Boardwalk Empire "A Man, a Plan" Review: Special Delivery

By Cory Barker

Nov 19, 2012

Boardwalk Empire S03E10: “A Man, a Plan”

In last week’s great episode of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky, in the midst of a large bout with post-concussion syndrome (among other things, probably), gave Margaret the old “everything I touch turns to stone” speech. But he also noted that “I do it to them, or they do it to me.” This was a moment of real honesty from a guy who barely seems to know who he is, but the second part was also a bit of a rallying cry. After weeks of a distracted existence, Nucky now knows what he has to do. It has been occasionally frustrating to watch him ignore certain responsibilities (or just generally fart around), but few people are more dangerous when their backs against the wall than Nucky Thompson.

However, despite Nucky’s newfound productivity, which was perhaps somewhat inspired by the second half of his little speech to Margaret, it's clear after the events of “A Man, a Plan” that the first half of it still matters—and just as much, if not more. Because it seems like any time Nucky actually does decide to focus his energy on the more obvious “gangster stuff,” people close to him end up injured, exiled, arrested, or dead.

The events of this episode was no different. Owen is dead, nothing but a lifeless lump of cargo sent to Nucky by Joe after a desperate play-gone-wrong. Not only is Nucky’s righthand man gone, but he leaves behind Margaret, who was very much ready to run away with him, and their just-revealed unborn child. Owen knew what he was getting himself into sticking around Nucky—and clearly only did so because of Margaret—but he’s just another casualty in Nucky’s disparate wars with people up and down the eastern part of the country.

I’m curious to hear what people think about Owen’s death and how this episode/season built up to it. There was some chatter at the end of last season about Owen moving into that second position held by Jimmy, but that didn’t quite materialize in Season 3, if only because the show seemed much more interested in exploring Nucky off in his own world. As a result, Owen was sort of stuck in a holding pattern for much of this season, outside of that one really great episode where he and Nucky butted heads about who was the alpha male of the relationship. “Blue Bell Boy” showed us how compelling legitimate Nucky-Owen tension could be, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the latter is now gone. For whatever reason, this show has the tendency to eliminate or marginalize the interesting characters who could pose real threats to Nucky’s comfort.

Nevertheless, Nucky made another big speech in “A Man, a Plan” that suggested he's ready to try again with Margaret. Whether we pretend to believe that—and whether Nucky himself even believes it and isn’t just looking for something in the aftermath of Billie’s death—it makes some sense that Owen is now out of the picture. Margaret now knows exactly who Nucky is, and she thought she had an escape route. It’s gone and she’s going to have to suffer—or, more interestingly, rise up against him. She doesn’t have the women’s health program anymore now that the church has decided to shut it down, so let’s hope it means that Marge simply has more time to construct her husband’s demise.

I give this episode credit. It was clear that something had to give with the tension between Nucky, Margaret, and Owen, and Owen was always going to be the odd man out, but I didn’t quite expect him to arrive dead in a box. Boardwalk Empire rarely surprises like that, so it was great to experience a little jolt. The flashback to Owen and Margaret’s conversation earlier in the episode was a bit silly, though. The impact of the pregnancy reveal wasn’t worth undercutting the shock of Owen’s body in the crate.

Still, Nucky has now lost one of his few remaining trusted companions. He has been abandoned by Rothstein, Luciano, and most all of the area's crooked government folks and gangsters. After mistaking him for hired help, Nucky perhaps stupidly threw his weight around with Chalky this week, refusing to bankroll Chalky’s newfound desire to open up a very classy chain of clubs.* With Owen now dead, Nucky has the glorious duo of Eli and Mickey Doyle to help him take down Gyp and Joe. It feels like Nucky wants to make it work, but I don’t quite like those odds and it’s unclear as to how Nucky can figure out a way to stop two powerful forces who want him dead.

* Though, I can’t totally blame Nucky for that outburst. Chalky’s priorities don’t really line up with Nuck’s right now, which says something about both of them. Nucky hasn’t spent any time on his relationship with Chalky, but it’s telling that Chalky now only cares about high-class eateries in the aftermath of that disaster with his daughter’s temporary fiancé. I’d say that Chalky’s class issues were interesting if the character had any texture left to him or if Boardwalk Empire was dedicated to telling his story.

The good news for Nucky is that not all of his operations are a bust. Although he's had a lot of trouble and failure on the homefront this season, Nuck has been killin’ it with his more tangential political dealings. This week, he and Gaston furthered their plot to take down Attorney General Daugherty, as Gaston used his connections with Daugherty and the encumbered, troubled Jess Smith to blow up their relationship. It was a thing of manipulative beauty: Gaston convinced Jess that he needed to burn his dirty money, then immediately went to Daugherty to show him Jess carrying out this action, convincing Daugherty that Jess’s mental health issues were just too much to handle. Eventually, Gaston tried to kill Jess, only to have Jess kill himself, removing one of the big obstacles in the case against Daugherty and Remus.

I’m not sure if this means that story is over for the season, considering the entanglements of Daugherty, Remus, and Smith were the primary obstacle that Nucky had to overcome, but I’ve enjoyed Stephen Root’s work as Gaston Means. I’d love to see more of him, as well as James Cromwell’s Andrew Mellon, and based on real-world events, I’m guessing we will. Perhaps it's possible that Nucky will use his powerful political connections to help solve is more local problems? That would be a nice way to make the season's seemingly unconnected stories fit together.

Speaking of fitting together, a lot of the show’s stories and characters are joining forces, or at least existing within the same space, which is always, always a good thing for Boardwalk Empire. In Chicago, Van Alden’s booze-selling landed him in trouble with Capone, resulting in a tremendous scene with the former assuming the latter was going to kill him with a fork in the bar (not that Capone is above an action like that). Michael Shannon's facial expressions when the fork hit his face were glorious. Meanwhile, frustrated by Rothstein’s unwillingness to dive head first into a big heroin deal in the middle of a burgeoning war, Luciano and Lansky took their operation to Joe and promised some inside information on Nucky as a sweetener. Might Rothstein find himself without an ally and turn back to Nucky if Luciano and Lansky join up with Joe and Gyp (who spent all of this episode off on his own, acting like a crazy person yet again)?

I don’t have an answer, but it does feel like the show is thrusting people into tricky circumstances and partnerships with tensions already pretty high. Certain deals are bound to hold, while others are certain to explode. No one trusts each other, but they all know the stakes. Adjust and prepare, or end up in a box.


– Richard was also present this week—which makes in the first time in forever that he, Chalky, Van Alden, and Capone were all in one episode—but his growing relationship with Sagorsky’s daughter is probably the most disconnected thread of them all. That said, I really like it.

– No Gillian this week, but I have to guess she won’t stay out of the ring once all the big boys start throwing their weight around even more. She’s the wildcard in all this.

– There’s no way that Nucky had anything to do with Owen’s death, right?

Gangster Power Rankings, Week 10

This is the first week all season where Margaret is absent from the top five. Sad days for her.

1. Joe (previous rank: N/A): Took out Owen and is in the process of considering a relationship with Luciano and Lansky that could help him take out Rothstein and Nucky. Plus, he has Gyp in his back pocket. Dangerous.

2. Gyp (previous rank: 1): People really need to stop providing good, but unsolicited advice to Gyp. At least he didn’t wear that hat again.

3. Gaston (previous rank: N/A): If it weren’t for him, Nucky would still have to worry about problems outside of New York and New Jersey. He’s a wildcard with some great skills.

4. Capone (previous rank: N/A): It takes a lot to make Van Alden pray in preparation for his death. Any time Capone is angry in a public place, watch out.

5. Nucky (previous rank: N/A): So yeah, Owen’s dead and there isn’t much of a plan to take down Gyp and Joe. But Nucky made it through another few days and picked up a victory in his political exploits. He seems to be recovering from that concussion quite nicely.

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  • Tessiedo Nov 22, 2012

    Does this show have something against good looking men? I know it's HBO so it's full of naked women and boob shots but I can't remember a show with more unattractive men. I almost stopped watching last year when Jimmy (the only good looking man on the show) was killed off, but then Owen filled in and boom! When the best looking man on Boardwalk is the guy in the sand with his face smashed in with a shovel, you know you have an ugly problem.

  • Devon39219 Nov 20, 2012

    Found it strange when Gaston Means was going to kill the guy, there was someone in the bed, the sheets were moving right? Maybe the wife? How can that person still be sleeping though after all that talking and the gunshot? Maybe i didn't see it right.
    Anyway, Nucky should keep Chalky on his side. Gyp is a character I really dislike, having anger-issues and killing people just because of that, that's something I don't really care for.
    Also Margaret broke my heart.. Btw i'm just an idiot, can someone tell me if the last scene really happened or was it just a fantasy of Margaret's? Because it wouldn't make sense she's pregnant if she wants a diafram? I don't know.
    Van Alden's facial expressions are gold. I get the feeling he's like a gekko or a frog or something, with his eyes going different directions, very crazy/funny.

  • TelSutton Nov 20, 2012

    Mr Rothstein is still top of the pile. They all know it.

    Have to agree with keeping Richard in the show. He's the one guy who could prove vital to Nucky because, despite being the sweetest character on the show, he is also the deadliest. Now they should 'flesh him out' both metaphorically and literally. Engender a situation which makes him realise that in order to be whole again he has to learn to live without the mask. The events this season are a stepping stone to him rediscovering his true nature... a killer heading for damnation. Therefore, she has to die.

    Gyp's a pussy. He's gonna blub like Cagney in 'Angels With Dirty Faces'.

  • efonsecajr Staff Nov 20, 2012

    No way Knucky set up Owen for him to fall. His reaction when the box was opened was genuine. Plus Owen had earned Knucky's trust with all the work he had done in a short amount of time for Knucky to have him killed.

    I do like that Chalky may end up being the hero in all of this. He has the numbers to swing this war towards Knucky's side.

    Richard Harrow, does he even have a dog in this fight? Thinking his allegiance to Gilly will deteriorate fast, forcing him to side with whomever provides for the kid he is so fond of.

    Luciano/Gyp/Lansky/Joe/Old Vet need to prepare for their demise.

  • Gnomeygnome Nov 20, 2012

    There's no way Nucky planned to have Owen killed, why would he kill Owen when he could kill Joe? and why make such an elaborate plan just to kill Owen? doesn't add up.

  • WilliamTrembl Nov 20, 2012

    Great episode! Makes up for a lot of these slow ones we've had recently... Here are a few of my thoughts on it:

    - I wasn't expecting it to happen this episode, but I figured someone important to Nucky had to die; I predicted either Owen, Mickey Doyle, or possibly Eli. I knew that assassination attempt was not going to be successful, because in real life, Masseria did not die in 1923... By the way, what happened to Agent Sawicki? He was presumably killed along with Owen, but we never found out...

    - It is a bit of a mystery how Masseria's men knew about the hit in the bath house.. Hey, maybe Sawicki narced on him! He seems the least attached to Nucky's crew. I mean, Eli is his brother, and Mickey (while being a dope) is a business partner. Or maybe even his butler, Eddie. He has treated him like crap for almost 3 seasons; I can certainly see WHY he'd want revenge. It would explain Eddie's non-reaction after he opened the crate and saw Owen's corpse. Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but hey, it's Boardwalk Empire; you never know what's going to happen!

    - Tonino (Gyp's lieutenant) is obviously destroyed over Gyp killing his cousin in front of him. I think he's going to turn on Gyp, and possibly help Nucky take him out. Who could remain loyal after watching your boss do something like that? And be enough of a dick about it to say "you owe me!" afterwards? I'm surprised he didn't shoot Gyp on the spot...

    - It was good to see Richard put that stupid old drunk old man Sigorsky in his place. I'm predicting that that guy drinks himself to death. He just seems like a man broken beyond repair over the loss of his son.

  • Vvinny01 Nov 20, 2012

    First for the person complaining about the violence, just stop trolling. This episode can only be summed up as WOW! I mean I had to log on here just to see what was being said about it. The critique was spot on, with only a few caveats for me. The scene at the end of Owen and Margaret's conversation was tremendous---pull me back from the cliff---I just fell off. So overwhelming to frame Owen in the box with there final words...again WOW. I see all the obvious players, Mickey, Eli, but I got a feeling that's going to be to easy. A subtle glance back from the butler? A not so stunned fake shocked look from Nuck T? Really, just dragging the box into the house at 4am? Seems Nucky to be the type of guy to say get that damn thing out of the house, wait for daylight and gently open in the yard. Was it opened in the house at 4am for good old Margaret to see? It wouldn't suprise me if the info given to Joe by Luciano and Lansky was altogether different than we think, and he actually went to the Turkish Bath to attend his own hit. Just brilliant. One side note, lChalky's role fits exactly as it should, and I don't think his character is at all without texture? Racial issues of the times would have made their relationship critical, but loosely connected. To delve into Chalky's life on the other side of town, you would need another series.

  • Gnomeygnome Nov 20, 2012

    I liked how Owen said to Margaret "I'll just tell her something believable, then one day I'll leave and she'll never see me again" Which is exactly what happened with them, pretty clever.

  • headclub Nov 20, 2012

    I concur. I really hope Nucky had a strong suspicion Owen was diddling his lady, and set him up. It would make the whole thing that much more tremendous.. So then his suspicions were confirmed tendfold when Margaret freaked out like taht. Now let's put her & that sociopath Gyp in pine boxes, and call it a season.

    P.S. I'm kinda rooting for Gyp's rt hand man to exact some family revenge and kill his boss-- possibly in a moment of confusion duringa firefight. He does owe him one...

  • loldude1 Nov 24, 2012

    I agree with Devon39219. It doesn't make sense for Nucky to sacrifice Owen, as well as telegraph his hit attempt on Masseria.

  • Devon39219 Nov 20, 2012

    first of all I also think that Nuckys expression was genuine. I don't think he knew. Also, the way he reacted to Margarets reaction was more like, 'what the why do you care so.. ohhh.... it's like THAT.' well at least that's how I feel about it.

  • Drewvt Nov 20, 2012

    So who ratted on Owen?

    Think about it: what Luciano whispered into Joe's ear can't just have been "Nucky is trying to kill you". He already knew that; it must have been full details of the plot (which also explains why it failed). The leak must be either Eli or Mickey: both were in the room where the plan was hatched, both have motive. Micky is greedy and has former dealings with Luciano, who might have paid him handsomely for the tip. Eli has been eager to become the number two since the start of the series, Owen has stood in the way of that since Eli got out of prison. What do you think?

  • efonsecajr Staff Nov 20, 2012

    That dirty cop who is fascinated with Palindromes is the rat.

  • Drewvt Nov 26, 2012

    Was there something in the episode to suggest this? I might have missed that. I remember Palindromes walking into the bath house before Owen, but this by itself doesn't seem indicative of much of anything. It is definitely possible, just not as exciting since the cop is such a minor character.

  • patsully Nov 20, 2012

    Oh man, it would be amazing if it were Eli after that Easter reconciliation episode. I like it.

  • Drewvt Nov 20, 2012

    And I would like to add that I never expected Owen to live out the season; his position as a character just seemed precarious from the start. I was guessing he would die in a gun battle with Rosetti in the finale or something like that, though.

  • headclub Nov 20, 2012

    I'm hoping it's Nucky, but if it is Eli or Mickey--there's 2 people Nucky should have done away with long ago...BTW, Nucky did NOTHING after Mickey's giant debacle in Tabor Heights earlier this season. Anyone else notice that?

    (It's the same incident that won Eli so much favor...)

  • smithinjapan Nov 20, 2012

    I was NOT expecting it to be Owen in the box and the end, and I'm glad they saved the flashback of him learning about the pregnancy until AFTER we knew he was dead or else I might have guessed it was him in the box (loose ends needing tying up for the story). And of course, Nucky seeing his wife's reaction seemed to tell him something about their relationship, and with that Owen's death itself it seemed in this and the last episode that a lot of Nucky's world is going bust.

  • Laserwolf412_XL Nov 20, 2012

    I liked Owen but he never seemed fleshed out enough to be a true replacement for Jimmy. I think they made it clear that Luciano and his partner's info led to Owen failing, so now they are clearly Antagonists. I think Richard is going to be the last man standing out of the fictional characters when this is all done. Unbelievable that his character was only supposed to be around for an episode or two.

  • magua99 Nov 20, 2012

    Margaret is getting into the back alley abortion business with that doctor, they'll probably get romantic at some point, seems pretty obvious.

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