Episode 2: The Ivory Tower

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term “ivory tower” refers to a “state of privileged seclusion from the facts and practicalities of the real world.” In one of the scenes in this episode, we find Margaret just beginning to read a book with this title as she sits in her hospital bed. It is The Ivory Tower by Henry James. Ironically, she is interrupted by a nurse who tells her that Mr. Thompson has arrived to see her. It turns out to be Nucky’s brother Eli, who basically bribes Margaret into giving false information to any federal agents who question her about her late husband Hans. If you recall, Hans was murdered by Eli himself to frame him as the criminal involved in the recent alcohol heist. Margaret knows none of this, of course, but she appears suspicious nonetheless.

Interestingly, the author of the novel The Ivory Tower sets out to criticize the Gilded Age in America. With all of the extravagant wealth and pompous lifestyles, James suggests, comes major corruption and curse. In short, nothing is as it seems. I have noticed this to be a recurring theme during this episode, especially as we dig up more dirt on some of the characters. Several noteworthy scenes carrying out this paradoxical thought include:

-Jimmy, after making money off of the alcohol shipment heist, showers his wife and child with gifts. However, we then see him go to the rehearsal of a sexy and scantily-clad showgirl. When they affectionately reunite backstage and he hands her a beautiful necklace, we fear the worst. Is Jimmy having an affair with this woman? We then learn that the woman, Gillian, is in fact his own mother.

-Federal agent Van Alden, who we know thus far to be unemotional and rigid in character, writes a loving yet straighforward letter to his wife. When he’s finished, however, he tightly but passionately clutches the stolen blue ribbon that we had once seen in Margaret’s hair just hours before.

-Margaret goes to see Nucky very late at night to return the money that Eli had given her at the hospital. As she recounts a famous quote from George Sand, “Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it,” she goes on to say that the writer was in fact a French baroness who simply used a male pen name. Nucky is impressed.

-Lastly, in keeping up with this recurring theme that nothing is as it seems, comes the most important and dreadful scene of all: one of the victims of Jimmy and Al Capone’s alcohol heist is actually alive, while Jimmy and Al thought they had killed everyone there.

This overall theme has quickly escalated the events of the episode, and leaves many questions still unanswered. After all, it is simply a reflection of the very characters in the series. These men are loving fathers, givers, friends, and respected politicians. However, we’re are also consistently reminded that they are crooked criminals, dealers, murderers, and gangsters too. To my surprise, it is apparently possible to be both. Nucky and Jimmy, along with their enemies and comrades, drift between their two different realities.

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One thought on “Episode 2: The Ivory Tower

  1. Though I’ve never watched the show, it seems like it would be a great show to start up on! I read your previous post as well, and it seems like what really drives this show is how complex each of its characters are. This is definitely a show I look forward to seeing. You did a great job of describing the characters in this post and showing the dynamic of the relationships they have with each other.

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