Bookended by images of whiskey bottles washing up on the shoreline like dead soldiers, perhaps this poetic image was fitting for the antepenultimate episode of “Boardwalk Empire” number ten, “A Man, A Plan...” where all contrivances went astray.
Progressing at a deliberate pace all year long, the sometimes slow-moving, but still involving season three has been picking up its pace of late. While major events took place in the last two episodes -- a mistress was killed in the crosshairs, a major bootlegger was indicted and war brewed on the horizon -- tonight’s circumstances were much more deeply felt, bordering on tragedy.
The vows pledged in the “The Milkmaid's Lot” were no joke. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), seemingly recovering from his concussion -- Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) tried to assassinate him with a bomb in the heart of Atlantic City -- learned that Rossetti was being backed by the New York mobster Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi). With no choice left, realizing that the factions were closing in on him and that Masseria would sanction such a move, Nucky declared war on Masseria.
Calling in all his allies, or at least the cutthroats he does business with -- Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Meyer Lanskey (Anatol Yusef), Waxy Gordon and more -- one by one all the men bowed out. But undeterred, Nucky moves forward. He has a three-pronged plan. His brother Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham) is sent to Chicago to try and convince mobster Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) to give him men in the fight against Masseria. Now that George Reamus (Glenn Fleshler) has been indicted for major violations of the Volsted Act by the feds, Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks) is sent to take over his bootlegging operation, which will make for an additional revenue stream. Thompson’s informers have dirt on Masseria: he goes to a bathhouse every Wednesday evening in Little Italy. Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) volunteers to take him out, even though Nucky seems resistant to send in his top lieutenant to assassinate the mobster.
Meanwhile, Margaret Thompson’s (Kelly Macdonald) vow to Sleater was meant with conviction as well. Their affair is back on and she’s prepared to leave Nucky and escape with Sleater. While there was some question as to whether their plan would have to wait a bit longer, Margaret and Sleater are moving full steam ahead. He’s got a scheme in mind. She’ll leave with the kids to St. Louis in the middle of the night. So as not to arouse suspicion, Sleater will keep on doing what he must and in six weeks will duck out as well, and join her. He’s fully aware that if Nucky knows they have left together, he will relentlessly chase them until they’re dead.
In Chicago, George Mueller (Michael Shannon) finds himself in a major pickle. Selling his booze to the local Norwegians at his wife’s behest now that he’s lost his sales job all seems to be going well until armed men pull him aside. It turns out he’s selling aquavit in Al Capone’s (Stephen Graham) territory, and Capone wants to know why someone working for his rival Dean O’Banion (Arron Shiver) would be dumb enough to sell in his district. The answer is that Mueller is trying to make a buck for himself and his boss doesn’t know. Either way, Capone’s got ‘em by the balls and proves the point when he sticks a fork in Mueller's face and threatens to plunge it through his cheek unless he tells the mobster everything about his operation. It seems Mueller’s going to have no choice, and despite all his wishes to keep away from “evil,” he keeps getting sucked in.
George Remus may have been handed down on a plate to Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson) and the Feds, but other problems have arisen. Jess Smith (Ed Jewett), the aid of the Attorney General and Chief Law enforcement officer of Prohibition Harry Daugherty (Christopher McDonald), paid Remus for his corrupt boss in exchange for turning a blind eye. However, Remus has receipts, and Smith is being turned into the patsy. But loose lips sink ships, and Gaston Means (Stephen Root) is fully aware that he, Daugherty and Nucky could also sink if Smith talks. A plan is dispatched to “take care” of Smith, one that doesn’t sit well with Daugherty who’s known the man since they were children. Means tries to pull off the job himself, but Smith gets the drop on him unexpectedly. While Means’ silver tongue can only get him out of so many situations, it looks like he’s finally done, but Smith tells him he’ll show him just how easy it is to kill a man, and then turns the pistol on himself. It’s a heart-racing sequence and one of the most quickening in a long time.
The women’s prenatal care health clinic is suddenly canceled at St. Theresa's Hospital, and the formerly disapproving nuns are a bit ashamed to admit the classes have been educational. Dr. Douglas Mason (Patrick Kennedy), once an adversary of Margaret Thompson, has definitely been charmed by her unwavering resolve. He suggests that Margaret and he can set up and resume the prenatal care classes elsewhere, free from the watchful eye of the St. Theresa’s Hospital nuns. But Margaret has one foot out the door; her head full of dreams of freedom, St. Louis and starting over free from crime and madness with Owen Sleater. Sleater, meanwhile, argues with his lover, the fetching maid Katie (Heather Lind). Onto them, she’s jealous and suspicious of the way Margaret favors him and quietly flirts with him. She tells him to prove her suspicions wrong. Sleater suggest that he will, it at the altar. Katie seems elated.
Meanwhile, gangsters will be gangsters, and will do anything for a buck. Luciano and Lanskey pitch Arnold Rothstein a lucrative heroin deal, but with war on the horizon, he says their proposition is poorly timed, and the conservative and wise gambler will see how this all plays out before he starts placing any major bets. Unbowed, the two men come to Joe Masseria and pitch him the same deal. A nationalist, the Italian Masseria doesn’t trust Lanskey, who's Jewish, but the young men entice him with information they might have heard about what Nucky Thompson’s up to and some of his potentially earthshaking moves. Intrigued, Masseria buys in, but just to find out what plot Nucky has hatched.
Eddie Kessler (Anthony Laciura), Thompson's dutiful assistant, wakes up his boss in the middle of the night. It’s 4 a.m. and a package has arrived. Too tired to be suspicious, the men take a crowbar to pry the massive box apart just as Margaret enters the foyer to see what the noise and fuss about. In a gasp-worthy moment, the lid is lifted to reveal the dead, bloody body of Owen Sleater. Nucky tries to shield the sight from Margaret, but she sees it and is horrified. Screaming and wailing like it’s the end of the world, Margaret is too traumatized to hide her feelings, and in this disturbing moment, their dalliances dawn on Nucky.
Margaret, distraught and in pieces, flashes back to their earlier conversation, only this time, the full scene is played out. Margaret is in love with Sleater, but wants to know that he’s not just another lying scoundrel like Nucky. He tells her to test him, and Margaret tells him she’s pregnant with his child. Sleater, beaming, does not waiver with concern and says, “I hope it’s a boy.” It’s as tragic and as brutal an ending we’ve seen in the history of the show. And if “Boardwalk Empire” took its time earlier in the season, it’s now on a full-speed course to some kind of major collision that will likely leave few standing.
-- Bits & Pieces
- Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), absent most of the season, unexpectedly pays a visit to Nucky, and it seems like a portentous one. He pitches a negro club like the ones in Harlem, hoping to take the spot of Babette's, the supper club that was destroyed in the bombing. He calls it an opportunity, but Nucky says there’s a dividing line that won’t move and shoots him down. With a war about to start, this is the last thing on Nucky’s mind. Chalky seems pretty damn resentful and alludes to his own plans...
- Richard (Jack Huston) and Julia Sagorsky’s (Wrenn Schmidt) relationship is blossoming nicely. However, they hit a kind of hitch when her father, Paul (Mark Borkowski), the belligerent drunk, acts up again. Insulting Julia with cutting remarks, Richard, who has threatened the man before, finally snaps, laying him out on the ground and practically choking the life out of him until he apologizes. Julia, usually defensive of her father, doesn’t seem to hold it against Richard later when they have a romantic evening at the beach. They kiss, and it’s both touching and awkward because of Richard’s disfigurement.
- While Gyp Rosetti has been the catalyst for a lot of the shit hitting the fan, the hot-headed mobster doesn’t have a huge role in “A Man, A Plan...” other than losing his cool once more, this time killing the cousin of his lieutenant Tonnino (Chris Caldovino) for talking out of turn and insulting Rosetti in a meeting. In typical volatile fashion, Rosetti’s revenge for this mild insult is barbaric and unmerciful.