In a season where slow-moving, albeit quality, episodes became a trend, the newest one picks up the pace with some choice developments for the head honcho of Atlantic City.
At the top of this hour we witness a meeting between Nucky, high-ranking lawyer female Esther Randolph, and shady government official Gaston Means as they discuss a method to take down the Attorney General of the Unite States. The plan is to appeal to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, rival of Harry Doherty and himself a detractor of Prohibition (which he describes as "a child's attempt at morality"). To accomplish this Nucky sneaks into Mellon's country club and delivers a pitch in which he suggests to the Secretary that he persuade the government to inspect George Remus in lieu of Nucky. In exchange the choice gangster of New Jersey will run Mellon's secret distillery for a profit.
The bold gambit by Nucky pays off when Mellon agrees to the proposal later in the episode, confirming he will the direct the federal investigation toward Remus, an event which falls in line with real-world incidents surrounding the Cincinnati bootlegger and his dealings with Daugherty and co. While Nuck quells the legal troubles of his life he still has some more dangerous business and social pratfalls to handle, particularly since those types of things tend to mingle in his line of work.
Nucky's other girl, Billie Kent, strives to make it on her own, now chasing the dream of being a movie star she attends a promising audition where she meets fellow actor Gil, who she later brings back to her apartment (along with her ditzy, meager blonde friend). Sadly, old man Thompson comes through (just finished with his slightly degrading meeting with Mellon) and hoses down the party with a fit of aggression, threats, and a basically one-sided fight with Gil.
That confrontation leads to another, and Billie and Nucky come to blows about the nature of their relationship. Nucky insists that Billie doesn't need to chase her pipe dreams of fame, that he will take care of her, and as expected from a woman in a show about the 20s made in 2012, Miss Kent insists she not only wants, but needs, to make it on her own.
I gotta say, this didn't end up how I expected. Following their argument Nucky, almost stubbornly, reveals he set up a fund so Billie will unconditionally receive a bulky monthly stipend for the rest of her life. The gesture reinvigorates the couple, and in the closing scene of "The Pony", Nucky and compatriots Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano, stroll the boardwalk with wig-clad Billie in tow. As a pestering acquaintance stops Nucky his beau Billie moves ahead to the restaurant the group is heading to, and as she looks back at Nucky, they smile at each other, AND SHE EXPLDOES.
Well, she didn't explode; the restaurant did, but com'on Boardwalk Empire, stop reminding me how brutal you can be.
The catalyst for this tragic roasting of the lead's girlfriend happens early in the episode, or late last season depending on your POV. When Nucky hears of James Darmody's "re-death" he drops in on Jimmy's mother Gillian at her failing brothel. After playing nice through gritted teeth for exactly two minutes, the two snap at each other with a fierceness. "You exist in this town because I allow you to", Nucky snaps. To which Gillian replies with a fresh beverage tossed in the face of the guy who killed her son. Since she is on the level of any other gangster or psycho on Boardwalk, Gillian uses her capabilities to tip off Gyp Rosetti on Nucky's future dinner plans. With both sides shedding blood the Nuck/Gyp war has commenced and it's about time.
Our protagonist losing his lover serves as worthy fodder for revenge. It's hard not to feel bad for Nucky… until you remember he's married. Then you remember that his wife Margaret is no stranger to deception and adultery herself, continuing her trysts with Owen and reaching for independence wherever she can get it. This episode's attempts at garnering more rights involve asking Owen to teach her to drive, and requesting Dr. Mason to acquire a diaphragm (or "Dutch cap", apparently) for her and another female done having kids. Right now it looks like one of the show's main concentrations is building the relationship between Owen and Margaret, which obviously will end terribly for one or both of them.
Wedged into all the lovely Jersey action are some meandering shots of what's going in the Chi-town gangster scene. Of main focus is Nelson Van Alden, who's fresh off murdering a man in his and now in the employ of Deany O'Banion, resident florist and booze-peddler. O'Banion requires Van Alden to work off his body removal debt by cooking up two cases of alcohol per week in his kitchen. Van Alden, former persecutor of those who broke the Volstead Act is now a violator of it. Mmm, irony.
His wife Sigrid is more than complaisant in the activity, even showing him ways for the family to make a profit selling their excess product to immigrants. That's probably good because Nelson went absolutely buckwild crazy at the iron salesmen's office, burning his co-worker's face and tossing typewriters around like an assclown. We also see Van Alden hanging with the big time Chicago mobsters like Torrio and Capone, which wander around this episode without much to do. All you need to know about that is Torrio appears checked out and Capone is ascending quickly in the Windy City.
The season needed that ending; it needed an explosion to thrust the characters toward more danger. If Boardwalk Empire is a dog sled then Nucky is the lead Husky, because when he's moving forward everyone else follows suit. With a massive cast that almost screams for a trimming there is some exciting television to be had from here until the finale.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.