After last week’s inferno, a note of restored calm: This week the series takes a moment to pause, reset, and reload. No sniper shots, no slashed faces, no hotel-lobby ambushes: Just another hint at Van Alden’s tortured psyche, a trashed political career, and a reunion between Nucky and his prodigal apprentice, the well-haberdashered Jimmy Darmody.
While Nucky’s off in Chicago for the Republican Convention, Eli mans the desk back home. Though mans might be the wrong verb. His few visitors include a “fellow who got off on the wrong floor.” Still, Eli harbors dreams of running Atlantic City, backslapping and glad-handing, Nucky-style. “I’ll buy a nickel joke book down the five and dime, I’ll be the toast of the town myself.” Of course, later we get a glimpse at just how crafty Nucky really is and how expertly he wields his power — as skilled at backstabbing as he is at backslapping.
First, though, we see Nucky the smooth operator, who explains to the hotel concierge the difference between him and General Wood, the current occupant of the Presidential Suite. “He is a war hero, former Army chief of staff, and practically a shoo-in for the Republican presidential nomination. I, on the other hand, am a magnificent tipper.” He peels off a few bills — the solution to his every problem, it seems — and is promptly handed the suite for himself.
Later, the smug Senator Edge sends Nucky off on an errand, to act as emissary to Harry Daugherty, campaign manager to ostensible also-ran Warren Harding. (SPOILER ALERT: Harding becomes president. SPOILER ALERT: Harding also died in office of a heart attack, as per the fortune teller’s warning.) Here we see Nucky as willing subservient — only later do we realize that he’s pulling all the strings.
ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT: Lucy Danzinger is kind of a bee-yotch. Especially when she’s drunk. Those who find this character annoying will like her even less when she slurs her words. She also slurs Mrs. Schroeder — “Is that Irish for bitch?” — which is a bad idea, as Margaret slaps her loudly across the chops, then says, “Next time won’t be nearly as pleasant.” Next time, Lucy better come back with a shotgun, because she’s not really armed for these little wars of words.
Meanwhile, Jimmy’s weirdly Oedipal mom, Gillian, stops in on his secretly Sapphic wife, Angela. By the end of their exchange, in which she mocks Angela for, among other things, smelling bad and going “au naturel,” we wondered if maybe Gillian was intercepting and hiding Jimmy’s money, sent weekly back home. Nope! It’s Van Alden, of course, the back-whipping, ribbon-sniffing rascal. He’s been stashing Jimmy’s letters in a drawer at the post office.
Van Alden has problems of his own at home, as his wife can’t get pregnant due to an obstruction in her tubes. She wants surgery; he wants to trust God’s plan. Also, the tulips are looking a little ragged.
In New York, Rothstein has a powwow with his lawyer over this lingering fixing-the-World-Series thing. SPOILER ALERT: The 1919 World Series was in fact fixed!
Meanwhile, Eli and the gang watch some vintage porn on a hand-cranked projector. This scene establishes three things: 1) There was fairly dirty porn in 1920; 2) Eli’s going to do the money pickup at the casino; and 3) Eli, despite lacking Nucky’s glad-handing proficiencies, has an easy rapport with the boys; maybe this will factor in later? During some sort of Eli-led coup?
Nucky runs into Jimmy at Torrio’s and chides him for his fancy duds. Eli heads to the casino and gets shot in the gut. It’s that damned gang of Italian guys named for popes, now in Rothstein’s employ! They also lynched Chalky’s employee. Basically, they are giving every person in New Jersey good reason to rend them limb from limb. This is not going to end well for them, we thinks.
Nucky gets the call that Eli’s been shot, so naturally he telephones … Margaret, and sends her to his office to hide his secret ledger. The dread ledger! If you’ve seen The Untouchables, you know that ledgers can be very damaging. Nucky then enlists Jimmy and his new buddy Richard Harrow (recurring character! Yay!) to come back to Atlantic City and act as Nucky’s muscle.
Then Nucky’s got one last piece of business before he leaves Chicago: Royally screwing smarmy Senator Edge, great-grandfather to the famed U2 guitarist. (Kidding!) Nucky makes a deal with Harry Daugherty to squeeze Edge out of the vice presidency. This is long-simmering payback for that damned road-money fiasco involving Frank Haig. Clearly, not every gangster exacts revenge with a gun or a switchblade. Nucky’s vengeance is much colder and more devastating, as he tells Edge, the only way he’ll see the White House is “on a guided fucking tour.” Ka. Boom.
Van Alden has a moment of weakness, gathering all the cash from Jimmy’s letters, and sending it to … his wife? For her operation? Nope. To Angela, who gets a windfall and a reprieve from selling perfume door to door. Van Alden’s wife, instead, gets a letter telling her “to trust in God’s plan.”
As for Nucky’s plan, Margaret sits in his office, considering the Dread Ledger. As carnival music wafts in from the boardwalk behind her, she finally decides to open the book — and is faced with hard evidence of who Nucky really is. She is Eve, and this is her Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil moment: Once she’s taken the bite, she can’t go back.