Well, now we know what this was all about. When it comes to retaliation, Gyp has got style. His decision to blow up Babette’s Supper Club, complete with a Michael Bay-caliber explosion, no longer places him in the company of second-rate, forgettable gangsters. As he stated in an earlier episode, all business to him is personal, even if it isn’t to Nucky. And now Gyp has evened the score by making this war plenty personal for his New Jersey enemy: Billie was one of the fatalities.
It was a pithy love affair with the erstwhile Nadine Beckenbauer of Newburgh, New York, for both Nucky and the audience. But even if Gyp hadn’t taken out this budding starlet, it’s unlikely her fling with her Atlantic City beau would’ve lasted much longer. For one thing, a successful screen test had put her on the fast track to a movie career. And after Nucky jealously beats up her potential new co-star, the lovers confront the incongruous state of their relationship – Nucky is sick of looking the other way, Billie likes being independent. Just before their ill-fated dinner date, Nucky decided to set her free by Vivian Ward-ing her with a guaranteed monthly income, even if she chooses to share her life with someone else.
“The Pony” (the episode is named both for Billie’s description of a funny chorus girl and Emily‘s intended birthday present) opens with Jimmy Darmody‘s funeral. A black-veiled Gillian – ever the grieving mother-widow – Richard and Leander Whitlock officially lay the WWI veteran (or rather, Gillian’s lover Roger McAllister) to rest at a crematorium, his cause of death an accidental drowning brought on by heroin addiction. Nucky, having heard the news of his former protégé, pays a condolence call to the Artemis Club. He and Gillian exchange a few faux pleasantries, but eventually they drop the act, with Gillian tossing her drink in his face and revealing once and for all that she’s known the truth for the past year and a half: that Nucky killed her son. Nucky continues to deny the accusations, coldly reminding Gillian that she might consider holding her tongue in the future: “You exist in this town because I allow you to.” The brothel proprietress curbs her fury for the time being, but now that she’s accepted Jimmy’s death, it doesn’t mean Nucky is safe from her own calculating schemes.
One of the reasons Nucky can’t be bothered with being fingered for a murder right now is he’s busy trying to fend off another federal indictment. At the Hotel Astor in New York, he meets with Esther Randolph and Gaston Means, the latter of whom has made good on his promise to hook Nucky up with a high-powered government figure who could help keep the Atlantic City gangster out of jail. That afternoon, Nucky is introducing himself to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon (I was right!), a man who hates Harry Daugherty, is a major shareholder of a distillery, and isn’t exactly a fan of the income tax (“sanctioned robbery, with no constitutional basis”) or Prohibition (“a child’s idea of morality”). While on the surface James Cromwell’s Mellon seems like an easy ally, his chilly demeanor – not unlike that of American Horror Story’s Dr. Arthur Arden, just without the sadism – tells a different story. He demurs when Nucky proposes a barter: In exchange for indicting George Remus, who has direct ties to the attorney general (aide Jess Smith), Nucky will run Mellon’s distillery, and all Mellon will see is the money. Nucky leaves New York thinking he’s failed, taking his frustrations out on Billie’s handsome new actor pal – and Billie herself, in the form of rough hate sex.
But things start looking up the next day, when Nucky receives a call from Mellon informing him that he has agreed to his proposition. What Nucky doesn’t know is that maybe he should be careful what he wishes for, because very soon a prison sentence is going to look like a tropical vacation. When Gyp visits the Artemis Club, Gillian sets her own vendetta against Nucky in motion by casually mentioning to the Sicilian mobster that his rival will be dining at Babette’s that evening with Rothstein and Luciano (who let the rendezvous slip). “I thought perhaps you’d like to surprise him,” she trills.
That night, Nucky, Rothstein and Luciano stroll along the boardwalk, a newly platinum-blond Billie trailing behind in her flapper finery of a gold and black-feathered coat. A radio salesman sidetracks Nucky, so he has his mistress go into Babette’s ahead of him. Rothstein, however, slowly starts walking toward the ocean, a spooked look on his face, suggesting he knows something ominous is afoot. As Nucky stares at Billie in the distance, the salesman’s spiel grows fuzzy. At this point we know something really bad is about to happen, and it does. Billie’s smile is permanently extinguished as a full-screen explosion rings out from the supper club, throwing everyone in the vicinity to the ground. A bloodied and debris-covered Nucky, struggling to get to his feet, sees Luciano and Rothstein in the distance, both injured. The ringing in his ears is loud enough for the entire audience to hear, as the camera pans from above, showing the extensive casualties strewn along the boardwalk before the credits roll.
Even when he first went on the lam, I still don’t think “becoming a bootlegger” ever registered on Van Alden‘s radar. But the more he tried to stay on the straight and narrow, the closer he came to what may just be his destiny: selling aquavit to the Norwegian residents of Chicago. Since Dean O’Banion helped him dispose of Prohibition agent Emmett Coughlin, Van Alden has been forced to repay his debt by making whiskey in his kitchen. But what Van Alden never realized was that his wife was quite skilled at the craft. While Van Alden trudged through his iron-sales job during the day, Sigrid, once again proving herself a much more resourceful wife than Rose, was at home making the whiskey for O’Banion, and making extra aquavit to sell (storing it in baby bottles – clever!). They could use the money now, because Van Alden isn’t going to be peddling irons anymore: during a role-playing exercise, an antagonistic colleague pushed him to his limit, resulting in a primal tantrum, and the years of rage and repression that have weighed on Nelson Van Alden were finally released. Though his eyes pop out of his head and he succeeds in frightening an entire office full of people in a way only Michael Shannon knows how, Van Alden walks out of his job with a relieved smile. Luckily, only typewriters and one boorish iron salesman were hurt in the melee. The next day, Mr. and Mrs. George Mueller do gangbusters at a celebration for Norway’s independence, causing a happy Van Alden to remark, “Unlike steam irons, aquavit sells itself.”
It was only a matter of time before the women attending classes at the hospital started speaking up about their real intentions: they just wanted to obtain birth control. Margaret initially balks when Mrs. Shearer, whose miscarriage was the catalyst for the women’s-health clinic, not only asks for a diaphragm but also confesses that she drank raw milk – which caused her to lose her baby – on purpose. But far be it from Margaret to judge, as she was washing with Lysol to prevent any number of little Nuckys since Season One. She wasn’t above asking Dr. Mason for a Dutch cap of her own when requesting one for Mrs. Shearer, either, probably because she and Owen are having a tough time keeping their hands off of each other. While visiting a farm to select a pony for Emily, the two get cozy reminiscing about their Irish childhoods. And if that wasn’t clichéd enough, they’re caught in a rainstorm, only to seek shelter – and a further exploration of their carnal needs – in the car.
Wrap-Up Between Margaret’s affair with Owen heating up and her need for a diaphragm, why do I get the sneaking suspicion that Kelly Macdonald’s real-life pregnancy will end up factoring into the story line?
Previously: Spring Awakening