her run away. Nucky’s first thought is to ask if Gillian stole anything, since she’s a thief and all, but Mabel couldn’t care less about their stuff, she’s concerned about the actual child who’s now gone missing. Nucky tells her that he only cares about their family and that he can’t help everyone. Keep telling yourself that, Nuck. Every time you have to take another shattered little girl home. Mabel slams into their bedroom and he shouts through the door, ‘what is it you expect me to be?’
In the present, Nucky opens that Nellie Bly letter, which is from grown-up Gillian, writing form the nuthouse, begging him to help her.