“They’re gangsters. I’m an advocate for repeal.”
Nope, Nucky’s a gangster as well. He’s in the midst of an attempted reinvention, but the simple truth is that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always be a gangster; he’ll always be tied to his past, to his desires for power and respect and control. It’s just who he his, and attempts to rebrand himself are the marks of a desperate individual looking to go out on a wave of respect, but finding nothing in return.
Take his dynamic with Joseph Kennedy, for example. Nucky’s the one who shows him around the club and Nucky’s the one who orders the veal, but Nucky’s also the one who follows Kennedy’s lead like a lost puppy. Kennedy doesn’t drink, so Nucky doesn’t drink, and we can tell that the latter respects the former because he believes that Kennedy is the model for who he should be post-reinvention. However, respect is lost amidst a wave of attention-seeking desperation, and Kennedy is perceptive enough to sense that a lack of drinking is really taking a toll. He notes that Nucky’s office walls are not adorned with photos or cards or drawings; rather, it’s just an empty life, an empty power grab that’s reaped its benefits, but is now limping off into the sunset. Enoch Thompson is alone, and he needs that drink to get through it.
“Maybelle. Does she know what you are?”
“She knew what I was.”
Here, we get to Chalky White, the man who’s in a similar predicament as Nucky is. They’re in very different social positions right now, but they were once both at the tops of their games; now, they’re trying to figure out who they used to be, who they want to be, and how others see who they are. Michael Kenneth Williams is, as always, a magnetic presence, and the contrast between his demeanor and Buck’s throughout is wonderfully played by the two actors. In every single scene, we can see Chalky contemplating, his inaction and action speaking loudly even as he isn’t physically speaking, and when he steps in at the end, he’s forced to face the question of who he’s become after Maybelle’s death. He’s staring down the barrel of a gun, facing the harsh reality of his situation.
Harsh reality is what brings about the final scene of the episode, in which the Nucky-Mabel flashbacks transition into Nucky turning on the light to find Margaret sitting in front of him. Neither person can escape the environment he or she is in, and neither person will ever do so; after all, they need each other and will use each other in the future, and that is the main reason they reunite. However, even though their relationship has always been tinged with the ugly side of business, they’re currently allies in a world that’s bearing down on them, and that’s enough. For Nucky, Margaret represented stability and family, but it was only temporary. It’s only temporary now, as well, but it’s something.
-Through the Nucky flashbacks, we get the idea that he’s attracted to power and control. He, for example, is enamored with the rich folk, and Mabel’s attitude is attractive to him as well.
-“Mabel” and “Maybelle”. More Nucky-Chalky connections.
-So, what’s up with that Miss Nellie Bly letter? Any guesses?
-The guy in the crowd masturbating is the MVP of the episode.
-The preview for next week shows Al Capone being a badass, so there’s that to look forward to.
Photo credit: HBO, Boardwalk Empire