The show’s creator, Terence Winter, refers to this episode as a “chess match” (in his “Inside the Episode” feature on HBO.com), and rightly so. In the opening scenes, we see Margaret awake to realize two important things. The first is that there are men (who work for Nucky, of course) loading hundreds of beer barrels into a garage behind her home. The second thing we see Margaret come to understand is her desire for Nucky Thompson. After their encounter in the previous episode, we are not surprised at this realization, but we know that she will have to play a few games in order for Nucky to take her seriously. What we don’t know, however, is whether Margaret really does have feelings for the man or whether she is simply enraptured with his way of life, and not to mention, luxury. After all, we left her last week stealing a piece of expensive lingerie from the Parisian boutique and her jealous eyes directed at Nucky’s girlfriend and his lavish birthday party guests.
Her first move is to make some soda bread and deliver it to Nucky’s residence at the Ritz Carlton herself. However, when Nucky meets her with haste and indifference, she becomes angry and realizes that she must take a different approach in order to gain his attention. Thus, she makes a big show of going to see him about the illegal activity behind her home, even bringing the Temperance League leader, Mrs. McGarry, along with her. Margaret knows perfectly well that Nucky is essentially responsible for all of that beer, and he knows that she’s probably aware of it too. After Margaret complains to him, he counteracts her protest by sarcastically saying she must have “shocked” by the alcohol that was present at his birthday party just days before. It seems as though two can play this game.
Despite Margaret’s game-playing, I was cheering for her at this point in the episode. It’s about time that she shed her holy Irishwoman image and bring out the liveliness she probably had to hide for so long from her late abusive husband. After all, it is St. Patrick’s Day in Atlantic City, a holiday known for its vivacity and Irish energy. You go girl!
After she observes that the barrel-loading has ceased to stop behind her house even after her appeal to Nucky, Margaret resorts to drastic measures. She must make him see that she does have a backbone. In her frustration, she storms into Agent Van Alden’s office, confessing the information she knows about the illegal beer and even names the man in charge of it who works for Nucky: Ward Boss James Neary. Van Alden is clearly appreciative of this information, not only because he obviously has the hots for Margaret, but also because his federal boss has been disappointed in his lack of leads.
Springing to action, Van Alden is quick to raid the garage and even more excited to arrest Neary in front of Nucky and his peers (and fellow alcohol-businessmen) at an important St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Even better, our girl Margaret is standing outside with the Temperance League, singing and chanting with them about the evils of alcohol while staring Nucky straight in the eyes. We can’t be sure that Margaret even believes in the very lyrics leaving her lips, but we do know that she has won the match with Nucky. To confirm this, Nucky arrives at her house in the middle of the night and, for the first time, passionately kisses her in the hallway, telling her that he has no interest in playing such games anymore. Margaret smiles slyly and knows that things are certainly about to change for her.
We too, as the audience, understand that this is a major turning point in the first season’s events. Will these two completely opposite characters somehow turn out to be a match? Or do they both have secret agendas that we cannot quite grasp yet? Nucky is a calculating businessman and politician bent on having his way. Margaret is a headstrong woman with smart wit and who doesn’t take no for an answer. She’s also technically a feminist during this era, looking forward to the day that she can vote. Perhaps Nucky has finally met his match, this time in the form of a poor young woman. I sense an eventual clash between the two. One thing is for sure though: the plot just got a lot more complicated!