If the goal of ‘You’d Be Surprised’ is to illustrate just how far beyond the limits of Atlantic City Boardwalk Empire extends, then it is certainly a job well done. From New York to Chicago and even a little Washington, D.C., the episode deals out characters and locations like pulling cards from a deck, but as it hints at larger things to come, it isn’t as random as it may seem.
There’s a lot of information to digest, but it’s not all business; there are a great many face to face confrontations among folks who’d perhaps been delaying such meetings by sweeping emotions under the rug, or simply avoiding the conference altogether. As with all tense meetings – business related or otherwise – passion gets in the way and makes some of the already sticky situations all the stickier. Nucky (Steve Buscemi) is trying to be too many things at once; namely, gangster, father and businessman – but his heart and mind seem only to focus on the retroussé nose of Billie Kent (Meg Steedle) and whatever her problem of the day happens to be. When Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) intercepts Nucky, while he’s buying Billie a new dress, there’s a quiet understanding about what’s really going on, and although Billie tries to cut the tension with a crack about what friends call her, she still ends up with a not-so-subtle flyer advertising Margaret’s prenatal clinic.
Later, Nucky confronts Margaret at home, believing his honesty to be coming from a sincere place. Honest or not, Margaret’s not terribly interested, insisting his desire for Billie (and all women, really) comes from a need to rescue them. Nucky disagrees, contending Billie can take care of herself, but winds up getting involved in her new show by coercing Eddie Cantor (Stephen DeRosa) – with an assist by Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Dunn Purnsley (Eric LaRay Harvey) – into headlining The Naughty Virgin with Billie. Knowing he can’t get away with saying anything to Nucky – lest Chalky show up unannounced again – Eddie asks Billie if she’s ever heard of Lucy Danziger, saying the next girl on Nucky’s arm won’t know who Billie is, either.
Though he’d rather spend his time watching Billie on stage, Nucky still has a very perturbed and liquor-free Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) to deal with. After Eli (Shea Whigham) gives his account of Rosetti’s hijacking of the last liquor shipment, there is some discussion of just who, exactly, the problem belongs to. Rothstein reveals he and Rosetti are currently in the midst of a tenuous cease-fire and there’s more than enough suggestion in Rothstein’s hesitance to deal with Rosetti to infer any situation involving the Sicilian is just a nasty powder keg waiting to go off. He ventures down to Tabor Heights with Lucky (Vincent Piazza) in tow to meet with Rosetti, and brokers what appears to be a deal to shut Nucky out.
In typical Rosetti fashion, he makes it clear that business isn’t the issue; it’s the fact that Nucky insulted him, which inspired this reprisal. Rothstein, patient as ever, listens to Rosetti speak, assuring him that the past insults between them are just water under the bridge, but he’s really just there to learn where Rosetti’s staying, so he can send an assassin to deal with the situation. That means sending Benny Siegel (Michael Zegen, The Walking Dead) to Tabor Heights posing as a paperboy.
The ensuing carnage is made all the more disturbing by the fact that Siegel storms in on Rosetti and a waitress engaged in a little asphyxiation exercise. Despite his target being tied to a bedpost, Siegel only manages to kill the poor waitress and a handful of Rosetti’s men, leaving an enraged Rosetti to storm the hallway in all his oxygen deprived, blood-spattered glory. It’s as primal a scene as Boardwalk has ever presented, and will likely serve as the turning point for the season in terms of the usual escalation of violence.
Such escalation carries over into the Midwest, as Van Alden/Mueller (Michael Shannon) learns the Treasury agent he paid off at the speakeasy is looking to get in touch with him. After Agent Emmett Coughlin pays a visit to the Mueller’s home one evening, sliding his business card under the door, Nelson sits his wife down to discuss just who he is exactly. Much to his surprise, Mrs. Mueller seems to be up to date on the details – pleasantly glancing over details involving his guilt. When Nelson comes home to find Coughlin already in his apartment, he’s again surprised to find out Coughlin’s just there to have a discussion about the faulty iron he’d been sold. Before the details of a return policy can be discussed, Sigrid (Christiane Seidel) bashes the agent’s skull in, forcing Nelson to finish him off and subsequently turn to Dion O’Banion (Arron Shiver) for help in disposing of a body.
Meanwhile, in D.C., James Cromwell steps in as Andrew Mellon, who’s tersely testifying before a congressional committee about the efficacy of Prohibition in general and what Harding and his men have to do with any such shortcomings. Mellon’s testimony has plenty of people concerned and Gaston Bullock Means (Stephen Root) is on hand to make sure news of the proceedings reaches the various players before there’s nothing they can do about it.
Mellon’s role may spell trouble for those in the illegal booze business down the line, but the reprisal for the attempted hit on Rosetti will undoubtedly be the business of the day next time.
Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with ‘Ging Gang Goolie’ @9pm on HBO. Take a look at a preview for the episode below: