Following three seasons of the incredibly charming, though massively flawed Gillian Darmody as a staple of the show, she was a welcome returning character after being absent in Episode 2. After the almost-coup of last season culminating in a massacre in The Artemis Club, Gillian’s brothel, she’s left with no business to run and a bloody and abandoned house of ill repute.
Her new heroin habit that we were introduced to in Episode 1 has taken hold. While she’s been entertaining Mr. Piggly-Wiggly and keeping his polite company, he’s becoming accustomed to her charming ways. At his request, she attends a client supper posing as his wife. During a night-cap at a nearby diner, she’s recognized (at this point it’s a wonder she’s not “recognized” everywhere she goes, considering the past we’ve seen) by the friend of a boy she slept with and then murdered through an overdose last year. A boy who looks just like her disappeared and assumed dearly departed son Jimmy (a staple of the first two seasons of the show). Gillian has demons, and after bumping in the bathroom, Roy seems to start to understand her need for mystique.
Richard comes to us in a stark 180 from most times we see him. This week, he’s burying the pistol, seemingly holding up on his claim that he wants no more of the killing. He and Emma have seemed to have reached a familial level of comfort with each other but while he is cleaning out the barn and scrounging for nursery room baubles, we’re shown the monster inside. Moments after picking up two stuffed animals for the nursery, he takes off his face mask (placed there to hide the atrocities of war). We see that he truly has two faces and that no matter what he says, there is a monster waiting underneath the mask. Seconds later, Carl Billings of the botched train agreement shows up. Even though it looks like Billings and his muscle have the drop on Richard, Richard deftly stabs the goon with a knife he found and secretly stuffed up his sleeve while rummaging for baby things. Priorities, Richard, priorities. While on the ground, his mask falls off and Billings holds a gun to Richard’s face, telling him he is doing him a favor. In what seems to be Richard’s last seconds, Emma comes to the rescue, shooting Billings from behind and losing hope for Richard all at the same time. Her last words to him as he leaves are that he needs to hold himself to account.
Being home certainly didn’t last long for Richard and Emma, which is a shame because I hoped that Emma was going to be one of the strong women characters this season.
Dr. Narcisse’s motivations are further explored in Episode 3. At the head of a roomful of black men, Narcisse extols the importance of brotherhood among the “Libyans” (what he calls African Americans) in owning absolute power. Moments later, (my favourite) Arnold Rothstein shows up to talk business. Now that Narcisse has stuck his foot in the door of the Atlantic City gangland, he’s wasting no time in trying to make moves. A tapestry with the words “Universal Negro Improvement Association” hangs loudly behind Rothstein as Narcisse deals for heroin (a lot of it) and a promise that he’ll only sell to black people.
As a self-imposed “partner” to Chalky’s growing success, the Onyx club and hotel, Narcisse brings by the alluring songbird Miss Maitland. While Chalky is busy being twitterpated (along with the white folks in the audience), Narcisse slithers into what until now seemed like another tight spot. In a plot point parallel to Gillian’s, Narcisse frames Chalky’s right-hand man and talent scout murderer as a “brute,” but later propositions Dunn with a plan. Heroin can make great men fall, even the great Chalky White.
Lead man Nucky has spent the entirety of his screen time in Florida, for business, not pleasure – this is Nucky Thompson we’re talking about. At the request of his associate, McCoy, Nucky goes to a speakeasy called Sally’s to talk to the big man around town, Tucker, about land deals that Nucky should buy into. Not impressed with Tucker’s backwoods attitude and Southern drawl (Nucky is an elitist, naturally), he sends McCoy into a binge of booze and coconuts (seriously, he drinks so much coconut water in this episode). He needed Nucky to make a deal with Tucker to settle a bad deal he owes the man for, but he unfortunately couldn’t lead Nucky into the deal.
Bored and out of booze, Nucky returns to the speakeasy and meets its namesake, Sally (Patricia Arquette). When we first met Sally, I was hoping she’d coalesce into the strong woman character we’ve been wanting. And, in all of her Patricia Arquette coquettish glory, she charms and intrigues Nucky by telling him that, “Anybody that says money don’t buy happiness don’t know where to shop.” She also observes that while Tucker is, in fact, a dummy, with enough money and the right partners, you can do pretty much anything you want down in Florida. With that, a deal is struck and my heart sings at the emergence of a good solid lead woman character.
Since Nucky loves smart and savvy women, I see a lot of Sally in our futures. Nucky calls old Coconut McCoy the morning after to tell him that he’s had a change of heart and wants in on the deal. But, on McCoy’s end, we’re treated to a gory murder scene after a scuffle with Tucker the night before. As the camera pulls back on a machete embedded in Tucker’s coconut, we watch a moth hovering around the dim bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Nucky is ultimately drawn to the promise of big money in the swamplands of Florida. But, more importantly, like a moth to a flame, he is drawn to Sally and her bold, yet understated intelligence.