The writing was on the wall when Charlie Cox showed up for his first U.S. talk-show interview last Monday night. He wasn’t just promoting Boardwalk Empire – he was probably also looking to Jimmy Fallon for a little exposure now that he’s out of a job. With two more episodes to go, we’ve arrived at the home stretch, and if last season’s body count is any indication, there will be more names disappearing from the series’ opening-credits sequence over the next couple of weeks.
Owen‘s murder impacts Nucky in the sense that the Atlantic City gangster can’t afford any more losses if he’s going to win this war against Gyp. His allies are so few at this point that he was forced to send Eli to Chicago to outsource assistance from Johnny Torrio (thus saving his brother’s life – Eli had initially offered to join Owen on what ultimately became a fatal mission). But the person who is now positioned to suffer the most from the death of the former IRA soldier is Margaret. As I predicted – and, really, who didn’t see this one coming? Dr. Mason‘s comment that Margaret is “pale” and her answer of “Nothing I haven’t been through before” are straight out of Onscreen Knocked-Up Clichés 101 – there was only so much that could be done with baggy blouses and dresses and tight shots of Kelly Macdonald’s face. The actress’ real-life pregnancy has officially made its way into the story line, with Margaret announcing she’s carrying Owen’s child.
“A Man, A Plan,” like “Sunday Best,” takes place over the course of a single day. It establishes that Nucky has made a full recovery from his concussion, as he’s back to balancing both his local and federal battles without confusion. Even though George Remus – clad in boxer shorts and a smoking jacket – was unceremoniously arrested by Esther Randolph in last week’s episode, Nucky had the loose lips of Jess Smith to deal with this week. A phone call from Gaston Means in Washington warned that unless Smith was permanently silenced, prison time still loomed in Nucky’s future. To the tune of yet another $40,000, Nucky enlists Means to kill Harry Daugherty‘s aide. But it’s the smooth-talking Southerner who has the last laugh in this scenario. After also persuading Daugherty to pay him $40,000 to quietly remove the increasingly hysterical Smith (egged on by Means, he burns an incriminating $10,000 in a birdbath, right in Daugherty’s line of vision), Means never even has to pull the trigger: Smith puts a bullet in his own head, thus ending his torment and allowing Means to walk out of D.C.’s Wardman Park Hotel $80,000 richer.
Back in Atlantic City, Owen shows up at the Ritz-Carlton suite for a meeting with his boss. But first, under the guise of getting advice from Margaret on a birthday present for his girlfriend, Katy, the two lovers hold a private rendezvous in the parlor. They intend to go to St. Louis, with Margaret leaving first and Owen following about a month later to throw Nucky off of their scent. It’s a sweet exchange, but it’s easy to have the same kinds of doubts that Margaret has over this far-fetched plan, especially because Owen declared his marital intentions to Katy in an earlier scene. Still, when Sister Agnes announces later in the day that the women’s-health clinic has been canceled, Margaret is unfazed, because her mind is already in Missouri.
In his office down the hall, Nucky proceeds with his plot to take out Joe Masseria, theorizing that by killing the Italian mob boss, Gyp’s power will be neutralized. The plan is for Owen and Agent Sawicki to terminate Masseria during his weekly spa day at a Lower East Side Turkish bath. Owen – arriving tardy – is confident that this doesn’t need to be an elaborate operation, but Nucky is skeptical, with his doubts turning out to be well-founded. Luciano and Lansky, in exchange for a heroin deal, tip Masseria off that Nucky has put a hit on him. We don’t need to see the ambush that inevitably took place once Owen and Sawicki walked into the Chrystie Street Turkish baths, because the 4 a.m. arrival of a crate with the Irishman’s bloodied corpse to the Ritz-Carlton suite is plenty informative of the events that transpired.
Steve Buscemi and Macdonald play this climactic scene beautifully. Margaret falls to pieces upon seeing her lover’s dead body, stroking his face and hair, and smacking her husband’s chest for causing yet another casualty in her life. Nucky’s shocked expression is indelible as he wordlessly realizes that not only has he lost his top lieutenant, but that his wife was also shagging him. An inconsolable Margaret locks herself in her bedroom, staring out the window as Nucky begs her to open the door. We flash back to the parlor – the last time Margaret and Owen were together – and the scene concludes with the episode’s big reveal: Margaret confides to Owen that she’s pregnant with his baby. She still fears he’s just as untrustworthy as Nucky, so she demands an honest answer to her news. When Owen responds with “I’d like it to be a boy,” and he urgently, lovingly kisses her hand, her doubts are assuaged. And the pain of his death is made all the more acute.
Under the Boardwalk
In the midst of so much heartbreak, it was such a relief that a glimmer of happiness emerged this episode for Richard and Julia Sagorsky. Julia grasping Richard’s hand when he tried to pull it away upon her perpetually drunk father Paul‘s entry into the kitchen is the kind of subtle moment that Boardwalk Empire is so good at. But at first it looked like Paul would spell the end of this blossoming romance by insulting both Richard and his daughter. (“I won’t have you spreading your legs for some sideshow freak!”) Richard defends his girlfriend’s honor by choking Paul within an inch of his life and demanding an apology – after tearing off his mask to ask if Paul would pay a dime to see a man with half a face. Julia manages to pull Richard off of her father, and they leave the room together when she realizes Paul only apologized to Richard and not to her. That night, Julia and Richard sit barefoot in front of a bonfire on the beach, sharing their tales of failed relationships. Richard had a sweetheart who married his cousin while he was fighting in the war, while Julia had to give up her beau when her brother was killed and her obligations to her father superseded those to her intended. They’re both damaged, but they seem to want the same thing – a family – and more importantly, they’re able to find a comfort in each other that’s sorely missing everywhere else in the Boardwalk universe. Richard telling Julia, “I wish I could kiss you” is without a doubt the most touching sentence ever uttered on this series, which isn’t exactly famous for its tender scenes. Julia gently strokes his cheek and leans in, allowing Richard to experience the time-honored tradition of making out on the beach – and falling asleep in his girl’s arms under the boardwalk. It’s just too bad there’s no such thing as a happy ending on this show.
Wrap-Up Now that both Nucky and Margaret have lost their lovers, they really have no choice but to return to each other, at least for now. As Nucky said in last week’s episode, in one of his few moments of lucidity, “There’s no walking away.” In a way, Margaret is right back where she was when the series began, trapped in a miserable marriage and pregnant. And if her husband finds out about the latter, she could be as good as dead. Will she reach for the raw milk?
Previously: Head Case