Poor Nucky. He seems to be losing his touch. He’s made a series of impulsive missteps that culminated in a bloody ambush of his crew in the latest episode. His rival Gyp Rosetti is one happy hooligan. Things went exactly as he had planned.
Things in general have not been going well for Nucky – not in his bootlegging operation, his home life, or his love life (the latter two are not the same). His biggest gaffe is relying on the dim-witted Mickey Doyle to lead the bootleg delivery to New York. Now that Rosetti has cornered the market on gasoline refills to New York (Tabor Heights), Nucky tells his crew to take the back roads. Doyle tries to dissuade him – the side roads of Jersey back then were primitive and iced over in the winter. But Nucky snubs him.
Leave it to Doyle to improvise and take the straight route to Tabor Heights after all –despite repeated warnings from Nucky’s brother Eli, who, fresh out of prison, finds himself working for Doyle. (A side note: I don’t know anyone who isn’t annoyed by that mouse-twitter of a laugh that is Doyle’s trademark.)
Even before the bloody ambush of Nucky’s men, chaos seems to be popping up all around him. Lucky Luciano is dabbling in heroin distribution in Harlem (on the sly) and is making friends with the New York mobster Joe Masseria.
The “hero” of this episode actually turns out to be Eli, who, despite being snubbed by his brother, takes it upon himself to scout out Tabor Heights. He sees Rosetti’s men and the law enforcement he has in his pocket. Eli even tries to stop Mickey’s convoy from entering Tabor Heights, screaming, “It’s an ambush!” But the drivers follow Nucky’s directions: Stop for no one and nothing. We see Eli trying to start his car when the sounds of gunfire pierce the night. The sounds alone are more chilling than any scene could convey.
In the meantime, Nucky is oblivious to what is going on around him. He is set on tracking down Roland Smith, who he believes is stealing his hooch. When Nucky and Owen Sleater finally find the house – and the hooch – things go from bad to worse. When Smith arrives at the house, Nucky and Owen nail him. But not for long. Corrupt federal prohibition agents who just happen to be in the pocket of rival Waxy Gordon pull up. Nucky, Owen and a rather glib young Smith (who first claims he’s 16, but then confesses he’s 19) are cornered in the cellar for nearly 24 hours. When the agents finally leave, Nucky settles a long-brewing score with Owen. It’s a brief, but deadly exchange. Nucky puts the young man at ease, offering him a cigarette. When Owen turn to look out the window, Nucky fatally shoots the lad.
Owen is clearly rattled. “I thought you were letting him go,” he says in a shaky voice.
“Why would you think that?” Nucky asks, his face devoid of expression.
“I misunderstood,” Owen says.
“As long as you understand now,” Nucky replies calmly, never losing eye contact. We all knew that Nucky felt Owen was getting too big for his britches. It was time to remind him who’s boss. So what if it meant killing a young man?
Nucky’s wife Margaret is gearing up for lessons too. She has convinced the Catholic bishop to open a women’s clinic at the hospital. But she has to get her “pre-natal care lessons” cleared by the resident nun, who finds words like “vagina,” and “pregnant” and “menstruation” appalling. When she hands the nun a sample package of sanitary napkins, the nun is shocked and appalled. Brings me back to my Catholic school days.
Shift gears for a moment: We get to see a softer side to Al Capone. When he sees his deaf son sporting a bruise from a schoolyard bully, he is outraged. He clumsily tries to teach his deaf son to defend himself, but instead brings the boy to tears. He scoops him up in a loving hug. But Al being Al, of course, blood first must be spilled before any lesson is learned. When he hears a mobster friend was bullied because of his “smell,” he promptly tracks down the bully in a bar and pounds him into oblivion. Having gotten the rage out of his system, Al buys a small guitar for his son, and since the lad is deaf, puts the boy’s hand on his throat and plays the instrument and sings for him. I’ve read a lot of books on Al Capone, and I was actually glad to see the “family man” side displayed in the monster that terrorized Chicago. Just like Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos,” even the blackest heart has a soft spot for family.
I must confess I was confused by the title of this week’s episode: “Blue Bell Boy.” So I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I Googled it. Turns out it’s a Mother Goose nursery rhyme that is so cleverly connected to this episode I have to relay it to you. Here goes:
“I had a little boy,
And called him Blue Bell;
Gave him a little work,--
He did it very well.
I bade him go upstairs
To bring me a gold pin;
In coal scuttle fell he,
Up to his little chin.
He went to the garden
To pick a little sage;
He tumbled on his nose,
And fell into a rage.
He went to the cellar
To draw a little beer;
And quickly did return
To say there was none there.”