In a season marked by violent deaths, Sunday’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, Ging Gang Goolie, was a breath of fresh air. A quieter episode, bent on developing the background characters and conflicts that will inevitably drive the season’s climax, the scenes were devoid of the flashy fireworks, gunpowder and occasional Molotov cocktail that we’ve become used to. There were, however, fireworks of a different sort.
When Gaston Means is a no-show for their regular cash hand-off, Nucky realizes his arrangement with DA Harry Daugherty is on the ropes. Making things worse, bootlegger George Remus is also stood up by Means. Seeing the writing on the wall, Nucky heads to D.C. to confront Daugherty. He knows something’s gotta give and the DA will have to bring someone up on charges. With both him and Remus left out the cold, Nucky presses Daugherty to pillory Remus instead of him. Though Daugherty avoids acknowledging that anything’s afoot, Jess Smith’s spontaneous crying fits belie the diplomatic response to Nucky’s questions.
Arrested in possession of a pint of liquor, Nucky finds himself detained for 18 hours in a holding cell, awaiting his turn in a night court merry-go-round. As luck would have it, the prosecuting attorney is Miss Randolph, the former ADA who pursued Nucky’s election-fixing case at the end of last season. Demoted now to the graveyard shift, she tries to turn Nucky’s minor arrest into a larger fine, but the exhausted judge shuts down her grandstanding, fining Nucky $5 for his pint of illegal hooch.
Not one to let an opportunity slip through his fingers, Nucky invites Miss Randolph for an early breakfast and offers to provide information on George Remus that would also implicate Jess Smith and Harry Daugherty. Although interested, the prosecutor knows that they’d need President Harding’s backing to get the case through – and Nucky doesn’t have the material to put the squeeze on the commander in chief. Yet.
With Nucky wrapped up in political matters in Washington, he asks Owen to keep an eye on Margaret and the children, who are also being watched by one of Nucky’s bodyguards. Margaret, having been divested of almost all control over her own life, is clearly feeling the effects. She makes feeble attempt to address the situation with Nucky, telling him over the phone that things “can’t go on” the way they have been.
Teddy is acting out of sorts too, waking Margaret up to report a fire in the greenhouse and blaming it on a gypsy he spotted in the road. Later, Teddy is escorted home from a neighbor’s house after being caught with gasoline and matches—Margaret doesn’t believe his claim that he was preventing the vagrant from starting another fire.
With Nucky’s frequent absences, Owen has clearly become the most dependable thing in the children’s lives, and Teddy even asks if he can live with them. Later, when Margaret hears noises in the garden late at night, Owen is her first call. Ignoring their better judgment, Owen and Margaret give in to their mutual attraction in the burned out greenhouse.
Meanwhile, Gillian is faced with the realities of running a failing business. Determined to keep her brothel “classy”, she and Lucky face off over whether the girls should be allowed to sell heroin to johns. Having been living in a shrine to Jimmy since his disappearance months before, Gillian seems both to cleave to the memory of Jimmy and also want to move on from it. She packs up all the photos of him and hides them in a closet, then takes herself out on the boardwalk and meets a young man with a striking resemblance to her son. Recently relocated from the Midwest and looking for work, Roger is every bit the eager, manly presence her son was. After sleeping with him, Gillian even goes so far as to tell Roger that she will call him James.
Richard Harrow makes an unlikely friend at the American Legion – a veteran who fought in the Philippines with the a chip on his shoulder the size of Manila, Sagorsky picks a fight with a young bartender and winds up getting his clock cleaned. Harrow, however, seems to recognize a kindred spirit, and offers to help Sagorsky. He meets his daughter and later has the opportunity to return her father’s coat and a medal her brother was given posthumously. A soft spoken caretaker, Julia inquires if Richard has any family, which surprisingly, he does. He even claims his sister and he are close, even though she’s been nowhere to be seen from the time Jimmy and Richard met in a veteran’s hospital years before.
While laying the groundwork for episodes to come, Sunday’s offering suffered from the lack of this season’s supernova, Gyp Rosetti. Having ended the last episode on the edge of a knife, we’re left with only the mildest assurances that Rosetti left town – and Eli gives the anemic directive to the decimated Tabor Heights police force to notify him the moment any stirring is heard from Rosetti’s camp.
Margaret’s orbit this season is decidedly independent from Nucky, and it is also taking a toll on the amount of interest one can muster in her plotlines. The renewed dalliance with Owen will serve to bring matters with Nucky to a head, and one shudders to think what will happen when Nucky discovers his most trusted employee has designs on his wife.
Though Nucky’s world has grown beyond Atlantic City to include New York and Washington DC, his home base remains where he’s both the most powerful and the most vulnerable.