The last time we saw Chalky White, he was seen escaping during an outdoor inmate riot with a fellow inmate named Milton. The beginning of this episode shows them breaking into a house, no longer in prison garb, but dressed in civilian clothing. They consume the household’s food and drink until Chalky asks Milton about the safe that he promised was in the house. At that moment, a young girl named Fern (played by Olivia Nikkanen) stumbles onto both of them arguing. She claims that there’s no cash in the house and then Milton pulls out a gun on her. An older woman named Marie, Fern’s mother, is walking down the stairs when she becomes involved in the matter as well. Marie reveals that she only has none dollars, but Milton doesn’t want the money. Years of imprisonment and servitude have made him a psychotic. Chalky, clearly uncomfortable with the situation, tries to quell the fear of the hostages.
Marie later tells him that her husband has valuables hidden in a safe deposit box. When Chalky explains to Milton what that is, he is both surprised and disturbed that Chalky is quite knowledgeable. As Milton falls asleep while holding Fern and Marie at gunpoint, they take the time to get Chalky to let them go or at least take Milton’s gun and leave. Fern questions Chalky about his deceased daughter Maybelle and he grows extremely angry. A postman delivers a box to the residence and we see that it’s a dress for Fern to be worn at her upcoming high school formal. Milton tries to humiliate the girl by making her strip and put the dress on in front of the present company. Chalky walks to step in when Marie tells them that the safe is upstairs in her bedroom. While upstairs, Milton tries to break open the safe, but to no avail. Marie tells him that the safe has United States bonds, all that he husband left her and Fern after the Depression started. Milton subdues Marie at which point, Chalky has had enough and kills Milton himself with a hammer. While he did saved their lives, it’s now Chalky who Marie and Fern fear. When the latter asks if his daughter knew what he is, he coldly responds “She knew I am.”
Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) makes his return as well, meeting in his Harlem brothel with Benny Siegel and Charlie Luciano. Their boss, Maranzano, wants to do business with the well-spoken heroin dealer. Speaking for Maranzano, they propose splitting his business with them in exchange for protection. Narcisse declines the offer, and seems perturbed by the implicit threats made to him by both men. To show their discontent at his rejection, they later return to the brothel and kill everyone in sight. Flashbacks have the young Nucky Thompson being a diligent worker for the Commodore, it’s almost like indentured servitude the way his customers and superiors all call him “boy”. It’s during this period he meets Mabel, his first (and later deceased wife). Speaking of wives, Margaret Rowan is being questioned about Abe Redstone (aka Arnold Rothstein) and his involvement with their firm. They reveal that Rothstein was murdered in 1928 while Margaret pretends to have never met him. The account in his name was having funds drawn down from it with and at first, it looks like Mr. Bennett was taking the funds after Rothstein’s death. It turns out that it’s been Margaret who was doing so using her own signature. Margaret later meets with Carolyn Rothstein (Arnold’s widow portrayed by Shae D’Lyn) who accuses her of being one of her late husband’s many mistresses. Carolyn is threatening to sue the firm and wants her husband’s leftover accounts. Carolyn proves to be as shrewd as her husband when she reveals that she knows that Margaret is Nucky Thompson’s lawful wife. Considering Nucky’s publicized double life of crime, she threatens to publicly expose Margaret if she doesn’t receive those funds.
Nucky is quite taken with Joseph Kennedy and reveals to Sally Wheet via collect call to Cuba that Kennedy may be the alliance he needs since last week revealed that Senator Lloyd can no longer be of help to him. He’s also left his night club to be run by none other than Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks), who’s let it descend into a seedy burlesque show. When meeting with Kennedy over lunch, it’s clear that Nucky wants his approval given their shared background as Irish Americans and Kennedy’s level of success and respectability. He later brings Kennedy to his Doyle-run night club where a General Motors convention is taking place. Doyle tries to schmooze to Kennedy by sending over him and Nucky some drinks. But Nucky rejects it out of his attempts to impress Kennedy. While in his office, Kennedy points out that Nucky has no family or legacy to which he can leave behind the fruit of his legacy. When prompted, he tells him he wishes to leave behind exactly that to his family. Sadly, no deal is made and Kennedy leaves. In the final scene, Nucky passes out from a drunken stupor and wakes up to see Margaret, initially mistaking her for Mabel.
THOUGHTS: We’re more than a quarter away from the end of the series and it’s refreshing to see Nucky in awe of someone he considers greater than himself. His admiration of Joseph P. Kennedy parallels his childhood admiration of the Commodore and is a darker reflection of how far Chalky White has fallen. Both men are now without their respective families and were once powerful figures in their communities. While it can be said that Nucky seems to have done better in comparison, he’s missing plenty from his life that leaves him just as destitute. Kennedy comes from a wealthy family, has a keen business acumen but not at the cost of neglecting his wife and children. He mentions to Nucky during lunch that his wife is pregnant with their ninth child (Senator Ted Kennedy) and the importance of leaving something behind for his children. Nucky has family, but his quest for power has alienated them for the most part. That’s probably why the flashbacks to his childhood have been occurring so frequently. Perhaps he yearns for a time when things weren’t as chaotic. When seeing Margaret at the end of the episode, he appears to have sly grin about her presence. I’m glad Buscemi and MacDonald are sharing scenes together again. Though I find Margaret Schroeder boring by her lonesome, being around powerful male characters makes her scenes more interesting.
Jeffrey Wright’s returned as Dr. Narcisse and is no longer the picture-perfect portrait of calm. Whatever FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did to him between the season four finale and now has clearly had an effect on him. When his meeting with Luciano and Siegel concluded, I picked up a subtle twitch that made me realize that this is not the same man from last season. With Chalky now alone as an escaped prisoner, I hope he gets the long-overdue showdown with Narcisse in spectacular fashion as he makes his way back to Atlantic City and then, hopefully Harlem. Chalky’s no longer in control of a situation like he was and the Depression opened his eyes that it affected everyone, not just minorities. During the home invasion, he had a look on his face that read, ‘this is a colossal waste of time‘. With the return of Dr. Narcisse, I think that action will be the catalyst to much anticipated series finale. Grade: B+
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, movies, hip-hop, et. al.