Episode 10: The Emerald City

You can leave Atlantic City physically, but you can never truly escape its influence. This episode just goes to show how once you enter into a world of corruption and sin, there’s no turning back. Appropriately named “The Emerald City,” Atlantic City is similar to this grand idea of Oz, present in the book that Margaret reads to her children. Though the glitz, glamour, and luxury are indeed enticing to outsiders, there is much more going on below the surface. Nucky is like the wonderful wizard of Oz, controlling the city behind the scenes, while his each of his moves affect all of the other characters individually.

Just like Dorothy believes that the Wizard is the means to her end, Margaret and Nucky have a similar relationship. Though they may actually be in love, they still use each other for their own personal gain to at least some extent. In this particular episode, we see Margaret finally becoming more at ease in her new lavish home, clearly enjoying the wealth that Nucky has given her and her children. After all, she was pretty destitute when we met her in the beginning of the series. On the other hand, Nucky uses Margaret to intervene on his behalf with the local League of Women- she must convince them to vote for Bader for mayor (since the 19th Amendment has just been passed), even though deep down she knows full well that he is not qualified. Nucky simply wants Bader to win so that he can continue to “guide the hand of government.”

The discussion of this matter happens over champagne, something that Margaret would never have indulged in previously. Her claimed temperance has seemingly been halted, perhaps as a result of her relationship with Nuck. Furthermore, she eventually consents to delivering a speech to the League of Women in favor of Bader. Though the address is flawless and quite eloquent, I sense that she still feels very uncomfortable. She has officially stepped into the world of lying and corruption.
Margaret feels uncomfortable after her speech. We even Atlantic City take a toll on the ever-pious Agent Van Alden. He is angered by two major events in this episode, eventually leading him to his downfall and sin. The first is that his FBI boss has given him a final warning. Now that the last witness to Jimmy’s crime has been killed off, Van Alden has no evidence to prosecute him with. Supervisor Elliot is clearly fed up with Van Alden continuing to botch the case, and thus gives him only one final chance to come up with something substantial. Furious and desperate, Van Alden goes to see Margaret in a last-ditch effort to save himself and catch Nucky Thompson. However, Margaret is not willing to comply, especially after Van Alden makes personal advances towards her, all the while trying to convince her to “escape the wrath of hell.” Clearly disgusted with Van Alden, she orders him out of the house. Now Van Alden has reached a tipping point. Leaving his religious beliefs behind, he goes to an illegal speakeasy, gets drunk with Lucy, and ends up taking her home to have sex with him. The score is Atlantic City: 1, Van Alden: 0.

Click to hear what series creator Terence Winter has to say about Van Alden's descent into sin.

Click to hear what series creator Terence Winter has to say about Van Alden’s descent into sin.

Meanwhile, things are heating up in the gangster war between Nucky’s men and Rothstein’s. Mickey Doyle has changed sides. Rothstein and Lucky, still fuming that the D’Alessio brothers failed to assassinate Nucky, tell them and Mickey that there will be a price to pay. Being the typical self-centered snake that he is, Mickey fears for his life and gives himself over to Nucky and Jimmy, confessing everything to them and helping them to come up with a plan to catch the D’Alessios. They set up a complicated but brilliant scheme in which Chalky will pretend to do business with them and thus lure them all to the same place, but the plan goes horribly wrong when he learns that they were the ones who lynched his driver. Thus, before all of the brothers are even there, Chalky ties the three men up and him and Jimmy end up killing two of them. They let the last man, Lanksy, return to New York to inform Rothstein and Lucky of the horrors that he witnessed.

With all of these complex loyalties, lies, and indulgences, Atlantic City is anything but enticing underneath all the emeralds.

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