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"A man. A plan. A canal. Panama."
Well, there shouldn't be any more complaining about the snail's pace! Last week's episode of Boardwalk Empire wasn't just sensational storytelling but "The Milkmaid's Lot" also saw the end of the Season 3 slow burn with the aftermath of the explosion putting everyone on edge, especially Nucky who got it a bit worse than the others. Well, except for Billie. Poor Billie. The installment's storytelling, a mix of intense character development on top of the rapidly unfolding conflict, was very reminiscent of Terence Winter's best work on The Sopranos and I couldn't help but think of "Funhouse," the food poisoning episode, as a correlative. Besides Nucky's lasting concussion struggles, "The Milkmaid's Lot" also perfectly set-up what should be an electrifying conclusion. Last week made it seem like Nucky would be embarking on his war alone until Gyp's craziness (the hat!) made me think he would end up forcing Rothstein and the rest to reconsider the former's offer to take down the loony general and his king, Joe Masseria. Now, all I can think about is what was in the box...
"You owe me."
Yes, I said that a bunch of times in Brad Pitt's voice but before we get to the devastating part of the the week, let's check in on the several other story lines also coming to a head in "A Man, A Plan..." starting with General Crazy in Tabor Heights. Even with the new developments in New York, I still say Gyp's actions will end up forcing the rest to join Nucky's efforts unless he just completely self-destructs under the weight of his own stupidity-hubris-psychosis. He's still got a strangle hold on Tabor Heights and after a shaky shipment, possibly because of some rogue waves says cousin Franco, Gyp agrees to meet with an Irishman about the next one. We know that this bootlegger was sent in by Nucky to gather information, which Gyp happily divulges (he's got a Navy for Christ sake), but he also ends up giving the know-it-all cousin another chance to put his foot in his mouth and that's one too many. Actually, one misstep is usually too many with Gyp so the cousin lived longer than most and provided one of the most gruesome deaths ever on Boardwalk Empire. It was full-on Joe Pesci baseball bat action in Casino. Maybe worse. Will his own men get fed up?
"Would you pay a dime to see this?"
The episode opened with Richard and Julia, our newest romance and only remaining bright spot, on the beach with their surrogate son Tommy watching an event that looks taken right from the frames of George Melies. And while King Neptune addresses the crowd, a bunch of bottles from that rogue wave wash ashore putting a temporary damper on the festivities. Well, for the 'family,' I'm sure the people fishing out the stray whiskey bottles were more than happy with the disruption. Back at the Sagorsky's, Julia stresses the importance of a father figure before, right on cue, her own drunk dad comes bursting in and ruins the moment. It's interesting that Paul was willing to apologize to Richard but not to his own daughter. No matter, she finally steps over his worthless body and follows Richard back to the beach for a lovely evening of kissing, just kissing, under the Boardwalk. Hey, it's like that song! It's nice to have this storyline to offset all the tragedy unfolding around them in Atlantic City, although I'm sure it won't be long before that evil witch Gillian ruins something. I also wouldn't mind seeing Richard kill someone. Just saying.
"Am I under arrest?"
There are actually a lot of parallels between Richard's story and Van Alden's (or George Mueller's, whatever you want to call him these days) with both soldiers being thrust into a head of the family type role. In Van Alden's case, his new wife is incredibly industrious but it doesn't take long for their moonlighting to catch up with them. George/Nelson is able to unload a few bottles of his Norwegian booze but Capone has such a tight grip on his stretch of Chicago that it's too big of a risk for the buyer to not turn him in and he soon finds himself sitting with a fork in his face. Typical crazy Van Alden first thinks that he's being arrested and then turns to quoting the bible when confronted by the threatening gangster. Lucky for him, Van Alden has no emotional investment in O'Banion's operation and doesn't mind turning snitch to save his own skin. Adapt or die is pretty much the life story of Nelson George Van Alden Mueller and he once again finds himself joining the winning side. That's right, I don't think O'Banion will be around much longer. In the bootlegging business or, well, on Earth. Call it a hunch.
"A panicked man drowns both himself and his savior."
Nucky doesn't just have his well-being and livelihood to worry about. His legal troubles aren't over either, even with the deal he's got going with our girl Esther Randolph and the ever resourceful Gaston Means. "A Man, A Plan..." sounds like the perfect title for the latter's life story (a lot of life stories this week) and he calls Nucky early in the episode to warn him about what an imprisoned Jess Smith might say. I thought the whole point was for Remus to bring in Smith to bring in Daugherty but apparently the possible collateral damage is too much to risk? Instead of allowing Randolph to take Smith et al down in court, Nucky pays Means to take care of him and the corrupt FBI agent also milks another forty thousand out of the Attorney General, making it all look like his idea. Quite brilliant really. That is until he arrives to do the deed and is met by the barrel of Jess Smith's gun. Good thing Smith is devastated by the betrayal of his childhood friend Daugherty and clearly doesn't see any way out of the situation except for a bullet to the brain. Even the best laid plans can use a little, uh, luck.
"What's the difference between a catfish and an Italian?"
Unfortunately for Owen (and everyone), luck happens to be on Masseria's side when it comes to Nucky's other plans. Owen is late for the meeting, for reasons we find out later, but once assembled Nucky begins dispatching his right-hand men all around the east coast. Owen and Agent Z are sent to New York to dispose of Masseria at his bathhouse. Eli is to head to Chicago to meet with Torrio (presumably Capone) and Mickey must get started on bringing Andrew Mellon's distillery in Overholt to life. Nuck also meets with McCoy, the Irish undercover bootlegger, and Chalky. Mr. White is looking to expand his business onto the Boardwalk and fill the empty space left by Babette's. His idea is treated with about the same amount of respect as he was shown last week when Nucky, in a concussed daze, asked for a shine. For a man who's often complaining about having to go it alone, Nucky sure is quick to burn bridges with the only true allies he has. Or had, since Chalky reminds his boss that he's not the only one 'who be thinking.'
"Fine. We have deal."
Harsh but true words and it isn't long (about 4 a.m.) before Nucky is reminded of that fact. How could Nuck have known that another refusal by Rothstein, this time to Lucky and Meyer, would result in his hand being shown? I'm curious how they knew the details of the hit on Masseria or whether they just put the Italian boss on alert? Perhaps they fed the Feds the information on his habits? Who knows, either way some serious damage has been done. Like I said, it started with the boys bid to move on a heroin deal being denied by Rothstein and, desperate for cash, Lucky and Meyer end up turning to Masseria for a new partner. These two New Yorkers are slippery and as part of the deal they offer up the details from Nucky's meeting in "The Milkmaid's Lot." The last we see of Masseria, he's entering the bathhouse right before Agent Z and Owen arrive to do the job but, of course, things don't exactly go as planned. I wonder what the ramifications, if any, will be for Lucky and Meyer? That's probably Season 4 business, for now they'll sit on the sidelines getting rich dealing herion while their backer fights a war with their former associates.
"We'll give it a go at least."
I don't even know where to begin with Margaret's story line in "A Man, A Plan...". The title doesn't leave much room for women and fittingly she's even more helpless in the face of the men in her life's plans than they are. I guess this saves Katie the disappointment of her fiancé running away with another woman; she can have a much more romantic story now. Margaret, not so much. I loved the way we saw her and Owen's exchange twice, the first interrupted by Nucky's meeting which sends him to NYC and the second revealing the full extent of the situation. Dr. Mason was a little late with the diaphragm. She'll probably rethink his offer to go off-hospital and continue teaching women's education, don't you think? Even the nun thought they were doing good work. She didn't know about the diaphragms though. Or the upcoming abortion. What?!? That's just a guess since Owen is now in a pine box (I'm sure he'll get a nicer one next week) and she probably hasn't had sex with Nuck in the right timeframe. Although, it looks like he already suspects something is up thanks to her reaction. Owen! No! Can't blame her, I did the same. He was a great character and helped fill the Jimmy void. Who's next?
Boardwalk Empire returns with Episode 11, "Two Imposters," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Created by Terence Winter, it stars Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Vincent Piazza and Michael Stuhlbarg.