Within every organization -- be it criminal, institutional (hey Gillian!), legal, or social -- exists a hierarchy. There's always someone in a position of power who wants to put the pieces, or the people, in their places. And there's always frustration when those pieces don't fit, or when those pieces turn and try to knock you over to take your place, or upset the balance. In these 'Boardwalk Empire' flashbacks, a younger but slightly older Nucky is climbing up the ladder, still learning about all these moving parts. In present day, an older and wiser Nucky has made some kind of peace with how the tides have changed, and is content with his more minimalistic set of circumstances. Just when I thought I was out, well, you know.

"I've always been this way," Nucky answers when Chalky asks when he became so optimistic. It's almost troubling how calm and amiable Nucky has become, to the point where I started to wonder if we shouldn't begin preparing his eulogy. Nucky's no Tony Soprano, but he has simmered down quite a bit (maybe we should all switch from whiskey to rum?) -- the problem is that guys like Luciano aren't content to let him live his life so contentedly.

The grass is always greener, as the saying goes, and so is the money. And for as long as man has walked the earth, he simply cannot abide his fellow man's success. Okay, I admit it: the flashbacks have won me over: they show us that Nucky isn't just some smug opportunist who robbed out from under people and shaved off the top. He's not simply some shadowy thief lording over the Boardwalk -- at least he didn't start that way. Nucky is smart, he has integrity and knows that there is a right and a wrong way to do things; he's a criminal with a conscience, and it's not just us watching these flashbacks -- the reason why Nucky is so optimistic, as Chalky wondered, is because he's also reflecting on his youth and all the decisions that led him to where he is now.

Nucky can hold himself accountable, but what about Chalky? Chalky still has a grudge for Narcisse, and with only three episodes left, I imagine we'll see that showdown sometime in the next two. That sequence with the agent at the club and Mickey Doyle was wonderfully intense, however, especially with the piano player tinkering off-key in the background as if they were accompanying a Kubrick film.

Gillian is such a beautiful element. So much of this episode is about pieces being put in their place and accountability, and Gillian is trying to take agency for herself in a time when women are still struggling -- but the struggle is even more horrific in this place, where doctors just cut women open and remove what they believe is causing the distress. This is a time when women were institutionalized for post-natal depression. It's unclear what Gillian's friend is suffering from -- post-natal depression, sexual deviancy, who knows -- but it seems like the doctor thought a hysterectomy would do the trick. The implication that they'll find where Gillian's sickness is hiding and remove it is hideously sinister, and it's incredible how we're able to empathize with a character who -- among other pretty horrible things -- murdered an innocent man just a couple of seasons back. Gillian's actions have never been justifiable, but her past is sad and unfortunate one that set her on the path of mental illness. Does she truly see clearly now? Perhaps clear enough to know that the treatments and "cures" they're offering in that asylum are merely forms of torture; clear enough to know she doesn't want to be a victim again.

With Sally dead and no one to be held accountable down in Cuba (it's not as if Nucky can mow down the entire military), and Torrio in league with Luciano and Lansky (what a twist), it's safe to say that Nucky's officially reached his breaking point. There will be a reckoning. In the final flashback we see Deputy Sheriff Nucky answering the call of an old woman yet again -- every time he goes under the boardwalk, she's always yammering about a possible dead body and the work of ungodly types and the cries of souls, and it's always something stupid like a dead hog. But this time, it's a dead body, and he knows who's responsible.

We see the parallels between the moments of realization in the present and the moments when Nucky made his first criminal decisions in the past, and now, when Nucky is on the phone with Torrio, basically declaring war. That statement isn't just about Torrio and Luciano and Lansky -- it's also about the loss of Sally, and every loss he's endured and every decision he's ever made. We take our baggage with us wherever we go, and every decision we make is based on every experience we've ever had, and that goes doubly so for Nucky Thompson, a man who loads his proverbial gun with emotion more so than he'd like to admit beneath his cold exterior.

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in" -- was he ever really out, though? And yet they pulled him back in so easily.

Additional Thoughts:

  • Eli is clearly being held very accountable for his affair with Mrs. Van Alden (also: WHAT?!), and Eli and Nelson seem relieved in a way to be rescued from the hilarious Coen-esque scene by the FBI. From one hell to the next!
  • I never get tired of the way Mrs. Van Alden says "Huss-band"
  • Margaret took care of that Mrs. Rothstein business with some serious sass.
  • I loved the weirdly romantic reunion between Daughter Maitland and Chalky at the end -- and apparently Chalky has a daughter? Daughter Daughter Maitland?!
  • Kudos to the actor playing young Nucky this week, who really nails the Buscemi mannerisms in a subtle way without making a caricature of it. I also assume those were false teeth. Where can I buy some? For reasons.