It’s the eve of 1923.
A lot’s gone on since last we saw Nucky et al – a year-plus has passed since we were left hanging on pins and needles. After Nucky stepped away from his public role as Atlantic City treasurer, his dance with Jimmy Darmody ended with a bang (two, actually). Meanwhile, Margaret signed over the deed to the land earmarked for a highway to her church. Nucky suspects, at least, her affair with Owen, but married her to prevent her from testifying against him. He convinced Eli to take the fall for her first husband’s death, further tethering them together.
Fast forwarding 16 months, Jimmy’s mom has turned the Commodore’s house into a high-class brothel. Richard Harrow has gone from enforcer to babysitter, serving not only as protector to Madame Gillian and her cadre of ladies, but also as de-facto caretaker of Jimmy’s orphaned son, Tommy. Gillian has all but erased the existence of his real mother, Angela, from Tommy’s life and installed herself as his mama, an act that harkens back to her disturbingly inappropriate relationship with Jimmy.
When not tending to one Darmody or another, Richard has his own agenda to carry out, and plots to avenge Angela by killing her murderer, Manny Horvitz. An unlucky eventuality for Manny, who was poised to move up the ranks in Nucky’s organization as nervous-giggler Mickey Doyle proves himself less than dependable.
In Illinois, we catch up with former Prohibition agent Nelson van Alden (now living as George Mueller), on the run with his mail-order baby mama and working as a door-to-door salesman (a perfect fit for his sparkling personality). In a stroke of luck, Nelson’s dark visage helps Chicago importer and flower-shop owner Dean O’Banion out of a sticky situation with rival Al Capone, opening up a slew of new possibilities between O’Banion and the erstwhile agent van Alden. Having fallen far down the rabbit hole, Nelson’s penchant for murder and unflinching abhorrence of rule-breaking will make him an asset to any gangster trying to keep associates in line.
Back in AC, Margaret and Nucky now sit on the board of St Theresa’s hospital, in which an eponymous new wing has recently been built in honor of its benefactors: the seemingly happy couple, Mr and Mrs Enoch Thompson. Now a private citizen and self-proclaimed philanthropist, Nucky has moved far away, publicly, from the politics and back-room dealings that caused him so much trouble in season 2. Behind the scenes, however, he continues to act as puppeteer, paying off attorney general Harry Daugherty to keep investigators at bay. And despite her brazen disobedience, Nucky’s relationship with Margaret is key to his purported new leaf, and they keep up appearances by throwing a grand New Year’s Eve party.
In terms of crafty willfulness, Margaret has proven herself to be Nucky’s equal; it was only a matter of time before he moved onto a more pliable companion. His marriage to Margaret effectively a sham, Nucky’s taken up with a new young thing, Billie. A Broadway baby, Billie appears feisty and guileless, a stark contrast to staid and calculating Margaret. But what Nucky craves is a challenge and what he desires is a family, none of which Billie appears to have any intention of offering. For now, however, he’s happy to have her around to give him a place where he can “truly” rest his head—far from the madding crowd.
Possibly the most exciting addition to show is Bobby Cannavale as the volatile Gyp Rosetti, a mafioso out of Sicily (via New York) with a hair-trigger temper. In his introductory scene (also kicking off the episode), Rosetti murders a good Samaritan with a tire-iron. He’s a firebrand of a character, a land mine lying in wait for someone to put a foot wrong. When he finally turns up again at the New Year’s party, Nucky wastes no time making it clear that Rosetti will be playing by house rules or not at all, a pill Rosetti is sure to find difficult to swallow.
Nucky calls a secret meeting and blows the lid off the status quo by announcing, rather unceremoniously, that he will now do business exclusively with Arnold Rothstein. Advising his former partners (and Rothstein’s competitors) that their volume of liquor can now be purchased through Rothstein (sans Nucky’s discount), Nucky explains this move as an effort to “simplify” things. It’s clear, however, that it will do anything but.
Heretofore unaffiliated with Nucky, Rosetti is the most furious with this decision. Following his exit from the meeting, punctuated by a string of insults against the gathered crowd, he fixates upon Margaret and presents her with Regina, the dog purloined from the unlucky motorist who earlier met the business end of Rosetti’s temper.
Without Nucky as her lord protector, having caught Rosetti’s eye is a particularly dangerous development for Margaret. She could find a defender in Owen, who appears to still carry a torch for her, but her interaction with him has been icy since their one-time dalliance in season 2, and his loyalty to her could be in question. Either way, it’s clear that Rosetti’s unpredictability and violent persona will cause difficulties in Atlantic City this season.
As 1923 dawns on New Jersey, a new era begins. No longer constrained by his own political aspirations, Nucky is free to maneuver behind the scenes, pulling strings and racking up favors that echo to the presidential election of 1924. Suffering fools was never his forte, but keeping his public image intact will be paramount, even as his body count is rising.
Seems that the bang that ended last season was just the beginning.