As I’ve said before, one thing I have really enjoyed about Boardwalk Empire is how it gives the audience such large glimpses into the past when it comes to major cities like AC and Chicago during the 1920s, the Prohibition Era, and even the politics of the time.
In this particular episode Nucky Thompson travels to Chicago to attend the Republican Convention that takes place before the big presidential election year. We quickly learn that General Leonard Wood is the presumed Republican candidate (someone who Nucky obviously has no respect for when he bumps him out of the Presidential Suite at the hotel), though from our real-life historical knowledge we know that he does not end up as the actual Republican nominee. During a campaign party that Nucky attends to fill in for New Jersey Senator Edge (who Nucky also has some animosity for regarding the roads negotiations that turned sour earlier in the season), he meets Warren Harding, another Republican contestant and his campaign manager Harry Daugherty. Harding is portrayed as slightly scatter-brained (though still well-spoken), and both Nucky and Daugherty agree that “the field has no first-raters and Harding’s the best of the second-raters.” Nucky comes to like Daugherty and realizes that Harding is simply his political puppet. Meanwhile, the audience knows that it is Harding who eventually gets elected president in 1920.
Later, Nucky makes a deal with Daugherty. He’ll swing New Jersey’s vote for Harding if Daugherty makes sure that Senator Edge is not on the Vice Presidential ticket. He also learns that he and Harding have something in common- their love of women. Harding has mistresses just as Nucky does, and one in particular, Nan, has had Harding’s child unbeknownst to the public. Obviously, this is hurtful to the candidate, so Nucky offers to take her back to Atlantic City with him in order to remove her from any potential trouble or complexities she might cause. I can only help but wonder what Nucky’s true intentions are here.
Personally, I love this intertwining of fiction and history. So much so, that I occasionally look up the facts of the era in order to determine its accuracy in the show. Nan Britton, Harding’s young mistress, actually did exist, claiming that she had indeed had Harding’s illegitimate child (though it was after the election and not before). Obviously, most of the details portrayed on Boardwalk Empire are mostly fictitious, but the general events, people and places are not, which make the show really interesting. Al Capone and Jimmy Darmondy, for example, were also real gangsters, though some aspects of their lives were exaggerated for the show. I have especially read up on the character of Nucky Thompson, who is based on the real-life Nucky Johnson of 1920s Atlantic City. Apparently, Johnson did not actually kill anyone himself or even run his own distillery as he does in the series, but it is widely understood that he was still heavily involved in the bootlegging industry and closed-door politics nonetheless, even spending some time in jail for tax evasion and other small crimes.
Surprisingly, even some of the show’s details about Nucky are in line with the true man, such as his deceased beloved wife Mabel and the read carnation constantly tucked in his suit lapel. But that said, Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter purposely points out that the character is “loosely” based on the real man, so as to keep the show interesting and allowing him to bring in completely fictional characters such as Margaret.
Speaking of, her part in this particular episode is crucial. It is here where she finally realizes the full extent to which Nucky is involved in the organized crime of Atlantic City. While Nucky is out of town, Eli takes over the money-collecting responsibilities and ends up being shot (though not fatally) by one of the D’Alessio brothers, who promptly takes the funds from one of their most important casinos. When Nucky hears word, he realizes that this is just the beginning of a war between gangsters. Fearing for his secret private documents at his apartment back home, he asks Margaret to go and collect them, but stressing to her not to open his ledger. Though she resists the temptation at first, she finally begins to read it by the end of the episode, thus figuring out that not only is Nucky involved in the bootlegging industry as she knew previously, but that he is the leading distributor of it. Despite her discovery of all of Nucky’s crimes and dealings, I still hope that she doesn’t leave him. Nucky has shown us thus far that not all “bad guys” in society are evil. Most of them have hearts too. Perhaps that red carnation, which Nucky Johnson wore in real life, is a constant reminder of this for the audience.