Nucky Thompson escaped death last week when Babette’s Supper Club was bombed, but he was not left unscathed. Just when he needs his usually scheming mind as sharp as a needle, he finds himself walking around in a fog.
Having suffered a concussion from the explosion, we see Nucky drifting in and out of mental acuity and consciousness. He doesn’t recognize his own brother Eli, mistakes Chalky for a shoeshine boy, and scares the dickens out of his 7-year-old stepdaughter Emily at her birthday party by acting plain whacky. He repeats himself, continually asks what time it is, and mixes his business plans with the birthday party plans. Sadly, he merely has flashes of his mistress, Billie Kent, who died in the explosion and he doesn’t immediately realize she’s gone. Later in the episode – during a clear spate of consciousness – he murmurs in despair, “She’s dead… and it’s my fault.”
As bleak as this episode, titled “The Milkmaid’s Lot,” is for Nucky, it has its moments of hilarity. More on that later.
Nucky knows he has to go to war with New Yorkers Gyp Rosetti and Joe Masseria; he calls a meeting with Arnold Rothstein, Waxey Gorden and a coalition of the rival gangs. If he can convince them to go to war against Rosetti and Masseria, he’ll have it made. He calls a meeting that night at the Ritz Carlton to convince the gangs to back him up and take out Masseria and Rosetti. The buildup to the big meeting cannot be understated. As long as Masseria and Rosetti have a stronghold on Tabor Heights, the Atlantic City liquor will not get through to New York. Rosetti actually holds a town meeting in Tabor Heights, telling residents he will pay them $200 a month for their silence, should they notice anything illegal going on. Rosetti, played by actor Bobby Cannavale, is all bluster and ego and relishing the role of dictator.
When a lady asks about Bible camp, Gyp snaps, “Bible Camp’s cancelled. I’m not really doing questions-and-answers right now.” When Gyp visits the town hall/museum, he is intrigued by a wax statue of “Mad Anthony Wayne,” bedecked in military regalia and a grand three-corner hat. When the historian explains to Rosetti that Wayne was a brigadier general in the Continental Army, Rosetti seizes on the name “Anthony,” and speculates he must have been Italian. Uh, don’t think so.
After a fainting spell and a bout of near-projectile vomiting caused by the concussion, Nucky tells his wife Margaret: “You have to understand: No matter what you think of me, there's no walking away. It doesn't work like that. I do it to them, or they do it to me. That's all there is.” Now one would think demure Margaret might caution Nucky. Instead, she gives him a pep talk, and tells him to get out there and attend to business. The first tip-off that things will not go Nucky’s way is when he is notified that Joe Torrio “sends his regrets.” Without Torrio’s backing, it’s going to be a hard argument to win.
Remarkably, Nucky holds his own, faltering just once, but manages to pull off an air of leadership. Unfortunately, the coalition of gang leaders follows Rothstein, and snub Nucky. Enraged, Nucky loses his normal composure and continually shouts petulantly, “I won’t forget this! I won’t forget this!” One has to wonder how much of Nucky’s stumbling can be attributed to the concussion and how much his true character is showing after all.
Things are a disaster on the home front as well. Nucky almost catches Margaret and Owen in a romantic rendezvous, but his mind is so foggy he suspects nothing – not even that the two are planning to run away together. Some place “far away,” Margaret notes.
The only bright note this week for Nucky is that his plan to have bootlegging attorney George Remus and Attorney General Harry Daugherty arrested is finally coming to fruition. Federal agents raid Remus’s house and what could have been played as a gunfight or bloodbath instead is like a scene from a Marx Brothers film. Amid squawking birds and slick floors, the federal agents chase Remus – clad only in underwear and a robe (which is pushed wide open by his girth) in the bootlegger’s lavish aviary. His annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person (“George Remus doesn’t get arrested!”) merely adds to the fun. But make no bones about it, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Esther Randolph arrives, Remus is ready to spill his guts right there. And she’s more than willing to listen. It would mean taking down Daugherty, her corrupt boss.
In a sweet subplot, disfigured war veteran and gangster Richard Harrow strikes up a romance with Julia Sagorsky. When they attend a social at the local American Legion Hall, and a wiseguy dares Richard to dance, Richard surprises everyone – including Julia – with his suave moves on the dance floor. It’s a shame there’ll be hell to pay later on with Gillian for taking the night off.
Perhaps the coup de grace of silliness in this episode is when we see a gun-toting hand break the glass that surrounds the statue of “Mad Anthony Wayne,” and steal the three-pointed hat.
Come on, now, seriously ... is anyone at all surprised when we see Gyp Rosetti wearing the brigadier general’s hat as he struts down to the beach to survey the liquor transfer at Tabor Heights? We all know Gyp is going to go one way or another, but I sure hope they hold to him for as long as possible.
I think the writers relish the idea of dreaming up the names of episodes, knowing they’ll be sending us scurrying to Google to figure out what the heck they’re talking about. As far as I’ve been able to Google, the title of this week’s episode comes from a quote by Queen Elizabeth I: “That milkmaid’s lot is better than mine, and her life merrier.”