“A man! A plan! A canal! Panama!” It’s called a “palindrome,” and it basically sets the tone for the entire show: It’s a phrase that means the exact same thing backwards and forwards.

            The words are uttered by hapless Agent Sawicki in Nucky’s office, as Nucky prepares to take down New York crime boss Joe Masseria. The whole confusing idea of a palindrome is perfect for this episode, titled, “A Man! A Plan!” In a series of double-crossings, we have a hard time wondering which promises are real and which are setting them up for ruin.        

Nucky orders Owen Slater to head up the plan to murder Masseria, Gyp Rosetti, and their cronies. Slater will kill Masseria as he heads for the “Turkish baths,” a Thursday night tradition. He’ll sneak up behind him in the steamy air and… well, you get the picture. At least, that’s the plan. Nucky has already huddled with Gaston Bullock Means. If Means has a conscience he sure doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He cleverly gets both Nucky and Attorney General Harry Daugherty to pay a $40,000 fee to murder corrupt political aide Jess Smith. Smith is unraveling mentally, and he doesn’t need more than a push to jump off the deep end. And when he blows his own brains out, you know for sure that Means is going to find a way to take credit for it.

Meanwhile, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano visit Masseria to help them deal heroin, after New York mobster Arnold Rothstein snubs the deal. Masseria is mulling that one over as he plays bocce balls with friends. We’ll just have to wait and see if bootlegging turns to heroin dealing.

Gyp Rossetti is laying out the plans to transport 1,200 cases of hooch, and he feels he has it down to a science. Nothing can go wrong he says. Of course, one of the lackeys, Franco, pipes up, “there’s always the ‘rogue waves,’ you have to worry about.” They can derail a boat in seconds flat. Ouch. We know by now Gyp does not like to be corrected. You just know that guy is going to pay. It’s just a matter of when.  More on that later.

Let’s take a look at the subplots: Richard Harrow and Julia Sagorsky spend a romantic night on the beach.  Richard, half of his war-torn face covered in a mask, whispers, “I wish I could kiss you.” And of course, they do. Not all is paradise however.  At Julia’s home, her liquored-up father is seething at the idea of her carrying on with someone whom he considers a circus sideshow freak. The two men come to blows, and Richard, getting the better of the old man, spits out “Apologize!” When the old man does, Richard isn’t satisfied. “To HER!” he screams. And the old man obliges. This is either going to be a doomed relationship or Richard’s salvation. We’ll have to see.

Elsewhere in the romance department, Margaret and Owen plan their lovers’ escape. Margaret blurts out “Saint Louis,” but it could be anywhere. Just hours before, Owen also had pledged his heart to “Katy,” one of the “girls,” so we have to wonder just how genuine his intentions are.  Alas, neither woman will ever know the answer to that question because Owen meets with a tragedy of his own. More on that later.

You’ll remember that former prohibition-agent-gone-rogue Nelson Van Alden took to selling booze door to door in the Norwegian neighborhoods. When he sells it to one client and it goes well, he returns, only to find two men waiting to cart him away. “Am I under arrest?” he utters. He’ll wish he was: Turns out it was Al Capone’s men, and Al is not happy. He knows that Van Alden is working in tandem with his mortal enemy Dean O’Banion. Where this story line is going is anyone’s guess. I’m just glad to see they brought actor Micheal Shannon back. Next to Gyp, he may look like a choirboy, but never underestimate his nuttiness or his demons.

Back at the hospital Woman’s Clinic, a nun tells the doctor and Margaret that the Bishop has decided this “experiment” has “run its course.”  The clinic is shut down. The doctor slips Margaret two diaphragms – one for herself and another for her friend. When the doctor puts his hand on Margaret’s forehead and declares her “clammy,” I immediately guessed the diaphragm is a bit too late. At the end of the show, in a flashback, we see Margaret tell Owen she is pregnant with his child.

Let’s revisit that poor lad who had the gall to question Gyp’s success in delivering the hooch.  Gyp is on the beach, regaling the men gathered there about his father, who died at the age of 50 because he was a bricklayer. He refused to come home smelling of fish, Gyp says.  We get a slight insight into Gyp’s psychopathic behavior. Well, at least we know the guy has “daddy issues.”

The camera pans out to show the rest of the beach. We see only Franco’s head – he’s been buried up to his neck in the sand, and the tide is coming in. Connoisseurs of cheap horror flicks will recall a similar scene with Ted Danson, in 1982’s Creepshow episode, “Something to Tide You Over.” I have a feeling one of the writers saw that movie and was just itching to use that particular punishment in another scene one day. It is, after all, a deliciously diabolical way to murder someone.

When his cousin begs Gyp not to let Franco die this way (“Break his legs!”) Gyps grabs a shovel, and says “For you.” C’mon…. did anyone REALLY think Gyp was going to dig Franco out? Instead he pummels Franco’s head like a delirious golfer. We get another glimpse into Gyp’s disturbing personality when he walks past the cousin and says, “You owe me.” Does he really think he cut poor Franco a break? There’s also a harbinger of bad things to come when bottles of booze start washing up on the beach, where Richard and Julia had spent the night. Hmm.. maybe Gyp should have listened to that warning of “rogue waves.”

I’m so glad they brought Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) back for a substantial scene. We saw Chalky briefly last week, and Nucky, suffering from the effects of a concussion when Babett’s Supper Club on the Boardwalk was bombed, mistook him for a shoeshine boy. How demeaning. Now that Nucky is clear-headed, Chalky proposes the idea of building a supper club for the African American community where Babett’s used to be. It won’t be a “juke joint,” Chalky says. It will be elegant, with customers wearing gowns and tuxedoes. But we’re talking the 1920s here, and racial discrimination was still blatant, no matter how swanky the clientele. “There’s a line and you know that,” Nucky tells Chalky, who replies “That line can move.” I’m not so sure it can without Nucky’s blessing. We’ll see.

As the dust settles for now, Nucky turns to his wife to make amends. She and the kids have been holed up at the Ritz Carlton for several weeks. It’s for their protection, Nucky said. Tonight, he sits down with Margaret, saying, “A new start from here on out.”

“It is,” Margaret says, visions of Owen in her head.

Nucky is fast asleep when Eddie rouses his boss at 4 a.m. “There’s a delivery,” he tells Nucky.  They open up a huge crate, and the look on the mens’ faces is enough to tell you it’s not good. Margaret comes out of her room, and before Nucky can have Eddie close the crate, Margaret sees the bloodied body of her lover, Owen, inside. When she becomes hysterical – a bit too hysterical for seeing the body of one of Nucky’s men – her husband finally realizes what has been going on under his nose all along. Call me cynical, but even if Nucky is fond of Margaret, he will not play the cuckolded fool. As a cherry on the topping, the writers offer us a flashback scene between Margaret and Owen. She tells him she is pregnant with his child.

So much for “plans.”