Okay, let’s be up front here, guys. The majority of us have been somewhat disappointed with the lack of action on Boardwalk Empire. Well, Sunday night’s episode, “The Pony,” made up for it, literally with a bang.
Let’s start with the ending: A huge bomb explodes on the Boardwalk – where Nucky and his crew were to dine at Babbett’s Dinner Club. Let’s see, who would know where they would be and at what time? Ah yes, bitter Gillian, who feels her murdered son Jimmy got the short end of the stick just happened to mention Nucky’s agenda to his arch-enemy, Gyp Rosetti of New York, who has sworn to take out Nucky, Alan Rothstein and Lucky Luciano. Was it mere coincidence that cutlery salesman George Baxter cornered the men outside Babbett’s where the bomb is detonated?
The end of the episode leaves more questions than answers. How badly is Nucky hurt? Who survived? And just as the bomb was about to detonate, Nucky shares an intimate moment – actually nothing more than an adoring gaze – from his mistress, the sweet, bohemian, Billie Kent now wearing a blond wig because she “wants to feel like someone else.” Billie was standing just steps away from the blast. Did she survive?
Now that we’ve started at the end, let’s back up a bit. Nucky is a busy boy. Nucky’s in his office with Owen and Eli when Eddie bursts into the room carrying a paper headlining Jimmy Darmody’s death notice - from a drug overdose. This is befuddling, since Nucky murdered Jimmy months ago and disposed of the body. Of course, we all remember that Jimmy’s mother, Gillian, anxious to get her hands on her son’s inheritance, drowned a look-alike in her tub and produced him as her dead son.
When Nucky confronts Gillian over something he knows to be false, she ends up throwing a drink at him. “You exist in this town because I allow you to,” Nucky sneers. Gillian, seething, seeks out a “chance” meeting with Gyp. And although we don’t know it yet, the plan is in motion.
Nucky has breakfast the next morning with federal prosecutor Esther Randolph and George Means, who passes on some information to Nucky in his effort to arrest and indict George Remus instead of him. Nelson visits the exclusive gentleman’s club where Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon is relaxing. There, Nucky tells Mellon that they have “an enemy in common:” Attorney General Harry Daughtery. Nucky urges Mellon to arrest Daugherty for “circumvention of the Volstead Act.” He justifies his own bootlegging operation by saying he’s just small potatoes. Ironically (and almost in the same breath), Nucky proposes to Mellon – who secretly owns a huge distillery – that Mellon allow him to take over the business. Mellon need never be involved, Nucky promises. Mellon snubs him, and asks a busboy to escort the “interloper” out. But it’s all for show. Later Mellon calls Nucky on the phone to say it’s a done deal.
You’ll remember that disgraced prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden had to take a job selling irons. He’s like a fish out of water with the rest of the sales gang and when they do some roll-playing for the job, his fellow salesmen tease him mercilessly. We all knew that Van Alden was wound tighter than a piano string and it was just a matter of time before he snapped. He uses the demonstration steam iron to plant a kiss on the offending salesman’s face. You can hear – and I swear, feel – the steam iron cooking raw skin. It’s mind-blowing. (Sorry, but it’s hard to feel sorry for that taunting, mean, bully who pushed Alden’s buttons.) Van Alden isn’t done yet. He goes on a rampage, throwing typewriters and anything else not nailed down. Needless to say, his job at the iron factory is done.
Oh yes, there was that matter of the DEA agent that Van Nelson mistakenly killed last episode, when he ends up at florist/mobster Dean O’Banion to help him get rid of the body. He’s just made a deal with the devil. He must procure two cases a week to pay O’Banion for disposing of the body. O’Banion’s men set up a moonshine still in Van Alden’s apartment and show him how to use it. How low this holier-than-though, self-righteous Christian man has become. I still think he’s the scariest character on the show, but I can’t help but feel sorry for him.
He heads home, ready to scram before the cops arrest him for assault. But his mail-order bride says she has a better idea: Brew their own liquor while also brewing for O’Banion, and she can sell it to the Norwegians in town. She did it for her father when she was a girl. That way, they can buy a house and her husband won’t even have to work.
Lest we leave out the romance, we must mention that Margaret and Sleator get it on again; they started on a country drive to pick up a tiny pony (hence the name of the episode) for Margaret’s daughter, Emily, who has polio and can’t walk. They end up in a rainstorm, racing for their car, where they make love.
And poor Nucky, enamored as he is with Billie. When Nucky pops by for a visit, he finds Billie entertaining a showman and showgirl. He doesn’t mind the girl so much, but, he mimics a line from Mellon about the man: “Show the interloper out.” (We gain an insight into the sting that Nucky must have felt when Mellon called him an ‘interloper.’) ”
Billie is busy with screen tests. She wants to be a star. And who can blame her? Her father was an abusive lout, belittling her at every chance he got. She left, determined to claim the star that was rightfully hers. She doesn’t want to be a “pony.” (She explains that’s one of the many, faceless dancing girls in the background. It’s another nod to the episode’s title). Nucky knows how hard show business can be, but his love knows no bounds. He presents her with money – no questions asked – in an envelope. She’ll receive that envelope every day from now on. His way of saying he believes in her.
And Johnny Torrio is back from Italy, regaling all who will listen about the tragedy of Pompeii. He’s suddenly more reflective, thinking that money isn’t everything. It seems Torrio has mellowed somewhat. It seems he’s now OK with Al Capone taking charge with Dean O’Banion. No love lost between these two. Me thinks blood will be shed.
And now I’d like to end this blog with a nod to the opening scene: Gillian “mourning” at the casket of her dead “son,” just as he is about to be lifted into the crematorium. She puts on a good show. But Richard Harrow, Jimmy’s buddy-in-real life, utters perhaps the only the honest, heart-felt words: “Jimmy deserved better than this.”