Previously on Boardwalk Empire: Nucky almost got his head cleaved in Cuba, but overcame that to secure the exclusive rights to Bacardi rum. Eli was shipped off to Chicago after murdering a federal agent in his own living room, and the agent formerly known as Nelson Van Alden (now George Mueller) joined the Capone gang.
Eli wakes in an alcohol haze to the sound of federal agents raiding the enormous warehouse he’s working in. Or, you know, ‘working’ in. He pulls it together enough to realise he needs to get out of there. The feds have commandeered a huge pile of money, as well as a lot of liquor.
In New York, Nucky’s gone to visit Torrio, who got the message loud and clear and retired to sneak anisette and biscotti in peace. He knows the hit came from someone close to home and didn’t want to press his luck. Nucky wants to know if Torrio has any idea who tried to have him clipped in Havana, but this is the first Torrio’s hearing of it. Nucky’s sure Lansky was mixed up in the hit somehow, because it’s all a little too coincidental that he was down in Cuba and then both Nucky and Masseria wound up at the wrong end of assassination attempts. Nucky thinks Meyer’s in bed with Maranzano, and Torrio suggests a face-to-face meeting, even offering to set it up himself. ‘Different dogs, same bone,’ Nucky sighs. Torrio advises him to just retire already. Nucky looks like he’s kind of considering it.
Back in 1884, Nucky’s little sister Susan has passed away. The parents pray over her while the boys hang back, uncertain. Mom finishes praying and wonders where the undertaker is. Little Eli gets upset and mom goes to comfort him. Dad (Ethan) tells Nucky to get to work already. Mom leaves Eli and asks dad what happened to the money she set aside. She guesses he drank it away, because that’s what he does, and now they have no money to bury their child with.
In New York, we catch up with Will Thompson, all grown up and waiting for a job interview with U.S. District Attorney Robert T. Hodge. Guess Will ended up staying in college after all. Hodge opens the interview with a curveball question about whether Will would bend the law to make sure a felon gets his just deserts. Will would not, saying the law is a shield, not a sword, and he won’t do something unethical. Hodge notes that Will’s from AC and asks if he’s any relation to Nucky. Will admits to it, reminding Hodge that we can’t choose our relatives. ‘No, but some of us get to choose our staff members,’ Hodge fires back before dismissing Will. Before he leaves, Will says he wants nothing more than to put criminals to jail, because he knows the way crime eats you out from the inside and he wants to do something good with his life.
Back in Chicago, Al is being measured for new suits while being interviewed by a reporter in a room filled with goons. He calls for someone named Mike D’Angelo, and everyone immediately echoes ‘where the f***’s Mike?’ like a particularly foulmouthed game of telephone. Capone’s acting seriously wired, so I guess he’s still getting high. Mike finally arrives with the news of the fed raid, which lost Capone $20 grand. The warehouse was being run by Mueller and Eli. Al announces they now owe him the money.
Mike leaves and takes Eli and Mueller with him. They get into the elevator and Mike announces they have 24 hours to come up with $20,000. Their discussion of the matter keeps getting interrupted by other people getting onto the elevator, and every time a lady does, the guys have to take their hats off. Oh, the social niceties nobody knows anything about anymore. D’Angelo gets off and Mueller yells at Eli for sucking at his job and now screwing them both over. Two old ladies get on—one of them is wearing a hat with giant feathers that keep smacking Eli in the face, causing him to have to dodge like a nervous fly, and the other one is clutching some rat-like creature that appears to be a dog, which she insists Mueller pet. He does, in the manner of people who hate all forms of animal life and are just doing this to move the interaction along. There’s no way to do this little scene justice here, so just take my word for it: it’s actually really funny. Mostly the look on Michael Shannon’s face as he pets that dog is what does it. The old ladies finally leave and Eli promises to get the money back. Mueller doubts he’s capable of it, since he’s apparently not even capable of controlling his own bladder anymore. As they get off the elevator in the lobby, a guy carrying a leather satchel gets on, heading up to see Al. The boys look thoughtful.
So, Gillian’s relaxing in a bathtub at what appears to be some sort of hospital or health spa, chatting about summers past with the woman in the tub next to her. An advice show comes on the radio and is immediately turned off by a nurse, which prompts Gillian’s buddy to completely freak out and come bursting out of her canvas tub cover. This sets off all the other ladies, save Gillian, who stays where she is while everyone else shrieks and yells. After a few moments of this, the woman in charge, clearly a warden (wardress?) comes in, raps her billyclub, and reminds the ladies that they are there to be good, and they’re not being good right now. And if they’re not good, Dr Cotton is not happy. Gillian is practically vibrating the tub, she’s so nervous. As the other ladies are draped in towels by the nurses, the warden approaches Gillian’s tub and, after Gillian reassures her that she’s a good girl, she is let out of the tub. As she gets up, she asks if she can have what she asked for. ‘If I get what I asked for,’ the warden responds. Ominous.
Nucky’s still in New York, meeting with members of the Mayflower Grain Corporation. They chat a bit about the building of Rockefeller Center before learning that Senator Lloyd (presumably the guy Nucky met with in Cuba) will not be attending as expected. Nucky moves ahead with the meeting and announces that he’s secured exclusive North American distribution rights for Bacardi and he wants to pool resources with Mayflower to distribute it as soon as alcohol is legal again. One of the board members is a bit of a dick and forces Nucky to admit to having been a bootlegger for the past 11 years. Nucky admits that the crash hit him hard and he doesn’t have the cash to finance this on his own. They want reassurance that Volstead is going to be repealed. Nucky promises to get Lloyd back on board, but he’s dismissed by the dickish guy.
As Nucky leaves, one of the other board members catches up with him and says he’s also worked out some exclusive distribution deals. Nucky asks if this was just a really rough interview process, or if he should be looking elsewhere for assistance. The other guy (it’s Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of the Kennedy clan) says that men like Nucky scare these Brahmins. He promises to look Nucky up the next time he’s down in AC. He leaves and another man approaches Nucky with the news that Maranzano wants to meet.
Little Nucky arrives at the hotel for work and apologises for being late. The Commodore says that’s not acceptable, and Nucky explains that his sister died. Apparently both Commodore and the sheriff take that as an acceptable excuse for tardiness. The sheriff sends his condolences and offers to pay his respects in person, but Nucky explains that they’re going to bury little Susan at home. He does not explain that it’s because his awful father spent the money for his own child’s funeral on booze. The Sheriff quietly tells Commodore he should send something, because even though Ethan hates the Commodore, the guy still votes. Does he? I wouldn’t bet on that.
Mueller’s in his garage, trying to get to something hidden behind an armoire in the basement. He’s interrupted by his son, who asks him why clouds float, as kids do. ‘Is this a joke?’ his father asks him before explaining that it’s because of the atmosphere, and now stop bothering daddy, please! The kid skedaddles and Mueller retrieves a sawed-off shotgun, which he tucks into a satchel before going upstairs to scold his wife for smoking. She asks ‘when you will be home?’ and he corrects her English, yelling that he’s trying to teach their kids to speak properly. In all fairness, the woman has been in the country for a really long time and should have a better command of the language by now. He stubs out her cigarette and announces he’ll be home late.
Nucky’s sitting down with Maranzano, who says that Masseria was stubborn and only understood violence. Nucky allows that he and Masseria had their differences before asking why he ended up in the line of fire. Both Lucky and Maranzano claim not to have had anything to do with that, Lucky adding that he has no contact with Meyer these days. Maranzano’s coffee is delivered by Tonino, last seen doing us all a favour by getting rid of Gyp Rosetti, if I’m not mistaken. Nucky eyes him for a little. Maranzano reassures Nucky he has nothing to fear from them.
After the meeting, Nucky asks Torrio if he should believe Maranzano. Torrio tells him to believe whatever it is that gets him out of this mess.
Eli and Mueller are staking out one of Al’s collectors. To pass the time, Mueller asks Eli how long he’s been apart from his wife. It’s been about six years. They arrange to get together now and again, but it’s tough. Mueller confesses he sometimes finds it easier to despise someone than to love them. That sounds pretty terrible.
The collector finally emerges and the two men hold him up. One of the guards gets shot, and things quickly spiral out of control. The collector drops his bag and flees back inside. Mueller grabs the bag, shoots the two guards dead, and wonders why there must always be pandemonium. Because you work for goddamn criminals, George! What do you expect?
Nucky relaxes in his hotel room with his very suave Cuban bodyguard—you remember, the ear collector? He talks about his dilemma: he either lies down and gets trampled on, or fights back and things just spiral out of control. He switches over to talking about Kennedy and how he managed to make millions without winding up knee-deep in blood. He talks about how close he is to going legit, he just has to stay alive long enough to get there. The bodyguard listens impassively. Nucky offers him a drink and asks if he has anything to say. ‘Kill them, don’t kill them, whatever you say,’ the guy shrugs.
Meyer, Lucky, and Bugsy Siegel meet with Tonino at a very swanky looking brothel. They ask if Maranzano is suspicious and Tonino replies that Maranzano plays it close to the vest, but he’s pretty sure he believes that Lucky and Meyer are on the outs. Bugsy is tense and yells at Meyer for talking to Nucky down in Havana. Meyer thinks they should just bump off Maranzano, but Lucky reminds him that it’s too soon and they don’t have the necessary support. Tonino fails to read the tension in the room and decides now is a good time to remind everyone he was promised a chunk of Masseria’s old territory. That lands with a pretty loud clunk before he’s dismissed back upstairs with one of the girls so the others can speculate on his allegiance.
1884. Ethan digs his daughter’s grave while Nucky watches. A carriage approaches and out hops the Commodore, come to pay his respects. He offers up some cash to give Susan a proper burial, but instead of taking it Ethan accuses the Commodore of trying to buy him twice. Apparently he previously sold some land to the Commodore and now has serious seller’s remorse. He goes inside and the Commodore tells Nucky to take the day off and be with his family. Nucky says he’d really rather work, which is depressing, but makes more sense when his father reappears with a shotgun and tells the Commodore to get lost. The Commodore holds his hands up, tells Ethan he’s not a monster, and departs. Ethan pockets the cash and goes off to, presumably, get drunk with it.
In the present, Nucky has lunch with Will and asks what Hodge was like. Will tells him about the integrity question. Nucky asks if his name came up and Will lies that it didn’t, adding that he wouldn’t be ashamed if it did. Nucky says that’s noble and all, but the kid does have a future to think of. Will knows. Nucky tells him how proud he is, and how proud Eli would be. Will’s face says, ‘yeah, whatever.’
Speaking of, Eli and Mueller arrive at the hotel where Al’s now headquartered and drop off the cash, adding it to a massive pile being gone through by a nervous accountant.
Meanwhile, Eliot Ness is giving a press conference, talking about how the country is teetering on a precipice between good and evil. He vows to fight the Capone mob. As he speaks, an agent goes upstairs and heads into a back room where Mike D’Angelo is hard at work. Why, look at that, Capone’s got a rat in the ranks. The other agent asks for a breakdown of one of the brothels and D’Angelo gets started.
Nucky’s bodyguard approaches Tonino and tells him Nucky wants to meet.
They sit down at a nice restaurant, where Tonino admits the bodyguard unnerves him. Nucky demands answers about the assassination and Tonino spills that Lansky and Lucky were behind it, and that they’re going to take out Maranzano when the time’s right. Tonino knows his days are numbered as well. He tells Nucky that Maranzano has no problem with him or any of the operations in AC. Nucky asks Tonino how he manages to work with people he doesn’t trust. Tonino begs to come work for Nucky, and Nucky tells him to give his bodyguard Lansky’s address and then come see him in the morning. As he goes to leave, he has a quick word with the waiter, who comes over and comments out of the blue that Billie Kent (Nucky’s girlfriend, who was killed in the Babbette’s explosion two seasons ago) was a lovely girl. Nucky never forgets, Tonino.
Little Susan is buried right next to the chicken coop. Mama Thompson leads prayers, comforting little Eli as she does so. Once they’re done, Ethan manages to move one shovelful of dirt before turning to leave. His wife asks where he’s going, as if she doesn’t know, and he turns on Nucky, asking if he’s choosing the Commodore. Nucky nods, and can you blame him? Why would he choose this worthless, abusive asshole? Nucky reminds Ethan that the money was supposed to be for a proper burial and Ethan horribly says that money never did the dead any good, before ordering Nucky to fill the grave and leaving. Wow. Nucky starts shoveling.
Eli sits in his horrible, squalid little apartment, listening to some comedy show on the radio and weeping.
Gillian is fetched from her quiet radioside embroidery by the warden, who takes her to some storage room and begins to strip. Just when you start to think things are going to get super uncomfortable, Gillian takes some clothes out of a trunk nearby and starts doling out wardrobe advice. Okaaay. The clothes she’s pulling out are her own, which makes no sense, because she and the warden are built very differently, so no way would her clothes fit this woman. In return, the warden gives Gillian what she wanted—some writing paper and a pen. Gillian complains that she didn’t get proper stationary. The warden warns her not to write any crazy letters to the president. Just in case we didn’t know, we learn that Gillian’s in a nuthouse, and apparently a really nice one, by the look of things. If this is what killing a guy gets you, I’d say it was a halfway decent deal. Gillian insists she just needs to get her thoughts straight.
At the brothel where Meyer et al were meeting earlier, girls start screaming, Meyer goes to investigate and finds Tonino dead on the doorstep with a Cuban postcard pinned to his back and one ear missing.