If you have issues with spoilers, don’t read on before watching “Bone for Tuna.”
After having impetuously declared his undying love for Billie last week, Nucky has returned to Atlantic City but not to his senses. He’s dreaming about Billie as well as a boy version of Jimmy, whom he raised as a son and then shot in the face.
Nucky’s reveries—both the actual one with Billie in New York last week as well as the dream that starts this episode—are broken by a call from Margaret. Having married him and more or less stolen his money for her church, she’s no longer pretending they are a couple. In the first of many clever exchanges in this episode, her first offering on the phone is, “It’s not my intention to pry.”
To which Nucky responds: “Now there’s a sentence that means its opposite.”
(PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes of Boardwalk Empire)
Margaret doesn’t want Nucky in her bed, but she does want him before her bishop. She’s keeping up her appearances—the gold on her watch is just as rich as the gold on her ring—and she wants Nucky to try, at least, to keep up his appearances.
The Thompson donation to the church has given them that audience with the bishop, but Nucky can barely be roused from bed without wondering about Billie. A crucial question this season will be how the writers retrieve Margaret from her flirtation with aristocracy. She has bested Nucky and, in this episode, she gets her way with both the diocese and the hospital. The children seem as absent from her life as Nucky. Something will bring her around—but what?
Van Alden was better than anyone at keeping up his appearances—he whipped himself to the point of bleeding when he failed to do so—and now he has fully embodied the sad-sack George Mueller, iron salesman. It’s another punishment, one that is almost harder to watch than the whipping. Van Alden even lets himself be drawn into an evening at a speakeasy, the kind of place he would have shut down before his fall. Not long before “Mueller” and his coworkers leave for the bar, their boss says—in a rather extravagant bit of dialogue—that “the world is full of wrinkles … in pocket squares and pinafores.”
Gillian, of course, is also maintaining appearances—Gretchen Mol looks flawless, and Gillian is pretending Jimmy isn’t dead. And then there’s Rosetti—who woos Gillian and (at least so far this season) seems to be a character who is all pocket squares and pinafores.
More appearances: the hat that’s really a vessel for heroin; Doyle’s pretending that he killed Horwitz; Harrow’s turn as a barkeep. As Margaret says at the church, “What do they say on Broadway? ‘The show must go on.’” Or as Van Alden says later, “People tell me I remind them of someone else.”
By the end, most of these pretenses are shattered—most vividly when Harrow, who knows a lot about masks, presents Doyle to Nucky like an offering. He then unmasks himself to Nucky as the one who killed Horwitz—which worries Nucky. After all, Nuck can easily beat cretins like Rosetti; but Harrow is patient, quiet—and he knows what Nucky did. Harrow says he has killed 63 people, but it is Jimmy’s death that weighs on both of them.
At the end we are left with Margaret brought somewhat lower—she gets a closet for her clinic—and her husband brought lower still. Nucky has found Billie in her little New York apartment, but he can’t tell whether it’s a dream.
A few last thoughts swilling in the bottom of my crystal glass:
So far I’m not convinced by Bobby Cannavale’s performance—although it may be that Rosetti has been thinly written so far. (“What the f*** is life if it’s not personal?” What the f*** does that mean?) Also, the writers have him burning that fat cop alive. I’m pretty sure I get it: Rosetti is not nice.
That said, I did like Cannavale’s scene with Mol in what must be the most lavish brothel ever depicted on film. I think the Commodore would have been happy.
I really wish Harrow had killed Doyle. What else can the writers do to debase that character? Pants around his ankles? Just shoot him.
About the poetry: better left unsaid. A bit of bull and blarney, if you ask me.
Added Oct. 1: (A note for Italian grammarians: I know the correct translation of “good luck” is “buona fortuna,” not “buon.” But Rosetti says “buon”—or at least is shortening “buona” to the point that you can’t hear the last syllable. I think this would have been a period-accurate error or elision by an Italian-American immigrant who says he grew up “in a cave.” It also makes sense with Nucky’s winking translation as “Bone for Tuna.”)