There’s no such thing as a smooth business deal in the world of Boardwalk Empire – and in the case of Nucky‘s Irish enterprise, it came at a very high price. By the end of “Battle of the Century,” Nucky and Sleater are departing Belfast, armed with 10,000 cases of whiskey, leaving a (presumed) dead John McGarrigle in their wake. And there isn’t much good news waiting for them back home, either. Esther Randolph is ramping up her case against Nucky, and is rightfully suspicious of his true reasons for leaving the country. But all of this is secondary to the latest misfortune to befall the beleaguered gangster: Margaret‘s daughter, Emily, has been diagnosed with polio.
When Irish Eyes Aren’t Smiling
Nucky and Sleater arrive in Belfast with a coffin in tow, the official reason for their visit being the burial of Ethan Thompson. When they meet with McGarrigle, Nucky opens the coffin to reveal a dozen smuggled Tommy guns. He proposes a trade to the freedom-fighting Irish: Guns for whiskey. But McGarrigle isn’t so keen on prolonging the violence, primarily because his son was recently killed. He’s pushing for a peace agreement, which doesn’t sit too well with his fellow IRA members – or Nucky. If there’s peace between the British and the Irish, then Nucky goes home empty-handed. After a contentious dinner in which Nucky reminds McGarrigle that the British haven’t exactly been Ireland’s friends, McGarrigle retaliates with a rather pragmatic answer: “If the fighting’s to stop, one must take the lead.” It’s sad and almost pathetic to watch Nucky, in his desperation, be reduced to advocating bloodshed just to line his pockets. But McGarrigle will not be swayed.
Nucky leaves in a huff, but McGarrigle asks Sleater, who was in the dining room the whole time, to stay behind. McGarrigle implores Sleater to remain in Ireland and help him negotiate a truce. “I’m no peacemaker,” Sleater responds, suggesting that perhaps not everyone in the IRA is ready to put down their weapons. “Every battle ends, boy,” McGarrigle says.
The next day, McGarrigle sends Nucky off to the steamship port in a car with Sleater driving and an elderly IRA leader (“Bill”) in the backseat. As they pull away, two gunshots are fired – Nucky turns around to see McGarrigle fall to the ground. “You’ll deal with me now,” Bill says ominously. “A thousand machine guns for 10,000 cases of whiskey.” Nucky silently nods in agreement, looking just a bit scared of the people he’s now doing business with. Um, but isn’t that what he wanted? As long as the Irish Republican Army is opposed to an armistice, he’ll have the booze he needs.
At the dock, a spooked Nucky confronts Sleater: “Did they tell you? About what was going to happen?” Sleater doesn’t answer, but admits, “Nothing I could say would stop it.” It’s not a good enough answer for Nucky, who looks the Irishman straight in the eye: “Owen, I don’t like secrets.” It makes you wonder if Nucky really does know that Sleater banged Margaret. Even if he doesn’t, that warning doesn’t bode well for anyone. Just before they board, Sleater freezes midsentence when reading a telegram from Margaret informing them that Emily has been stricken with polio. Nucky is visibly shaken, more so than when he learned his father died. His shady dealings in Ireland aside, his reaction is a compelling reminder of how much he cares about Margaret and the children. Perhaps this upsetting news will inspire him to be a more attentive “husband” and “father” upon his return.
The same morning Margaret receives a telegram alerting her to Nucky’s safe arrival in Belfast, Emily awakens paralyzed from the waist down. In a harrowing set of scenes, Emily is quarantined at the children’s hospital, while everything in the bedroom she shares with Teddy is burned out on the lawn. At the hospital, Margaret keeps close vigil, despite not being allowed in the same room as her sick child. But while the doctors and nurses are preoccupied listening to the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier fight on the radio, Margaret manages to sneak into the quarantine room and clutches her daughter tightly, whispering, “Forgive me for what I’ve brought upon you.” Margaret’s panicked behavior throughout the episode has suggested more than a mother’s concern for her child’s health, and what she says to Emily here brings it all home: Emily’s illness is God’s way of punishing Margaret for her sins.
Meanwhile, Randolph and Clifford Lathrop are continuing their investigation of Nucky, some of it even taking place in bed (nice). It doesn’t take long for the two to deduce that Nucky is not burying his father over in Belfast – a quick spy job by Lathrop, who surreptitiously attended the real funeral for Ethan Thompson, confirms this. Since Randolph gave Nucky permission to go to Belfast, she’s none too pleased that he had ulterior motives for leaving the country. Now that Nucky’s alibi is shot, it will be intriguing to see what happens in his election-fraud case when he returns to Atlantic City.
Over at the Ritz-Carlton, Dunn Purnsley (who wasn’t beaten to death by his fellow prison inmates earlier this season) is now a kitchen worker fed up with the poor treatment he and his colleagues receive: bad food, long hours and low wages. Sporting gold teeth and a nasty shiner from his jailhouse altercation several months back, he complains he and his co-workers aren’t even good enough “to eat what some cracker throw in the trash.” Turns out all this riling up is courtesy of Chalky (following Nucky’s orders from last episode). Now that Purnsley knows who’s boss in this town, he is willing to do Chalky’s bidding for him. Once he gets Chalky’s approval, he incites a strike the following day, with the African-American workers throwing down plates and food in protest. Jimmy and his cronies are now going to have a big ol’ mess to clean up, and that’s just how Nucky wanted it.
It’s Good to Be the King
While we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, Jimmy is reveling in his new role as the boss of Atlantic City. But he’s getting a tad cocky. First he does a deal with speaks-in-the-third-person bootlegger George Remus (Mickey Doyle, who survived last week’s balcony tossing, makes an appearance in a useless-looking neck brace), and then turns a blind eye when new business associate Waxey Gordon puts a hit on Manny Horvitz. Horvitz is a tough motherfucker though – he gets shot in the shoulder and still manages to take down his attacker with a meat cleaver to the head (love the “Fresh Killed Meat” sign hanging behind him). When Horvitz discovers an Atlantic City matchbook in his assailant’s pocket, we know Jimmy had better be very, very afraid. But until Horvitz’s next trip to New Jersey, Jimmy doesn’t have a care in the world. When he and Richard Harrow arrive at a theater to listen to the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, two women looking to party don’t hesitate to crawl into their laps. “Everyone knows who the new king is,” one purrs to Jimmy. And it’s good to be the king’s friend too – how great was it to see Richard finally getting some play?
Wrap-Up: Nucky may be back in business thanks to Sleater’s sinister IRA connections, but with three episodes left this season, and Randolph unwavering in her case against the former county treasurer, there is so much that could still go wrong once he’s back on U.S. soil.
Last Episode: Marshal Your Resources