Sorry, Boardwalk Empire – you’re going to have to try another tactic. Maybe sending sitcoms to Hawaii or Disney World worked in the past, but taking Nucky out of Atlantic City and putting him in a semi-exotic location in order to jump-start his narrative just isn’t working. His plot line for this episode, “Acres of Diamonds,” can be summed up within this paragraph: Nucky goes to Tampa, Florida, to invest in a land deal. It sounds too shady even for him, so he reneges. He meets local speakeasy owner Patricia Arquette. He pours out his soul to her. She gives him a birthday gift to send to Teddy (the first mention of Nucky’s missing family this season). Nucky decides to go ahead with the deal, only for the audience to find out the man engineering it now has a coconut machete buried in his skull.
Other than Nucky’s heart-to-heart with Arquette’s Sally Wheet (which happened during a quintessential dark, stormy night, incidentally) the “land of money, cunny and where it’s always sunny” scenes were pretty damn snooze-worthy. Which goes back to my original point: It’s not a change of location that’s needed for this series, because there was plenty of action and intrigue to be had up North. As with last week’s episode, Valentin Narcisse, Chalky and Dunn drove the plot of “Diamonds,” with Narcisse – now a partner in the Onyx Club – slowly beginning to draw the carpet under from Chalky.
While Nucky is off drinking Bloody Marys and getting real estate advice from young whippersnappers named Skeeter, Narcisse is holding court in what appears to be Marcus Garvey’s Harlem office (note the Universal Negro Improvement Association banner in the background). For those who took issue with my description of Narcisse in last week’s recap, I highly recommend you listen to this podcast Jeffrey Wright did recently. Wright provides fascinating insight on the background of his character, calling him “[Harlem gangster] Casper Holstein with any level of moral integrity scooped out.” Anyway, Narcisse’s discussion about the importance of education with a group of young African-American students is interrupted by a visit from Arnold Rothstein (still working the Marcel Marceau look. Hey, Boardwalk makeup crew, ease up with the face powder. He’s a gangster, not Rudolph Valentino) and Cotton Club owner Owney Madden. Before Narcisse puts Operation Atlantic City Libyan Takeover into action, he needs a couple of things from these two. From Rothstein, he wants an entrée into the heroin business. From Madden, he asks for Cotton Club star Daughter Maitland to relocate to South Jersey for a limited engagement at the Onyx Club. Both requests are granted, and for those closely watching, the deal with Rothstein is underscored by Narcisse’s aforementioned disdain for race mixing, regardless of the wealth it may bring him: He makes a point to wipe his hands on his handkerchief immediately after shaking hands with Rothstein.
Narcisse arrives in Atlantic City with a packet of heroin and a bedazzling Daughter Maitland in tow. Daughter Maitland is for Chalky, the heroin is for Dunn. And by the end of the episode, every part of Narcisse’s Machiavellian scheme seems to be falling into place. The hawt, sultry jazz and blues singer works her magic on not just on Chalky (who wasn’t too pleased to have Narcisse undermining him) but every (white) patron of the Onyx Club, leaving Chalky indebted to Narcisse. BTW, we need more Margot Bingham in this series, please. With Narcisse hanging around the Onyx Club, Chalky is feeling plenty insecure about his position, so what does he do? He starts treating Dunn like a bus boy – and that’s just what Narcisse intended. Now that Dunn doesn’t see Chalky as having his back anymore (“Chalky White ain’t never been my friend”), he’s a prime target for Narcisse’s smooth talk. Narcisse paints Dunn as the victim, someone Chalky uses for “slave labor,” and then offers him something much better than stacking chairs at the end of the night: a position as a heroin runner. Given Dunn’s recent trauma with the twisted, racist Dickey and Cora Pastor, Narcisse’s enticement of “freedom, power – control over men who are lesser than you” sounds way better than life as Chalky’s lapdog.
–Gillian‘s tactic of living in a fantasy world (she poses as Roy Phillips‘ – Ron Livingston’s character – wife at a business dinner this episode) is backfiring tremendously, no matter how much heroin she injects. Gillian and Roy’s supper companions happen to be from Evansville, Indiana, which is where Roger McAllister, the Jimmy doppelgänger Gillian murdered last season, happens to hail from. Her demons and oddball, drawing-from-life dinner conversation (she suggests Roy tried to marry her while she was still underage) aside, Roy seems smitten with her – even when one of Roger’s old buddies recognizes Gillian during an afterhours ice cream outing and she plays the fool.
–Willie Thompson inches ever closer to his family’s legacy as he procures a crate of whiskey from Mickey to (what else?) impress a coed at Temple University. It works, and just as Willie is about to get a hands-on lesson in female anatomy with the girl in question, Doris, they’re interrupted by a gaggle of their pals, who don’t hesitate to point out Willie’s erection. It feels like a watered-down Jimmy Darmody, the College Years plot, but stick with it, because it’s the catalyst for what’s to come. For history and economics buffs, the episode’s title, “Acres of Diamonds,” comes from a recorded speech by Russell Conwell (Temple’s founder) that Willie and his fellow students listen to in the library.
–Carl Billings, the businessman who initially hired Richard to go on a cross-country murder spree (and who placed that ominous phone call, posing as a tax collector, last week), shows up at the Wisconsin farm looking to place all folks with the last name Harrow in the ground. But he didn’t count on Richard’s deft hand with a knife, or for Emma to share in her family’s talent for being an excellent shot. The danger he imposed on his sister now eliminated, Richard leaves for Destination Unknown. Sadly, it’s suggested that his relationship with his sister is, in effect, over. They love each other, but when Emma tells him, “You need to call yourself into account,” it’s obvious that she cannot reconcile having a brother who is a killer, as his misdeeds have made her one too. The shot of Emma closing the door on Richard is reminiscent of last year’s finale, when Margaret did the same to Nucky.
Previously: King Creole