We start off with a close up of someone reading the Chicago Daily Tribune, so we know where we are. The paper is folded up by the reader, and now we see we’re in a diner with a really cool stained glass frieze around the upper edge of the windows. A police officer sitting at the counter turns as another customer enters, sits down, and orders his usual—corned beef hash and eggs. The cop eyes the man (whom I didn’t actually recognize, but we learn soon enough this is the guy who slashed up Pearl), then gets up and makes his way to a nearby phone booth.
At Torrio’s, Al’s on the phone, presumably speaking with the cop from the diner. Al thanks him, calls him a credit to the force, and hangs up before making his way into a nearby room, where Jimmy’s laid out on a sofa, nursing his aching leg. Al cheers him up with the news that Pearl’s attacker’s currently enjoying a nice breakfast in a diner, and apparently does so quite often. Jimmy takes this news fairly emotionlessly.
We cut from his face to the exterior of a pretty crappy looking house with an overgrown yard that I’m going to go ahead and just start calling Grey Gardens. Inside, an old man—Nucky’s and Eli’s father, whom we met at the Celtic Dinner—is brandishing a poker and threatening the dozen or so cats milling around with violence if they come near him. The cats, of course, are like “whatever, old man” because they haven’t seen just how willing Mr. Thompson is to follow through on poker-related threats. A train passes by noisily as the old man searches for a drink, but then pours out what little is left in the whiskey bottle when he finds it. He pulls a piece of toast out of the stove, warns the cats to stay back, and then promptly trips over one of them, tumbling painfully to the floor. He clutches his leg and starts yelling for help, although it didn’t look like there were any other houses near Grey Gardens, so let’s hope some solicitous family member drops in for a visit.
Jimmy’s taken his sore leg to the hospital, where a doctor’s asking about the details of his surgery (one surgery in a field hospital, three more at Walter Reed.) The doctor admires the work, but Jimmy’s still in pain—he describes it as a dull ache that started up recently. I’m sure that’s not psychologically driven at all. The doctor asks after his sleep (poor) and what Jimmy does for a living (Bell Telephone). The doctor takes a drag on his cigarette and suggests Jimmy take a psychological exam, giving it an extra sell by telling Jimmy it might be useful “for the country.” Jimmy agrees, unenthusiastically, and the doctor leaves him. Once alone, Jimmy glances over at a nearby patient, who looks fine in profile, but when he turns his head to look back at Jimmy, he reveals that the other half of his face is, essentially, gone. On the bed next to him is a pair of glasses attached to a very Phantom of the Opera-esque mask. I was going to dub him Erik, after the actual Phantom, but the gravelly voice he later reveals made me switch instantly to Two Face.
At Nucky’s childhood home of nightmares, the old man’s leg has been put in a brace and he’s being hoisted onto a stretcher by Eli, a doctor, and some other nameless cop, bitching the whole time. Nucky comes in just in time to see the show, and his father instantly starts in on him, greeting him sarcastically and mockingly asking after Nucky’s dead wife, Mabel. He’s a charmer, this one. Nucky tiredly says he came as soon as he heard, but apparently he was out with Margaret, so there was a delay in him getting the message. Dad whines that he would have lost his leg if Eli hadn’t happened to come by. Thankfully, he’s lifted onto the stretcher and taken out to start making someone else’s life hell. Once he’s gone and the house is quiet, Nucky takes a moment to notice that there’s a nice display of Eli’s picture and some awards and ribbons on the mantelpiece. Looks like Nucky’s not the favorite son. Eli wanders back in and starts asking about Margaret, hinting it might not be such a great idea for Nucky to be keeping time with the woman he made a widow. Nucky reassures his brother Margaret knows nothing and never will. Yeah, let’s see how long it takes for that statement to bite him in the ass.
Nucky moves on to practical matters and starts talking about putting dad in a home. Eli offers to take dad in, which I’m sure will delight his wife, who already has
six eight kids to contend with. As Nucky looks around the kitchen and Eli takes in the manteltop shrine to him, Eli sighs that it probably is time to sell the place. He also stupidly mentions that there are a lot of memories there, although we’ll learn that the majority of those memories involve humiliation and hideous abuse. Nucky has the grace not to say that, but he does suggest just giving the house to someone named Fleming to fix up for his growing family. Eli’s not too keen on the idea, but we all know Nucky overrules him in all things except their father’s affection. Nucky notices that an expensive toaster he bought their father was never used or even plugged in, and he leaves the house in disgust.
Chalky’s back! And he’s none too pleased. Seems a recent shipment of labels isn’t up to snuff. A short, fast-talking guy picks just this inopportune moment to rap on the door until a couple of Chalky’s guys let him in. He clearly knows the drill, raising his arms to be patted down immediately, talking the whole time about what an honor it is to meet Chalky at last. Chalky asks who the hell the guy is and is told the man is Michael Lewis, a businessman who’s traveled all the way from Manhattan with a business proposition. This prompts an extended metaphor involving boiled wool coats that comes down to this: he wants to buy some liquor directly from Chalky, instead of going through a middleman. Chalky seems to be interested, so Lewis pulls out a wad of cash and hands it over. Chalky picks it up, thumbs through it, and tells Lewis to tell Nucky that it’s going to take a lot more than ten large to get Chalky to screw him over. Lewis shrugs and retreats with his good humor (and, miraculously, his bones, fingers, and head) intact.
Nucky’s meeting with the aforementioned Fleming in his suite, listening to Fleming share a cute-ish family story that serves to indicate just how cramped the family probably is in the little flat they’re living in now. Sounds like they’re happy, though, so at least they have that. Nucky seems to be enjoying the family talk, but then things are interrupted when Lucy manhandles her way past Eddie and bursts in. Nucky tries to get rid of her, but she’s got her Scorned Girlfriend Script to read, and she runs down the usual “I love you, what does she have that I don’t? She’s just a trashy shopgirl (as opposed to Lucy, who’s just a trashy…uh, former showgirl?)”. Nucky promises to take her out to dinner and, like a child, she whines that she wants to go to the movies and see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I’d admire her apparently symbolic choice of films if I thought she had enough functional brain cells to realize how appropriate the choice was. She makes a crude comment (of course) and Eddie finally manages to drag her out.
Nucky apologizes to Fleming and gets back to business. He asks after Fleming’s plans for a house and Fleming says they’re saving up for one. Nucky flat out gives Fleming his father’s house, and Fleming’s face light up with joy. He doesn’t really know what to say, so Nucky just shakes his hand and tells him to say thank you.
Looks like Margaret’s getting comfortable enough in the concubine’s lifestyle to make friends with the others. She’s having tea with her neighbor, Annabelle, while the kids play in the background. Margaret admits she’s not sure what Nucky wants from her, besides sex, and Annabelle takes the opportunity to share some advice: the important thing is what does Margaret want from Nucky? Margaret says that, for one thing, she doesn’t want to lose the cushy lifestyle she now has. Annabelle tells her the only way to make sure that never happens is to start building a nest egg. Her favorite method of doing so is to lift the occasional ten dollar bill out of her guy’s wallet. Margaret’s uncomfortable with the idea, but Annabelle sagely says she might surprise herself someday. She then asks if Margaret is in love with Nucky, and Margaret only says that she’s fond of him, but thinks he’s still hung up on his wife. As one final bit of advice, Annabelle warns Margaret not to let Nucky start talking about his feelings, since that’ll just make her a constant reminder of how weak he actually is.
Ugggghhhh, Mickey Doyle’s back. I knew the last few episodes were too good to last. He’s hanging with the Philly crew, playing cards, when Lucky comes wandering in. The Philly boys greet him familiarly and introduce him to Mickey, who introduces himself to Lucky. Lucky kind of just stares at Mickey’s proffered hand, which is quickly taken by Lucky’s friend, Meyer, who followed him in. One of the Philly Boys tells Lucky, in Italian, that they can’t get rid of Mickey because he owes them money. Lucky calls Mickey the goose that laid the golden egg, and then, in English, tells Mickey that they say he’s “a real solid fella” while finally shaking his head. The Philly boy in charge sends a lurking kid (the same one who set off last week’s robbery) off for coffee and Lucky asks them how long they think they can last after knocking over one of Nucky Thompson’s bagmen. The kid hands Lucky and Meyer espressos and says it was easy pickings. One of the boys says they’re getting a toehold on the alcohol business and needed some cash to make it happen. Lucky says that the three grand they got from the heist isn’t bad, but they’re going to need a lot more to really get into the booze business. They need to be able to pay people off, get bottles and labels, set up stills, and distribute everything. One of the Philly boys asks if Rothstein’s willing to back them, and Lucky tells them to show Arnold they’re capable. Then he ropes them into a scheme to rob one of Nucky’s casinos, which has about $150K at the end of the night. A significant portion of the take will go to Rothstein, and the rest will go towards bankrolling their next move. Lucky and the Philly boy in charge shake on it.
In a police station somewhere, Van Alden and Sedso are pedebriefing with a detective. The detective caught some kid robbing a jewelry store, and the kid’s terrified of going to jail, so he promised to share some info with a Federal agent from AC. Van Alden and Sedso join the kid in an interrogation room and the kid starts talking about the Hooch Hijacking back in January that left five bodies on the road (well, almost…) Seems this kid was the decoy who blocked the road with his car and then took off right quick once the shooting started. He gives up Jimmy’s and Al’s names and Van Alden seems very interested indeed.
Jimmy’s back at the hospital for his evaluation, and is cooling his heels in the hallway with a book. Two Face wanders by and hesitantly asks if Jimmy likes to read, and what the book is. Jimmy cringes a little when he recalls the title, but nonetheless tells Two Face that it’s called The Tin Soldier. Two Face turns and we see he’s got his Phantom of the Opera mask and glasses on. The mask actually makes it looks like his face is somewhat whole—there’s a fake eye and everything, but it’s also fairly creepy. Jimmy dismisses the book as a bunch of malarkey and Two Face nods and sits on a nearby bench.
Jimmy offers Two Face a smoke, but apparently TF can’t. Jimmy gets up and joins him on the bench, introducing himself. TF introduces himself as Richard, but I’m going to keep calling him TF because it’s shorter. TF offers Jimmy a pulp fiction novel to read. His sister sends them because TF used to like reading them, but he’s not big on fiction anymore, because he feels the basis of it is that people have some kind of connection, and he doesn’t really have a connection to anybody anymore. Man, that’s incredibly tragic. Made even more so by the totally matter-of-fact way that TF says that. Jimmy accepts the book and thanks him sincerely. TF asks if Jimmy’s there to take the test and Jimmy says he is. TF says he hears some of the questions are embarrassing. Jimmy advises him to lie, but TF says he finds that difficult. He thinks the test is basically there to help the boys fight better next time. I think they fought pretty well the first time around, it was the incredibly stupid and antiquated battle plans that did them in, coupled with weaponry that had advanced too fast for anyone to realize how horrible and devastating it would be. And yet the allies still won.
TF rummages through a leather satchel he has with him and pulls out a large piece of metal with two tiny eye slits in it. Jimmy recognizes it as a German sniper mask. TF says he has to have it with him all the time. He got it by waiting three days for the sniper who used to wear it to raise it so he could scratch his nose. When he did, TF put a bullet right below the sniper’s right eye. Damn. And he thinks they need to fight better next time?
TF is getting nervous about the test—he’s heard that one of the questions is whether or not you’ve ever had sex. Just as he says this, a nurse emerges and calls Jimmy’s name. Jimmy tells her that James Darmody left, so she moves on down the list and next calls TF’s name. TF gets up to go in, but Jimmy holds him back and says that he left too. Quietly, he urges TF to try lying, and TF plays along, agreeing that Richard Harrow has already left the building. He and Jimmy share a smile.
Well, well, well. Back in AC, Angela, dressed in a very loosely tied robe, puts a record on the player and strolls back to the bed, where who is waiting for her but Mary, the photographer’s wife. I did not see that one coming, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The ladies have clearly been engaged in a liaison for some time, and they start getting kissy and cozy, but then Angela starts to worry and wonders what they’re going to do. She’s worried that Nucky’s going to figure out their amore. Mary’s unconcerned, but Angela worries that Nucky would stop giving her money, and Nucky seems to be her only source of income at the moment, since she apparently hasn’t received anything from Jimmy. Although, we just saw him putting money in an envelope for her last week, so hmmm. Mary distracts her by kissing her neck and slowly peeling down the robe. They lie down together but before sexy time can commence, Angela asks if Mary’s heard anything from the art dealer in New York. Apparently she hasn’t, but someone who works in a gallery in Manhattan is coming down soon and has agreed to assess Angela’s work. That’s all it takes to get Angela in the mood again.
At Grey Gardens, work is well underway courtesy of the local fire department. Nucky, Margaret, and the kids pull up in Nucky’s Rolls Royce to view the progress. The kids take off as Nucky and Margaret approach the house. They pass a barrel where, according to Fleming, they’re burning a bunch of junk Nucky’s dad didn’t want. On the very top is a knot project Nucky did as a member of the Junior Beach Patrol. Ok, BE, I think we get that Nucky’s dad isn’t his biggest fan.
Inside, the house is looking much better. It’s been freshly painted, and cleaned. Margaret’s surprised, since the place looks a lot nicer than Nucky made it sound. She says it’s cozy, and Nucky now expresses surprise that the house seems so small. His father seems smaller now too, to him. Nucky says his father used to be the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, when Nucky was a kid. Margaret correctly realizes that this means Mr. Thompson frightened his son, and Nucky admits it’s true. He goes over to the fireplace and picks up a poker and tells a lovely story about how on his 9th birthday he made the mistake of reaching for bread at dinner ahead of his father. He holds out one hand and shows a poker-shaped scar. Dad used the hot poker to teach little Nucky a lesson. Jesus. When Nucky was annoyed at having to deal with his father at the Celtic Dinner, I thought it was because the guy was deaf and a bit senile and kind of annoying, but this makes Nucky look like a model of restraint. Nucky starts to get all touchy-feely and begins to open up about his abusive past, but Margaret remembers Annabelle’s advice and cuts him off before going to check on the kids.
Jimmy and Two Face arrive back at Torrio’s, and TF takes a look around and realizes Jimmy’s home is, in fact, a whorehouse. They go to the bar and Jimmy orders them up a pair of bourbons, “the real stuff”. Heh. TF looks at his glass and Jimmy turns back to the bartender and asks for a straw. The bartender doesn’t know where they are, but Jimmy, so soon after his ministrations to Pearl, does and soon TF is able to sip his drink. They order up another round and TF asks if Jimmy has a gun on him. He does—a Colt 1903. TF, the former sharpshooter, says he has one of those too, along with an entire arsenal, apparently, since he starts reeling off an impressive list of weapons he has stashed somewhere. He likes the Colt, though, and asks Jimmy what he uses his for. Jimmy has him guess, and TF immediately guesses that Jimmy uses it to kill people. “It’s very good for that,” he says, once again totally matter-of-factly. Heh. Jimmy calls over one of the girls, Odette, and introduces her to TF, who immediately and heartbreakingly turns his face away from her as she approaches. I really, really have to give the actor who plays TF some major kudos, because he’s amazing. The slightly twitchy way he has, the way he keeps ducking his head and hardly meets anyone’s eyes says so much about what this guy must have gone through—the horrified looks he must have faced before he learned just not to look at anyone. It’s totally heartbreaking, but then, he’s also clearly capable of being a somewhat coldblooded killer, so it’s an interesting contrast. I hope he sticks around, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes.
Anyway, Jimmy introduces TF as a war hero, and tells Odette that she should thank him for his service, since she’s patriotic and all. TF finally turns toward her and reveals his half-face, but she doesn’t bat an eye, bless her. Jimmy whispers something in her ear and she marches TF off to make a man of him.
Nucky and Margaret and Annabelle and her guy (Harry) are double dating at a blues bar. Harry, a fat, florid-faced man, is boring the hell out of Nucky, trying to sell him on a can’t-lose investment that’s sure to triple his money in a few weeks. Nucky says he’ll think about it, and is saved from further discussion by the arrival of Chalky, who owns the joint. Harry drunkenly says that the place is awesome, and that Chalky’s people certainly are a lively bunch before spitting a peanut or something on the floor. Chalky hilariously just stares down at him for a looooong time, no doubt thinking “God, these crackers get bigger and dumber every year” before turning to Nucky and telling him the Lewis gambit didn’t work. Since Lewis was really Meyer, Nucky doesn’t know what the hell Chalky’s talking about. Chalky thinks Nucky’s still playing him, so he tells the boys to enjoy themselves and takes off.
The girls come back from the bathroom or wherever they were and talk turns to lighter topics, like baseball. Nucky mentions a mitt he once owned signed by Hardy Richardson, which was his prize possession. Annabelle and Harry go dance and Margaret comments that Annabelle seems to like Harry. Nucky thinks it’s a mismatch, and informs Margaret that Annabelle seemed to like the last guy too. Margaret moves back to the safer topic of baseball and asks if Nucky still has the mitt. He says it was stolen by a bunch of kids who beat him up, and that he doesn’t want to talk about it. The two start marinating in awkwardness.
Ahh, the Commodore. He wanders into the dining room with a still nearly full breakfast plate, which he sets on the floor for the dog. As is usually the case, he and Luanne, the much-abused maid, have a very different rapport when they’re alone together. She scolds him for not eating enough, and for feeding the food to the dog. She’s crushing something with a mortar and pestle and wonders if the Commodore has worms. He’s not willing to go to a doctor to find out, so I guess we’ll have to wait on that fascinating diagnosis. He’s convinced he’s dying. He asks if Nucky came by and hears he didn’t, but he sent one of his boys by with the Commodore’s envelope. The Commodore grouses that Nucky’s getting too big for his britches, sending a minion with the envelope instead of bringing it himself. Luanne mixes her concoction with some water and serves it to the Commodore, who swallows it in one go and cringes at the taste. She tells him to go lie down while she makes up her porridge paste with tea leaves to rub on his belly. The Commodore obediently rises, but only gets two steps before her concoction reemerges. He makes it to a nearby spittoon or vase and vomits into it.
Nicely, Nucky starts to voiceover a little poem that he’s reciting to the kids and Margaret over the dinner table. It’s fairly adorable, so I’m going to ahead and write it out in its entirety:
In these days of indigestion,
It is oftentimes a question
As to what to eat, and what to leave alone.
Every microbe and bacillus
Has a different way to kill us,
And, in time, will claim us for their own.
There are germs of every kind
In every food that you will find
In the market or upon the bill of fare.
Drinking water’s just as risky
As the so-called “deadly whiskey” (that line gets a raised eyebrow from Margaret)
And it’s often a mistake to breathe the air.
Margaret and the kids are charmed and applaud, and then the kids take off to play, leaving mom and almost-dad in awkward silence again. Margaret finally comes out with it and apologizes for cutting him off at the house. She says she took some bad advice. She wants him to open up to her and to feel safe enough to confide in her. Nucky considers this and then shares the Baseball Mitt Story: Some kids stole it from him, so his father marched him over to their house and forced him to challenge them to a fight. There were four of them, all older, and they beat Nucky unconscious and put him in the hospital for 11 days. Wow. How the hell is Nucky not a total sociopath? How did he not smother his asshole father to death by this point? And what the hell was up with those kids beating some younger kid to unconsciousness in front of that kid’s parent? Margaret says that’s horrible, and Nucky just says life can be that way. I guess that’s one way to look at it.
The phone rings just then—apparently the house is done. Nucky tells whoever is on the other end that he’s on his way, and to call Fleming, since he’ll certainly want to see it too. Nucky invites Margaret to come along. She says she’d love to, but she has to put Emily down for her nap. Her son, Theodore, asks if he can go, and Margaret tells him that Mr. Thompson’s too busy. Nucky corrects the title to “Uncle Nucky” and tells the kid to go get his jacket. Aww. Nucky’s clearly a much better fake dad than his father was a real one.
Back at the diner in Chicago, Pearl’s attacker comes in and takes his usual seat, not realizing that Jimmy’s sitting at the counter, right where the cop was in the opening scene. Nice. Jimmy goes over to the guy’s table and scares the crap out of the man. The guy (Liam) tells Jimmy he was just doing what he was told, it was nothing personal. Jimmy tells him to relax, he’s not planning to kill him. He asks Liam if he served in the war (nope). Jimmy continues to chillingly scare the hell out of Liam by telling him that serving was a living nightmare. He shares a lovely story about a German solider who tried to climb through some barbed wire and ended up getting shot twice by Jimmy. The guy lay there for days, calling for his mother, but never asking Jimmy to kill him, despite receiving several offers. He seemed to think there’d be a miracle that would save him, not realizing that, in this case, being alive was much worse than being dead. Jimmy gets up to leave and tells Liam that he doesn’t want to see him again. Liam quickly promises Jimmy won’t. As he passes Liam, Jimmy pats him on the shoulder, and if Liam didn’t need a change of shorts before, I think he does now, judging from how high he jumped when Jimmy touched him. Liam watches Jimmy leave, and as soon as he turns back around and starts to breathe again, a pitcher of water being held by a waiter just a few paces in front of Liam explodes, spraying a lady nearby. The waiter’s confused, although the perfect bullet hole in the window tells the whole story, and even if it didn’t, Liam, now very dead, shot just below the right eye, certainly does. Niiiiiice.
The curtains in a window just across the street twitch momentarily, and the organ-music version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor awesomely starts up as we move behind those curtains and watch TF quickly, efficiently, and professional pack up his sniper rifle and clear out.
The music is, ostensibly, playing during a showing of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which we now see a little of. Lucy’s in the audience, alone, dramatically swathed in a black veil, weeping.
Grey Gardens is hardly recognizable—it’s your quintessential ideal family home, white picket fence and all. Nucky and Theodore go inside, where they’re unfortunately met by Eli and Mr. Thompson, who’s come to see the house all fixed up. Nucky shortly tells Eli and his father to clear out. Dear old dad’s holding the poker, and he puts it back on the stove before wheeling over to Nucky and telling him: “You may think you’re king, but you’re not worth a goddamn.” Eli wheels him out, but the damage is done. Nucky walks into the kitchen, picks up the poker and looks at it for a moment. Theodore picks up a can of turpentine, and Nucky takes it from him and tells him to go wait in the car. Once Theodore’s gone, Nucky angrily douses the kitchen in turpentine, then lights a match and tosses it onto the highly flammable mess. He watches the kitchen go up in flames for a second, then goes outside to watch the conflagration consume the house. The soundtrack kicks in with a period song that starts out thus: I’ve been thinking about you daddy, thinking of you night and day. Well done, show. Nucky looks almost sad as he watches the fire. Poor Fleming pulls up and he runs over to Nucky in horror, watching his dream home burn to the ground. Nucky reaches into his coat, pulls out a wad of cash, hands it to Fleming, and tells him to find a better place to live. Fleming doesn’t know what to do here, and Nucky just leaves him, getting into the car and driving away as Theodore continues to watch the fire through the back window.