This post contains spoilers through the November 6 episode of Boardwalk Empire.
It seems that giving birth has liberated Lucy, taken a literal weight off her body, and given her latent cleverness a motivating force. “Of course I fed her,” she snaps at Nelson, who assumes she’s neglecting their as-yet-named child. “What do you think I am?” And she’s blunt with him about the terms of their arrangement, telling him, “This is your baby. You bought it.” She’s more tender than that about the baby with Nucky, though, even if he starts their conversation by forcefully denying paternity. “I look like shit. She’s kind of cute, though. Ten toes and everything,” Lucy explains, setting up the scheme that will lead Nucky to try to blackmail Nelson with the knowledge of his illegitimate child. “Now, there’s someone else I’ve gotta make happy. And she’ll always be mine.”
In a way, there’s something sort of invigorating about seeing Nelson return from the land of hypocrisy to righteousness and stand up to Nucky’s attempts to weaken him further. But I’ll admit enjoying seeing him taken down a peg by Esther Randolph (the marvelously befreckled Julianne Nicholson) first. As the new lead investigator on the Nucky Thompson case, Esther’s a former radical who spent 10 years as “a public defender, representing draft dodgers and prostitutes.” And the collision between someone who’s been brought in to look unimpeachable and a man who thought he was unimpeachable and turned out not to be is inevitable and interesting. She’s less naive that he is — it makes sense that a woman who’s defended her clients against abuses of power would be less sanguine than the righteous man who works within the system. When Nelson complains that “the scales of justice are weighted down with graft,” she just raises her eyebrows and says, deadpan, “My, my. Isn’t that shocking.” But that flexibility also means that she’s prepared to help Nelson navigate his family problems so he won’t be vulnerable anymore.
And speaking of secrets, Margaret, it turns out, is stronger than we knew — if not actually who we thought we knew. “Would you have seen me off to the Magdalen Sisters and broken in the workhouse?” she asks her brother, who blames her for running off with his passage money to America and leaving their dying mother after she became pregnant out of wedlock. “The priests judged it fit correction,” he tells her, safe, if not prosperous, in his conformity. Later, he refuses her help, telling her, “I don’t hate you. I don’t feel much about you at all. I can’t accept the money. I don’t know where it’s from,” though he lets Margaret’s younger sister keep the gift of a novel from her estranged older sister. Who can deny a little girl who, after holding it in, bursts out “Send me books! I like anything with a horse in it!” And later, as if to reaffirm her commitment to make her own way, rather than living by anyone else’s rules, she does what she’s been wanting to do, taking Mr. Slater into her bed, a simultaneous rejection of her old country’s norms and embrace of the people created by them.