As one of the oft-repeated ideas for this season of Boardwalk Empire, there seems to be no end to problems, pending or otherwise, that Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) cannot turn around to better favor his position. This is, of course, referring to Nucky’s rather bold approach to Andrew Mellon (James Cromwell) as a means of circumventing the imminent indictment against him by Harry Daugherty (Christopher McDonald), and making George Remus (Glenn Fleshler) an example of the Volstead Act.
Making moves to better one’s position – or at least alter the course of another’s – is at the heart of ‘The Pony.’ There’s quite a lot happening that helps carry a sense of urgency throughout the episode, which may be linked to the sheer amount of information being pumped out, but by and large, the stage is most certainly set for the season’s climax.
For a short while, things were looking good for Nucky. Sure, he’d managed to get into a fistfight with a young actor who’d been palling around with Billie Kent (Meg Steedle) after the two shared a brilliant screen test for a new movie, but Billie calmed the situation down and soothed Nucky’s ego enough for him to have a frank conversation about his desires regarding her, and just what Billie saw in her future. Ms. Kent explains to her “gangster” that she’s been on her own for a while, and has no intention of letting Nucky – or any man, for that matter – take her away from her dreams, even if that means she won’t be taken care of. If nothing else, Billie’s a woman who likes her independence.
Meanwhile, Mellon – a man who enjoys a kind of independence on an entirely different scale – calls Nucky to welcome him into the fold, so to speak. It turns out, Nucky’s proposal to sink Daugherty and Remus, in exchange for secretly running Mellon’s distillery, was right on the money – which makes the sum Nucky paid to Gaston Bullock Means (Stephen Root) a worthwhile investment. At any rate, Mellon accepts the deal and Remus looks to get what was coming to Nucky. All in all, things are looking up, and as such, Nucky deserves a night out with Billie, Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza).
Then it happens: Small talk actually proves useful, and in this case, saves the lives of Nucky and his gangster friends. Billie, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to be so lucky. A shockingly large blast, courtesy of Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale,) erupts from inside Babette’s, engulfing Billie and generally laying waste to a significant section of the boardwalk.
‘The Pony’ serves as an awakening for several characters; namely, Gillian (Gretchen Mol), Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) and certainly the woefully underused Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller (Michael Shannon). But most of all, it’s a wake-up call for Nucky, who’s been on a sort of Don Draper-like “love leave” with Billie (or should I say Nadine Beckenbauer?) all season long, and as a result, there are a great many things in his business that require some immediate attention. So now that poor, adorable Billie Kent stands as the first major casualty in the war Joe Masseria (James Ciccone) and Gyp have decided to wage against Rothstein and his associates, it’s safe to say that Nucky’s attention is no longer divided.
As far as sides go, it’s clear which one Gillian is on after Nucky pays the grieving mother a visit to discuss the recently announced passing of one James Darmody (who happened to be cremated just in case someone thought he resembled a guy named Roger from Indiana). A splash of bourbon in his face is enough to let Nucky know Gillian’s aware the true nature of her son’s sudden disappearance, but she comes right out and says it anyway. For his part, Nucky reminds her that her little “health club” endeavor only exists because he allows it; a fact that likely carried a lot of weight in her decision to pass along Nucky and Rothstein’s whereabouts to Rosetti – Luciano’s presence likely serving as icing on the cake. What’s unclear, however, is just whose side Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) is on, after being the only one to call foul on the mockery Gillian was making of Jimmy’s memory.
At the same time, the non-vaudevillian reference to the episode’s title is the actual pony Margaret is looking at as a gift for her daughter. Since he knows a thing or two about horses – and he can drive – she brings Owen (Charlie Cox) along, and they soon find themselves sitting out a sudden rainstorm in the car. She asks if he’ll teach her to drive…“after,” which is, in Margaret’s own way, her moving on and taking control of certain things in her life. The affair with Owen is clearly no longer a one-time deal, as noted by the afternoon tryst and her interest in procuring a method of birth control, but being taught to drive is in some small way Margaret’s attempt to emulate Carrie Duncan and to grasp the things the late aviatrix represented. Let’s just hope things turn out better for Margaret than they did Carrie.
Finally, back in Cicero, it looks as though Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) is ready to kick back and relax following his rather eye-opening holiday in Naples. Torrio’s full of espresso, sambuca and fond memories of the less-stressful way of life he witnessed during his travels, and seems content to let things stay in the increasingly capable hands of Al Capone (Stephen Graham). For his part, Capone manages to handle the meeting with Dion O’Banion (Arron Shiver) without Mueller having to resort to pulling any of his irons out of the case he carries with him.
Of course, that doesn’t stop George from going ballistic on his co-worker during a mock sales pitch. After George is relentlessly razzed, he neatly presses his tormenter’s face with a hot iron, and then tosses around a few typewriters for good measure. Later, Van Alden hilariously stumbles through yet another sales pitch, but this time to his wife Sigrid (Christiane Seidel), regarding an impromptu relocation program. For whatever reason, Sigrid seems to be the Van Alden whisperer and sits her husband down to explain that in addition to distilling whiskey for O’Banion, she’s devised a clever cash-making scheme for them as well. It may involve peddling booze to the Norwegian contingent in Cicero and Chicago, but it’s a great deal better than schlepping a case full of electric irons around town.
Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with ‘The Milkmaid’s Lot’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview of the episode below: