Terence Winter jumps past the boring last half of the 1920s straight to 1931. Nucky is trying to set himself up to be a legitimate business man when Prohibition is inevitably repealed. He is in Havana meeting trying to secure a distribution deal with Bacardi. Chalky breaks out from a prison work detail. Margaret bears witness to her boss's suicide. Luciano makes his move on Masseria.
Old Man Duggan: The first of eight episodes is brought to us by scribe Howard Korder and the always wonderful Tim Van Patten of White Shadow fame. This is the 19th episode that Korder has had a hand in writing. Van Patten has been at the helm for 17 episodes now, and as usual it's a visually compelling episode from the opening sequence. We open underwater with boys swimming for change being ceremoniously thrown from the pier by the Commodore while Elenore Thompson reads a poem extolling the virtues of honesty. Of course Nucky the Younger comes up coinless, as continues through the episode, showing the paradoxical nature of trying to live one's life striving to always be honest.
It starts in Atlantic City of 1884, and then we join Nucky in the "present day" Havana 1931. The Depression has hit. Hoover's presidency is about to wheeze its last dying breath and with it will go the asinine foray into Prohibition that the Temperance Movement foisted upon America. Nucky brings fictional Senator (unless my Google searching skills fail me) Wendell Lloyd to Cuba to help him broker an exclusive distribution deal with Bacardi.
Wordy Ginters: Fate threw everything at the Bacardi family.
OMD: Nucky and Lloyd talk about a report from Wilkerson laying out the failure of the Volstead Act. The federal judge presiding over Capone's tax evasion case was James Wilkerson. I can't imagine it's the Wilkerson mentioned in conversation, but Wilkerson took the seat vacated by Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
WG: The image of hard-ass Landis swatting flies in Eight Men Out is forever seared in my brain.
OMD: "Wendell, if America's not about starting over, where's the hope for any of us?" Nucky's plea, though tongue-in-cheek contextually, gets to the heart of what this episode and presumably this season will likely be about, especially given the flashbacks showing the end of the innocence.
WG: Bromides about the land of opportunity are built on second chances, hard work, and honesty. The grimy flip side, if you want to be a well-heeled swell, is that it also requires some ruthlessness, luck, and that your character can shift from straight-and-narrow to bent, angled, and winding.
OMD: Chalky White's wearing stripes. I have to admit, this isn't where I figured he would be to start the season. His scowl is right where I thought it'd be, though. It would appear as though Nucky is somewhere in eastern Maryland, and Nucky and his new friend--the man who doesn't understand "how they fit a body's voice inside that little box"--are off to Thurmont, which lies smack dab between Hagerstown and Taneytown, to split money in a house.
WG: I'm curious to see how Chalky's tracks from the end of Season Four to the first episode of Season Five get filled in. If memory serves, Harrow's botched attempt at making Narcisse un-alive ended up in Chalky's daughter's accidental un-aliveness. Nuck ultimately was on Chalky's side, despite the Masseria/Luciano/Narcisse heroin three-way power play. Any chance Chalky is taking on a different identity to protect himself? Considering Narcisse's connections, the safest place for Chalky may have been a Maryland chain gang.
OMD: You are correct on Chalky's daughter falling before Chalky's eyes. That shot of him sitting on the porch by himself in Havre de Grace and his reaction to the shooting itself certainly implied that he believed he was on his own, in large part because he thought Nucky didn't have his back anymore. I would guess he's in the clink on account of his own misdeeds, after all it seems that making tracks to Havre de Grace is as good as removing yourself from the game. Anything's possible though.
The Front Page, the movie that Mr. Bennett saw before offing himself in front of Margaret and the rest of the office was the first film adaptation of the play that was later turned into His Girl Friday. The More You Know. I loved the bizarre meeting with Mr. Conors. The Crash is not treating him well.
WG: You can't have a period piece about the Depression without some hotshot broker leaping out a window or otherwise making himself un-alive. The turtle swam away. I was mildly surprised the writers didn't have him commit the deed via machete to head. How many poor bastards in this series have been felled by way of edged weapon to the skull?
OMD: Good point on the celebrity, though there's time in this season for that to be incorporated.
Your old pal, Ian Hart of Luck, has been getting some work. First The Bridge and now as Nucky's bastard of a dad.
WG: Goddammit that show was going to be so good. RIP Dennis Farina.
*both pour one out*
OMD: Speaking of old friends, Jim Neary is the kid Nucky fights with. For those not looking shit up on the internet, Jim Neary was the alderman who double-crossed Nucky and succeeded him as County Treasurer only to get offed by Jimmy and Harrow. Clearly he was a pissant through and through.
WG: Beautiful symmetry there. I dug the flashback scenes. If previews of upcoming episodes are to be trusted, and they most surely can't, the flashbacks may continue. Two things I liked about those scenes: the subtle difference in the way they were shot. They had a marginally different lighting or camera effect to let you know we were back in the 19th Century, but it was a very delicate touch. I also liked how young Nuck scenes typically showed him physically below the swells. Whether he was looking up from the ocean shallows to the dock begging for coins, or literally on the beach below the Commodore's porch, it was a nice visual way to hammer home his early station in life and his ambitions. "You are a fisherman's son, and you are trying to catch what?"
OMD: As always, Van Patten bringing power dynamics into shot framing. I listened to Winter on the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, and it sure sounds like the flashbacks will persist at least for a while. They seem interested in showing from whence Nucky came. Given the apparent thrust of the season, it makes sense.
Running into Meyer Lansky in Havana with the "wife" is obviously significant. There are no coincidences in the carefully crafted world of Boardwalk Empire, and one could logically conclude that the attack on Nucky was Lansky's doing. Given Don Maxime Ronis's interest in Nucky's bodyguard, might they be in cahoots?
WG: No doubt they are cahooting. Conspiring. Gallivanting unwholesomely. Nucky stumbling over the beard who played Lansky's "wife" at the end of the episode nails it down.
OMD: While Lansky's trying to take out Nucky, Luciano and Siegel take out Joe Masseria. For those needing a briefing on history, this is the height of the fifteen month Castellammarese War between Joe Masseria's faction and Salvatore Maranzano's. Maranzano is really doing the bidding of Sicilian capo Don Vito Ferro, who wanted to take control of the American Mafia. Beneath it all, though, Luciano and the Young Turks are wanting to forcibly change the guard and ouster the Mustache Petes who were too beholden to tradition. With that going on in New York, it isn't hard to see why Luciano and Lansky might want to topple Nucky as well, though I'd hardly say that Nucky is anything other than forward-thinking, one of their primary issues with the old guard.
WG: You had me at Moustache Petes. The fact that Nucky isn't from Sicily or Italy is probably enough to put him on the wrong side of the fence.
OMD: Some of the friction between the Mustache Petes and the Young Turks apparently came from the Mustache Petes not being willing to work with non-Italians/-Sicilians. Mustache Petes.
The blood brothers scene wouldn't happen in the Age of AIDS, would it?
WG: How many of those guys ended up with tetanus or gangrene? 90% ? I instinctively reached for a bottle of hand sanitizer.
OMD: Capone ultimately died from complications from syphilis, didn't he?
The distant bongos in the hit scene really struck a Touch of Evil chord. I was hoping that we'd get a single tracking shot from when Arquimedes dropped them off to the ear getting lopped off. I will gladly point out that this is twice that a machete has been implemented by Terence Winter & Co.
WG: Gotta be more than twice. The ear souvenir was badass. Dude took care of that threat without so much as wrinkling his suit.
OMD: "Where's the sense in looking back? It never does any good." "'Be honest and true, boys.'" Feels like this exchange between Sally and Nucky is significant, doesn't it?
WG: It most certainly does. Somehow, they are sideways. Or perhaps Sally is wired, straight through her ample bosom, to be comfortable with means and ends.