Boardwalk Empire: Mustering the Troops

Eli, dressed in a suit instead of his customary uniform, sits expectantly at a desk—Nucky’s desk, no less—staring at the door. We can dimly hear the sound of people talking on the other side of it. Eli pushes a few things around on the desk to kill time, and finally the door opens and one of his officers comes in with the news that the voice he was just talking to was not some VIP dropping in for a face-to-face, but a drunk guy from the GM convention who got off on the wrong floor. Eli’s disappointed to learn nobody’s come to transact business, even though he’s in charge of things while Nucky’s away. He slumps back in the chair and orders the officer—evidently his replacement Eddie—to get him a cup of coffee. While the officer scurries to do so, Eli grouses that he could do Nucky’s job—the gladhanding and bad-joke-telling—pretty well himself.

As the officer sets the coffee down, someone finally knocks on the door, and in comes one of Nucky’s collections guys (he looks vaguely familiar, but I don’t recall a name). The guy’s surprised for a second to see Eli there, but then remembers that Nucky’s in Chicago. Eli asks, a little harshly, what the guy wants, and the guy explains that his daughter’s being fitted for her leg braces on Friday (polio victim, I’m guessing) and he was hoping to take the day off to be there. Eli tells him it’s ok and the guy leaves.

In Chicago, Nucky’s heading into a swanky hotel while Eddie complains to the manager that they specifically requested the presidential suite. The manager apologizes but explains that General Wood, a presidential hopeful, asked for the suite as well, so they’re putting Nucky up in the Ambassador Suite. Nucky tells the manager to swap the suites, handing over a wad of cash as he does so, as is his way. The manager scurries to prepare the suite and Nucky and Eddie make their way into the nearby dining room. It seems, from the booklet Nucky starts leafing through, that he’s in town for the Republican National Convention, which explains why the General’s there as well.

Nucky doesn’t get far in his reading before Senator Edge joins him. It doesn’t take long before Nucky gets him to admit he’s in town to try and secure the VP nomination. He invites Nucky along to a party being given by Warren Harding’s campaign manager, Daugherty, who’s a good man to know, even if both Edge and Nucky dismiss his candidate as a nobody. Edge asks Nucky to attend the party on his behalf. Nucky’s a bit distant with the senator, and makes a not-so-subtle dig at the Senator for refusing to back him on the road appropriations bill we keep hearing about.

Showing just how far she’s come up in the world, Margaret’s now taking tea at the Ritz instead of working there, and showing off a lovely gold and peridot bracelet to Annabelle. The girls seem to be getting along quite well, giggling like schoolgirls and gossiping about their boys. Their fun’s soon busted when Mme Jeunet comes running out of the dress shop and begs Margaret to help her. Margaret’s pretty affronted, but not nearly as offended as when Lucy comes barging out of the dress shop, looking her usual floozy self (quite the contrast to Margaret’s elegant appearance), and bellowing for Mme. Lucy catches sight of Margaret and the stage is set for a pretty ugly confrontation, especially since it soon becomes clear that Lucy’s had a few too many.

Annabelle greets Lucy familiarly (they’ve obviously run in the same circles for a while), but Lucy blows her off. Mme whispers to Margaret that Lucy wants to make a large purchase, but Nucky’s cut off her credit. And how does she expect Margaret to help with this? Sorry, Lucy, looks like you’ve got to start buying your crotchless panties at the Five and Dime. Lucy spouts some nonsense about how Americans don’t whisper, and then mistakenly calls Margaret Mrs. McDougal. Margaret sharply corrects the name, and Lucy asks if Schroeder is Irish for “bitch.” Some well-heeled ladies at a nearby table clutch their pearls, so Margaret rises to put a stop to the nonsense. She tells Lucy she’s not at her best and should leave. Lucy asks if Margaret thinks she really knows Nucky, and then calls her a dumb door (??), so Margaret slaps the hell out of her, tells her their next meeting won’t be nearly as pleasant, and then walks out of the hotel. I love Margaret and all, and I love seeing the obnoxious Lucy get smacked, but that seemed a little out of nowhere. Margaret’s usually so calm and collected, it seemed strange to have her slapping Lucy for such a dumb insult. Anyway, moving on…

And now we join Angela, who I don’t really love, hard at work on a painting of her girlfriend. She’s putting the finishing touches on it when Gillian comes in with the grocery bill, which is overdue. Angela asks if any money’s come from Jimmy, but Gillian tells her no and suggests Angela start thinking about getting a job, perhaps as a sort of early Mary Kay rep, selling perfume door-to-door. Angela’s not keen, because she’s putting all her eggs in her painting basket and hoping for big things from the gallery owner Mary talked about last week. Gillian’s totally onto Angela’s and Mary’s relationship, by the way, and tersely suggests Angela try a stenography course.

At the AC Post Office/Federal Branch Office (this place needs a nickname, doesn’t it?), Van Alden’s at work on his flag-dotted map when a postman comes in and hands over an envelope addressed to Angela. It’s the cash Jimmy’s been sending, which Van Alden’s been intercepting for some bizarre reason known only to him. He adds the new envelope to a drawer full of them.

Up in NYC, Rothstein’s lawyer pours himself a brandy and Rothstein a glass of milk and breaks the news that there’s a rumor a DA’s been sniffing around some of the White Sox. The lawyer’s not quite as cavalier as he was the last time this subject came up, but he’s still not worried, because he doesn’t think Attell will talk. Rothstein, on the other hand, knows Attell’s already been “flapping his gums” and he’ll fold like “hot laundry” if he’s put on a witness stand. The lawyer has Rothstein practice his official statement, which boils down to “I love America, and America loves baseball, so I love baseball and would never do anything to sully such a patriotic sport. The whole thing was Attell’s idea and it sucks and I had nothing to do with it.”

Nucky arrives at Daugherty’s party, and Daugherty himself comes right over and introduces himself, clearly having been expecting Nucky. Daugherty orders them up a pair of bourbons and gets down to business—he knows that however Nucky goes, so goes the New Jersey delegation. Nucky doesn’t admit to that, but I think we all know it’s true. Daugherty tells Nucky he thinks Harding (who’s holding court at the other end of the room) could go all the way, with Edge as his VP. Nucky flat-out tells him this is fairly unlikely. Daugherty points out that the two frontrunners have serious black marks against them in the form of campaign finance issues, whereas Harding’s clean as a whistle. For now, anyway. Nucky admits that Harding looks like a president, and Daugherty says it’ll be even easier if “those trollops” get the vote. He’s a charmer.

Daugherty leaves Nucky to go fetch Harding, which gives Nucky a chance to watch as the skeleton in Harding’s closet attempts to walk into the room in the form of a pretty young woman holding a baby. She can’t believe her name’s not on the list, which makes me think she has an IQ roughly equivalent to Lucy’s. Honey, this is a political meet and greet during a national convention at which your married lover is attempting to secure the nomination for president. You wouldn’t be welcome here with your illegitimate offspring in 2010 let alone in 1920.

Nucky’s dragged away from the little scene by the return of Daugherty, accompanied by Harding and Mrs. Harding. Nucky compliments Harding on a speech the man made in Boston. Harding starts blowharding away, talking about giving Americans stability instead of a changeup. Nucky glances back at the woman with the baby, who’s now finally being hustled away, and Daugherty interrupts Harding to go introduce him to someone else, leaving Nucky with Florence Harding. Florence admits that a fortune teller told her Warren would die in office. Point to the fortune teller, then.

Out in the hotel lobby, Nucky meets up with the young woman with the baby at the elevator. While they wait, he compliments the baby and guesses it’s a “young Republican.” The woman tells Nucky that they’re “friends” of Mr. Harding’s and asks if Nucky has children. Nucky admits that he had a son who died, which is news to us, but not terribly surprising, considering the sad look he gets on his face whenever he sees or hears about a preemie baby.

Van Alden’s made it home for another visit, which will no doubt be filled with warmth and cheer. He and his wife sit down to breakfast and Van Alden says a prayer before telling her the tulips out in the garden are looking a bit ragged. This sets her off and she start to cry. Apparently this is a regular occurrence because Mrs. V-A can’t seem to get pregnant, which to her means she’s not fully a woman. Van Alden sips his coffee calmly and urges her to eat. She obediently takes a bite of oatmeal, then screws up her courage to tell her husband that a friend who had similar trouble recommended a doctor. Van Alden’s not keen on the idea, dragging out the “if the Lord wanted us to X…” argument that I always find absurd. Kind of awesomely, Mrs. Van Alden counters the argument the same way I do: “If the Lord wanted us to die of appendicitis, He wouldn’t have given us the ability to treat it.” Right on, Mrs. V-A. It shuts Nelson up for a second, but only for a second. He won’t hear of the missus having surgery, especially since the surgery costs $270, which was a pretty penny then, and out of his pay grade. She breaks down again, and he promises to do what he can.

Eli’s found a way to pass the time—watching an early porn video with some of the boys on a hand-cranked projector. He at least works in some business by asking if they’re ok for collections. He mentions he’ll be making the collections for Polio Dad himself. Then the film catches on fire and puts an end to the afternoon’s entertainment.

Back in Chicago, Nucky arrives at Torrio’s whorehouse by cab and goes right in, followed by Eddie, as always. Both men submit to a pat down as Torrio comes down and scolds the guard. There’s some talk about the Sheridan hit (which Nucky knows about) and Torrio refers to Nucky’s “boy Jimmy” as “my boy”, which Nucky doesn’t seem too happy about. Torrio asks after a shipment, and then talk turns to the convention. Nucky asks for gossip about Daugherty and Harding, neither of whom Torrio’s ever heard of. When Nucky mentions Harding’s a senator from Ohio, however, Torrio tells him to talk to Judge Graves. The judge himself is cozied up with one of the girls, so Torrio calls him over and introduces him to Nucky. Nucky asks him about Harding and quickly learns that Harding’s a puppet for the big-money boys in Cleveland, where Graves used to sit on the bench. Graves says that the Ohio boys know what they’re doing (except when it comes to not blowing scandals, I guess), and they’ve put several presidents in the White House over the years. Graves seems to like Harding’s chances, with Daugherty behind him.

Graves’s girl arrives, putting an end to the conversation. Entertainment, however, is just beginning, as there’s a commotion over at the stairs as Jimmy drags a customer down, gives him a talking to: “A lady says stop, you stop,” threatens the guy with castration, and kicks him out. Nucky watches all this with a slightly fond look on his face.

Jimmy comes striding into the bar and stops dead when he sees Nucky. They exchange strained pleasantries, and then Nucky sends Eddie to call them a cab. Jimmy offers to give them a lift, which Nucky says is sort of a blast from the past. He then gets up Jimmy’s ass for not writing to his family, which confuses Jimmy, since he’s been writing and sending cash to Angela every week, with nary a word in return. Nucky tells him to stop buying expensive suits and send his family some cash already, and then he departs, leaving a very confused Jimmy in his wake.

Eli’s out making collections; he pulls up outside one of the casinos with a woman asleep in the passenger seat. He heads inside, gets no answer to his calls, and heads into the main room, where the casino manager is standing over a large bag at one of the tables, head down. Eli asks what he’s doing as, unseen, a masked gunman creeps up behind him and levels his weapon at Eli’s back. Remember the casino heist Lucky was urging on the D’Alessio brothers last week? Yeah, Eli picked a terrible week to pick up someone else’s route. The manager looks up at Eli, clearly terrified, and only then does Eli realize there’s a group of customers and casino employees bound and gagged in a corner. He asks what’s going on, as if he doesn’t already know, and another D’Alessio brother or gang member comes running out of a hiding place, armed with a shotgun. Eli reaches for his own weapon, and someone fires, catching him in the side. Eli crumples to the floor as one of the captives manages to scream loudly around her gag. Leo, the D’Alessio leader, tells his brother to get the bag, and the man with the shotgun grabs the bag and fires once at the ceiling for emphasis before they all make tracks, leaving Eli bleeding on the floor.

Nucky and Edge are having a nice dinner together at the hotel when Eddie comes in and whispers the news of the shooting. Nucky quickly excuses himself, runs to the nearest phone, and calls Margaret, waking her. He tells her about the shooting and asks her to go to the Ritz and hide some business records in his office. He seems to be afraid there’s some kind of coup going on, and he can only really rely on Margaret. Well, Meg, you were the one who wanted him to feel safe confiding in you. Although I’m not sure this is what she had in mind. He asks her to stash the records in a hiding place in his closet and then stay in the suite with her kids until he returns the following day. She asks if he’s doing all right, and he takes a moment to process that before responding that he doesn’t know.

Nucky heads to Torrio’s, where the place is silent and deserted. Jimmy comes in with Two Face, who introduces himself to Nucky when asked. By the way, I’ve learned since last week that TF is played by Jack Huston, of the Huston clan, so no wonder he’s great. Nucky tells Jimmy he needs him to come back to AC, because there’s a war brewing. He’s drawn a straight line from the lynching at Chalky’s to the robbery on the Boardwalk to the most recent heist at the casino. He thinks someone’s got the idea that Nucky’s weak and has no means of retaliation. He needs Jimmy to come home to be those means, essentially.

Jimmy considers this, and the reminds Nucky that their last meeting wasn’t too rosy and pleasant. And anyway, he’s pretty happy in Chicago and has kind of a good thing going there. Nucky tells him that, as an Irish, he’ll always be an outsider amongst all the Italians. Nucky offers him a fairly sweet deal: 5% of anything that comes by boat and 10% of anything that comes on wheels. Plus, he’ll work out Jimmy’s problems with Van Alden. Not sure how he’s going to manage that, but ok. Jimmy says he’ll think about it.

Margaret puts the kids to bed in Nucky’s suite, then makes her way into his darkened office to find the papers he needs her to hide. She seats herself uncomfortably at the desk, then opens the top drawer and pulls out a ledger. She stares at it for a few moments (as the wind howls ominously outside), and then, as she goes to open it, the phone rings, startling her. Whoever’s on the other end, however, hangs up quickly.

In the cavernous (and largely empty) convention hall, Nucky meets with Daugherty and agrees that Harding has a slim chance of getting the nomination. Nucky offers to throw the New Jersey delegation Harding’s way, in exchange for Edge not getting VP. Ohh, snap! Bet Walter never saw that coming! This is Nucky’s payback for Edge giving the road money to Hague.

In other matters, Nucky asks what Daugherty plans to do about Harding’s “lady trouble”. Turns out there’s more than one lady in the equation, as there often is, but the main issue is Nan Britton, the woman with the baby. Nucky offers to stash her and the baby in AC, and to have Margaret look in on them (I’m sure she’ll love that), until after the election. In return, Nucky wants his road money. Daugherty promises to start working on Harding.

Gillian’s at work, dressed in a crazy feathered headdress, so I guess they’re not doing the Odyssey anymore, talking on the phone with Jimmy. Jimmy mentions he saw Nucky, and Gillian observes that Jimmy sounds lonesome and should come home. Jimmy’s still on the fence, but asks for information on Lucky. Gillian gets ready to spill.

Nucky’s checking out of the hotel, but before he can make his escape, he’s intercepted by Edge, who asks who’s going to get all the NJ delegates in a row if Nucky’s not around? Nucky suggests he asks Frank Hague. Edge plays dumb, and then tries to stand on his dignity as a US senator when Nucky refers to him as “Wally”, but Nucky cuts him off at the knees by informing him that a senator is all he’ll ever be. Edge promises to make it up to Nucky later, when he’s in the White House. Nucky tells him the only way he’ll get to the White House is on a tour, and leaves it at that.

Al, Torrio, and a bunch of henchmen we’ve never seen are playing cards and joking in Italian. Jimmy wanders in and watches the scene, unable to understand what anyone’s saying and finally seeming to realize just how much of an outsider he really is.

In his office, Van Alden gets a letter from his wife that includes an ad for corrective fertility surgery. He regards the ad for a while, then opens his desk drawer and starts pulling out all the cash Jimmy was sending to Angela.

On the train to AC, Nan, who’s traveling with Nucky, is reading a rather dirty poem Harding wrote for her, while Eddie holds the baby (heh). Nucky looks a little grossed out by this. A conductor comes by to tell everyone the train’ll be making a coal stop soon. Nucky asks if there’s any news from Chicago and the conductor says Harding got the nomination after ten ballots. Nan’s gone to freshen up, leaving Nucky clear to tell Eddie: “That imbecile is going to be the next president of the United States.” And one of the worst ones in history.

At the Van Alden home, Rose comes in with the mail and finds a letter from Nelson at the top. She starts to open it…

…and we cut smoothly to Angela pulling the giant wad of cash out of an envelope at her own apartment. Wha?

All poor Rose got was a letter from her oh-so-sensitive husband, urging her to, essentially, make peace with her barrenness. Yeah, that typically works well with women who are desperate to have children. Rose tears the letter violently and then drops into a chair to sob.

Nucky’s first stop is at Eli’s home, where his bandages are being changed by a doctor. Nucky asks for a moment alone with his brother, and the doctor and Eli’s wife clear out. Nucky asks Eli how he’s feeling and Eli tries to give him some information on the robbery. Nucky tells him it’s just money, but Eli knows as well as Nucky that they’re under attack. Nucky informs Eli that he’s asked Jimmy to come back. Things are getting out of hand, or, as Eli says, it’s a new [under] world. I really hope Jimmy brings Two Face. That would be kind of awesome.

Margaret’s still sitting at the desk, the sounds of howling wind now replaced by merry music from the boardwalk. She finally flips open the ledger and starts to realize the extent of Nucky’s criminal activities as she stares at the lists of alcohol shipments and casino takes. Well, honey, that’s what curiosity gets you.

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