This review contains spoilers.
2.8 Two Boats And A Lifeguard
Towards the beginning of this episode, Two Boats And A Lifeguard, Nucky Thompson is asked by an elevator attendant if he saw the Dempsey/Carpentier fight. Following a pause while he recovers from his confusion, Nucky, dreaming the entire encounter, points out that the fight hasn’t happened yet.
No, it hasn’t. But it is on its way.
In this, the eighth of twelve episodes, we find ourselves moving into the season’s climactic sequences and major battles are definitely brewing. The lines have been drawn, old alliances severed and new partnerships formed. The strongest break has been generational, between Jimmy and Nucky, Al and Torrio and Rothstein and Lucky and Meyer. The problem with the rising generation was a simple one, they were too stupid. Most of them still are. Johnny Torrio’s joke about Romulus and Remus flies straight over Al’s head, while Lucky and Meyer fail to understand Rothstein’s double meaning of horse manure.
Only Jimmy has demonstrated the capacity for strategic thinking necessary to take over. Up to now, I would have said that the game was his, but on the evidence of this episode, it would be foolish to bet against Nucky. Arnold Rothstein certainly wouldn’t. During a necessarily clandestine meeting between the elder trio, Rothstein outlines his philosophy. Sometimes he bets, other times he’s prepared to wait. Months if necessary. The short version, if you have no play, you cannot play. There are some rounds that the best player has to sit out.
Sitting things out would be the preferred option for both Margaret and Angela. They are getting increasingly fretful for their men, and the trouble that they are intent on bringing upon themselves. For Angela, her fears and alienation prompt her to seek the female companionship she has enjoyed during Jimmy’s previous absences from her. She meets a free-spirited San Franciscan novelist, Louise, who appears very quickly to understand her better than her husband and father of her son. It is a way out for the frightened Angela, and a hint that Jimmy’s delicate domestic situation may yet crumble beneath him.
At least Nucky tries to allay Margaret’s fears, even if she doesn’t quite believe him. The episode’s title comes from a joke, actually more of a parable, that Nucky tells Margaret in his effort to soothe her. The import of the tale is that it is important to recognise aid or to heed warnings. The lesson comes from Nucky, but he’s the one most in need of it.
His meeting with Esther Randolph passes predictably badly. Randolph’s disarming cleverness doesn’t quite work with the even cleverer Nucky, but he is still somewhat out of sorts. She introduces him to Agent Clifford Lathrop, the man who saved him from his assassin. Nucky, as Randolph reminds him, has forgotten his customary good manners and had failed to thank his saviour. When he later corrects his oversight, sending the surprised agent a basket of fruit, we get the first glimpse that the old Nucky is back.
He’s certainly playing some games. He resigns his role as Treasurer and makes overtures to suggest that this retirement will be permanent and comprehensive. Jimmy falls for it hook, line and sinker. While the young man celebrates his victory, Nucky rounds up support from Chalky and Owen Sleater’s Irish connections.
Jimmy has possibly become too arrogant to notice any such manoeuvres. He is in no mood to pay heed to the lessons of his elders. Manny Horvitz, who seemed set to become another father figure to Jimmy delivers a bizarre anecdote concerning the butchery of a deer. It has shades of an earlier lesson his father tried to give him, which was given in the same room. Jimmy knows that has heard it before. He ‘already ate venison’.
When he tosses Mickey Doyle over a balcony, the victim is more expected than the perpetrator. Doyle, an irritating creepy little man with a hideous nasal laugh has been asking for it since the very first episode. Jimmy on the other hand has spent the time maturing in both manner and intelligence. His success has seen him abandon these advances. ‘Crowned’ Prince James by kingmaker Leander Whitlock, young Darmody has already forgotten the lessons that Nucky has been busy re-learning. The pupil clearly has yet to outstrip the master, but it’s going to be one hell of a scrap.
Read our review of the last episode, here.