By Dave Gilmore
7:39 AM EST, November 19, 2012
"The truth? I'd like it to be a boy." -- Owen Slater
On the degree of difficulty scale, "A Man, A Plan ..." is about a nine out of ten. It wasn't the best "Boardwalk Empire" in the series' history, but it was certainly one of the most jarring.
We lost a genuinely likable soul in Owen Slater, and simultaneously found out Margaret is carrying his child. He wasn't a perfect man, though nobody (especially in this show) is. Owen did his part to fill a void of ambition that left with Jimmy Darmody. Charlie Cox played this part admirably, and his presence will be dearly missed.
The reason Owen is sent back to Nucky in a box is this war he's decided to wage on the New York crew without the support of any other outfit. It's a good bet that based on Margaret's reaction, Nucky now realizes what's been going on under his nose (not that he's in any place to cast stones).
Looking back, it should have been clear that Owen was going to be a casualty in this war, but he seemed too integral at this point to be killed off like this. After all, he has appeared in 20 episodes, just four shy of Jimmy. They say once you figure everything out, that's when your number is up. It appeared that Owen knew what he wanted (to run away with Margaret) and had finally decided to go after it.
One might say that he sealed his own fate by only taking a corrupt prohibition agent fond of palindromes with him to take out Joe Masseria in a heavily guarded bathhouse. Now, I know Joe Masseria is a real historical figure who in real life lived beyond the scope of the show, so I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen.
I guess I figured that we've seen Owen take out a target in a men's bathroom with piano wire, a turkish bath should have been right in his wheelhouse. Owen Slater: wheelman, pony expert, lothario. We'll miss ya, lad.
And of course, so will Margaret Thompson. It was a busy week for Margaret, who had it coming at her from all sides. First, Owen, with his whispers of passion and adventure in glamorous St. Louis. Then, Dr. Mason, who was a little late on delivering that diaphragm if you ask me. Finally, Nucky, who right before they learn of Owen's death takes another stab at the remorseful husband who thinks he can still patch things up.
Where Margaret goes from here will be interesting because obviously escaping into the night with Owen is no longer an option, and she's seemed pretty adamant about writing off Nucky as a partner.
Whether Dr. Mason is there as a love interest (or as someone who knows how to safely terminate a pregnancy?) remains to be seen, but either way their fledgling women's health clinic has been shut down, which is a shame because it only had to stay open 90 more years for certain elected officials to gain a basic understanding of reproductive health.
Elsewhere, Jess Smith (Daugherty's aide who wept during "Ging Gang Goolie," if you're unclear) looks ready to crack as the hammerstroke of federal justice begins to fall on Harry Daugherty and George Remus. Poor Smith looks to be a feeble pawn in Means' game, but it's still unclear just how Nucky fits in.
Means has certainly bled Thompson for a small fortune "saving" him from federal prosecution, but he also sold Smith's murder to both Nucky and Daugherty without either of their knowledge.
So, Smith finds Gaston Means doing what he does best: creeping around and being foppish (this time with a pistol). Sadly, the brunt of knowing that his lifelong friend Harry Daugherty wanted him dead is too much to bear.
The circumstances around the real Jess Smith's death (which was ruled a suicide) are somewhat murky and many suggested that he was removed by Warren G. Harding's "Ohio Gang." Good on "Boardwalk" for simply suggesting "why can't it be both?"
Smith's tale is a very sad one, and brings light to what a scumbag Daugherty (the character) truly is.
Meanwhile, Richard Harrow and Julia are getting along swimmingly. However, with her raging alcoholic father and Gillian's protective nature over Tommy, there's bound to be trouble in paradise sooner or later. It's been fun to watch Harrow really become a man in Jimmy's absence.
There's already been a lot of heartbreak this season, so I'm really hoping for some pleasant ending to befal Richard, Julia, and Tommy. I know, I know, fat chance.
In the obligatory "other mobster business" portion of the show, Meyer and Lucky, unable to persuade Rothstein that heroin is the wave of the future, turn to Masseria and offer information on Nucky as part of their deal. What did they share with him, I wonder? Meanwhile, Chalky wants want so set up a classy African-American club with "chandelabras."
George Mueller is fast creating a cottage industry for Norwegian vodka. Like only old George can, he falls into calamity. A meeting between Mueller and Capone was a long time coming, and it's about as awkward as we could've hoped for. Mueller is such a patsy at this point, he's channeling Dean Pelton on "Community" and just teaming up with whomever suggests it.
Finally, Gyp Rosetti almost got through a conversation about oceanography and didn't bludgeon someone. Of course, "almost" is a key word when it comes to bludgeoning. Tonino's poor cousin Franco knew too much about rogue waves for his own good.
Early in the episode, there was a cutesy callback to the series' opening titles, a tide of whiskey bottles rolling into the Atlantic City surf. Only it's Gyp Rosetti's product, not Nucky's. The demons are quite literally on Nucky's doorstep, and he has one less brave soul on his side to save his hide.
Three Random Facts From "A Man, A Plan ..."
¿ The palindrome referred to in the episode's title is attributed to British wordplay guru Leigh Mercer, but it appears as though he did not write "A man, a plan, a canal --Panama!" until 1948.
¿ "The Redemption of David Corson," which we see Jess Smith reading, was penned around the turn of the century by Charles Frederic Goss and had already been adapted into a Broadway show and a feature film by the time "Boardwalk" takes place.
¿ Jess Smith is an interesting real-life figure who served as a fall guy for much of the Harding administration's corruption and cronyism. The connection between Means and Smith's mysterious death (in Senator Daughtery's room, no less) is detailed in this great New York Press piece from 2003, "Conman of the Century."