New York mob head Arnold Rothstein rarely raises his voice.
Do not let that fool you into believing there is a gentle man underneath that gentleman’s veneer. In Sunday’s episode – titled aptly, “You’d Be Surprised,” Rothstein has had it up to here with Nucky’s failure to deliver on their bootlegging deal. '
Until now, the wonderful actor Michael Stuhlbarg portrayed Rothstein with an almost graceful restraint, belying the power he actually wields in New York gangster circles.
You’ll recall the bloodbath Nucky’s men took last week when as they attempted to deliver Rothstein’s supply. Rothstein’s New York rival, Gyp Rosetti, set up an ambush that culminated in a bloodbath of Nucky’s men. And no liquor for Rothstein.
In Sunday’s episode, we finally see Rothstein (acted with a fine bare-knuckled restraint by actor Michael Stuhlbarg) take off his verbal gloves. White with rage, he confronts Nucky with a barrage of insults against the man and his home state. Rothstein berates Nucky for being puppy-sick in love with showgirl Billie Kent – so much so, he says he’s losing his reign on his bootlegging operation.
“Do you have any idea how weak that makes you look?” Rothstein asks Nucky rhetorically. He doesn’t stop there. Rothstein barely raises his voice, but he is seething with anger, delivering a scathing review of Thompson’s failings.
“You,” Rothstein tells Nucky, “are a convenience of geography and supply…… and you have failed to deliver…..” Rothstein continues his tirade against Nucky, chastising him for failing to oversee bootlegging operations in “… NEW JERSEY – a state I have little interest in or affection for? You expect me to start a war in NEW YORK - where things actually matter?”
Ouch. As Nucky tries to salvage what he can from last week’s bloody fiasco (11 drivers killed by Rosetti’s ambush), the world continues to revolve around him, and not in a good way. Rothstein and Rosetti break bread at Tabor Heights – the coveted cut-off point for refueling in Jersey before heading to New York.
Rosetti, who answers to the big man, Joe Masseria, is more than willing to put Nucky out of business. But the real conundrum behind the scenes is actually taking place in a Senate hearing, where the possibility (oh no!) of corruption in the Harding administration is raised.
Actor James Cromwell portrays Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who answers the grilling questions with cryptic replies. A possible solution to keeping the corruption intact? Throw a bootlegger to the dogs to show the public Prohibition is working.
Anyone want to guess who that bootlegger might be? My bet is on Nucky. Nucky’s woes are growing like weeds. He takes his mistress Billie out to the finest dress shop in Atalntic City – “Belle Femme” – the one where his wife, Margaret had worked before they married.
Margaret is merely trying to hand out pamphlets to the new “women’s clinic.” Proprietor Madam Jeunet, who usually carries herself with a flamboyant grace and exaggerated French accent, suddenly stumbles and twitters nervously. We soon see why.
This is bad timing. Who appears from the dressing rooms but Nucky himself? Of course, Margaret knows Nucky is having an affair, but it really doesn’t help when Billie follows him out of the dressing room.
In this scene there is a mannequin propped against the wall; for a second I thought it was Madam Jeunet, frozen in embarrassment. In a monument to understatement, Nucky tells Margaret,
“I’m sorry for demonstrating bad form.” In other words, he’s sorry he put his mistress up in his hometown, but he’s not sorry about having the affair. The scene is tense, to say the least, but you’ve got to love Margaret, who unflinchingly hands Billie a pamphlet from the women’s clinic, noting, “I doubt if you’re free in the evenings, but…..” Speaking of Billie, her vaudeville show is so bad, it’s canceled.
If Nucky spent as much time worrying about his whisky business as he did about his mistress, things would be just dandy. But no. He takes it upon himself to “persuade” star Eddie Cantor to step into the leading man’s shoes. He knows a big star is just the ticket to keep the show going. It was great to see Chalky White again, enlisted by Nucky to do the “persuading.”
It turns out that it was Eddie Cantor who made the song “You’d Be Surprised,” a hit back in the Prohibition days. Gyp has some free time on his hands and it turns out he enjoys erotic asphyxiation for his sexual pleasure. His partner is none other than the waitress he had been eyeing some nights before at the local diner.
Turns out that Gyp’s proclivity for sexual danger can off him in more ways than one. One night, as the couple are “enjoying themselves,” a paperboy comes to the hotel. Oddly, he looks like Meyer Lansky’s young hit man, Benny Siegel. In any case, as you might have guessed, it’s no paperboy.
The lad shoots his way through the hotel corridors and Gyp, nearly unconscious from the belt around his neck, barely makes it alive. He has no compunctions about letting his lady love take the bullets for him. In a brilliant directorial move, the camera pans above the carnage, as the nude Gyp makes his way through the rooms and the bloody bodies.
The body count isn’t over. Disgraced G-man Nelson Van Alden’s world is getting smaller and smaller as his paranoia grows ever larger. Last week he escaped from a raid at a speakeasy, only to be let off the hook by a corrupt Prohibition agent by the name of Emmett Coughlin.
The agent stops by Van Alden’s apartment and slips his business card under the door. Van Alden and his mail bride Sigrid are on guard. Unfortunately, they’ve read the man all wrong. Coughlin isn’t out to nail Van Alden; he merely wanted to complain about a bum iron that Van Alden had sold to him.
But before Coughlin can take a second breath, Sigrid wails him over the head, nearly knocking him unconscious. Van Alden (the deliciously inscrutable actor Michael Shannon) is shocked but only for a minute. “Avert your eyes,” he tells his wife as he pulls out a handkerchief and suffocates the man.
Now, they have a dead body on their hands. What to do? What to do? Van Alden (who now goes by the name George Mueller) thinks quickly. He recalls the inadvertent favor he did for florist/gangster Dean O’Banion. Van Alden knows O’Banion is really a gangster, so he has no compunctions in telling him he needs a favor.
“I must dispose of a body,” he declares bluntly. And of course we have Gillian, who is living in a dream world of her own making. She’s running the Artemis, a brothel, but she is barely making ends meet. Remember, Nucky fatally shot her son, Jimmy Darmody at the end of the last season.
And yet we do not know for certain whether Gilliam believes he is dead, or, as had been suggested, just re-enlisted in the Army. The dilemma here is that she can’t get her hands on any of Jimmy’s inheritance money until he is declared legally dead, according to Leander Whilock (Dominic Chianese). I leave you with one possibility to ponder: Now that Nucky’s affair with Billie is out in the open, what are the chances that Dr. Mason and Margaret land in each others’ arms?
The sexual tension between the two were palpable, even when he introduced Margaret to his fiancé. What a delightful revenge that would be for Margaret.