“The pups have grown fangs, gentlemen.”
Nucky Thompson’s (Steve Buscemi) sentiment back in Season Two has clearly come full circle: Fast-forward to Season 4, where we are privy not only to Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Meyer Lansky’s (Anatol Yusef) ascent to power, but also to a number of other underling characters demanding their due.
Some gain the respect they deserve (like Eddie); others find themselves walking the wire of divided loyalties: Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey) deceiving Chalky (Michael K. Williams) and taking up with Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), and Mueller/Van Alden (Michael Shannon) – while serving as Dean O’Banion’s (Arron Shiver) muscle – joining forces with the Capone brothers. Even Eli’s son Willie (Ben Rosenfield) treads an increasingly dangerous line between scholar and fledgling bootlegger – and now, accidental killer.
Nucky is eager to partner with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) on the Tampa land deal, and in turn, Rothstein invites him to engage in a high-stakes poker game, on the basis that “you don’t really know a man until you play cards with him.” But when Nucky comes out on top, he realizes Rothstein may not be the “level-headed partner” he is seeking. In the face of losing, Rothstein’s unflappable calm unravels to the point where Meyer Lansky, who is present at the poker game, advises Arnold to walk away.
Consequently, Nucky withdraws the Tampa deal – which gives Lansky ample opportunity to move in as a prospective partner. He relays the story of how through tenacity – and an equal dose of chutzpa – he became partners with Lucky Luciano. Nucky is sufficiently convinced that Lansky will make a good partner.
Despite Meyer’s burgeoning power, his loyalty to Rothstein is still evident, as he both refers to Rothstein as a “great man” despite Rothstein’s aversion to losing, and later savagely beats a man who’d scorned Rothstein during the poker game.
After a briefing on the network of Nucky’s criminal associates, Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty) has vowed to find and break “the weakest link in Thompson’s chain.” Enter the recently-promoted Eddie Kessler (Anthony Laciura). It’s gratifying to see him so proud of his new responsibilities – and highly entertaining to see his interaction with Ralph Capone (including teaching the Italian mobster a rousing patriotic tune in a bar of his German-speaking comrades).
But as Eddie bids good-bye to Ralph, affectionately referring to him by his nickname Bottles, Knox apprehends Eddie in the train station. And we are left wondering if Eddie’s endearing swagger will prove him to be the weak link Knox is seeking.
In Chicago, Jake Guzik has been hospitalized after taking a tumble down a flight of stairs after making a pickup. While Van Alden/Mueller is delivering some wilted daisies courtesy of Dean O’Banion to Guzik’s hospital room, Al and Frank recruit him to make pickups with them while Guzik recuperates.
Together they hijack one of O’Banion’s trucks, and Mueller confides to Al that he feels disrespected by O’Banion. They are unaware that one of O’Banion and Mueller’s associates is in the back of the truck. He recognizes Mueller and is gunned down – first by Mueller’s revolver, and then Al’s Tommy gun.
Over at the Onyx club, we see Chalky White put on his best poker face as Daughter Maitland performs. Dunn Purnsley tells Chalky he needs to visit his ailing mother in Baltimore, and when Chalky grants him leave, Dunn instead pays a visit to Harlem and Dr. Narcisse. He approaches Narcisse in the office of the Universal Negro Improvement Association with money from the heroin he’s been selling.
Narsisse admonishes him, stating that his underworld business dealings and his mission of uplifting the Negro race at the are to be kept separate at all times. He later explains that mission to Dunn, and follows by telling him, “Your Mr. White, his time is past.”
Willie Thompson has grown increasingly frustrated with both the rigor of his studies and his lack of social connection. Eli attempts to boost his son’s spirits. When Willie returns to campus, he and his roommate Clayton resume their bootlegging scheme – and plot revenge against Henry, the bully who humiliated Willie in the previous episode.
They sneak into the chemistry lab and concoct a laxative to slip into Henry’s drink. The end result (pun intended) is as expected, with Willy remarking, “you know, most kids are out of diapers by college.” But the intended prank takes a tragic turn; Clayton wakes Willy in the middle of the night and leads him to the hall, where a crowd has gathered near the bathroom. Henry is lying dead on the tile floor, eyes open, mouth agape, and still oozing blood.
As we’re told, with great power comes great responsibility – and in this episode, great adversity right along with it.
Written by: The Harrowin’ Addict