“I need, Don Corleone, all of those politicians that you carry around in your pocket, like so many nickels and dimes.” – Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo to Vito Corleone, “The Godfather.”
“A Return to Normalcy” borrows from “The Godfather” many times, as we shall see.
Margaret, Jimmy, Eli, and the Commodore all have insight into Nucky’s (manipulative) character, and none of them like what they see. Margaret resented her role as a kept woman of a corrupt man. “How can you do the things you do?” His response is “We all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.” “Clean, fast, totally devoid of emotion, like a machine,” is how Jimmy describes him. “You waive your scepter and all is well.” There are consequences, Nucky, to what you do, that can’t be bought out with money,” Eli scolds. To the Commodore, Nucky has “an odd sense of justice.”
After their breakup, Margaret and her two children are staying with Nan Britton. The arrangement is temporary. Harding’s mistress, Nan Britton has unrealistic dreams that Harding will bring her to D.C. after the election as First Lady. Margaret goes to see Nucky, to find out who he really is.
Nucky reveals a different, guilt-ridden, side of himself. Seven or eight years ago, Enoch Jr. was born. The baby was so frail, probably from being born premature, that Nucky was terrified to hold him. Highly ambitious in his job as the new county treasurer, Nucky let his long hours of work get the best of him, and between him and family. He came home late one night and saw his wife, Mabel, rocking the baby. Taking one look at the baby, he realized Enoch, Jr. had been dead for days. Mabel was “broken from reality,” and cared for the baby six days after his death. Melancholia. “Time would heal her,” their doctor recommends. A few weeks later, his wife slashed her wrists with Nucky’s razor, while he was again away at work. Margaret and her children represent a “return to normalcy,” for him, the family life he has longed for all these years. He has never “happier, or more terrified in his life,” than he has been with Margaret and her children. “Mr. Thompson, I’m pleased to have finally made your acquaintance.”
Jimmy gives Angela the cold shoulder. He has been having nightmares in his sleep, shouting out in German. They sit down and Jimmy and Angela agree to start fresh for Tommy’s sake. Jimmy recognizes that he did things while the two were apart as well. Angela later gets a postcard from Mary in Paris.
Jimmy confronts Nucky about how he introduced his orphan underage mother, Gillian to the Commodore. He’s bitterly convinced that Nucky looked after him all those years out of guilt, instead of love. Jimmy visits the Commodore. They concur that Nucky’s “got an odd sense of justice.”
Then Governor Woodrow Wilson and the Commodore were involved in an election-rigging scandal. The Commodore took the fall, and was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, while Wilson grabbed the headlines. Nucky convinced the Commodore that he would make things right in the end. The Commodore’s angry that Jimmy similarly fell for the persuasive powers of Nucky, agreeing to do his dirty work for him, for a small percentage. The commodore conspires with Eli for Jimmy to take over for Nucky.
The Commodore’s maid, Mrs. Luanne Pratt confesses to poisoning him. “He treat that dog better than me. “ “Poison him? ‘Cause If I used a shotgun, I’d had to clean the mess up myself.” Nucky is sympathetic to the abuse she has endured for years. He gives Luanne money to skip town, far away, and don’t come back, much to the disgust and anger of the Commodore.
It’s Halloween, and Nucky is working the voter turnout for next year’s election. Savvy businessman Chalky White was bribed by the democrats to change allegances. Chalky took their money and is also looking for more from Nucky, $10,000, a new car, and an invite to Babette’s for the victory party.
In New York, Arnold Rothstein is facing indictment. He is making preparations to skip away to Scotland. Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano advise Rothstein, free of charge, to cut his losses and make the peace with Nucky Thompson, for his political allies.
Torrio brokers a seaside meeting with NY to Nucky’s surprise. In attendance are Nucky, Jimmy, Torrio, Capone, Rothstein, and Luciano. They are looking to the future, and putting the past behind, as years of war benefits no one. (Vito Corleone reached that understanding in the meeting with Tattaglia, Barzini, and the other heads of the five families) Rothstein needs Nucky’s political friends, in particular, Hartley Replogle, the state’s attorney. Nucky wants a cool million dollars and the location of the four D’Alessios. While the rest look around as if Nucky gone way over and above in his demands, Rothstein’s poker face never changes, and he agrees, and offers to put past transgressions behind them. (Besides, Rothstein stood to make that million and then some from the insurance policies that he had taken out on the D’Alessios)
Reminiscent of the scenes in the Godfather where Michael “settles all family business, “ and all his rival bosses are summarily killed, the remaining four D'Alessios all end up dead. Nucky holds a press conference with all the local media and pins January’s liquor heist on the D'Alessios (and their ring leader, Hans Schroder), due to the tireless work of Sheriff Eli Thompson. With his trusty shotgun, Richard Harrow kills Ignatius and Pius D’Alessio. Capone kills Matteo D’Alessio. Jimmy pulls out his army knife and slits the throat of Leo D’Alessio in a barber’s chair (Clemenza killed Mo Greene while he was laying on his stomach, getting a massage.) Nucky’’s far reaching connections pay off for Rothstein as the state attorney in Chicago announces that Rothstein will not be indicted.
As he told the Commodore years ago, Nucky promised a very bitter Eli that he’d make things right. Courtesy of Nucky, Eli gets a cut of the Rothstein money. To a small group gathered in his hotel suite, Nucky announces Bader has won the election. Bader’s first and second acts as mayor shows that Nucky is still the one pulling the strings. He accepts Halloran’s “resignation” (which was news to Halloran) and rehires Eli as sheriff.
Sebso died of a heart attack, at least, that was VanAlden’s explanation of the events at the river. VanAlden lectures the new recuits about St. Augustine and Carthage by the sea, “a city devoted to appetite.” “And in this place he did succumb to what was offered.” He warns them that Atlantic City is the grandchild to that “vanished metropolis,” and that they will be tempted on a daily basis. VanAlden was offered, and refused a permanent position, in Atlantic City. Instead, he decides to resign and to leave Atlantic City. “There’s nothing here for me, sir.” VanAlden returns home to his barren wife. His uncle in Schnectady wants him to buy in and be a partner into his feed business. She wants him to remain a prohibition agent. “Unhappy, unfulfilled increasingly so these past few months,” VanAlden is looking for a sign from God to do just that. He gets a sign, in a way, in a visit from Lucy, who is carrying his baby. Oops.
Eddie Cantor performs at the formal election night celebration reception at Babette’s. Annabelle has found a new fat daddy (literally and figuratively), George Baxter. We last saw Baxter parked in his car, when one of Rothstein's men from the hijacking staggers toward him. Nucky and Margaret reconcile over a couple of glasses of champagne at the reception. Ohio senator, Warren Harding wins the election as 29th president, with 60% of the vote. His election night victory remarks are played at the reception, “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”
The episode ends to the sound of Cantor performing George M. Cohan’s “Life's a Funny Proposition After All”
Did you ever sit and ponder,
Sit and wonder, sit and think,
Why we're here and what this life is all about?
It's a problem that has driven
Many brainy men to drink,
It's the weirdest thing they've tried to figure out.
About a thousand diff'rent theories
All the scientists can show,
But never yet have proved a reason why
With all we've thought
And all we're taught,
Why all we seem to know
Is we're born and live a while and then we die.
Life's a very funny proposition after all,
Imagination, jealousy, hypocrisy and all.
Three meals a day, a whole lot to say;
When you haven't got the coin you're always in the way.
Ev'rybody's fighting as we wend our way along,
Ev'ry fellow claims the other fellow's in the wrong;
Hurried and worried until we're buried and there's no curtain call.
Life's a very funny proposition after all.
When all things are coming easy, and when luck is with a man,
Why then life to him is sunshine ev'rywhere;
Then the fates blow rather breezy and they quite upset a plan,
Then he'll cry that life's a burden hard to bear.
Though today may be a day of smiles, tomorrow's still in doubt,
And what brings me joy, may bring you care and woe;
We're born to die, but don't know why, or what it's all about,
And the more we try to learn the less we know.
Life's a very funny proposition, you can bet,
And no one's ever solved the problem properly as yet.
Young for a day, then old and gray;
Like the rose that buds and blooms and fades and falls away,
Losing health to gain our wealth as through this dream we tour.
Ev'rything's a guess and nothing's absolutely sure;
Battles exciting and fates we're fighting until the curtain falls.
Life's a very funny proposition after all.