Previously on Boardwalk Empire: Sally mouthed off to the wrong people and got shot, Eli and Van Alden got pinched and are being forced to work with the Feds, and Chalky busted out of jail and went to go seek revenge on Narcisse, which led to an unexpected face-to-face with Daughter Maitland and…her daughter.
We pick up right where we left off, with Chalky and Daughter staring at each other, He asks what she’s doing there and she says she has business there, which is, honestly, none of his. She warns him he has to leave. He glances at the child and she only says that the child isn’t Narcisse’s. Chalky asks whose she is and Daughter firmly says ‘she’s mine.’ She’s totally Chalky’s. One of the men who works there knocks on the door and demands to know why it’s locked. Daughter lies that she’s changing. He tells her to unlock it when she’s done, because Narcisse is going to be there soon. Chalky settles in to wait with her.
Rumpus. The place is just seedy as hell. The kid Mickey hired, Joe, has nodded off in a booth. Mickey wakes him with a flick to the ear and they commiserate over how slow and boring the night is. Mickey tells Joe he used to have a gang of his own when he was 16 and was going places. Joe asks him what happened. Yeah, really. Though I rather doubt Mickey’s version of events, because who would make him the leader of a gang?
Joe is sent to deliver some sandwiches to Nucky’s room upstairs. He’s allowed in by Archimedes, who goes to fetch Nucky from the bedroom. But Nucky isn’t there. Like an errant teen, he’s snuck out.
In 1897, Nucky wakes and seems surprised to find the other half of the bed empty. He gets up and finds Mabel hard at work making a strawberry pie, even though it’s the middle of the night. Um, ok. Even I don’t feel the urge to get up and bake in the middle of the night. Hints of the mental fragility that’ll contribute to her ultimate breakdown? Nucky doesn’t try to talk her out of her pre-dawn bakeathon, instead sitting down to tell her about an event he was at the night before, where he gave a speech endorsing Neary as alderman of the fourth ward. Mabel asks him to give her the speech and applauds him afterwards. He tells her people keep calling him Nucky, which she hates, because to her it sounds like some goober who sells ladies’ garters. It comes out in their conversation that Mabel’s pregnant, which is depressing, because we all know how that turned out. (Also, there’s been a bit of a continuity hiccup here, because the graves Margaret found stated Mabel was born in 1885 and died in 1913 and the baby died in 1912. Unless it took Nucky 15 years to get Mabel’s dad to agree to this marriage, the death dates don’t work, and the birth date for Mabel doesn’t work either, since she obviously wasn’t a fetus in the other young Nucky scenes.) He gently wipes the strawberry juice off her hands and complains a bit about how Neary’s getting ahead, thanks to the Commodore, whereas Nucky, who’s worked for the man for 13 years, hardly gets a second glance. Mabel’s sure he’ll be recognized soon enough. He strokes her belly and says he knows what he’s doing all this for.
Present-day Nucky lights a cigar for a fairly cheap-looking woman who tells him she hates ladylike things. They’re in a bar so awful it defies even the word ‘dive.’ Nucky introduces himself as Francis X Bushman and makes her guess where he’s from. She asks what the state between Ohio and California is. He says it’s Missouri and claims to be from there. She asks what brings him to AC and he tells her to guess. She figures he’s there for a convention of hosiery or hair comb salesmen. Furthermore, he’s looking for a little action behind his wife’s back, hates his life so much he’s contemplating suicide, and loves his kids. Nucky tells her he sells floor polish.
Eli and Van Alden arrive at Al’s suite and quickly go over their terrible, terrible plan. They’ve got a satchel and will say they’re making a drop-off, and then when Van Alden’s dropping the supposed cash in the safe and Eli’s distracting everyone with small talk, Van Alden will grab the ledgers. Yes, how could such a brilliant plan ever fail? Stealing from notorious gangsters is always easy! And it’s not like Eli, who was never the brains in the Thompson family, hasn’t also most likely drunk himself into some sort of brain damage over the years, right? At least these two are smart enough to realize they’re screwed.
One of the goons opens the door and lets them in, but he doesn’t have a key to the room with the safe. Eli goes to check the door, finds it open, and also finds Ralph inside, having sex. Ralph gets dressed and comes out to yell at Eli and Van Alden. When he hears they have a drop off, he grabs the satchel and discovers it’s full of newspaper. Smart, guys. The goon pulls a gun and Ralph demands to know what’s going on here. He orders he goon to find Mike. Well, that could be a lucky break.
Back in New York, Daughter begs to be allowed to get her daughter out of there, but Chalky’s not about to let her out of his sight. He’s still pissed off at her for leaving all those years ago and says he went to sleep with her voice in his head for years, and then realized he didn’t even remember that clearly. The little girl wakes and asks where they are and whether she can have something to eat. Her mother promises she can, soon. Chalky sits down to talk to the child and asks about her mother’s singing. Apparently she doesn’t sing anymore, she works as a maid for a Mr Engler. Daughter asks once more to take her daughter away, but Narcisse arrives and demands to be allowed into the room. Chalky hands over the key to the door and tells her to let Narcisse in. She does. He shows no surprise or alarm to see Chalky there, merely shows he’s unarmed and goes over to the little girl to have a bit of a chat about her name (Althea, which he explains means ‘healing’ in Greek). He’s sweet with her, but the tension’s thick as hell, because you never really know what this guy’s going to do, do you? Narcisse asks her if she knows Chalky, who quickly says that the girl and Daughter have no part of this.
In 1897, Chalky stops by one of the shops on the boardwalk and watches, somewhat befuddled, as a mother hands her young daughter over to the Commodore on the porch of the hotel. Excuse me while I take a break to vomit. The shop owner hands over an envelope of protection money and tells Nucky that there’s some little boy stealing from the shop. Nucky promises to bring the little thief to justice.
In the present, a very drunk Nucky recites the Song of Hiawatha for the cheap woman from earlier and her equally cheap friend. Everyone’s wasted. Nucky forgets part of the poem, so he has to take his shirt off. Oh, it’s one of those strip poetry readings dive bars are so famous for. Nucky offers to take them to the Ritz for the good booze and starts talking about starting at the bottom, taking opportunities where you find them, and getting ahead so you can be the type of person who can go to the Ritz. Some guy in the corner tells him to shut up, which annoys Nucky. He insults both the women and Nucky warns him to watch his mouth and to apologise. The guy won’t, of course, so he and Nucky break into fisticuffs, Nucky managing to get the upper hand and beat the guy unconscious while the two hookers watch, impassive. Once the guy’s taken care of, Nucky tells the women he wants to sleep with the pair of them. They get distinct ‘I think that can be arranged’ looks on their faces.
Back with the idiots. Mike is summoned to take care of Eli and Van Alden. He slaps Van Alden across the face and asks Eli what the hell they were up to. Eli says they came to rob the place, probably figuring they’re both screwed no matter what they say or do. Van Alden chimes in that his wife suggested this, because they’re having trouble at home. ‘I can vouch for that,’ says Eli. Hee! Mike is unamused. He takes Ralph aside and confirms that these two have to go.
He gets ready to take them somewhere to take care of it, but then Al comes home early, accompanied by two actors who are making a gangster flick. Al sends them to cool their heels and gets caught up on this supposed attempted robbery. As you can imagine, he does not take this calmly.
In 1897, Eli asks his brother to put in a word to help him get a job in the police department. Nucky impatiently says he’ll handle it, in his own time. Sensing now is not the time to press the matter, Eli changes the subject to a date he recently had with June, where she let him feel her up. But Nucky’s not listening, because he overhears a kid nearby hawking stolen cigars on the boardwalk. He gives chase, following the scamp under the boardwalk, but the kid gives him the slip. Nucky does, however, find said kid’s stash hidden in a box buried in the sand.
In Chicago, Al tells the boys that he’s terribly, terribly hurt to be betrayed by them, after having taken them both on out of the goodness of his heart. Van Alden flatly says he’s just really greedy. Eli seconds that. Al doesn’t believe what either of them are saying. He believes Lucky was right about Van Alden being a badge all along. He pulls a gun and Mike quickly reminds him that he has guests right in the next room. Ralph turns up the radio. Al asks Van Alden what he has to say and Van Alden, clearly aware he has absolutely nothing to lose, turns his balls into titanium, sweeps the gun aside, and starts throttling Al while angrily informing him that he’s Nelson Kaspar Van Alden (good bit of trivia there), a sworn agent of the United States Treasury who will see justice rain down on Al if it’s the last…and then Mike blows his head off. Fare thee well, Van Alden. Your death only came about three seasons too late for me. But at least you got to go out on a high note, right? Eli’s freaked out, and Mike looks absolutely horrified. Al can’t believe Van Alden was a Fed this whole time. Eli starts desperately mumbling apologies to his wife. Al asks what he’s mumbling and Eli sputters that they came for the ledgers, having been sent by a Fed who was squeezing them. Al asks who it is and Eli says it was a prohie named Ness. Mike remembers to breathe. Al tells him to get rid of Eli. Ralph asks what they’ll tell Nucky, but Al isn’t concerned, because Lucky’s going to be taking care of him. Not now that you’ve warned Nucky that Lucky’s coming, Al. But maybe Al’s forgotten about that.
Eli is marched through the room where Al’s guests are sitting, looking a bit anxious, as one would after having overheard all that insanity. Before Mike goes, Ralph grabs him and tells him that, after he gets rid of Eli, he needs to take the ledgers to Cicero. His quick thinking in saving Al’s life back there has earned him a whole new level of trust. Mike can’t seem to believe his luck.
Down in the lobby, Eli asks what’ll become of him. Mike couldn’t care less. He takes a bill out of his pocket, crumples it up, throws it at Eli, and tells him to buy a bus ticket. Can he go back to AC now?
Nucky stumbles out of the bar and is called behind some crates by the hookers. There’s something distinctly Lucy Danzinger-like about her. She’s got almost exactly the same voice. Nucky gets ready to start having sex with one of them, only to have the other one whack him over the head.
Harlem. Chalky urges Narcisse to send the child away, which he doesn’t do, and then tells Daughter to state her business. She retrieves a record, explaining that she paid out of pocket to have it made, but nobody will play it because they’re all afraid of upsetting Narcisse. She begs him to just let her live her life, getting down on her knees and everything. He tells them both that he just came from a meeting with Lucky, who is allowing Narcisse to conduct his business under Lucky’s control, and in return, Lucky will protect Narcisse from other mobsters. Narcisse hates the new order of things. He offers Chalky a place in his organization that’ll allow him to spill all the blood he wants. Instead of saying yes or no, Chalky orders him to put the record on. From the player comes Daughter’s voice, singing Dream a Little Dream. Chalky listens for a little while, then turns it off and agrees to take Narcisse’s offer. Daughter protests but Chalky stands his ground, and in return, Narcisse sets her free. She goes over to Chalky, who says she’s not meant to be a maid. She murmurs that he can’t trust Narcisse, as if he didn’t already know that. Chalky goes over to the little girl and asks if she ever met her daddy. The little girl answers that her mother loved him but she had to leave. So, yes, Chalky is definitely her dad. He urges her to stay close to her mother and far from men like him. He rises and offers to get down to business with Narcisse. Narcisse requires his gun as a gesture of loyalty, and Chalky hands it over, requesting that Daughter and the girl leave first. She says they should all leave together, but Chalky says that makes no sense, because they’re all going to different places. She picks up the girl, and Chalky kisses her on the cheek in a really lovely, tender family moment. She leaves, passing through the gauntlet of Narcisse’s men, lining the hallway. Chalky watches her go.
Nucky and Eli stake out the urchin’s stash under the boardwalk. Eli says their dad wants to see Nucky, but Nucky’s washed his hands of that asshole. He tells Eli that Mabels’ pregnant, in the same tone of voice one might use to say ‘Mabel’s terminal.’ The urchin shows up and is caught. Nucky asks the kid’s name and the kid says it’s Nellie Bly (the name on the cover of a book the kid stole that day). The kid finally answers that the name is Gillian. Ahh.
Grown-up Nucky comes around outside the dive bar and the first person he sees is young Joe, whom he mistakes for young Gillian. As he pulls himself together, Nucky offers the boy $50 to take him to the Rumpus. Joe says he doesn’t need Nucky to pay him, since he already works for him.
Once he’s cleaned up and more himself, Nucky asks to see Joe and asks who he is. Joe introduces himself. Nucky asks what he’s doing there and Joe says he’s just trying to get ahead. Nucky tries to tell him not to repeat anything he saw or heard that night, but Joe has no intention of doing so. Nucky, as usual, offers up cash, but Joe turns it down, because he was just being a nice guy. Nucky explains that he climbed inside a bottle for the night because he lost someone close to him recently, and he blames himself. He’s sad that she’s gone and he’s still there, and that’s a bit messed up. He offers the cash again, saying it would help him if Joe took it. So, Joe does. Because that’s the nice thing to do. Archimedes comes in and say that ‘they’ are downstairs. Bewildered, Nucky goes out to the balcony overlooking the club, where Mickey’s got a small army of their guys gathered, all suited up and armed to the teeth. Mickey explains that, since nobody knew were Nucky was, he took it upon himself to call in the troops. ‘We saddling up for a showdown or what?’ he asks. Nucky thinks about it. ‘We are,’ he finally replies.
Bring it on.
Chalky is taken out to a back alley, where he warns Narcisse that he’ll never beat ‘those white boys’, because they’re everywhere, while Narcisse is just in Harlem. Narcisse considers just surviving to be a victory. As he turns to go, Chalky asks if he’ll keep his word to Daughter, to let her go back to singing. Narcisse smirks that Chalky will never know for sure, so he may as well just tell himself that Narcisse will, and presumably die happy. Chalky’s already resigned to that. Narcisse takes one last, long look at him before departing so his men can line up, firing-squad style, and shoot a blank-faced Chalky dead. As he waits for the last moment, Chalky closes his eyes and hears Daughter singing Dream a Little Dream. The episode closes with just the sound of the record player needle bumping against the edge of the record. So long, Chalky. I will, actually, miss you. I really wish at least some of the time that was dumped on Van Alden could have been spent on you instead.