Boardwalk Empire: last season was a slow burn (as usual) with a shocker of an ending. We lost Jimmy but gained Sleater, lost Angela (not too sad about that) but got an über creepy Gillian. Nucky and Margaret got married, Lucy thankfully disappeared, and Van Alden went on the run. Lots of potentially interesting plotlines floating about, so let’s see what happens.
In Tabor Heights, New Jersey, some guy’s stuck at the side of the road with a flat tire and a bunch of cronies. A good Samaritan and his cute little dog arrives and offers to fix it using a “three-in-one,” which the guy in charge is unfamiliar with. Samaritan (or maybe he’s a mechanic, whatever) starts to go about his business fixing the tire and lead guy gets all touchy about not knowing what the tool was. The tire gets fixed, and lead guy just beats him to death, apparently because he felt the man was insulting his intelligence. Ok, then.
On the boardwalk, we see it’s just about 1923. Some kid is dispatched with a delivery of coffee and pastries, which he takes to a rather grotty looking boarding house, where Sleater, Mickey Doyle, and Nucky are gathered in a room with a man who’s tied to a chair. Nucky extols the virtues of breakfast and we soon learn that the tied up man, Nate, is a thief who stole from one of Doyle’s warehouses. Not smart, man. Nucky claims he’s not mad at Nate, he’s mad at Doyle, whom he calls an imbecile for leaving the warehouse unlocked. Nucky asks who Nate’s accomplice is and Nate gives the man, Roland, up right away. Nucky tells them to untie Nate after they put a bullet in his head. He gets it from Manny, who’s apparently now working with Nucky.
At the Thompson manse, preparations are underway for one hell of a party (it’s New Year’s Eve). It seems the kids are pretty well settled into their new family life, calling Nucky daddy and everything. Emily shows off a card she made for Nucky and Teddy asks who this female flyer, Carrie Duncan, is. The nanny exposits that the woman’s taking off from Cape May that night. Flying in the winter? Wasn’t that considered dangerous? At the very least it would be unpleasantly cold in those open airplanes.
The Commodore’s mansion has been fully taken over by Gillian, who now appears to be running a high-class brothel there. She warns the girls not to party too hard that night, advises one to try darker lipstick, and introduces a new girl, who’s probably primarily there so we can get exposition. Thanks to her, we learn that Two Face is still around, acting as the ladies’ caretaker. He’s also a sort of unofficial extra parent for Jimmy’s little boy, Tommy, who runs in briefly to ask if he can go to the boardwalk. Gillian dispatches him with a smile.
In Chicago, Al and Torrio take a visit from one of the Irish, Dean (I think) O’Banion. He hands Torrio flowers for his wife and is quickly scolded by Torrio and his boys for selling his beer in their territory. Dean says he’s done no such thing, and when Al pushes him, the guy asks if he’s deaf, apparently unaware that Al’s kid is deaf. Al, of course, takes that really personally. I don’t think Dean’s long for this world. Dean claims he was under the impression he was doing business on a friend’s turf, but Al doesn’t believe him. Like a stupid douchebag, the guy gets one last dig in at Al’s kid before he goes and almost gets his ass kicked. Torrio holds Al back and tells him a dumb comment’s not worth a war. Al clearly doesn’t agree.
Nucky and his boys arrive at the old suite at the Ritz, where Fleming and Bader are waiting. Fleming appears to be the new treasurer, so I guess he’s really on the up and up these days, isn’t he? Probably barely remembers the days when his whole family had to cram into one bed. Harry Dougherty, the Attorney General, is there too, and Nucky mentions a New York Times article that’s not at all flattering to the administration. I believe it’s about the Teapot Dome Scandal. Harry says 1923 will be better. Keep telling yourself that. Also, I guess he and Nucky patched things up after he failed to pull Nucky’s ass out of the fire last season.
Nucky wants to talk about the next election. One of the boys doesn’t think Harding stands a chance, so Nucky sends them out, along with Eddie, so he can have some time alone with Harry. Nucky lays it out: Warren’s a sinking ship and he doesn’t want to go to the bottom with them. Nucky’s managed to clean up his image over the past year, but Harry feels it’s only a matter of time before Nucky’s sins catch up with him again. He points to a newspaper article about the guy being killed in Tabor Heights and says it won’t be long before this kind of thing hits AC too. On another matter, he tells Nucky that the protection money Nucky’s paying (for what, exactly?) will have to go through a new middleman who will be in touch.
Margaret is being taken around a children’s wing that’s been added to the hospital, thanks to Margaret’s generous donation of Nucky’s land. The doctors brag about how great the paediatric care is now, as they escort her into a waiting room. A woman stumbles forward, asking for help, and immediately starts to miscarry right there on the floor. The doctors call for a gurney and the PR flunky tries to distract Margaret with plans for the new garden, but she’s fairly horrified, as she should be.
Van Alden is apparently now working as a door-to-door salesman. He knocks on the door of one man who’s mixing up a batch of bathtub gin. The guy tells him to get lost. Van Alden moves on but doesn’t appear to have any better luck with the rest of the houses on the block.
Back on the boardwalk, Harrow’s showing off his dead-eye shooting skills at one of the midway games, winning Jimmy’s kid so many prizes the man working the booth asks him to leave. Tommy asks if TF’s dad taught him to shoot and TF says it was his sister, actually. Tommy talks about his mother, and although TF wants to keep Angela’s memory alive, the kid only knows Gillian as his mom. Oh dear.
Margaret’s getting ready to leave, but before she goes she introduces herself to one of the doctors and asks how the woman who came in earlier is doing. He says she lost the baby, and it was totally unnecessary, because it was down to a totally preventable infection. He says the hospital has fairly lousy prenatal care.
Nucky pays an unexpected visit to Mickey’s warehouse, which is apparently being run in partnership with Manny. Nucky and Sleater tell Manny that Roland’s hiding out in Willow Grove (hey! I grew up near there! Small world.) It’s not far from Philly, which used to be Manny’s territory, so they ask Manny to take care of him and leave the body as a message. Oooh, sounds like Roland’s in for a terrible New Year. Manny’s not happy to be missing his wife’s traditional New Year’s party, but he’ll do it for Nucky in return for running his own still. Nucky agrees.
Van Alden arrives at some apartment building, pauses to tell himself, in a mirror, that he’s getting better every day, and gets shot down yet again at the next door he knocks on.
Nucky’s and Margaret’s insanely lavish party is in full swing. How lavish is it? There are live peacocks on the waitresses’ shoulders. Because peacocks fit really well with an Egyptian theme, apparently. Egypt was huge in the 1920s. Margaret spots Teddy on the stairs and Nucky tells her to let the kid come down and join the fun. While she does so, Eddie Cantor arrives with a woman named Lillian (Billy) Kent. She charms the kid, who then gets sent back upstairs by Margaret before Eddie and Billy go to give a command performance.
At the Commodore’s, TF shows the kid one of Angela’s paintings and tells him his mother’s name was Angela Darmody. Tommy says he wants to paint too, so TF sets him up with paper and pencil. Aww, TF’s adorable with this kid. While the boy draws, TF tells him about Angela drawing him once, long ago. Gillian overhears the last bit and asks what he’s talking about. The kid tells her about Angela being his mom and Gillian tells him that she’s his mother now. She sends him off to get ready for bed and gives TF a meaningful look before going after Tommy.
Chicago. Al arrives at Dean’s flower shop with some backup. Dean looks pretty scared, until Van Alden just happens to wander in. I guess we’re operating on “only 20 people on earth” rules now, because really, what are the odds of this happening? Dean pretends Van Alden’s his muscle, and after a moment of confusion, Van Alden just goes with it. Al backs down and tells Dean to watch himself. Dean warns him to do the same and Al departs. Dean locks the door behind him and thanks Van Alden for being a pal. He offers to make Van Alden a lovely bouquet to bring to the missus. Furthermore, he orders two dozen of the irons Van Alden’s selling.
Eddie’s mid performance, assisted rather racily by Billie. The crowd and Margaret are loving it. Billie draws Nucky into the dance and he gamely goes along. We finally see that the guest list includes Rothstein, Lansky, and Luciano. George Remus, too, and he’s still annoyingly referring to himself in the third person. Oh, and look who we have here, that crazy guy from the beginning of the episode, who’s apparently claimed the dead mechanic’s dog as his own and is now carrying it around like an accessory. Rothstein greets him as Gyp and Nucky wanders over and asks if the guy happened to be near Tabor Heights recently. Apparently he knows this man fairly well. Eddie pulls Nucky aside to propose a toast. He keeps it short and sweet and someone else raises a glass to the Thompsons.
Van Alden arrives at his office, I guess, where he learns that the sales contest the company was running is over and he’s too late. Someone else has won. Van Alden’s seriously pissed off, because he had plans for that money. Oh well.
Back with the other half, Margaret and one of the female party guests chat about the aviatrix for a bit. Sleater comes over to tell her the bar’s running low on champagne and to act rather flirty. She brushes him off as well as she can, though he clearly still gets her a little hot under the garters, and tells him to give her best to Katie. Ouch!
Next she wanders over to one of the doctors from the hospital and brings up what she learned about prenatal care there. She’s pretty tame about it, merely suggesting the hospital offer some basic instruction to women expecting babies. Nucky joins them and the doctor tells him Margaret’s been lecturing him. Margaret says that’s not what she was doing at all, and thankfully, the party favours are brought in in an enormous chest to distract everyone. The favours—jewellery for all—are just as lavish as the rest of the party, and the guests scramble for them in a very undignified way as Nucky and Rothstein look on in disgust.
TF’s nursing a drink at the brothel bar when Gillian joins him and makes it clear that, if he wants to stay there, he needs to stop telling Tommy about the past. Too painful for the child, you know. TF says he understands.
Nucky, Rothstein, Meyer, Remus, Gyp, Lucky, and a few others are meeting in Nucky’s kitchen to discuss business. Gyp, unsurprisingly, is a dick, and even more so when Nucky announces he’s only going to be selling booze to one person: Rothstein. He wants to keep things simple and, I’m guessing, deal with an actual adult. Gyp complains that he’s getting squeezed from all sides, and he proceeds to hand out insults to everyone there (calling Nucky a Breadstick in a Bowtie is definitely the best). Gyp threatens to mess Nucky up but Nucky doesn’t seem too concerned, probably because he’s got Sleater standing right behind him. Gyp grabs his dog from one of his men and stomps out.
Upstairs, the guests count down, and when they ring in the New Year, the midget (dwarf?) boxers come out dressed as New Years’ babies, throwing confetti. Those poor, poor men. No dignity. Gyp, on his way out, stops to thank Margaret for a lovely evening and gives her the dog as a gift for her kid. She seems a bit confused. I’m starting to wonder if the dog’s somehow booby trapped. Wouldn’t put it past the guy.
Manny and his wife toast 1923 with champagne, apparently for the first time. She goes to get ready for bed and he retrieves a gun he’s got hidden behind a cabinet.
Van Alden returns home to the tiny apartment he’s sharing with his nanny (now his wife, I guess, and nursing a new baby.) He sadly tells her that he lost the contest but she smiles anyway and tells him this year will be better. He kisses her on the cheek, brushes his son’s head, and tells her the flowers are a gift. Once he’s out of sight, her face falls in disappointment.
Nucky and Margaret escort their guests to the door. Once the last one’s gone, Nucky immediately lays into her for allegedly going after the doctor. He doesn’t even give her a chance to explain what actually happened, not that Margaret’s cowed or anything. She gives as good as she gets, but their argument is interrupted by the arrival of Teddy, who asks if it’s new year’s yet. Nucky counts off some bills for her to give to the staff as tips before heading out into the night. Not a marriage made in heaven, clearly. I can’t help but wish we’d seen the immediate fallout from that land deal, but I guess we’re pretty much seeing it now, so it doesn’t really matter.
Manny’s wife gives him a gift of a new hat, which he puts on before kissing her goodnight and heading out himself. He opens the door and finds TF standing there, shotgun in hand. TF dispatches him with a single shot and departs. Wow, he really waited a while before taking his revenge, didn’t he? Hasn’t it been over a year since last season wrapped up? Or at least several months? Why’d he wait until now?
Margaret can’t sleep, so she turns her light on and picks up the newspaper article about Carrie Duncan again.
Nucky arrives at his suite, where he pours himself a drink, puts his gun away, and goes to the bedroom, where Billie’s waiting for him, naked. This is clearly not a new thing. Nucky climbs into bed, kisses her, and pillows his head in her lap. She lets it stay there for a moment before they get down to business.
At daybreak, Margaret goes to the beach to watch Duncan fly past, along with a pretty decent crowd. She watches the plane disappear into the distance, a happy, wondering look on her face. Ahh, escape.