Happy Memorial Day!
In case we forgot, this season’s theme is not getting what you want or wanting what you have. And this episode has most of the characters confronting that.
It’s a beautiful morning as Atlantic City gathers by the shore for the holiday festivities. As Nucky’s nasal whine slithers about how Atlantic City was built for good times, women from the Ladies Auxiliary hand out poppies to honor the fallen soldiers. Jimmy’s there with Angela and Tommy and they look every inch the loving young family. Nucky winds up his speech with a toss to the day being about remembering. It’s all so slickly heartfelt.
Nucky goes on to thank the Commodore’s cronies, who lurk behind him like ghouls, as we scan the crowd to highlight Eli and the treacherous aldermen. After a quick shot of Fleming we’re back with the cronies to establish that Nucky’s surrounded by enemies. Nucky continues, praising the Commodore and to make sure we get the heavy, heavy symbolism we switch to Jimmy when Nucky calls the Commodore the city’s “doting father,” but Jimmy’s inscrutable because he’s nearly dead inside.
With the preliminaries out of the way, Nucky introduces Attorney General Daugherty, since he’s now on the hook for Nucky’s election rigging, and while Eli and O’Neill share an ominous glance, Nucky goes off script to stick it to Jimmy, calling him up on stage to read the names of the fallen soldiers and saying, totally not at all insincerely, that Jimmy “can speak more directly to the ideals of sacrifice, service and loyalty more than [Nucky] ever could,” and while he’s being sneaky and backhanded, he’s not wrong because twisted as he may be, Jimmy does understand those qualities better than Nucky ever will.
I’d have thought he’d have a better poker face.
Angela proudly says she didn’t know Jimmy was going to speak, but Jimmy’s dark cloud passes over as he says he wasn’t. He walks up, forgetting he has a limp as he climbs the stairs, then asks Nucky if he thinks Jimmy can’t play this game. Nucky really hasn’t a clue how much has snapped in Jimmy since the war and says “I don’t think you even know the rules.”
Jimmy’s nervous and shaking, but a quick glance back at Nucky prompts Jimmy to speak from the heart as he sees other wounded vets in the crowd. He says he’s no hero, that what he did over there was make it back. That they fought because they thought democracy was worth saving, and they “fought for their mothers, their sons, and their wives.” It’s a touching moment and even Nucky grudgingly applauds.
As Jimmy reads the names of the fallen we see Richard in his room, looking at his damn scrapbook and inspiring a million gifs. He’s gotten quite good at collaging and the book is filled with tableaux of happy couples and children playing, clearly a life that Richard is resigned to never having. He seems content looking at the images, though, and to the strains of The Rose of No Man’s Land (because we might not love Richard quite enough, yet) he turns to the page with Angela’s portrait. It’s next to a photo of Richard in his uniform before he shipped off to war, and Jack Huston looks like Errol Flynn with his unmarked face and slicked back hair.
The face that launched a thousand fan sites.
Seeing who he was upsets Richard and he puts down the book, moving to his window to pack his rucksack with a lunch. He grabs his shot gun and hat, pausing to look in the mirror, then leaves. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, just another day in the lonely life of Richard Harrow.
Over at the country club, Nucky’s shit talking Jimmy to Daugherty, calling his speech a load of bull, but his tone sounds more jealous than anything else because Jimmy has all the sincerity Nucky’s trying to fake. Nucky whines about jumping through hoops to get Jimmy into Princeton then he couldn’t hack it and enlisted. Nucky sees this as a failure on Jimmy’s part, calling Jimmy a patsy and that the world doesn’t owe him anything, but Daugherty could not give less of a rat’s ass about any of this. His golfing knickers are tight.
He also only has one day in Atlantic City and he’d rather not spend it listening to Nucky bitch about some kid. They’re in town to talk about Nucky’s legal problems but that can wait until later, it’s a holiday and Daugherty wants to play some golf. He really is slimy. Nucky gets a bug up his ass because Daugherty doesn’t want to indulge his whining about Jimmy, but Daugherty shows why he’s the Attorney General by breaking it down that saving Nucky’s ass isn’t the easiest gig since, you know, he’s guilty but think they’ve found the right federal prosecutor to get the case thrown out of court. Seeing that no one will help him pick the Jimmy scab, Nucky resigns himself to playing golf.
Do I look like I play golf?
Daugherty takes his leave for the links while Nucky finishes getting dressed. Daugherty’s henchdog walks over to Nucky to ask about George Remus, because we probably forgot that weirdo bootlegger from the premiere. Henchdog is meeting with George Remus and wants to know if George Remus is reliable. Nuck tells him George Remus is a bootlegger and henchdog knows that. He just wants Nucky to put in a good word with George Remus. He does know Nucky bootlegs, right?
With the Commodore out of commission and Gillian, Jimmy and Eli hiding it, the cronies are reconvening elsewhere. Uncle Jun compliments Jimmy on his speech and even Eli croaks out a “very patriotic” in between puffs on his cigarette. The cronies are all very proud of Jimmy and the other soldiers from WWI except for a particularly snarly crony named Parkhurst. He calls sentiment cheap and says he’s the only one in the room who “ever wore the blue” during the Sioux Wars in the Wyoming Territory. He proudly tells how he and his troop of 32 men with their rifles decimated a tribe of 2000. Jimmy rightly calls it a slaughter, but Parkhurst doesn’t see any shame in it and says that’s all war ever is.
There’s some underlying tension between Jimmy and Parkhurst after that exchange so Uncle Jun throws some gasoline on that fire by bringing up how Parkhurst turned WWI into a money making proposition selling chipped beef to the army. Eli’s trying to schmooze by saying it was a good move but Jimmy’s dark cloud has settled in and he says he ate chipped beef every day for five months and he’d rather eat dog turds. Nice. The cronies laugh but Parkhurst blands that he doesn’t care because he got paid. Jimmy gets in one last dig calling Parkhurst a “great man.”
Parkhurst is tired of sparring with Jimmy and turns the topic to money. This revs up the cronies since they’ve sunk a lot of money into Jimmy’s operation and haven’t seen a dime since Nucky blew up Mickey’s warehouse. Jimmy says all new businesses have kinks but Parkhurst sees a weakness and exploits it. Eli tries to intercede but the cronies want to talk to the Commodore. Jimmy says he has the Commodore’s authority to speak for him, but a nasty old cur like Parkhurst won’t let that go and says he never heard a word about that. Jimmy sasses him that he must not have been listening and when they all come down on him he makes one joke too many for Parkhurst who thwacks Jimmy with his cane and tells him to learn about respect. Something tells me he will live to regret that.
This won’t end well.
Jimmy and the bleeding gash over his left eye take their leave and Eli takes off after him. Jimmy’s all “Fuck these people,” never really grasping that the time to say that was before he decided to work with them because he’s knee deep in it now. Eli points that out but Jimmy’s too sour at this point to think clearly. He takes his cheap shots at Eli before telling him to stay out of Jimmy’s business, and Eli starts shaking with bitter resentment because he can’t even get a little respect from a punk like Jimmy.
Richard’s hitchhiked off to the woods, so maybe it wasn’t business as usual for him. He walks through the clearing until he sees a pheasant, and because we may not be entirely in love with Richard he gets a dreamy look in his eye as he watches the pheasant then looks at the birds circling in the trees. Something’s not right.
But that’s of no matter, it’s time for inappropriate behavior between Gillian and Jimmy. He’s at her place having her dress his wound because why have your wife do that when you can go home to Mommy? She goes all Lady Macbeth and points out how no one’s allowed to treat Jimmy that way, berating and humiliating him. Jimmy’s becoming resigned to a bad fate because he’s in the red to the cronies and Horvitz, but Lady MacGillian just keeps telling him that he will not be disrespected and he has to make that clear. Because it all worked out so well for Macbeth. Jimmy tells her “All right, Mom,” which will never not sound creepy and she wants to know if he’s trying to get her to shut up or if he understands what she’s telling him. He says both which settles her down somewhat and she strokes his cheek in a way that even creeps out Jimmy.
She’s still his mother.
Feeling she’s won that battle, Gillian tells Jimmy about how John D. Rockefeller is a self-made man worth a billion dollars, because all she really cares about is who will take care of her of now that the Commodore is useless and her looks are beginning to fade. Jimmy doesn’t care about Rockefeller, though, so he snots at her and she snots back. Then they share a cigarette in a not at all creepy way.
Back in the woods with Richard, who’s settled in for his lunch. He cuts a few slices of apple then, remembering that we haven’t had a macabre but loving shot of the mask, removes it so Tim Van Patten can get the money shot of it nestled in the leaves. Richard continues to eat, but we get an awkward angle because CGI-ing his wound is expensive.
He looks around at the tops of the trees and his face gets agitated as he starts to breathe heavily. Then he puts on his dog tags and lies down in the leaves and this is taking a very sad turn. Luckily, it’s also shot in profile so we can appreciate Jack Huston’s beauty from the side as Richard stares up into the gray sky, even though it was a sunny day at the top of the episode. As Richard lies on the ground, we see the barrel of his shot gun come into frame. OH NOES, RICHARD!
The profile that launched another thousand fan sites.
He slowly puts it in his mouth and moves his hand to the trigger, and this is becoming too much. Fangirls across the internet are designing new steampunk backgrounds for their Richard Harrow shrines when a dog growls off screen, distracting him. He can’t kill himself in front of the dog so he tries to shoo him away but before the dog leaves, he swipes Richard’s mask. Richard tries to reason with the dog and even points his gun at him, but the dog just runs off with the mask. Richard plaintively calls after the dog telling him he needs his mask back. And like that, Richard’s back with us, running off after the dog.
Nucky comes home in a mood because he got sunburned playing golf. White people problems. Margaret’s anxious. Eli’s there and Nucky’s not happy about it. He storms into the sun room to confront Eli and it was with this scene I realized that for all of Eli’s resentment of Nucky’s wealth and power, I never considered what Nucky resents about Eli: His home and his big, boisterous family. Each brother has what the other thinks he needs.
Babysitting your bitter brother was not part of our agreement.
Eli’s more prone to envy than introspection, though, so he looks around the fancy digs and asks how many places has Nucky lived. Nucky doesn’t know exactly because it’s been a lot, and Eli says he’s only had three homes after childhood, his bachelor apartment, a tiny bungalow with June and the big house they have now. Eli sounds almost happy so Nucky rains down on him with a dismissive “I was there for Christmas.”
Realizing sentimentality was never Nucky’s strong point, Eli changes tacks and brings up the offer from the second episode and Nucky cuts him off at the knees saying the offer’s off the table. Eli appeals to Nucky’s familial bond, but Nucky just won’t give Eli that inch he always wants and cuts him down saying “Unless you have something to say aside from the fact that God distributes his gifts unequally, this conversation is over.” Damn, God must have given Nucky an extra big box of bitch.
In exchange for movie star looks, Nucky took the giant box marked “asshole.”
Eli is pretty desperate, though, so he pleads once more, telling Nucky he knows who’s testifying against him. Nucky doesn’t care because he thinks Daugherty will get his case thrown out of court, so he rubs that in Eli’s face. Eli lets his bitterness take over and calls Nucky a nasty prick. I guess that was another of God’s gifts to Nucky since he doesn’t even argue, he just calls Eli a frightened little boy.
Nucky demands more from Eli to prove that Eli’s repentant and Eli gives up that the Commodore had a stroke and Gillian and Jimmy are trying to hide it. Eli’s on a roll calling Gillian batty and the whole situation messed up, but Nucky interprets Eli’s comments as blaming him, so Eli tells him no. He had a lot going on taking care of Eli and their father. Nucky angrily interjects “and Mabel,” and now both brothers are at cross paths. Eli’s crying and apologizing and Nucky’s steaming with rage.
Crying? Constipated? Pulling a pube?
Nucky implies that he’s forgiving Eli and he’ll take care of everything but he needs one more thing from Eli. To bend down and kiss his shoes, and now Nucky’s rage is boiling over. He’s literally slapping Eli around telling him and Jimmy and Gillian and the Commodore to all fuck off, but in much more colorful language. It was an awesomely vulgar speech and Buscemi delivers it like only a New Yorker could.
With that the brothers have finally unleashed all the resentment they’ve been bottling up for the last 20 or so years and are swinging wildly. Nucky gets the better of Eli for most of it, but Eli eventually pins Nucky to the ground and starts choking him. Nucky manages to bite Eli, but Eli’s still the sheriff and armed so he reaches for his gun. Things aren’t looking good for Nucky until another shot gun barrel wends its way into the shot. It’s Margaret. She orders Eli out.
Peggy’s got a gun.
Margaret’s terrified but Eli leaves without incident. Once he’s gone, though, rather than thank Margaret, Nucky turns his bitchery on her and says the next time she points a gun to make sure it’s loaded. Circling back to the theme, Margaret, having finally settled into the comfort of financial stability, sees the genuinely awful side of living with Nucky and wonders if that is what her life will be. When you get what you want, you don’t want what you get, Margaret.
Richard’s huddled by a tree, without the dog or his mask, when a man with a shot gun comes up behind him telling him not to hide. I watched enough Sopranos to immediately wonder if some big Russian is going to fall out of a tree or if Silvio’s waiting in a clearing, so I’m worried for Richard when the guy tells Richard to come with him. Richard picks up his shot gun and follows, anyway.
But they’re just walking to the guy’s campsite where another man and the dog are waiting. When the first man tells Richard he was making a lot of noise out in the woods and scaring off “the varmints” Richard’s good manners prompt him to apologize. Seeing Richard sitting there trying to shield his face, the older one tells the younger one to give back the mask. With his mask back on Richard relaxes and the older one tries to draw him out, asking if the mask itches (a little bit) and if he wants some “tree rat” (squirrel). Their camp is festooned with tiny, skinned carcasses. The scene has now shifted from a Sopranos episode to The Hills Have Eyes so I’m still worried about Richard. Except the older guy shares his hooch with Richard, so it’s just a couple of New Jersey woodsmen hunting small game and I feel like a jerk.
Pay no mind to the carcasses behind me.
The men, Glenmore (the older guy) and Pete make small talk about how Pete’s never been to AC but Glenmore went once and saw a flying horse. Pete tells him he is easily bamboozled, and I love that word so they’re good eggs to me. Pete gently questions Richard about why he’s out in the woods and Richard makes up a story about hunting and leaving his supplies by a pond, but even with half a face, he doesn’t have a poker face and Pete’s not buying it. Instead of pushing, though, he convinces Richard that if they’re going to eat he may as well join them and they dig into the squirrel. Yum.
Nucky’s at the Ritz meeting with Daugherty and Eddie manages not to follow Daugherty around cleaning up the slime trail. Daugherty introduces Nucky to his new prosecutor, Charles “Chip” Thorogood who does not appear to be bad to the bone. Nuck’s attorney, who’s still nameless so I’m calling him Mensch, lets Nucky know that he’s met with Thorogood and then explains the plan to save Nucky’s ass. Thorogood will motion to move the case to federal court because the Mann Act violation constitutes an ongoing criminal operation across state lines. They present their case to their judge on the 3rd circuit but the DOJ decides since they’re swamped prosecuting Volstead violations that Nucky’s case is too small for prosecution and the charges are dropped. Oh, the clusterfuck of letting a fringe element dictate policy.
Nucky wants a guarantee, but Daugherty tells him bluntly he won’t get one. Nucky, still refusing to accept any blame for his actual crimes, just tells Mensch this was all his idea. He’s a mensch, though, so he’s fine with shouldering the blame and takes his leave. With that settled Daugherty settles in for a debauched night in Atlantic City on Nucky’s dime.
Heh. I’m still an asshole.
Back at camp and Richard’s still being unfailingly polite asking what to do with the squirrel bones. Pete says not to feed them to the dog, so Richard pockets them and the men exchange another pitying glance. Richard asks what the dog’s name is and they don’t know. He lives in the woods. Glenmore says “He knows who he is,” and Pete calls the dog an old soldier who keeps on fighting. Richard starts identifying with the dog, whose face is also scarred, and asks what he’s fighting for, but it doesn’t really matter. Richard’s found his spirit animal and it’s a grizzled old German Shepherd.
Pete asks Glenmore what his plans are and he’s heading home. He also asks Richard. Richard agrees that it’s time to head back to town and Glenmore offers a ride. Then Pete gives a pointed but thoughtful speech about what the woods are for. They’re not for foolishness. They’re for hunting and fishing and watching the birds, and more than anything else, they’re for living. He asks Richard if he understands, and Richard, seemingly touched and lost in thought, says yes. Aww, Tin Woodsman’s going to rust.
Eli’s in the garage with his son, Brian, and boozing it up because at this point he thinks he has nothing left to lose. He’s miscalculating. The boy wants to know if Eli can fix something and Eli slurs “Your old pop can fix anything,” but Brian gives him the side eye because no one has faith in Eli. Eli takes a swig from his flask and Brian asks if his throat still hurts, thinking the booze is throat medication, but probably not really. Someone knocks on the door. It’s O’Neill. Eli sends Brian off to ask a neighbor for a non-existent tool so he can speak with O’Neill privately.
Be glad there’s eight of you so I can ignore you all equally.
With the kid gone, O’Neill freaks the hell out because he’s heard that the Commodore had a stroke and that leaves the aldermen screwed. Eli denies denies denies, but O’Neill keeps wanting to go see the Commodore. O’Neill lays it out and brings up being protected from Nucky and the combination of booze and bitter, seething resentment brings out the ugly in Eli. He gets aggressive with O’Neill, who was never much of a fighter to begin with, so he just freaks out more, telling Eli that if he doesn’t back off he’ll go straight to Nucky. Eli snaps and swings a monkey wrench, catching O’Neill in the throat and crushing his trachea. Panicked, Eli bashes O’Neill’s head in with the wrench and this really has become a Sopranos episode.
Eli sobers up quickly once he realizes what he’s done. Figuring out a plan, Brian comes back to the garage saying the neighbor didn’t have the tool. Eli’s freaking proper at this point but tells Brian to go back in the house because he doesn’t want the little boy to get what he has. Brian’s only about nine, though, so he listens to his father.
Jimmy’s home with Angela and she’s asking about his head. He lies to her and says it feels like he went another round with the car door, pretending he got the gash in an accident and not when some crazy old geezer thwacked him across his face with a cane. Angela asks Jimmy if he meant what he said at the ceremony, but Jimmy can’t figure out where she’s going so he breaks it down that he’s there and they’re safe and well fed and what else is there? Angela thinks there should be more but Jimmy knows he’s practically dead inside so he gives her a kiss that’s only slightly more passionate than the ones he gives his mother, which take that as you will.
Surprisingly sweet, coming from Jimmy…
Someone knocks on the door and Angela’s used to asking if there’s a reason not to answer it. Angela answers as Jimmy grabs his gun. It’s Richard. And I didn’t notice it the first time, but Jimmy looks relieved and like he’s going to cry. Angela asks why Richard wasn’t at the ceremony and he says he wasn’t interested. She sees he’s fidgety and asks if he’s all right, but he wants to talk to Jimmy.
As Richard walks into the sun room, Jimmy gently puts his hand on Richard’s chest to look at his mask, which is clearly the worse for wear. Richard looks away and Angela, seeing that the two men aren’t going to talk with her around, walks off. Jimmy’s honestly worried about his friend and asks where he was. Richard says he went for a walk and Jimmy says he should have been with him, and this is the first time all episode where Jimmy doesn’t seem angry or disappointed or dead inside.
Richard says they’re both there now, seeming not to want to talk, so Jimmy asks if he’s up for a job. Richard looks almost hurt and stares at Jimmy. Jimmy has infinite patience for Richard and asks if anything’s wrong. Richard wants to know if Jimmy would fight for him. Jimmy comes over to Richard and says of course he would, “right down to the last bullet.” Richard, with renewed purpose after meeting his spirit dog and two nomads, says “Then let’s get to work.” As Jimmy holds Richard’s head, the two men share a moment that’s deeper and more intimate than any Jimmy’s shared with Angela.
…but Richard’s the one he’d die for.
Eli polishes off his booze and finally leaves his garage with O’Neill dead on the floor. Meanwhile, Parkhurst has received a package and is ogling and fondling a beaded fabric in case we didn’t know what a creep he is, yet. He thinks he hears a sound outside, but won’t be dissuaded from examining the cloth. His butler Alexander comes in to ask where he’ll take his cocoa and Parkhurst absently says he’ll take it upstairs then asks Alexander if he knows what the fabric is. It’s a Sioux breechcloth and Parkhurst reduces the entire, bloody time down to a blithe “they thought they could stop bullets with magic…fine beadwork, though,” and he really is vile.
Alexander leaves the old creep to fondle and ogle the cloth, but Parkhurst hears someone come back in the room. Assuming it’s Alexander he says he’ll have his cocoa then, but psych. It’s Jimmy there to teach Parkhurst a lesson. Jimmy smacks the old man’s hands with his cane as Richard comes in. The old man wants to know who Richard is and as Jimmy’s shoving the breechcloth into Parkhurst’s mouth, Richard says he’s a soldier then scalps him. Continuing the Sopranos level gore, we actually see the scalp pulled off as a woman screams. What?
The Sopranos, Chapter One: The Phantom Menace
Margaret’s heard the scream, too, so it wasn’t at Parkhurst’s. After being spooked by Eli and Nucky’s brawl, Margaret checks on the children but they’re sleeping soundly. Katie and her wild Irish curls sneaks up behind Margaret to see if everything’s all right. Margaret asks if Katie heard the scream, too, but Katie’s all “No ma’am, I heard you.” Realizing that everyone’s fine, Margaret says it’s just been a strange day and Katie excuses herself as Margaret watches her leave.
Katie opens her door and we see a hairy, naked Owen smoking in her bed. Wouldn’t Margaret smell the smoke? He jokes about it being the “lady of the manor” and Katie’s the one who woke her when she screamed. Katie, showing she’s not nearly as sweet or naïve as she seemed, snits that Margaret’s probably snooping around and thinks she steals the silverware, which she should because her wages suck. That explains Margaret’s fat envelope last week. Katie continues, saying that Margaret asked her to call her family and even they don’t like her.
Are you going to talk ALL night?
Owen doesn’t join in on her bitch session, so Katie tells him he shouldn’t be in her room…at that hour. He points out he shouldn’t be there at all but “why do something half wrong.” He’s got her head all turned around so she takes off her robe and asks him not to get her in trouble, and Owen, like every good, horny guy confronted with a hot, naked girl, says “He doesn’t dare.” But they’re Catholic so good luck with that.
Eli’s dragged Deputy Halloran over to help with O’Neill, but the body’s covered so Halloran just hopes it’s not someone he knows. Eli drones that it’s Mary Pickford and Halloran actually believes him. Eli tells Halloran to just help him get the body in the car and he can leave because even Eli can’t deal with that much dumb.
It’s well into the night and Nucky’s at his desk as Eddie dozes in a chair. Daugherty and Thorogood are still drinking and carousing in the suite. Thorogood opens the office door with a hooker in tow asking for more supplies including oysters, big ones. Thorogood and the hooker walk off, leaving the door open, giving Nucky an eyeful of Daugherty that’s just too gross to describe. Nucky tells Thorogood to close the door but can’t look away because some things once seen cannot be unseen.
We close with Eli burying O’Neill by the side of the road. The car’s headlights illuminating the hole and shining on the sea grass in the background, giving the whole scene a van Gogh effect with the inky midnight blue sky segueing into the golden stalks and finally Eli’s tiny figure as the reaper.
A beautiful shot for a gruesome act.
So that’s it. This episode drove home the season’s theme and everyone is miserable except, strangely, Richard. He’s found his place and his purpose, horrible though it may be. And I really hadn’t considered that Nucky’s need for a family was part of his own bitter resentment of Eli. Eli’s anger was always so obvious, but seeing both brothers wanting what the other had made their impasse more permanent. Eli will never be respected but he has a family that loves him and Nucky will never have that love no matter how much money and power he has. Of course, Eli’s Eli so he makes a much bigger mess of his life than needs be and it will be interesting to see where it takes him.