Previously on Boardwalk Empire: Nucky set about trying to find out who wants to have him killed while also making connections with Joseph Kennedy. Margaret’s boss shot himself, prompting her to pull Rothstein’s file, Chalky escaped from the chain gang with a Dunn Purnsley-esque companion, and we got a few forays back to the 1880s so we could learn absolutely nothing about Nucky that we hadn’t already found out over the past few seasons.
Chalky and his new buddy break into a home and immediately start raiding the kitchen. They must be super hungry, because Chalky actually cracks some eggs into a glass and drinks them down. Ick. They wander around, checking the place out (it’s a nice house) and Chalky asks Milton if this is the right house. Chalky wants to leave, but a young woman appears and they ask her for cash, promising to leave as soon as they have it. They all say that in these scenarios, don’t they? She claims not to have any, and lets slip that someone else is in the house with her. After a few moments, her mother comes down the stairs and seems startled by the sight of two strange black men in her home.
1884. Young Nucky runs around, getting called ‘boy’ and performing various odd jobs. He frequently checks out a little girl who’s staying at the hotel with her family. One evening, some guy calls him to his room for a bouquet delivery and asks what he would do for love. Nucky’s like, ‘whatever you think I should,’ and the guy orders him to bring fresh flowers every day. Nucky glimpses a naked lady in the room just before the door closes.
In the present, Nucky and Mickey (see, he’s still alive!) watch a girl performing a burlesque show during off hours at the former Babette’s. Nucky tells Mickey to hire some extra guys, which Mickey whines about, for some reason, so Nucky threatens to fire him unless he shuts up and Mickey sighs, ‘fine, I’ll go hire some bums.’ Nucky gets a call from Sally down in Cuba, who tells him Mr Bacardi’s sniffing for more cash, and he breaks the news that the senator’s wriggled away. But Kennedy may be someone they can work with, so there’s that. ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ comes on the radio and Nucky chuckles and they listen to the song together while she counts out some comically large bills of money and Nucky finds an old letter from Nellie Bly (maybe).
Margaret is being interrogated by some of the bank higher ups who ask her about Rothstein (alias Redstone). She pretends not to know who Rothstein really was, playing the ‘oh, silly little me,’ thing to the hilt. The problem is, Rothstein’s account has had several large withdrawals over the years since his death, so it looks like Margaret’s boss was skimming and losing it, and now Rothstein’s widow is looking to the bank to pony up the cash. Unfortunately, Margaret’s signature is all over these withdrawals.
Chalky and Milton are now settled into a hostage situation. The mother gives them the $9 she has in her purse and the daughter says her father will be home from an auction soon. Milton asks her name (Fern) and talks about his ringing ears and the parties they used to have at this house. Apparently he worked one, back in the day, and while he was there, he saw a safe. Mom insists he has the wrong house, but Milton is seriously bug-eyed crazy at this point. Chalky finally steps in and points out that truant officers will be around the find out why the daughter’s not in school, so they need to get out of there. The phone rings and Milton tells Chalky to answer it. Chalky points out that if he answers, someone will know something’s up. Fern offers to answer it and reassure the person on the other end, but Milton instead just unplugs the phone and again demands to know where the safe is. This is starting to feel a bit like the beginning of In Cold Blood.
Everyone heads down to the cellar, where Milton insists the safe was, but there’s no safe there. Fern says that all their valuables are at the bank and mom offers to go get it while the men wait there. But Milton isn’t that stupid, so everyone’s staying put. Chalky reminds him that the dad’s coming home soon, so they need to get out of there quickly. They can knock over something else, something easier.
Up in Harlem, Bugsy and Lucky are meeting with Narcisse. Lucky’s there to switch the deal Narcisse had with Masseria over to Maranzano. Maranzano’s offering protection in return, but Narcisse reminds them that they’re in Harlem, where he’s pretty damn safe for him. The boys issue some veiled threats against Narcisse’s many properties, but Narcisse will not be cowed because this is frigging Narcisse we’re talking about, and it’ll take a lot more than some pouting from a couple of skinny Italians to get him shaking.
1884. Little Nucky does his rounds and is called to drive a pony cart.
Grown-up Nucky meets with Kennedy and chat a bit about their children (Kennedy says his ninth, the future Ted Kennedy, is on the way). They’re at some Italian café and are served veal parm. Kennedy turns down the wine, sticking with coffee because he doesn’t want to perpetuate the sterotype of the drunken Irishman. Nucky orders up a seltzer for himself. Kennedy commiserates over how old money folk look down on the self-made man, but the beauty of America is that you can become a millionaire in just a generation, or even sooner. He’s done it by rigging the game every time he gambles (figuratively speaking).
House of Hostages. Milton keeps drifting off to sleep, then rousing himself enough to raise the pistol and point it at the women. Mom offers Chalky a bed upstairs if he wants to rest. Or, he can just take her $9 and go, taking the gun with him. Chalky tells her to shut up. Fern asks about Chalky’s daughter and he says she’s about Fern’s age. I thought he was talking about his youngest daughter, but then he says his daughter’s name is Maybelle, so it gets a bit confusing right there.
A car pulls up and someone knocks on the door, rousing Milton and Chalky. Whoever it is drives away, and it turns out it was just someone dropping off a package. Milton opens it and finds it’s a dress for Fern. He orders her to put it on, because this situation hasn’t been weird or creepy enough yet. She obeys, because this guy’s got a gun and all, but as she starts to strip, mom tells the men the safe’s upstairs.
Margaret’s having tea with Mrs Rothstein (Caroline), who sits smoking while Margaret sips her tea. Margaret lies that she barely knew Rothstein, but Caroline’s not an idiot and makes it clear she knows Margaret lives in one of his apartment buildings. Margaret admits she had a business arrangement with Rothstein: feed him some info on the market and get an apartment out of it. Caroline says she’s been left with little aside from humiliation after years of being cheated on, and she wants the cash from that account,e vne if she has to sue Margaret personally to get it. Margaret says she doesn’t have that money, but Caroline knows who Margaret really is and is prepared to go to Nucky for that money. Margaret tries to talk her around by trying to find some common ground, but Caroline cuts her off. Yeah, let’s see how Nucky’s new friend Joe likes all this.
1884. Rich people snooze on the beach while their daughter—that little girl Nucky was checking out earlier—pees in a sand dune and then comes over to quote some bible verse to Nucky about how Enoch walked with God and therefore didn’t die. Nucky says it doesn’t make sense and the girl says it doesn’t have to, because it’s the bible, and heaven knows plenty of it doesn’t make any sense at all. She offers him ten cents to kiss the pony and then accuses him of watching her while she was peeing. He denies it, even though he was. Her mother calls her away, and as she goes, he catches her attention and kisses the pony’s nose. You could be paid to do that? I used to kiss horses and ponies all the time back in my riding days. Those noses are nice and soft and velvety! He turns away and sees that strange Casanova from earlier, Mr Beckert, and tells him he stopped by the room with the flowers as asked, but there was nobody there. Beckert seems thrown but tells Nucky to make sure the lady inside gets them.
Nucky takes Joe to the former Babette’s, which is now a gambling den and burlesque club. Joe correctly guesses the booze is where the real profit is. The woman from earlier is onstage doing a dance and Joe appreciatively calls her a talented young lady. Her name’s Kitty and Nucky offers to set up an introduction. A waitress brings drinks for Nucky and Joe and Nucky quickly orders up two sodas. Behind the scenes, Mickey carefully pours the unwanted liquor back into the bottle. Hey, can’t waste a drop, right? Nucky brings up Bacardi rum but Joe’s distracted by some guy very obviously jerking off in a nearby booth. Nucky calls in security and glares at his soda water. Just not his night, eh?
Hostage homestead. Chalky’s trying to use brute force to break into the safe, which obviously isn’t working. Milton takes a turn and then gets pissed off because this isn’t the safe he saw when he was at the house years ago. Mom says she doesn’t know the combination, only her husband knows it. He gets so mad he starts attacking the wall with a hammer and screams that there’s no sign of a man living in that house at all, so they need to start speaking up. He holds the pistol to Fern’s head and mom rushes to open the safe. All that’s inside are Liberty bonds from the war. Milton gets ready to shoot Fern, so Chalky fells him with a hammer claw to the throat. Fern gets the gun and holds it on Chalky, asking if his daughter knows what he is. ‘She knew what I was,’ he answers. Mom orders him to take the $9 and leave.
Joe and Nucky meet in the office of the club, where Joe enjoys the excellent view of the entertainment. They talk about their dads, and Joe wonders if Nucky’s loser father helped motivate him to make something of himself. Nucky manages to steer the conversation back to business and Joe asks why he should go into business with Nucky instead of any of the others sniffing around for assistance. Nucky calls the others gangsters, whereas he’s an upstanding ‘advocate for repeal.’ Joe notes that Nucky’s office is devoid of any family mementoes (what is he, Connie Hilton?) Nucky says that means nothing. Joe asks for all cards on the table: Nucky tells him what he really wants, and Joe will tell him whether or not they have a deal. Nucky isn’t interested, though I’m not sure how else anything’s going to get done here. Joe thanks him for his hospitality and gets ready to leave, so Nucky finally speaks up: he wants to leave something behind. Joe takes a moment, then pours Nucky a drink and talks about taking Kitty a saucer of milk. He leaves and Nucky downs his drink in one go before pouring another. It’s been a long, dry day.
Little Nucky goes to make his flower delivery and hears men’s voices inside Beckert’s room. The door opens, revealing the Sheriff, who calls over the Commodore. Inside the room, a previous bouquet lies wrecked on the floor and the naked lady is now quite dead. Nice. Commodore sends Nucky back downstairs.
Mickey goes to hire some extra muscle and has no trouble finding volunteers amongst the homeless and unemployed. One kid steps up and catches Mickey’s attention. Mickey picks eight others and the kid begs for a job, even offering to give Mickey half his pay, because he’s just hungry. Mickey tells him to join the others. Well, look who’s a bit of a softy!
Bugsy and one of the other guys go to one of Narcisse’s brothels and proceed to shoot the place up. Lovely.
1884. The manager of the hotel gives Nucky a letter that was left for him, presumably by the little girl (I’m guessing the ‘Nellie Bly’ letter is actually from her as well). He pockets it and joins the Sheriff, who admits he ‘took care’ of the problem upstairs. Little Nucky muses that Beckett said he loved her and the sheriff snarls that you can’t know what people are thinking or stop bad things. He reminds Nucky that this whole thing is just between them. Nucky understands. Nucky sits down to open his letter and finds a postcard inside depicting a little girl and boy beside a pony cart. The little girl, whose name is Mabel (Nucky married a Mabel, so I think we can assume that’s his future wife) wrote that she and her family are there for two weeks every summer, and that she would have let him kiss her. Oh, sure, now she tells him!
In the present, Nucky wakes in his office and sees a woman sitting in his office. ‘Mabel?’ he croaks. Nope, it’s Margaret. He seems kind of sweetly happy to see her.