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Episode 1.12 : A Return to Normalcy

Episode 1.12 : “A Return to Normalcy”
“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”
Verse 1
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.

Refrain 1
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.

Verse 2
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.

Refrain 2
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.

Re: Episode 1.12 : A Return to Normalcy

A terrific end to the season. One of the best episodes yet.

The two stand-out moments for me were the two montages, something BE has done well all season. I loved Eddie Cantor's performance in the closing montage, the guy who plays him does a great job.

That said, I'm a little disappointed at how all of last week's issues were so easily resolved - especially the death of Agent Sebso. I can't understand what the deal with the maid was - was Nucky in on the plot? Was Gillian? From her reaction last week it seemed she was...

Disappointed too that the Doyle question wasn't resolved. We haven't seen him since he was in the warehouse with Chalky and the D'Alessios. I would've thought either Nucky, Chalky or Rothstein would've killed him now that the war is over.

I thought for sure Van Alden's superior was corrupt as well, the way the camera always seemed to linger on his face after his phone-calls with Van Alden. Maybe they're saving that for next season...

All in all, this was a great ending to a pretty solid first season.

Re: Episode 1.12 : A Return to Normalcy

Wonderful final episode. Tremendous series all the way around. Sure it’s flawed. I also questioned the quick explanation of Sebso. But it’s a technique Winters has carried over from his previous work. Regarding the arsenic, again a technique the writer has carried over. I seemed to remember Nucky mentioning it will be he who decides when the Commodore dies. At the time I thought he was joking but now, in my plan to rewatch the whole series again, I’ll be on the lookout for this comment. Conkum's comment is a bold statement, especially around these parts, but I’m not so sure he’s overstated it. This 1st season may be just as good as the Sopronos 1st. The differences here are, first, referring back to the AV writer who compared the 2 shows, is that the Sopranos was so unexpected. We did expect and demanded this quality from BE (you almost had to worry they would overdue it). The other difference was the contemporary aspect of the Sopranos vs. the historical of BE. There is no denying that I missed the music, identifying characters with people in my own life, the food, my god the food, as well as watching the gifted troupe dealing with a modern society in the Sopranos. But the writing, acting, attention to detail etc, of BE was pretty damn close to anything we’ve seen. I think the most disappointing part of the series was that FOTW didn’t give it more of a chance. I really would have looked forward to her comments each week. Hats off to Sopranology though for her enjoyable and thorough recaps

Re: Episode 1.12 : A Return to Normalcy

For me it's not just the attention to detail that is BE's strength. It feels both historically authentic and contemporary as well. Corrupt politics and new technologies and fads, amid the on-going theme of organised crime based on illicit and prohibited items does lend itself to the view that the more things change the more they will stay the same.

I do remember I had vigorously opposed to any statement that even hinted that The Wire was better than the Sopranos. Even after watching half of season 1 I still refused to "get it". Now I consider it the best police themed show I have ever seen.

BE is now up there with the Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men.

Re: Episode 1.12 : A Return to Normalcy

There will never be another Sopranos for me. Even if every critic comes out and proclaims a show as the best ever, I'll refuse to listen. I will not let BE enter into the discussion of being better than the Sopranos, and I admit that's me not being objective. In the same way, there will never be a band bigger than the Beatles tome, not now, not for the rest of my life, regardless.

Having said that, I do feel BE is one of the best acted, directed, and written shows on TV. I thought they should have had more of a physical presence playing Nucky, but there are times when Buscemi really delivers. I still laugh when thinking of an early newspaper review of his love scenes comparing him to Don Knotts. The NY and Chicago side stories appeal to me much more than the ones in Atlantic City (Angela, the Commodore, even Van Alden)

Re: Episode 1.12 : A Return to Normalcy

bloodshot wrote: I think the most disappointing part of the series was that FOTW didn’t give it more of a chance. I really would have looked forward to her comments each week. Hats off to Sopranology though for her enjoyable and thorough recaps
I'm flattered that my input was missed.:icon_wink:

I did watch the first three episodes in total (even though I had serious doubts about how much I was going to like it after the 2nd). I also watched substantial parts of two subsequent episodes. So you might say I watched roughly a quarter of the season.

I think that is an adequate sample size from which to judge how much a series is likely to move or affect you. I will certainly say that by the time I watched 3-4 episodes of the Sopranos' first season, I had some inkling of the greatness it possessed and portended. I didn't have to cajole myself into wanting to watch more, and every additional minute only convinced me more and more of how great it truly was.

I've not seen anything else on TV (and very, VERY little in movies) that comes close to investigating the depth and breadth of what it means to be a human being in the present day. From the very opening shot, sequence, and conceit, it was going to really be about investigating the psyche of a man, about the existential questions attendant to that, about power struggles between men and women/masculine-feminine values in our still patriarchal society, about the psychic toxicity that is often passed from parent to child with complete lack of awareness and in repeating cycles, and about the gripping question so many of us ask in earnest in our lives: "Can we really change who we are, even when we really don't like ourselves?" It managed to do all of that better than anything ever had before and also while offering compelling mob plots and the funniest, darkest, most offbeat, subversive, and occasionally childish humor I've ever seen or heard onscreen.

I felt nothing even close to that in magnitude (and not even in ambition or intention) from BE . . . or from Mad Men, which was even less interesting to me after a couple of episodes. That's okay. There's nothing wrong with building a single family home instead of the Taj Mahal or Cologne Cathedral. But, for me, they don't compare very well.

The only series that has engaged me since the Sopranos is In Treatment, which in scope is tiny by comparison but usually does a very good job with what it does take on (with one major exception in the first season). It just ended its third and probably last season last night with a brilliant but sad episode. Incidentally, the penultimate episode featured a guest spot by the actor that played Tony's father throughout The Sopranos. His name escapes me at the moment. He's put on some weight and looked noticeably older than when we last saw him. But it was he.

Between that and the fact that IT reputedly shot its second and third seasons on the sound stages at Silvercup that were once home to the Sopranos for 7 seasons, it was a nice, subtle tie in between the two.
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"
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