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Series: Boardwalk Empire

"I do expect to have everything."
Nucky Thompson

Boardwalk Empire is an HBO drama, set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, from The Roaring Twenties and the beginning of Prohibition into The Great Depression.

Steve Buscemi stars as Anti-Hero Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a corrupt county treasurer who develops his own bootlegging ring in Atlantic City in the wake of Prohibition. The series focuses on how Nucky balances his dual lives as respected public figure and underworld kingpin, and the multi-sided conflicts between the federal government, his own operations, and those of his rivals, all amongst an ensemble cast.

"Inspired by", rather than adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name, the series was created and written by Terence Winter of The Sopranos renown and its pilot episode was directed by Martin Scorsese, who also set the artistic tone of the show. HBO picked up the series for a twelve-episode first season, and it debuted September 19, 2010. A second season was announced after the pilot registered one of the highest followings in the network's history and the show completed its third season in 2012. Veteran The Wire writers Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos joined the creative staff in the fourth season, which was aired in the second half of 2013.

The series has won seventeen Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes. It has also done its research.

HBO and creator Terence Winter decided to end the show with a shortened season 5. After 56 episodes, the finale was aired on October 26, 2014.

Additional pages:


This show provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    A - G 
  • Aborted Arc: Thanks to a seven year time jump for the final season, two storylines set up in season 4 are dropped almost completely: Narcisse's deal with Hoover and Rothstein's business dealings with Margaret.
  • Absentee Actor: Notably, only Steve Buscemi has appeared in every episode of the series. Unsurprisingly for a show that spans so many locations and features so many regulars it is not uncommon for actors to not appear in some episodes:
    • Chalky and Al Capone appear in about half the episodes in most seasons though Chalky, because of his popularity with the fans, gets a big boost in season 4 where he is basically the second lead and appears in more episodes than anybody besides Nucky.
    • Van Alden goes from appearing in all but one episode of season 1 to appearing in a mere five episodes in season 3.
    • In season 4 Margaret is entirely gone for the first 5 episodes and appears in a scant 4 episodes afterwards. Lucky Luciano also only appears in 4 episodes.
  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Gillian gave birth to Jimmy at the age of 14. In-universe Luciano mistakes her for Jimmy's wife.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Nucky's father is a real piece of work, having scarred his hand at age 9 for grabbing food first, forced him into an impossible fight over a baseball glove, and undoubtedly many other traumatic events. Even as he's going senile he remains as hateful as ever. Eli's wife explicitly traces the roughness of the Thompson brothers back to their childhood.
    • Hans Schroeder beat his children.
    • Gillian, a control freak with no sexual boundaries, to Jimmy. Seems to be continuing down the same path in season 3 with Jimmy's son Tommy in the same role, emotionally manipulating and claiming she's his mother (instead of his grandmother), among other things.
    • Van Alden was raised by fanatical members of a Doomsday cult. According to him, his father sold (or possibly just gave away for free) the family farm when he was a child, at the start of the supposed year of the Second Coming and when a whole year of living in poverty in a tent passed without it happening Van Alden's father blamed him for it.
  • Accidental Murder:
    • Eli really did not mean to crush that guy's windpipe with the wrench.
    • Willie, Eli's son, kills a college mate when his chemically spiked alcohol becomes a Deadly Prank.
  • Advertised Extra:
    • Chalky White, played by Michael K. Williams (of The Wire fame), was deliberately written as one in the first season. Once Chalky proved to be popular, it was announced that he would get a more prominent role in Season 2 (along with another minor character that the audience loved, Richard Harrow), and in season 3 they both play major roles in the great scheme of things. In season 4 Chalky is arguably just as much of a main character as Nucky.
    • Ron Livingston as Roy Phillips in season 4. Early press made a big deal of adding him and fellow film actor Jeffery Wright to the main cast for season 4 but ultimately Livingston appears in just half the episodes.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Nucky is quite polite and charming. Until you cross him. This is in stark contrast to Rothstein, who is polite but absolutely ruthless beneath it.
    • Chalky White is the closest thing to the black community's version of Santa Claus. In spite of the fact that he actually is a bootlegger, he's one of the more sympathetic characters on the show.
    • Just like in real life, Al Capone is a gregarious guy who gets on especially well with kids, but he's also a brutal thug.
    • Manny Horvitz has a very avuncular personality, but he'll kill just about anyone. Jimmy also points out that his habit of calling Jimmy "boychik" isn't actually friendly. Manny's accusing him of being a snot-nosed kid trying to play grown-up.
    • Maranzano is a suave, softspoken, easy-going mobster who tries not to take things personally, even after an assassination attempt.
  • Afterlife Express: We see Richard on the train to Minnesota, and then arriving at the house to meet his family. Then we see his body, still under the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Nucky is ultimately willing to Kneel Before Zod and promise Luciano everything he owns in return for his nephew's life.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Jimmy's death is this to a certain degree. No matter how much of a villain you feel he was in the second season, one has to admit the writers did a damn good job of generating sympathy for a character who, over the course of the season committed several murders, tried to overthrow the main character, was a huge jerk to pretty much everyone around him, proved to be an incredibly incompetent leader and got his poor innocent wife killed because he was too selfish to pay back Manny money he legitimately owed him.
    • Frank Capone, a relatively temperate gangster with plenty of Evil Virtues, is horribly gunned down while trying to defend his brother.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: Every side does this at some point.
  • Alter Kocker: Manny Horvitz, when he isn't murdering people.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees:
    • Esther Randolph is a high-ranking district attorney serving just a year after women gained the right to vote. The character seems pretty fantastical, but she is based on a real person, Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the "first lady of law."
    • In season 5 Gillian ends up in an insane asylum run by a certain Dr. Cotton, who believes that insanity can be cured by removing the patients' teeth or certain internal organs. Sounds fantastic? Dr. Cotton was a real person, and that's exactly what he did.
    • The weird scene in series finale "Eldorado" in which a young lady barker lures Nucky into a mysterious booth to show him "the future", revealing herself singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on a crude TV set, might strike viewers as bizarre David Lynch-ian craziness. Well, it is David Lynch-ian craziness, but experimental television was a thing in 1931. The first experimental broadcasts had been made in 1927, and by 1931 the new technology was occasionally being shown to the public. The Great Depression and World War II delayed television's coming-out party for several years.
  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • Nucky always wants more and he gets it through crime, but it's downplayed during the present day, as he is not too greedy nor too amoral by the standards of the story. His backstory reveals that he wanted to get ahead, and in order to become Sheriff, he delivered a 12-year old Gillian to the Commodore so he would rape her.
    Nucky: I was a bellboy. Carried people's bags. First time I was tipped a nickel, I thought the world is a marvelous place. But a dime, a dime would be better. And when I got the dime, I thought: a quarter.
    • By contrast, a repeated motif in the fifth season is Tommy Darmody refusing to take tips from anyone, or only doing so reluctantly.
  • American Dream: Referenced several times.
  • Amoral Attorney:
    • Arnold Rothstein has one, Fallon, who is very impressed by his client's eloquence and ability to commit perjury with a straight face- so much so that he comments that Rothstein would be a great lawyer. Rothstein replies that he's chosen an honest profession. As of "Georgia Peaches", Rothstein's decided to loan Fallon to Nucky for his election-rigging trial.
    • Thorogood Junior is a weaselly little prosecutor just out of law school, trying to ride on his Daddy's reputation and perfectly willing to take a dive for bribes.
    • Nucky himself has Isaac Ginsburg, who helps Nucky use his bribes and connections to beat the legal system. He's eventually fired for an even more skilled crooked attorney.
    • And George Remus, as in Real Life, is an attorney so amoral that he has decided to cast off the attorney job altogether and become an outright bootlegger instead - while using his knowledge of law to find the correct loopholes, of course.
  • Analogy Backfire: Maranzano likes to compare himself with Gaius Julius Caesar. Nucky quickly points out that Caesar was backstabbed. Maranzano is betrayed by Nucky, and killed by a bunch of guys with daggers.
  • And Call Him George: In "Paris Green", Van Alden gets a bit too zealous in teaching Sebso a lesson during a river baptism. Sebso drowns.
    "Do you accept Jesus as your savior???"
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: Nucky's address to the Temperance League about how his family suffered terrible poverty in his childhood and how he was once forced to catch three rats for their dinner. He later claims that it's a lie, but the more we see in flashbacks of Nucky's childhood, the more it seems plausible that the story wasn't completely fictional, possibly making it a Double Subversion.
  • Anti-Hero Substitute: By the beginning of season five, Nucky has replaced Eddie Kessler, who committed suicide when being blackmailed by the FBI. Kessler was affable, decent, but determined and capable in a fight — by no means a hero, but one of the nicest characters in the setting, and fast becoming a Morality Pet for Nucky. The replacement is silent, menacing, and viciously brutal in a fight — even slicing the ear off a dead attacker and keeping it in his suit pocket. The implication is that Nucky hates that he got personally attached to Kessler only to lose him, and has hired a bloodthirsty stoic he won't mistake for a friend.
    Senator: Doesn't say much, does he?
    Nucky: That's what I like about him.
  • Anti-Hero/Anti-Villain: Nucky goes back and forth and toes the line thanks to the setting and his more nefarious antagonists. He's a self-interested criminal and corrupt politician, but he's not without his humanity.
    Gillian: Mrs. Thompson said you want to be good. But you don't know how.
  • Anyone Can Die: It seems that with the exception of Historical Domain Characters with a known death date, anyone is up for grabs. Starting at the end of season 2 series regulars start falling fast, including Angela, The Commodore, Jimmy, Owen, Gyp, Eddie, Richard, Rothstein, Van Alden, Chalky, Mickey, Dr. Narcisse and ultimately Nucky himself.
  • Apathetic Citizens: The Volstead act is an unpopular law so Moral Guardians aside, the bootleggers face little opposition from the average civilian, who is just concerned about any offshot violence. During season 3, Rosetti buys an entire town at $200 per citizen just to be sure everybody stays quietly in line.
  • Arms Dealer: Nucky engages in an Atlantic trade with the IRA, booze for weapons. Hilariously, one of his partners assumes Nucky is the inventor of the Thompson submachine gun, but Mr Thompson clarifies it's just a happy coincidence.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: While reviewing the profiles of a pair of killers, Halloran notes that the D’Alessio brothers have killed at least two people. O'Neill adds that they called him fat. Eli, who'd recently been shot by the brothers, says that he got off easy.
  • Art Imitates Art:
    • The first shot of "21" (the second-season premiere) shows a bottle of liquor washed up on the beach, a nod to the opening credits.
    • The Season 3 premiere, "Resolution", opens with Gyp Rosetti looking at the ocean like Nucky does in the credits. The episode after that, "Spaghetti & Coffee", mirrors the imagery again when Eli gets out of jail, except in this case he has no hat on and he is looking at an empty land plot rather than the ocean, highlighting how far down he has fallen in contrast to his brother.
    • The Season 3 episode "A Man, A Plan..." has whiskey bottles washing up onto the shore. It turns out one of Gyp Rosetti's ships lost cargo.
  • Artistic License – History: For the most part, it's surprisingly averted on a period show where the writers obviously spent time doing the research into 1920s Atlantic City, but there are some exceptions.
    • In "Anastasia," Margaret reads newspaper accounts of pretender Anna Anderson's claim to be Anastasia Romanov a good two years before those claims actually became public.
    • In "Nights in Ballygran", Van Alden writes with an Esterbrook "J" fountain pen, a model not available until the 1940s. Nucky uses a Parker Vacumatic fountain pen, a model not available until 1934.
    • "Georgia Peaches" features a painting of the Divine Mercy by Hyla that wasn't made until 1943.
    • 1943 is also the year in which the lullaby sung by Sigrid the Norwegian nanny in "Two Boats and a Lifeguard" was released.
    • A minor one happens in "21", when Nucky is arrested by the New Jersey State Police. The NJSP was indeed founded in 1921, but the first class of officers didn't graduate until December (the episode takes place in February).
    • In "Bone for Tuna" (1923), Gyp's right hand man Tonino vividly describes Nosferatu to his boss. While the film was released in Germany in 1922, it didn't hit the States until 1929 because of its infamous copyright problems.
    • In "The North Star", which takes place in Season 4 (1924), J. Edgar Hoover cites Emma Goldman as an anarchist threat to America. Emma Goldman was deported in 1919 and did not gain re-entry to the USA until 1934.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Hans Schroeder. He is a violent, abusive alcoholic bastard who hits and mistreats his children and beats his pregnant wife so viciously she suffers a miscarriage. After accusing her of being a whore. And taking the nest egg he'd found out she had, and going off to drink and gamble it away. He's bad enough that Nucky personally signs off on his murder, at a time when Nucky was basically just a grafting politician, not a gangster, and definitely not a murderer.
    • Pretty much all the KKK members who met unfortunate endings.
    • The arrogant bully that is poisoned by Willie in a Deadly Prank. Willie has clearly entered dark territory, but the audience isn't exactly broken up by the death.
    • In "El Dorado" very few tears were shed by the audience when Dr. Narcisse got gunned down by Luciano's men.
  • As the Good Book Says:
    • After Van Alden's Trauma Conga Line leads to him being interrogated by Al Capone for information on O'Bannion, Nelson starts muttering an excerpt from the Book of Job under his breath. He makes it clear it doesn't apply directly to him though, saying unlike Job he had "failed to eschew evil."
    • Doctor Narcisse frequently quotes the Bible to make a point and show off his intellect.
  • Authority in Name Only: Mayor Bader raises gales of laughter when he declares at a press conference that "Nucky Thompson doesn't run this city — I do!"
    • In Season 4 finale "Farewell Daddy Blues", Nucky tells Bader to "get the fuck out" of his own office. Bader does.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Benny, the future Bugsy Siegel, is quite unstable. Lucky and Meyer worry about him gunning people down with little cause while on a courier mission. When actually confronted with antagonists, he loses his mind and runs screaming into gunfire, firing wildly.
    • Gyp Rosetti is prone to killing people over minor and even imagined slights.
    • Dean O'Bannion likes to abuse his underlings for fun, and gets offended if they don't think it's hilarious.
  • Bad Boss: Van Alden to Sebso, Nucky to Eddie, Madame Jeunet to Margaret, Margaret to Katy and the other girls, Eli to Halloran... they all pale in comparison to Gyp Rosetti.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Considering everybody is pretty much a Villain Protagonist, this was pretty much inevitable. However, in particular, Luciano and Lansky succeed forcing Nucky to hand over Atlantic City to them as well as assassinate Marazano, essentially making them the most powerful crime bosses in the United States.
  • Bad Guys Play Pool:
    • Arnold Rothstein is quite the expert. In reality, Rothstein's pool hall exploits inspired the film The Hustler.
    • Lucky Luciano's a pretty decent pool player, apparently having picked it up from Rothstein.
  • Badass: More than a few.
    • Jimmy Darmody is a war veteran who is handy with a trench knife as well as a gun.
    • Harrow is a Cold Sniper and makes a fine triggerman. After getting half of his face blown off, killing is about all he's got left in his life.
    • Chalky much of the time, especially his confrontation with the Klansman, his revenge on the D'Alessios for lynching his driver, and his lengthy confrontation with Dunn Purnsley.
    • Manny Horvitz, who is just as handy with a cleaver as you'd expect a butcher to be.
    • Al Capone, especially when one of O'Bannion's men beats his man up when he comes to collect. Capone beats the guy to death, despite being unarmed.
  • Badass Boast:
    • A quick two sentences from Nucky from "A Dangerous Maid" are all he needs.
      Nucky: I will ruin you. All of you.
    • Lucky Luciano delivers one on Rothstein's behalf:
      Darmody: Your Mr Rothstein don't run this town-
      Luciano: No. He runs New York. Maybe ya heard of it?
    • Rothstein has a menacing one exposing his analytic and callous nature.
      Rothstein: The moral of this story is that if I'd cause a stranger to choke to death for my own amusement, what do you think I'll do to you if you don't tell me who ordered you to kill Colosimo?
    • Owen gets a two-parter.
      Nucky: What are your talents, Mr. Sleater?
      Owen: Making people stop.
      Nucky: Stop what?
      Owen: Whatever it is you don't want them to be doing. (this includes having fingers, an uncharred face, and existing)
    • Nucky parting ways with a strongarmed foe.
      Nucky: I see you in Atlantic City again, I'll kill you myself.
    • When Nucky sends Eli to cut a deal with Johnny Torrio, and gets someone else...
      Al Capone: We've been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bath, some chow. And then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies,eh?
    • Eddie delivers a bewildering one on behalf of Nucky when mayor Bader doesn't kick-up a cut from an independent construction project.
      Eddie: Mr. Thompson is part of everything. He is in the sky and sea. He is in the dreams of children at night. He is all that there is... forever!
  • Badass Bookworm: Doctor Narcisse is an erudite kingpin with surprisingly quick reflexes and isn't afraid to charge after a hit-squad, pistol blazing.
  • Badass Grandpa:
    • The Commodore is still able to lift a giant elephant tusk over his head, which a man half his age couldn't do.
    • Manny Horvitz. A gangster doesn't get to his age if he is not tougher than the majority.
  • Bait and Switch:
    • An interesting one in "The Ivory Tower". Near the beginning of the episode, Jimmy buys a necklace. Later on, he gives his wife an also expensive bracelet instead of that necklace, so it's already fishy. Then, he can't have sex with her because his son is napping in the same room. He looks frustrated, so he goes to a Broadway rehearsal. Backstage, a great-looking woman is jumping with joy when he sees her, so the audience assumes it's an old flame and Jimmy's there for a booty call. He gives her the necklace from the beginning of the episode. And then it turns out it's his mother. This sets up their underlying Oedipus Complex.
    • In "21" Mrs. Van Alden is visibly aroused after watching Nelson perform a raid of a restaurant selling illegal liquor. We cut to a shot of a headboard rhythmically pounding—but it's Nelson testing out the springs by pressing with his hand. However, the scene ends how you think it would.
    • In "Age of Reason", Lucy's water has broken, and we see Van Alden in the hospital, looking like he's shitting a brick with nerves. He's allowed into a hospital room, but it's not Lucy's, it's the Prohibition agent who was burned in the explosion.
    • Nucky, Eli, and Manny Horvitz pull it on Jimmy in "To the Lost": Manny isn't a prisoner and Eli's really on Nucky's side. Unfortunately, Jimmy doesn't care.
    • Manny Horvitz is set for an apparent long arc in the Season 3 premiere, having become an enforcer for Nucky between seasons, and convincing him to let Manny part ways with Mickey and give him his own distillery in exchange for killing a rival. He gets offed by Richard Harrow at the end of the episode, just as he opens the door to go looking for that rival.
    • Rothstein is mad at Nucky for failing to keep his part of an arrangement and makes another agreement with his rival, Gyp Rosetti. He's actually giving Rosetti a false sense of security before he orders his murder.
    • "Sunday Best" opens with Eli secretly stashing unseen objects around his yard, looking suspiciously over his shoulder each time. It turns out that they're Easter Eggs.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comparison: Judging from Nucky's reaction, this joke wasn't funny even in the 20s;
    McCoy: What's the difference between a catfish and an Italian? One's a filthy, scum-sucking bottom-feeder... and the other's a fish.
  • Batman Gambit: The Pinkertons' scheme to wring a confession from Gillian required her to fall in love with one of their agents and attempt to comfort him after he seemingly commits a murder by admitting details of a murder she'd committed.
  • Battle Butler: Despite being a Non-Action Guy, Nucky's German butler, Eddie Kessler, will defend his employer against all threats, to the point of shooting one assassin and taking a bullet for him from another.
  • Battle in the Rain: The finale of season 2.
  • Becoming the Mask: When Van Alden skips town with Sigrid, his child's nanny, they pose as husband and wife. After the two-year time skip, they're a legitimate couple.
  • Bedlam House: The insane asylum Gillian ends up in season 5.
  • Bedmate Reveal:
    • Angela and Mary, the photographer's wife in "Home."
    • Lucy and Van Alden at the end of "The Emerald City."
    • Owen and Katy in "Gimcrack and Bunkum." Apparently, she's a screamer.
    • Billie Kent in Nucky's bed at the end of "Resolution".
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: In season 4, Chalky and Daughter Maitland the new singer at his club trade barbs and scowls until it boils over into a Slap-Slap-Kiss.
  • Best Served Cold:
    • Nucky appears to be recruiting Tonino as an informer on Luciano & Lansky. However, Tonino gets an Oh, Crap moment when it's pointed out to him that Nucky chose a table under a portrait of Billie Kent, suggesting he was the one who planted the bomb that killed her. Next time we see him, he's a Dead Guy on Display.
    • In season one Nucky humiliated Luciano and Lansky and they never forgave him for that. In season 4, Nucky and Eli humiliated Lansky again (forcing him to kneel before a freshly-dug grave). In season 5, almost 7 years later, they have finally bested Nucky and they make sure to thoroughly humiliate him before agreeing to let him live in exchange for Nucky killing Maranzano.
  • Betty and Veronica: Margaret and Lucy for Nucky in Season 1.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • The Commodore's Maid in "Paris Green".
    • Margaret in early season two ("Ourselves Alone" and "Gimcrack and Bunkum" in particular).
    • Sigrid, in "You'd Be Surprised". Poor schmuck just wanted his money back.
  • Big Applesauce: While most of the action takes place in Atlantic City, New York is a major part of the show. Gangsters Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky make their home in NYC.
    Rothstein: And now, owing to your own inability to manage your own affairs in New Jersey, a state I have little interest in or affection for, you expect me to start a war? In New York? Where things actually matter?
  • Big Bad
    • Season 1: The D'alessio Brothers with Arnold Rothstein as the Bigger Bad.
    • Season 2: The Commodore is a subversion. Jimmy ends up being the main villain of the season.
    • Season 3: Gyp Rosetti, the most clear cut example of the series, Joe Masseria is the Bigger Bad.
    • Season 4: A Big Bad Ensemble of Dr. Narcisse and Agent Knox.
    • Season 5: Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Eli and Capone at the end of "Two Imposters".
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: The Darmodies; Gillian, an orphan Street Urchin raped by Jimmy's father, the sociopathic Commodore, has been a Broken Bird for most of her life, becomes a drug addict, begins an affair with a doppelganger of her son before murdering him, and is finally locked in a lunatic asylum. Jimmy could have had a normal life, but he became a shell of a man after returning from the war and his life is repeatedly screwed up by his own mother, even literally. Jimmy's son, Tommy, runs away from a potentially happy life with his adoptive mother to become a public murderer.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Rothstein goes by the alias "Redstone" when investing. "Redstone" is an English translation of his real name.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: During a business meeting, Lucky Luciano mutters a sidehand comment in Yiddish to Meyer Lansky, who responds in Italian, showing their close relationship in spite of their different ethnic backgrounds.
  • Bi the Way: Angela. She seems to be genuinely attracted to Jimmy, but only pursues women when cheating on him.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Nucky is a corrupt politician and "half a gangster", but he has generally progressive attitudes and is a nice person to those who don't interfere in his business. Van Alden is a federal agent enforcing the law, but he is clearly deranged. Prohibition, the law Nucky's flouting and Van Alden is enforcing, is seen by posterity as a terrible idea. The conflict between these two would normally give this series Grey and Gray Morality. However, certain characters such as Arnold Rothstein and Gyp Rosetti serve to remind us that gangsters can certainly get a hell of a lot worse and a hell of a lot more unscrupulous than Nucky, significantly darkening this particular shade of conflict. The only "good" main character is Margaret, but her close association with Nucky and the power-by-proxy she gets a chance to wield send her on her own trip towards the middle of the morality scale.
    Nucky: We all have to decide how much sin we can live with.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • When Mr. Rosetti begins to take over Tabor Heights, he claims to be D.L. Collingsworth, a proprietor whose family goes way back, slept with George Washington and everything. Naturally his gas station has no fuel. Owen can't keep a straight face when he's confronted by this absurdness.
    • When Nucky goes into hiding during a Mob War, a Media Scrum pesters the mayor about where he is. His response that "Nucky Thompson does not control this city, I do!" is met with a brief Stunned Silence, and then gales of laughter.
  • Blonde Guys Are Evil: Jimmy is an antihero gangster and Deputy Halloran is a sadsack mook.
  • Bloody Handprint: On the window of Maranzano's office when he's murdered.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: In "Two Imposters" Rosetti's men are able to get to Nucky's hotel suite because one of the men guarding Nucky sold him out. Eddie warned him of exactly that possibility just a few minutes earlier because he correctly realized that none of the bodyguards had a personal loyalty to Nucky. In the very next episode, Nucky gets his own back by sending one of Gyp's men to literally stab him in the back.
  • Bondage Is Bad: The violent thug Gyp Rosetti is into erotic asphyxiation as the stranglee. The season 3 finale makes it clear that he is a submissive.
  • Bond One-Liner: A truly groanworthy one courtesy of Chalky White, following a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Dunn B. Purnsley.
    Chalky: Purnsley be done.
  • Boom, Headshot: At least once an episode, typically.
  • Brainless Beauty: Lucy.
  • Break the Haughty: Dunn Purnsley. It works, too, considering that in "Battle of the Century", Purnsley has become Chalky's right hand man.
  • Brick Joke: In the second season, Neary tries to convince the other aldermen (Fleming, O'Neill and Boyd) to side against Nucky saying that whoever refuses will be lucky if he ends cleaning the Boardwalk with a broom and a dustpan. Fast forward to Season 3's "Resolution", where we see briefly alderman Boyd the only survivor of the three aldermen that betrayed Nucky cleaning the Boardwalk with a broom and a dustpan.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Gyp's Villainous Breakdown at the end of Season 3 manifests itself in a pretty good Nucky Thompson imitation.
  • Bring Me My Brown Pants: Willie poisons the hooch of the class bully, causing him to crap his pants and later die.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Al Capone is one of the most famous examples of this trope. Gyp Rosetti is a textbook example as well.
  • The Brute:
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Gyp Rosetti uses a naked woman to shield himself from Bugsy's bullet.
  • Bully Hunter: Al Capone turns into one of these, at least for an episode, after his son gets bullied in school and he's unable to help. He transfers his rage onto a rival gangster who attacked his associate, delivering a fatal No-Holds-Barred Beatdown and announcing to the spectators that it was for picking on people who can't defend themselves.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • Dunn Purnsley to Chalky White when they're locked up together.
    • Jimmy knows how brutal and unforgiving Manny Horvitz can be, but he still reneges on a debt he owes Manny and then betrays Manny to Waxey Gordon. Jimmy should have known better but Manny kept treating Jimmy like a kid and the lecturing got on Jimmy's nerves.
    • Rosetti, an upcoming player from NY, gives an insulting "The Reason You Suck" Speech to a group of powerful and established gangsters. Pragmatic businessmen as they are, they don't escalate the conflict. Stepford Smiler Rothstein, who gets described as a "smug kike midget creeping around like a fuckin' dentist with the ether," just smiles at the tirade. Rosetti later tries to ally with Rothstein, who betrays him. Some people don't forget, it seems.
    • Dickie and his wife seduce, trap and abuse Dunn Purnsley, Chalky's chief enforcer.
    • Three of Nelson's former coworkers, armed with a single blackjack, attack him in an alley in revenge for burning one of them with an iron and laying waste to their office. It goes even worse than you might expect.
  • Buried Alive: Gyp buries a mouthy underling up to his neck in sand with the tide coming in. When the guy's cousin pleads with him not to leave him there, he obligingly smashes his head in with a shovel instead.
  • The Butcher: Manny Horvitz is literally a kosher butcher, but he's also a vicious gangster. He's shown combining the two when he beats up a treacherous subordinate and leaves him tied upside down to a meat hook for further interrogation. He doesn't kill the guy himself though, since that wouldn't be kosher.
  • The Butler Did It: Played completely straight with Louanne's slow poisoning of The Commodore. Being that this is a Dead Unicorn Trope (and suspicion thrown on Gillian), it plays more like a subversion of expectation.
  • But Not Too Black: Used In-Universe.invoked
    • It's pointed out that despite Chalky's "Onyx Club" being billed as a negro club, he only hires light-skinned dancers for the sake of the mostly white clientele.
    • Purnsley compliments Chalky's "yellow" wife. Chalky was born to humble origins and has a much darker skin tone than his erudite wife, who has the light skin to match her station.
  • Butt Monkey:
    • Lucky Luciano gets it in the first season, almost to Humiliation Conga proportions.
    • Mickey Doyle is one to everyone. People mock him and call him stupid right to his face, but so far he's survived them all.
    • Eddie is one for Nucky, who seems to think that he's earned the right by protecting him during the Great War.
  • Call Back:
    • In season two's "Ourselves Alone", Margaret borrows a maid's clothes, dresses much like she did in the pilot, and coaxes her way into Nucky's office with a story much like the one she told in the pilot. She does this to rescue some cash and incriminating documents from the cops that are rifling through Nucky's things.
    • In Season 1, Nucky tells Margaret the story of how he lost his baseball glove as a boy to illustrate what a monster his father was. In Season 2's "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", the episode in which Papa Thompson dies, Nucky has a disturbing dream that features the glove. He also says the line, "Daddy eats first," the same his father said him when he scarred his hand as a child.
    • The scene where people discover Jim Neary's "suicide" in season 2 is strongly reminiscent of the one where people discovered Pearl's in season 1, screaming woman and all.
    • Early in season 1, there are several moments where Jimmy looks distressed as the audience hears sounds of an oncoming train. In "Under God's Power She Flourishes," this is explained as the remembering of a very traumatic event, for a nearby train shook the room when a drunken Jimmy was seduced by his mother.
    • In season one's "A Return to Normalcy", one of Richard Harrow's victims opens the door to be greeted with a shotgun blast to the face. In season three's "Resolution", Manny Horvitz goes the very same way.
    • In season 3's "Resolution" we get a shot of an errand boy's legs as he climbs the stairs to serve coffee to Nucky. Four episodes later, a similar shot shows a paperboy's legs (actually a young Bugsy Siegel) as he climbs the stairs to Gyp Rosetti's hotel room to kill him on Nucky's orders.
    • In "Friendless Child," Lansky tells Nucky to get on his knees, then sneers, "Now you know how it feels." This is a callback to "White Horse Pike", when Nucky and Eli had Lansky on his knees, and seasons earlier, "The Emerald City", when Chalky and Nucky did the same.
    • In the finale Tommy shoots Nucky in the face the same way he shot Jimmy.
  • Call Forward:
    • From "Hold Me in Paradise": "A fortune-teller told me he would die in office."
    • One of the plot threads of Season 4 is Rothstein's gambling habit and his predilection for running up huge debts at cards. In Real Life Arnold Rothstein was murdered in 1928 over an unpaid gambling debt.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • Richard does this for Julia, telling off her drunken father for being such a dick to her.
    • Nucky does it in the Old Man's funeral, no less.
  • Camera Abuse: Blood spatters the screen more than once in the pilot.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Van Alden, dismissed from the feds and hating his new job, poor, and bullied at work, finally succumbs to an invitation to a speakeasy in order to curry favour with his colleagues. He's spent about five minutes in there, not touching a drop, when he has a drink spilled over him and decides to leave. And that's the moment the place gets raided.
  • Cartwright Curse: Eddie Cantor has started warning showgirls off dating Nucky after it didn't exactly turn out well for Lucy or Billie. Or his first wife, for that matter.
    • Season 5 sees Sally join the dead girlfriends club too.
  • Casting Couch: Referenced in season four, when Nucky takes home an actress who's only interested in getting a role out of Nucky and insinuates that Billy did the same. It doesn't work out for her.
  • The Cast Show Off:
    • Anthony Laciura, who plays Eddie, is an opera singer, and in "What Does the Bee Do", Eddie sings beautifully at a birthday party, although given what else was going on, the guests probably weren't paying too much attention.
    • Nucky performs an egg juggling routine. The trope is averted immediately afterwards by Margaret, who performs a spirited but amateur rendition of "I'll Tell Me Ma."
  • The Chains of Commanding
  • Charge Into Combat Cut: Jimmy's Blackadder-style flashback to going over the top during his death scene, implying that he essentially "died" in the trenches and was never going to make anything of himself after the war.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Jimmy's combat knife, which we see early in "Family Limitation" as he slides it into a special holster in his boot, is a Chekhov's Boomerang. He later sneaks it into a meeting with local crime boss Sheridan, but it's discovered as he's reaching for it. Then it turns out this was just a distraction from the real plan to take out Sheridan. It also appears again in "A Return to Normalcy" when Jimmy uses it to pull a Sweeney Todd on the eldest of the D'Alessios. It appears again in "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", when Jimmy and Richard scalp Parkhurst, and finally, in "Under God's Power She Flourishes" when Jimmy uses it to kill the Commodore.
    • In "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", Nucky visits a National Guard armory and is told that they have three thousand surplus Thompson submachineguns stored in the basement. At the end of the episode Nucky is making deals with the IRA.
    • Agent Sebso comments on his new shoes in "Paris Green" and takes them off before getting into the water. Some time later, the priest performing the baptisms returns with the shoes to act as a witness of Sebso's murder.
    • The Commodore was apparently practising with Chekhov's Spear; the pike he is seen using in "21" comes back with a vengeance in "Under God's Power She Flourishes", when he defends Gillian against Jimmy with it, stabbing him in the back of his shoulder. Jimmy gains control of it and uses his army knife to kill him.
    • The insurance policies that Rothstein had the D'Alessio Brothers, and more importantly, Mickey Doyle, sign are also used in "Under God's Power She Flourishes". Luciano reminds Doyle that there is very little reason to keep Doyle alive, as dead, Luciano and Rothstein can split the half-million. Doyle begins to plot accordingly. Then three seasons later, Rothstein tries to convince Nucky to let him kill Doyle for the insurance.
    • In "Battle of the Century" there is a long, lingering shot of Manny Horvitz's meat cleaver collection, conveniently embedded in a chopping block near the door.
    • The bad state of roads in New Jersey is mentioned from time to time in seasons 1 and 2. In season 2, Nucky engages in a crooked land deal that will make him a fortune when a new road is finally built. In season 3, the fact that there is only one decent road between Atlantic City and New York is the source of a massive problem for Nucky when Rosetti takes over Tabor Heights and starts to ambush Nucky's delivery trucks.
    • The dog Rosetti gives to Margaret ends up acting as a distraction when Rosetti's men come to kill Nucky in his hotel suite.
    • When he's first introduced, Richard Harrow rattles off his impressive collection of guns. In season 3, we finally see them all assembled on his bed. Shortly thereafter he stages a one-man assault on Gyp Rosetti's hideout armed with a rifle, shotgun and several handguns.
    • Jimmy chews gum constantly throughout the pilot episode, something he does rarely, if ever, thereafter. During the woods massacre when one of the hijackers blows the brains off a man in hiding, we aren't sure whether it's Jimmy or Al... until we see the bottom of his mask shift and bob conspicuously before he removes it and we see Jimmy; thus putting the audience on notice that the protagonist is not the sympathetic, Thou Shalt Not Kill type.
    • In fourth-season finale "Farewell Daddy Blues", one of Eli's daughters is shown playing a musical saw. That saw later gets used as a weapon in Eli's brutal fight with Agent Knox/Tolliver.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The new kid, Joe Harper, who is recruited as a general factotum by Mickey Doyle in the fifth season? Seems to be getting an awful lot of screen time for some nobody we've never met before... Of course, it's Tommy Darmody, all grown up and out to avenge his family by killing Nucky.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Several characters, but Mickey Doyle in particular.
  • Circle of Shame: Van Alden hitting his Rage Breaking Point at Faraday is immediately preceded by several grotesque closeups of the laughing colleagues surrounding him on all sides.
  • Click Hello: Margaret, of all people, in "Gimcrack and Bunkum". With a shotgun.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Not used in dialogue, but otherwise played straight when the feds burst through a dentist's door, in order to wake up and interrogate a dying, unconscious man.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Nucky, of all people, in "The Milkmaid's Lot", following an explosion that gave him a severe concussion. It's actually quite depressing.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Nearly every character seems to really fuckin' enjoy their blue language, but the fuckin' Commodore takes the fuckin' cake.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: In "Blue Bell Boy", Katy answers the phone while having sex with Owen.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Chalky dishes out some Fingore on a KKK wizard, Van Alden is not above performing some Open Heart Dentistry, and Manny Horvitz likes to hang traitors upside down in his meat locker.
  • Cold Sniper: Jimmy's friend Richard Harrow. Made a Cold Sniper and a Shell-Shocked Veteran as well by his horrific experiences in The Great War.
    Richard (discussing possible ways to locate and eliminate the d'Alessio brothers): I could kill their mother. The sisters. And the dentist [a civilian brother]. That would make them stick their heads up.
  • Cold Turkey: Gillian breaks her heroin habit in "William Wilson", but not without suffering first.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When a bootlegger talks about a booby trap that he installed at his liquor warehouse, Warren Knox starts to warn him that booby traps are illegal. It turns out it was all an act.
  • Composite Character:
    • In Season 1 we meet Nan Britton, most famous for her delusional relationship with US President Warren Harding which probably existed only in her head. The show, however, portrays their affair as real, and at some point she reads a poem that Harding actually wrote for one of his mistresses, Carrie Phillips. Also like Phillips, the character is quitely moved out of town in order to avoid a scandal until the presidential election is over.
    • Season 2 brings IRA big-shot John McGarrigle. While his name and eventual fate indicate a loose inspiration on Real Life Irish leader Seán McGarry, his introduction as a funding collector in the States and his mannerisms and strict Catholic doctrine remind more of Éamon de Valera, to whom actor Ted Rooney also happens to have some physical resemblance too.
  • Confessional: Margaret uses them in "The Age of Reason" and "To the Lost".
  • The Consigliere: Jimmy seeks the advice and counsel of the Commodore's old lawyer Leander Whitlock.
  • Consummate Liar: Quite a few, honesty is a dangerous commodity in these lands. For Nucky it comes with the job description, he is a master of the Bastardly Speech who can be defending the black community and demonizing it in the next phrase thanks to the montage. Gaston Means is even more successful, as he goes through life outlying everybody.
  • Continuity Porn: "Under God's Power She Flourishes". It's as if the entire episode was written to brush aside the headscratchers collected since the first season.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Van Alden happens to walk into the flower shop owned by Dean O'Banion just as Al Capone is about to kill O'Banion. O'Banion uses this to bluff Capone into leaving. Van Alden thus finds himself at the very beginning of what would become Chicago's most infamous Mob War.
  • Cool Car: Nucky's blue Rolls Royce heralds his presence wherever he goes. The high profile of the vehicle becomes a liability from time to time when Nucky needs discretion.
  • Cool Old Guy: Whitlock. Helps that he's played by Dominic "Uncle Junior" Chianese.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Several times. Gillian is used to it.
    • It's lampshaded that it cost a lot of money to get the coroner to put down "natural causes" for The Commodore. Understandably, since he had two knife wounds in his chest.
    • Gillian apparently had to pay again for the guy she drugged, killed, and tried to pass off as Jimmy to be declared dead of "accidental drowning".
  • Corrupt Politician: The series is built on these.
    Nucky: The first rule of politics, kiddo: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
  • Country Matters: Margaret resorts to it after Lucy can't comprehend her analogy to a piano-playing rooster.
  • Courtroom Episode: "To the Lost". Cut incredibly short by the metric ton of Courtroom Antics dropped at the very start of the trial - one witness having "committed suicide", one on the run for murder, and one suddenly married to the defendant.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes And Ears: In "Broadway Limoted", Van Alden and Sebso burst into a dentist's office, in order to wake up and interrogate a dying, unconscious man by giving him cocaine. The man does wake up, but when Van Alden tries to interrogate him, he curses at him in Yiddish. A Jewish woman who was in the office with her son reacts with covering his ears. When Van Alden starts torturing the man, she covers the boy's eyes.
  • Cowboy Cop: Van Alden. However, this is not out of a sense of moral righteousness, but out of a personal vendetta against Thompson.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • Rothstein has his employees take out life insurance policies with himself as the beneficiary, causing him to profit from their actions no matter what happens.
    • There's also Rothstein's lawyer, who has a drawer full of baseballs signed by Ty Cobb, in case any clients show an interest.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Producer Terrence Winter wrote and Steve Buscemi directed one of the most acclaimed episodes of The Sopranos, "Pine Barrens". You can definitely see this reflected in all of the scenes of intrigue that this series features in the same location. The very first episode seems particularly reflective of the influence, as it similarly features a criminal who against all odds, remains Not Quite Dead.
  • Crime After Crime: Van Alden flees across the country and assumes a fake identity when his murder of Sebso is uncovered. When his new wife suspects that his Mysterious Past has caught up with him, she gets a baseball bat and clubs the guy half to death... although while she was out of the room, Van Alden had found out he was really an irate customer who bought a faulty iron off him. He survives the battering, but they decide to finish him off so the cops won't take an interest and discover who he is.
  • Criminal Procedural: Hardcore, organized crime flavor. The series explores the criminal ventures and opportunities opened in the wake of the Volstead Act in New Jersey, New York and Chicago.
  • Cut Phone Lines: When Rosetti's men attack Nucky in his hotel suite they first cut the phone lines. It gives Nucky and Eddie a few minutes of advanced warning and probably saves their lives.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Eddie Kessler, Nucky's bumbling assistant is often treated as a Butt Monkey by Nucky and the other gangsters. However, he risks his life twice to successfully protect Nucky when assassins come after him. Eventually Nucky realizes that he shouldn't take him for granted.
  • Dad the Veteran: Julia's father is a Shell-Shocked Veteran and The Alcoholic. Also Jimmy's father, the Commodore.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster
  • The Dandy: Nucky wears very colorful suits through the series. At the end of the third season, he starts wearing more somber outfits and discards his lapel flower to avoid getting noticed.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: Jimmy kills one of the D'Alessio brothers by slicing his throat while he's having a shave at the barber's.
  • Darkest Hour: The final episodes of season 3 for Nucky Thompson; he loses his dragon, the other gangsters deny him any support in his war against Rosetti-Masseria and Nucky has to go on the run when Rosetti assaults his HQ at the Ritz, plundering Nucky's desk as a war trophy to make a point about the ownership of the city. When all seems lost, Chalky and Al Capone level the odds and Nucky outmanoeuvres everybody.
  • The Dead Have Names:
    • Jimmy reads off the names of Atlantic County's WWI fallen at a memorial dedication ceremony in "Gimcrack & Bunkum".
    • In season 1 Jimmy is visibly pissed when people refer to Pearl as "the whore."
  • Dead Guy on Display: Tonino (implied to be the guy who killed Billie Kent) turns up on Meyer Lansky's doorstep with his throat cut, an ear sliced off, and a "Greetings from Havana" postcard pinned to him with a knife, just in case they were wondering who sent the message.
  • Deadly Prank: Will Thompson feeds an obnoxious college student milk of magnesia in "All In" in order to induce diarrhoea. It kills him.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Nucky has a clever quip for just about any situation.
    • The new Federal prosecutor assigned to Nucky's case, Esther Randolph.
    • Margaret also has her moments.
    • Rothstein has them too, usually at the expense of one of his employees.
  • Death by Disfigurement: Pearl shoots herself after getting her face cut.
  • Death by Flashback: We suddenly get a lot of insight into Jimmy's backstory in the couple of episodes before his death. The same also happens to Nucky throughout the final season.
  • Death by Irony: Maranzano, who idolised Julius Caesar, is betrayed and murdered by a gang of men with knives. Given it was arranged by Nucky, who'd earlier pointed out the irony of modelling your career on a man who was stabbed in the back, this was almost certainly intentional.
  • Death by Racism:
    • In "Gimcrack and Bunkum", one of the Atlantic City bigwigs who insulted Jimmy and hit him with his cane also is shown bragging about his military experience which consisted of slaughtering Native Americans (about whom he makes racist comments). At the end of the episode Jimmy has Richard scalp him.
    • The Klansmen who shoot up Chalky's distillery and kill three of his people in the Season 2 premiere meet an ugly end in the season finale.
    • When Mrs. Pastor ponders the loaded suggestion of Dr. Narcisse about lynching Purnsley, the men of the good doctor lynch her instead.
  • Death Glare: Chalky almost always wears a long-faced scowl. After aiming his death glare at a soulful singer with whom he has disagreed, his expression notably softens, revealing the sexual tension beneath the belligerence.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Done in the pilot, and numerous times afterward.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Jimmy turns out to be this after two seasons as the show's co-lead along with Nucky.
  • Deadly Bath:
    • Gillian kills Roger in a bathtub in a perverse effort to gain closure for Jimmy's death.
    • Inverted offscreen during an attempt on Masseria's life at a Turkish bath. Owen discusses it as the perfect place for a sneak attack, but he gets killed instead.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Dunn Purnsley is given a severe beatdown for taunting Chalky in jail. Episodes later, he makes a surprising comeback as Chalky's right hand man.
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: Rothstein's plan to off Gyp Rosetti in Season 3.
  • Democracy Is Bad: A thought consistently expressed by many of the powerful characters, with some room for reform. Nucky made a living by exploiting and invoking it before becoming a gangster; his agenda could be summed up as "not voting Republican is worse".
  • Demoted to Extra: Several characters suffer this. Van Alden is arguably the best example, going from being in nearly every episode and being one of the show's most central characters to appearing in only half or less of the episodes of seasons 3 and 4.
    • Margaret gets it even worse in season 4, appearing in only 4 episodes. Lucky Luciano is also knocked down to 4 episodes. Many of the recurring characters make more appearances than either of them in season 4.
    • Willie and Dr. Narcisse both get this pretty badly in season 5 after both having had huge roles in season 4. Most likely this was due to the reduced 8 episode order for the season.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Two Imposters"
    Gillian: What an unexpected surprise.
    Gyp: Ain't all surprises unexpected?
  • Description Cut:
    Eddie Kessler: (to Margaret) Nucky is a very nice man.
    Nucky: (to Luciano) You tryin' to sass me, you greasy cocksucker?
    • The beginning of "Margate Sands" mixes a bloody Mob War and the reassuring words of mayor Bader about everything being under control in Atlantic City.
  • Destroy the Abusive Home: Nucky sets his childhood house on fire in "Home". The idea that this is an end to anything is subverted by the act that it seems to trigger Teddy's later obsession with fire.
  • The Determinator: Meyer reveals that he repeatedly refused to give up his lunch money to Lucky's childhood gang despite getting a beating each time. This is how he met and earned the respect of Lucky. Truth in Television.
  • Deuteragonist: Jimmy in the first two seasons, Chalky in season 4.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Nelson and Eli go over their half-assed plan to steal the incriminating ledgers from Capone while standing outside Capone's office. As the glaring holes in their plan become apparent, Van Alden growls, "This has not been thought through."
  • Dirty Cop: The rule rather than the exception.
    • Everyone in the Atlantic City PD, apparently, including Sheriff Eli Thompson.
    • Agent Sebso is a Dirty Prohibition Agent.
    • Another prohibition agent, Stan Sawicki is on Nucky's payroll.
    • The Tabor Heights PD. The local sheriff is on Nucky's payroll. After Gyp Rosetti takes control of the town, we discover that rather than avenge the death of their former sheriff, they simply join Rosetti's side.
    • The New York City drug cops. They beat up Lucky and tell him that they can trump up any charge they wish or simply kill him unless he does as they say. It turns out that they're on Rothstein's payroll anyway and helping him steal Lucky's heroin stash.
  • Dirty Old Man: The Commodore, who is known to have a taste for underage girls. Very underage girls, having evidently pretty much raped the then 13-year-old Jillian. Just about every other older man in the show also qualifies.
  • Disposing of a Body:
    • After his wife assaults a man and he finishes him off, Van Alden goes to a florist who owes him a favour, North Side mob boss O'Banion, and asks for help with this.
    • Dunn Purnsley has to do this in "New York Sour" after an assignation with a talent agent's wife takes an unexpected turn.
  • The Ditz:
    • Nan Britton actually thinks that President-elect Harding will divorce his wife and bring her and their love child to the White House. Truth in Television, as the real Britton really was that obsessed with Harding and continued to believe that he loved her until her death in 1991.
    • Deputy Halloran is rather thick.
    • Mickey Doyle is equal parts a Smug Snake and Ditz, often cackling at his little witticisms and machinations, but just as often completely out of the loop on simple things.
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    • Deputy Halloran betrays Eli to the feds after Eli has him beaten. Ironically, Eli had him beaten because he incorrectly thought that Halloran had talked to the feds.
    • Mickey Doyle attempts to work out a deal with Van Alden after getting pushed around once too many times by his criminal associates.
    • After being raped by the Commodore at the age of thirteen, Gillian Darmody gets her revenge years later after the Commodore has a stroke. She beats him mercilessly and eventually goads Jimmy into killing him.
    • Rose Van Alden is not pleased with her husband impregnating Lucy Danzinger and intending to pass off the child to Rose as abandoned. She slaps and bites him before storming out. Two episodes later, she serves him with divorce papers.
    • Tonino asks clemency for his cousin, which is apparently given, but Gyp Rosetti brutally kills the man anyway. In the Series 3 finale Tonino gets even and backstabs Rosetti.
  • Domestic Abuse: Margaret loses her baby due to a particularly brutal beating.
  • Don't Explain the Joke:
    • "Big Jim" Colosimo is never going to get it.
    • Happens a few times with Al Capone as well.
      Torrio: (discussing a meeting with George Remus) Romulus couldn't make it.
      Al: That his partner?
      Torrio: [Face Palm]
  • Don't Look at Me!: Richard Harrow doesn't much like being looked at with his mask on, but is mortified to be seen with it off. Inverted when he rips it off while choking someone who insulted both himself and his girlfriend, giving him a good close-up look at his Red Right Hand. His usual shyness gets an Ironic Echo in the season three finale when he doesn't want Julia to look at the good side of his face, because it's splattered with blood.
  • Downer Ending: Pretty much every season ends with a mix of this and Bitter Sweet Ending with each succeeding finale so far leaning more and more in favor of being a Downer Ending.
    • Season 1: Nucky and Rothstein are able to come to an agreement and make peace. Nucky and Margaret are able to move forward with their relationship. However, unknown to Nucky a conspiracy to take him down is brewing between The Commodore, Eli and Jimmy to take him down.
    • Season 2: Jimmy, having lost his wife and killed his own father, makes up to Nucky by helping him tie up the last loose ends of the conspiracy and goes willing to his death when Nucky kills him, finally crossing the line into becoming a gangster. Eli is going to prison for his part in the conspiracy. Margaret, unconvinced by Nucky's lies about becoming a better man gives his land away to the church.
    • Season 3: Nucky defeats Gyp Rosetti and takes back control of Atlantic City but has lost Margaret, seemingly for good. Richard saves Tommy but has to kill many men to do so and feels that he can not be with Julia and Tommy because of what he has done.
    • Season 4: Basically, a pure downer ending. Richard fails to kill Narcisse, killing Chalky's daughter by mistake, is shot and eventually dies alone under the boardwalk. Gillian is most likely going to prison for life if not receiving the death penalty. Eli murders agent Knox, leaves for Chicago and can not return to Atlantic City. In the wake of his daughter's death Chalky is left completely broken, having lost everything.
    • Season 5: Nucky loses all his Atlantic City holdings to Luciano and company, he tries to make up for his sins by leaving money from his take in the Mayflower stock to Eli and Gillian but ultimately he is killed by Tommy Darmody on the boardwalk.
  • The Dragon: Numerous examples.
    • Co-Dragons: Lucky and Meyer, to Rothstein.
    • Dragon with an Agenda: [[spoiler: A whole cabal of them form in season 2, with Jimmy, Al, Meyer, and Lucky working together on a heroin deal under the noses of their bosses, who are in turn trying to screw over each other.
  • Dramatic Irony: An undercover federal agent forces Van Alden and Eli to try to steal Capone's ledger to facilitate Capone's arrest. When the scheme goes bad, the agent is ordered to get the two men to name their employer: himself. When Van Alden attacks Capone and begins a frenzied confession, the agent kills him to preserve his cover, saving the life of the man he's trying to bring down. For this apparent loyalty, the agent is given the ledger.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Poor Pearl.
    • Jess Smith. Smith is a Historical-Domain Character who did in fact commit suicide on May 30, 1923. The show does a nice job of alluding to later rumors that Smith might have been murdered.
    • Poor put-upon Eddie...
    • In season 5 Margaret's boss, Mr. Bennett commits suicide right in the middle of the office, because the Great Depression is destroying his company.
  • Driving a Desk: Very noticeable during Nucky and Eddie's wild ride to the hospital in "Two Imposters".
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous:
    • In the premiere episode, a gang of bootleggers put their distillery beneath a morgue to hide the smell. The only body we see is a fully nude young woman.
    • The red-headed waitress is shot dead while being used as a naked Bulletproof Human Shield.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • The show skips right over the death of Arnold Rothstein between seasons four and five, and his funeral is mentioned in passing in the first episode of the fifth season.
    • After spending a good portion of season four establishing Sally as a romantic partner for Nucky who holds her own in his world, her part in season five is largely reduced to a few phone calls before she's unceremoniously killed midway through.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Nucky's tendency to take people for granted and his unwillingness to throw anyone a bone alienate some of his most competent underlings, who feel rightly underappreciated and call him out on it. Eventually Nucky begins to treat his brother Eli and his put-upon servant Eddie with fairness, if not due gratefulness.
  • Dull Surprise: Michael Pitt and Aleksa Palladino get accused of this.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: In "What Does The Bee Do?" Eli comments about Jimmy's weird relationship with his mother. This is the first time anyone in the series has noted it out loud (although Angela obviously notices it too).
  • Dumb Muscle: Eli is widely seen as this for Nucky, something he despises. And then there is Deputy Halloran, who is Eli's Dumb Muscle... and seems totally OK with that.
  • Dutch Angle: In "Havre de Grace" Roy Phillips is shot this way right after he reveals himself to be a Pinkerton agent arresting Gillian for murder.
  • Dying as Yourself: Richard, always so wary of taking his mask off, does so as he dies. In his Dying Dream, his face is restored.
  • Dying Dream: The last scene of Season 4 finale "Farewell Daddy Blues", played as a Shout-Out to Trope Maker "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge".
  • The Dying Walk: Richard walked away from the gunfight where he was mortally wounded to the place beneath the boardwalk where he first spent a night with Julia, and died alone there.
  • Early Films:
  • End of an Age: This is a main theme of season 5. The Roaring Twenties are over and the Great Depression is in full swing. Prohibition is losing popularity and savvy businessmen are betting on its repeal within a few years. In Chicago, Al Capone is at the peak of his power but the Treasury Department is preparing the tax evasion case that will send him to jail and end his reign as Chicago's criminal overlord. In New York, Luciano and Lansky are laying the groundwork for a coup that will end the reign of old-world "Moustache Pete" mob dons and forever change the nature of organized crime in America. In the middle of all this, Nucky is trying not to get killed while he prepares one more big deal that will hopefully secure his legacy.
  • Enemy Mine: Nucky suggests cooperating with Esther Randolph to take down Attorney General Daugherty.
  • Entendre Failure: Nucky's young lawyer in the second season, when he is offered apple pie.
    Chip: Cherry is more my liking. A la mode, if you catch my meaning.
    Nucky: ...I don't, actually.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil:
    • Nucky does business with Italians, Jews, Irish and blacks. Many of the gangs he does business with are also willing to go beyond their cultural boundaries for the sake of profit.
    • Rothstein's lieutenants are the Italian Lucky Luciano and the Jewish Mayer Lansky, who are best of friends and just like their mentor have no hangups about doing business with other ethnicities. They make a point of it when they set up "The Commission", as it's pointless to limit profit opportunities by excluding other groups.
  • Erotic Asphyxiation: Gyp Rosetti is a fan of being strangled while having sex. When surprised in flagrante delicto by an assassination attempt, he fights his way out wearing nothing but a belt around his neck. In the legend that follows the event, people have mistaken it for a dog collar.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The show is excellent at giving these to its Loads and Loads of Characters:
    • We first meet Nucky Thompson during his speech to the Temperance League. It introduces him as a highly-regarded politician, an excellent storyteller, and, as we find out from his following conversation, a complete liar.
    • Jimmy Darmody is first shown literally on the outside looking in at Nucky. He also shows his limp, the first hint of his war scars.
    • Margaret Schroeder is first seen at the Temperance League as well - a young Irish wife and mother with suffrage leanings and a bit of hero-worship for Nucky.
    • Also in the pilot, Torrio's young driver is standing in the cold and amiably shooting the breeze with Jimmy. His name is Al Capone. He's on the bottom rung at this point, but with an eye on advancement.
    • The Who's on First? conversation between Van Alden and Sebso introduces Sebso as a hapless sidekick and Van Alden as The Unfunny.
    • Eli Thompson behaves like a blustering bully living in his brother's shadow during a political dinner.
    • Lucky Luciano gets his at the gangster dinner when he mouths off to Nucky in front of Torrio and Rothstein, establishing him as a Hot-Blooded guy with a Hair-Trigger Temper.
    • Arnold Rothstein doesn't get his true moment until "The Ivory Tower", telling a story about how he met a man who swallows and regurgitates objects and wagered that he could not do so with a pool cue ball, knowing that it was slightly larger than other pool balls and would choke him to death. This establishes Rothstein's love of gambling, attention to every detail, and total ruthlessness.
    • Chalky White is introduced in an flashy suit, commanding Eddie to tell Nucky that he doesn't have all day. This establishes Chalky's position as a powerful man who must nevertheless bow to white authorities like Nucky.
    • "The Ivory Tower" introduces Gillian Darmody by pulling a Bait and Switch. Jimmy sneaks off after arguing with his wife to see a beautiful showgirl, giving her a necklace as a gift. Is it his girlfriend? Nope, it's his mother!
    • In "Home," Richard Harrow is first seen in the hospital, meek and awkward. Then he starts listing the arsenal of firearms he owns and detailing his sniper exploits.
    • "Home" also introduces Meyer Lansky, who gives a very articulate (but dishonest) business proposition, handles a failed attempt very gracefully, and muses about the future importance of the petroleum industry. This all establishes him as a shrewd and business-minded gangster.
    • "Ourselves Alone" gives us Owen Sleater, a very charming Irish gangster eyeing up Margaret during a business dinner between Nucky and John McGarrigle. He gets a second establishing moment when he skips off to the pub and brutally executes an IRA traitor.
    • "Peg of Old" introduces Asst. U.S. Attorney Esther Randolph, who marches into Van Alden's office, completely takes it over, and removes him from his duties.
    • Season 3 antagonist Gyp Rosetti's first scene in "Resolution". After a man is inadvertently condescending to him, Gyp beats him to death.
  • Et Tu, Brute?:
    • Hilariously lampshaded in Season 2 finale "To the Lost".
      Nucky: Et tu, Eli?
      Eli: What?
      Nucky: Shakespeare. Julius Caesar.
      Eli: There was a character named Eli?
    • Doubles as Despair Event Horizon for Jess Smith, when he realizes his Childhood Friend Daugherty planned his downfall.
    • Narcisse turns Purnsley against Chalky and the plan almost comes to fruition despite Chalky eventually realizing the betrayal.
    • After gaining her trust, Nucky sold out a 12-year old Gillian to the Commodore, and his own soul in the process.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas:
    • Jimmy has a very complicated relationship with his mother.
    • Eli and Nucky loved their mother, but she was too weak to protect them from their father.
    • Implied with Gyp Rosetti, as enduring someone is a big feat for him. He's the only man in a family full of hen-pecking women who bicker with him constantly but clearly have no fear of his Hair-Trigger Temper. He even forces a minion to attend his Easter dinner so he isn't left alone with them.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Nucky clearly takes pity on Margaret Schroeder and is enraged enough by her husband's abuse that he has him killed, though he also uses the husband as a fall-guy in the process.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Commodore.
  • Every Scar Has A Story:
    • Nucky tells Margaret how he got the burn scar on his hand: his father held a hot poker to it because Nucky started eating dinner before him.
    • An indirect explanation in "William Wilson": Daughter tells Chalky that her mother hit an abusive client with a jar of lye, but it didn't stop him strangling her to death. We later see her tending to the horrific chemical burns on Valentin's chest.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Touched on a few times in the final season. Specifically with Chalky and his daughter, Eli and Willy and Al Capone and Sonny.
  • Exact Words:
    • While speaking of Jimmy as if he'd been her husband, Gillian claims that they "met as children." This is a very misleading statement, but technically correct. Because Gillian gave birth to Jimmy while still a juvenile, they did first "meet" as "children."
    • When Nucky talks to Jimmy and his cohorts about resigning as County Treasurer and stepping back, he says they can have "Atlantic City and all that goes with it". Including the black strike he later convinces Chalky White to begin.
    • Daughter Maitland tells Chalky that Valentin took her in after her mother was strangled to death by a client. He was the client.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Richard Harrow lost an eye in the war, and is introduced with a startling closeup of the wound.
    • Big Jim getting shot through the back of his head and out his eye, causing gore to splatter over the camera.
    • Richard blasts Manny Horvitz through the eye in revenge for his part in Angela's death.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Jimmy goes to his execution pretty calmly. He doesn't even take a gun with him.
  • Facial Dialogue: When Mrs. Pastor suggests that Purnsley should be lynched, a single look between Dr. Narcisse and his driver is all that his entourage needs to pull the car over and lynch her.
  • Facial Horror: Richard Harrow, who wears a mask after losing his left eye and the whole left side of his face to a terrible war wound.
  • Fake Irish: The character Mickey Doyle is an in-universe example, being Polish with an assumed Irish name.
  • Fakeout Makeout: Jimmy does this on the boardwalk with Angela when he spots Nucky walking with Waxey Gordon and Herman (though Angela doesn't realize his motives).
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job:
    • Van Alden becomes a lowly door-to-door iron salesman. To make matters worse, he's singularly unqualified for the job.
    • Gillian falls from a madame who rules a classy establishment to an autonomous whore who barely has any furniture left in her sordid place.
    • Margaret is reduced to working for a meagre salary as a secretary in a shady investment broker's office, helping her boss scam their clients.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Gillian raises Jimmy's son as her own after his mother and then father both die, which seemingly everyone around her finds incredibly creepy. Especially the ones with suspicions about her relationship with her real son.
  • Family Theme Naming:
    • The D'Alessios are named after popes.
    • The names of all the Thompson men begin with an 'E'.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The pilot has a scene set in a mortuary. The naked corpse of a young woman is shown with huge autopsy scars.
    • Pearl, high on laudanum, comes downstairs in her lingerie to strut her stuff for the johns, while sporting a ghastly facial wound full of stitches.
    • Despite there being no overtly nasty images, Van Alden and Lucy having sex will still likely just make you feel dirty.
    • Gillian sharing that she used to kiss Jimmy's "little winky" while changing his diapers. Good luck finding her sexy after that. Made closer to Squickier in Hindsight as it's a major hint that she has actually had sex with her son...
    • A naked, heavily pregnant, loudly sobbing Lucy in "A Dangerous Maid".
    • Gyp Rosetti has been having some kinky sex and is striding around completely naked - except for a belt around his neck and covered in the blood of his sex partner.
  • Fanservice:
    • Chock full of naked ladies. Pretty much every female main character has shown her breasts at least once.
    • And for the ladies, Lucky Luciano and Gyp Rosetti go full frontal. Not to mention all the men in gorgeous period clothes and states of undress.
  • Fanservice Extra: Many, many hookers and strippers.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Arnold Rothstein is polite, erudite and witty, but also coldly ruthless.
    • Manny Horvitz behaves like a friendly Alter Kocker at calm moments, but when angered (which happens a lot), becomes a brutal sadist.
    • Gyp Rosetti likes to joke around. When he's not taking extreme offence and killing people over imagined insults.
    • Gaston Means is an extremely polite, courteous and soft-spoken southern gentleman, a combination he uses to advance his criminal schemes.
    • Gillian Darmody is an Evil Matriarch who conceals and furthers her nature with friendly and proper ladylike manners.
    • Narcisse is softspoken and likes to sound civilized and cultivated, but his moustache twirling villainy is quickly put into play.
  • FBI Agent: Season 4 introduces the Bureau of Investigation (it won't be called the Federal Bureau of Investigation until 1935) and its newly appointed acting director J. Edgar Hoover. They are called in when the corruption among the Prohibition agents of the BIR becomes too rampant.
  • Finale Credits: Or a lack thereof. Series finale "Eldorado" skips the long opening title sequence of Nucky staring into the ocean, and instead has a scene where he goes skinny-dipping in the Atlantic.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: One of Lucky Luciano's heroin buyers does this in "Two Imposters"
  • Fingore:
    • Chalky unrolls some intimidating carpenter's tools in front of the local Ku Klux Klan leader, and after some unspecified torture (which he kept going for ten minutes after getting the information he wanted) he leaves the man's finger and ring with the police.
    • Owen Sleater's victim in "Peg of Old" attempts to stop a garrotte. It goes about as well as expected when his fingers get sliced off.
  • Finish Him!: "Under God's Power She Flourishes"
    Gillian: Finish it, goddamn you!
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: A very dark version in the last words traded between Knox and Eli:
    Knox: I'll tell you what I am. I'm a man who's going to—
    Eli: ...Fucking kill you!
  • Five-Finger Fillet: Jimmy expertly plays the game with his old trenchknife in "Family Limitation," establishing him as a Knife Nut who's still not over the war. Capone's unfamiliarity with the game tips Jimmy off that he wasn't really in the war.
  • The Flapper: Billie Kent.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: When a BoI agent pokes fun at the names "Nucky, Mickey and Lolly" by comparing them to Flopsy and Mopsy, Hoover is quick to remind him that he's talking about murderers. Chalky - who is left unmentioned - also qualifies.
  • Forceful Kiss: Nucky to Billie after she angrily berates him for beating up an actor friend in a fit of jealousy. She tries to push him off, but he insists on the kiss, and she quickly yields to him as they lay on the bed.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The fate of the historical characters is pretty much sealed. Also becomes It Was His Sled.
    • Warren Harding will become President and die in office.
    • Al Capone, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky will all survive and become organized crime bosses running Chicago and New York. "Big Jim" Colosimo, Joe Masseria, Dean O'Banion, Frank Capone and Arnold Rothstein will be murdered. Any attempts on their lives will fail if they happen before their historical dates of death.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the season three finale, when Dunn Purnsley angers Al Capone by taking a whizz on his car, he comments that it'd be a terrible thing to kill a man with his dick in his hands. Poor, poor Gyp Rosetti.
    • Early in Season 4, Richard flinches and cannot put down the family dog, who is old and dying. In the Season 4 finale, Richard similarly flinches when he's tasked with shooting Narcisse, with disastrous consequences.
  • Fortune Teller: Gillian and Harding's wife are assiduous of them, and so far they have always been right.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Gillian Darmody is a conniving and vile character with few redeeming traits, but being an orphan with a tragic backstory -in which Nucky was an enabler- accounts for her wretchedness. The show plays it for empathy a few times.
    • Tragically, Gillian is a recursive one for Jimmy, as her behavior prevented him from having a normal life, despite the efforts of Nucky, a decent Parental Substitute. This is taken to a logical conclusion in Season 2 when Jimmy revolts against his parental figures.
    • Eli's wife traces the roughness of the Thompson brothers back to their abusive father.
  • Friendly Target: Loveable Genki Girl Billie Kent, who never hurt a fly and was showing signs of actually becoming something of a Morality Chain, gets pointlessly blown up in a botched hit by Gyp Rosetti.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Gyp Rosetti chases Benny down a hall, blasting away, while wearing nothing but a belt around his neck.
  • Gambit Pileup: The season three finale is a three-way chess game between Nucky, Rothstein and Joe Masseria, with Gyp Rosetti caught in the middle naively thinking he's fighting a straightforward Mob War. Nucky trades his new distillery for Rothstein's help in getting Masseria to cut Rosetti loose, and Rothstein buys Masseria's consent with a share of his new heroin business (swindled out of Lucky Luciano). Nucky then has Masseria's retreating army ambushed and slaughtered by Chalky and Capone, and clues the feds in to Rothstein's plan to get the distillery up and running. He's only wrongfooted when he shows up at Rosetti's HQ to find Harrow has already killed everyone in a completely unrelated act.
  • The Gambler: Arnold Rothstein is a consummate high-stakes gambler and approaches life like a game.
  • The Gambling Addict:
    • Margaret's husband.
    • Arnold Rothstein's love of poker has mostly been portrayed as representative of his business savvy; he claims to only gamble on games he can win, and he's very good at poker. However, Nucky observes the depths he sinks to when he's on a losing streak (Meyer has to step in and whisper "perhaps it's best that people not see you like this" before he'll step away from the table), and concludes that he doesn't want to do business with someone who clearly doesn't Know When to Fold 'Em.
  • Gilligan Cut: In "Family Limitations", Margaret asks Eddie whether Nucky is nice man, which Eddie confirms he is. Then we cut to Nucky in his office insulting Luciano.
  • Going by the Matchbook: How Manny finds out his attempted hitman is from Atlantic City.
  • Gold Digger:
    • Played with Margaret, a fairly sympathetic variant. She gets along with Nucky well enough but doesn't really seem to love him all that much. Her story is a deconstructive Rags to Riches tale, the Season 1 finale makes clear that she goes back to Nucky because he's rich and the Season 3 finale reverses it.
    • Lucy follows the trope pretty closely in season one. She's only with Nucky because he buys her pretty things and pays her for it, and throws fits when he takes up with Margaret.
    • Annabelle, like Lucy, is another gold-digging serial mistress.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: Nucky summons his associates and asks for their help in the upcoming war against Rosetti-Masseria but he's considered a liability by the other gangsters, who turn their backs on him.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted in Season 3. One of the women in Margaret's health class reveals that she induced a miscarriage by drinking tainted milk. And in Season 3 finale "Margate Sands" Margaret herself has her pregnancy aborted.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: And bad people have bad sex, as crazed psychopath Gyp Rosetti also happens to be into erotic asphyxiation.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Chalky, satisfied that Daughter and her daughter are set up with a decent life, closes his eyes and smiles at the memory of her voice in front of a firing squad.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The setting makes sure that everyone gets their share of this, but Margaret really ices the cake.
  • Gorn: Many grisly murders throughout the run of the show.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Averted constantly. There are, however, a few straight uses scattered about.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: Warren Knox, including the possibly-tongue-in-cheek line "Darn it! Darn it to heck," in reaction to a suspect who isn't cooperating.
  • Grammar Nazi: Nucky.
  • Greasy Spoon: The gas station diner in Tabor Heights that Gyp Rosetti turns into his office.
  • Greedy Jew: In the course of warning Lucky away from Rothstein and Lansky, Joe Masseria claims that Jews have no heart and are all about business, whereas Italians are passionate and work for their families.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Gillian is jealous of Richard Harrow for finding love with a woman and taking Gillian's son on domestic outings, like a real family. She makes increasingly insulting comments about the romance and eventually fires him.
  • Gun Struggle: Richard in the season three finale.
  • Guttural Growler: Richard Harrow, presumably as a result of injuries inflicted during the war (check the scar on his throat). Serves to emphasize his both dangerous and shy nature. Actor Jack Huston came up with the voice by stuffing his mouth with cotton balls, not unlike Marlon Brando did for The Godfather.

    H - M 
  • Hair-Trigger Temper:
    • Charlie "Lucky" Luciano. From the moment he first opens his mouth, it's clear he's got a chip on his shoulder.
    • Gyp Rosetti, "a man who can find an insult in a bouquet of roses" is constantly raging for one flimsy reason or another. Displayed in his very first appearance, where he beats a man to death for a moment of inadvertent condescension. He also snaps angrily when Eddie Cantor inadvertently interrupts him.
    • Al Capone. By season 5, has a raging cocaine addiction and is surrounded by yes-man. He swings wildly and unpredictably between gregarious and murderous.
  • Handicapped Badass: Richard Harrow.
  • Happily Married:
    • Eli married his wife at 20 and has never looked at another woman.
    • Subverted with Arnold Rothstein, who is never seen pursuing other women outside of his apparent sweet marriage with Carolyn. When Nucky calls him "dead below the waist", A.R. retorts by claiming he's just discreet. Much later, he tells Margaret not to worry because he's a married man, but eventually his widow reveals that Arnold humiliated her and had several mistresses.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • "For weeks I have him worried / but now he's feeling gay"
    • "I'm going to Cuba / where everything's gay" - "King Tut-Tut-Tut was always gay"
    • At the end of a phone call, Andrew Mellon says, "And now our intercourse is concluded."
  • Hazy Feel Turn:
    • Eli and Jimmy, conspiring with The Commodore to overthrow Nucky. But especially Eli, who flips back and forth between Jimmy and Nucky constantly in Season 2.
    • Van Alden may be conspiring with Nucky in exchange for supporting Lucy and their daughter, and he turns his back on the feds after being exposed as Sebso's murderer.
  • Heat Wave: The season two finale, with the unspoken implication that A Storm Is Coming... sure enough, it ends with a Battle in the Rain.
  • Hero Antagonist: Van Alden starts out as one, but his insane Knight Templar streak and growing moral corruption dump him from Hero status. In the second season, Assistant US Attorney Esther Randolph is a more straight example.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: WWI turned Richard and Jimmy into this. Van Alden was sliding towards it before his daughter was born.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Loaded with them. In fact, almost every politician and many of the criminals the main characters interact with are Historical Domain Characters, as are other minor characters like Eddie Cantor and Theodore "Houdini's brother" Hardeen. However, most of the main characters are aversions. Nucky Thompson and the Commodore were loosely inspired by real people and the other main characters—Margaret, Van Alden, Eli, Jimmy—are entirely fictional.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • Al Capone claims to have served in the famous "Lost Battalion" and says he got his facial scars in the war. Jimmy later calls him on it. In reality, Capone did not serve, but did indeed pass his scars off as war wounds.
    • Van Alden moves to Cicero at the end of season 2, which historically savvy viewers will know will soon be the place where Al Capone first makes a name for himself.
    • Blink and you'll miss it, but the poker chips on Rothstein's desk in "To the Lost" are from The Brook, his infamous high-stakes casino.
    • Meyer's young lackey "Benny" is better known in real life as Bugsy Siegel. Benny's bizarre behavior is a reference to Bugsy's infamous temper and his irrational behavior in Las Vegas, which would eventually get him killed.
    • Jess Smith is remembered today only because of his well-timed, high profile suicide at the worst of the Harding administration scandals in 1923. Most authors defend he was murdered to keep him quiet. The show validates both theories, as Smith manages to thwart an assassination, only to commit suicide after realizing he was betrayed by Daugherty, his only friend.
  • Hitman with a Heart:
    • Richard Harrow. Kind of, anyway. He dreams of love with a prostitute, makes a genuine connection with Margaret and her children, and keeps a scrapbook of happy families, but at other times is quite the sociopathic murderer. Richard's Season 4 arc involves him growing a heart for real.
    • Owen is something of a Punch Clock Villain. In spite of being an IRA triggerman turned gangster, he's a pretty decent guy. Notably he's shocked when Nucky executes a plucky young thief after assuring him a job.
  • Hoist By Their Own Petard: In "Margate Sands", Gillian is forcibly drugged with her own heroin that she uses to murder people, preventing her from knowing who took her grandson.
  • Holier Than Thou: The fact that Agent Van Alden is very religious only serves to make him that much more menacing.
  • Hollywood History: Mostly averted, but not completely.
    • Much of the first season's plot is driven by the election of 1920 and Nucky's anxiety over the GOP's prospects. In reality, 1920 was a strongly Republican year both nationally and in New Jersey, and Atlantic City was a Republican one-party town both in 1920 and for decades thereafter.
    • Big Jim Colosimo was killed in May 1920. In the show it happens in January.
    • Al Capone's son is portrayed as completely deaf from birth, when he actually went partially deaf at age 7.
  • Hollywood Law: Mrs. Van Alden files for divorce in a federal court.
  • Honey Pot:
    • The episode "William Wilson" reveals that Daughter Maitland, Chalky's new singer and mistress, is actually spying on him for Dr. Narcisse.
    • Ron Livingston's character is sent to seduce Gillian so that she'll confess to a murder.
  • Hot-Blooded: Lucky Luciano, in contrast to the unflappable Arnold Rothstein.
  • Hookers and Blow:
    • Pearl, a prostitute, introduces Jimmy to opium.
    • 'Hookers and Booze' are the period equivalent in Atlantic City. All visiting dignitaries expect to be lavishly treated to both whenever they swing by. Lucky and Meyer are only just discovering heroin in season two.
    • In Season 4 Gillian is prostituting herself to support a heroin habit.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Pearl. Averted by Gillian, who is quite ruthless.
  • Hope Spot: Nucky has started offering these to pretty much everyone he intends to kill or have killed.
    Nucky: I am not angry. Untie him.
    Thief: Oh, thank you Nucky. Thank you so much.
    Nucky: But first, put a bullet in his head.
    • Lampshades this, sort of, in "Blue Bell Boy": he's reasonably nice to Rowland Smith for the entire 24 hours that they're stuck in the kid's basement, hiding from the cops, and even offers him a cigarette. When Rowland turns around, however, Nucky shoots him in the back of the head, and when Owen says "I thought we were letting him go," Nucky coldly asks "why would you think that?"
  • How We Got Here: The pilot.
  • Humiliation Conga: Nelson Van Alden, from mid-season two onwards, gets thoroughly punished for his sins. His wife finds out about his secret child and divorces him, Lucy blows town, he's identified as a murderer and loses his job at the Bureau, he flees to Chicago and begins a new life with the nanny, he's bullied at his new job, his "wife" attacks a man she mistakenly thought was blackmailing him and he has to finish the guy off, he gets in debt to the mob in return for them covering it up, he spectacularly quits his job and becomes a bootlegger, and Al Capone demands he work for him.
  • Hunter Trapper: A pair of wise, understanding ones and their tough dog makes Richard reconsider killing himself in the woods.
  • The Hyena:
    • Capone brays with laughter a lot before Torrio tells him to grow up and take things seriously.
    • Mickey Doyle's high-pitched giggle is hard to miss, especially since he is often the only one laughing.
  • Hypocritical Humor: While discussing a possible gang feud, Van Alden grimly states, "I refuse to be ruled by fear." Just after he says this, his wife snaps at him, and he hops to his feet with a meek, "Yes, dear!"
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Lucky Luciano dealing to people he doesn't even know, and who Meyer has repeatedly warned him against contacting. Compounded by the fact that Arnold Rothstein and/or Joe Masseria had bribed the cops in question. So he loses his heroin and he looks like a total idiot in front of the two major gang bosses in New York.
    • Not only does he look like an idiot, but he proves Rothstein right - he's learned nothing from Rothstein all these years; he's a shallow, hotheaded kid who won't listen to good advice.
    • Nucky grabs it firmly in the first half of the third season in the form of Billie Kent and A.R. calls him out on it. Thompson's business take a nosedive in the process. In Season 4 he recognizes Chalky going down the same road and obliquely cautions him about it.
  • If Only You Knew: Alby Gold, Nucky's jailmate for a short time, confides to the big shot that he is a bootlegger with a still in his basement arrested for selling five cases, almost an entire week's job to him.
  • I Have a Family: Invoked by Angela when facing a loaded gun. It starts to work until she offers money, which hardens her attacker back up.
  • I Have Many Names:
    • Salvatore "Sal" "Charlie" "Lucky" Luciano - born Lucania. Called "Toto" by Masseria. Lampshaded by Jimmy in "Georgia Peaches".
    • Margaret Catherine Sheila Schroeder née Rohan. Called "Peg" by her family. "Mrs. Thompson" by the end of the second season.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Richard delivers a rescued Tommy to Julia, who is appalled that he's covered in blood. When her father tells him he'll try to talk her round, Richard cuts him off and implies that now Tommy's safe with her, he's not going to stick around to be a bad influence.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: In "Gimcrack and Bunkum", Margaret wakes up to a scream in the middle of the night. Her maid, Katy denies hearing anything. As it turns out, it was her, while having sex with Owen.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Angela's relation with Jimmy strains while he is in Chicago because Van Alden is intercepting their mail.
  • I Will Fight No More Forever: Nucky tells Jimmy and the rest of the plotters this in "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", announcing that he's stepping down and out of the way. It's insincere, however, as he immediately starts plotting with Chalky White and the IRA.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Nucky, lampshaded by Lucy: "They raised him to be a good Catholic boy. And sometimes he starts thinking he should change or he's going to go to hell. But all I have to do is this" *spreads her legs* "and he comes right back to me."
  • Impaled Palm: Nucky gets this in the second season after he blocks an assassin's bullet with his hand. This was the same hand that his abusive father had deliberately burnt him on as a child, injuring the other side of the hand at that time. When receiving treatment, Nucky acknowledges the symbolism, calling it "stigmata".
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Richard's rampage through Rosetti's men. Boom, Headshot, reload, repeat.
  • In the Back:
    • How Gyp Rosetti meets his end.
    • Daughter Maitland ends Chalky's fight to the death with Dunn Purnsley by stabbing Dunn in the back ("The Old Ship of Zion").
  • Incoming Ham: Michael K. Williams as Chalky White in the pilot episode. He even gets special camera work for his one appearance and his one line.
    Chalky: Tell Nucky I ain't got all day!
  • Indirect Kiss: Gillian and Jimmy get a creepy one in "Gimcrack and Bunkum" in which she takes a cigarette out of her mouth and puts it in his. This is a gesture which would generally be in a romantic/sexual context and not between a parent and child, which is probably underscored by the fact that other characters have Smoking Hot Sex in the same episode
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Eli, in season one. He becomes pretty reprehensible in season two. By the time season three hits, he's done a Heel-Face Turn and become Nucky's Only Sane Man.
  • The Infiltration: In Season 5, Treasury Agent Mike D'Angelo has infiltrated Al Capone's inner circle.
  • Inherited Illiteracy Title: "Bone for Tuna," after a farewell note that Nucky gives Gyp Rosetti. He's trying to say "Buona Fortuna", Italian for "Good luck". In-universe the intended courteous deference becomes a Compliment Backfire, since it enrages Gyp on his way out of Tabor Heights.
  • In Love with the Mark: Maitland rescues Chalky from the assassination she helped orchestrate.
  • Insistent Terminology: Dr. Narcisse with respect to his title and his unusual name for black people, the "Libyans".
  • Involuntary Charity Donation: At the end of Season Two, Nucky signs over the valuable highway land to Margaret as a legal maneuver. Margaret, wracked by Catholic guilt, proceeds to sign the land over to the Catholic church. By Season Three, their already wobbly relationship has been wrecked by this.
  • Interrupted Intimacy:
    • In the pilot, Nucky is having sex with Lucy, when he gets called away because of business matters. Lucy is not happy about this.
    • In "The Ivory Tower", Jimmy's wife is about to perform oral sex on him, but they're interrupted by their son waking up.
    • In "Bone for Tuna", Mickey is getting ready to enjoy a blowjob from a hooker when a shotgun-toting Richard Harrow breaks into his apartment. Mickey doesn't even have time to pull his pants up before Richard hustles him out.
    • Gyp is cavorting with a waitress in "You'd Be Surprised" when Bugsy Siegel comes in to assassinate him. The waitress winds up taking the bullet.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Richard Harrow is about to shoot himself but is interrupted by a dog. Some hobos figure out his intentions and indirectly talk him out of it.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles:
    • Usually played straight, pretty much every brawl includes someone being punched very hard in the face with bare fists, and no one ever seriously hurts their hands doing this.
    • Averted in "Blue Bell Boy" twice. First with Owen who is seen shaking his right hand in pain after punching Roland Smith and again with Al Capone who has visibly bloody knuckles after delivering a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • I Own This Town: Nucky Thompson owns Atlantic City, as did the Commodore before him. Nucky venturing into organized crime makes him face dangerous challenges from newcomers but also gives him a stronger and unprecedented grip.
    Nucky: If you wanna be a gangster in my town, then you'll pay me for the privilege.
  • The Irish Revolution: Being fought during the time frame of Seasons 1 and 2. IRA leader McGarrigle solicits financial support from Nucky, and Owen Sleater hunts down an IRA traitor in Atlantic City. The June 1921 ceasefire threatens an arms deal Nucky is trying to set up with the IRA.
  • Iris Out: Last shot of the pilot, in a nod to early silent films.
  • Ironic Nickname: As if Albert White wasn't ironic enough already, everyone calls him "Chalky".
  • It Gets Easier: These are Jimmy's last words to Nucky, and it proves true. After executing Jimmy, Nucky becomes much more ruthless and cold-blooded, casually ordering the execution of a thief and executing another thief himself, both times after assuring the thieves that he'd spare them.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Nucky's rather ungrateful response to Margaret after she chases Eli off with an unloaded shotgun before he can throttle Nucky to death.
  • I Want My Mommy: World War I veteran Jimmy Darmody tells a story about a German soldier, who kept calling for his mother after Jimmy mortally wounded him.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: In the third episode Van Alden kidnaps and tortures a wounded and moribund felon / witness to get information. His dark side mostly goes downhill from there. Later on, he tortures Agent Sebso to get information out of him.
  • The Jeeves: Eddie Kessler, Nucky's butler, is stuffy, well-dressed and behaves with Germanic Efficiency. He's also devoted to Nucky, in spite of Nucky's temper. He notably asserts very passionately to Margaret that the charges against Nucky are false, in spite of the fact that Kessler knows firsthand that Nucky is a large-scale bootlegger.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nucky can be quite abrasive towards the people around him, but he gets a few Pet the Dog moments to show that he's not that bad of a guy.
  • Jerkass: Nucky, Van Alden, the Commodore, Mickey Doyle, Lucky Luciano... it's Black and Gray Morality, what do you expect?
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Gillian, in a fit of anger, rages, "Why does a man get to do anything he wants?" Considering what the Commodore did to her, it's a justified point.
  • Joisey
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: Lucy does this for Nucky at Nucky's birthday party.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Torrio, Capone, and Jimmy pull one in "Family Limitation". While Jimmy makes sure that Sheridan and his men find the combat knife he snuck past them, they replace the coat-check girl with one of their hookers. She slips them their guns, and they take out Sheridan and his men in one fell swoop, complete with an excellent Pre-Ass Kicking One Liner from Jimmy.
  • Karma Houdini: Although the show isn't over yet, Mickey Doyle qualifies so far. Not only has he backstabbed people multiple times, played musical allegiances, and suffered from fairly serious incompetence that's lead to serious losses, he has a ridiculously annoying manner and laugh that seems to irritate everyone. Despite this, and working with people who are often willing to kill at the drop of a hat, he's still kicking. In season 3 Eli asks him the question the entire audience wants to: "How the fuck are you still alive?"
  • Karmic Death:
    • Hans Schroeder being beaten to death after abusing his kids and inflicting such extreme abuse on his wife that she miscarried.
    • Gyp Rosetti escapes Nucky but gets backstabbed by Tonino, his terrorized second in command. For added irony, Tonino apologizes while doing the deed and all but states a motif hated by Gyp; Nothing Personal.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Van Alden drowning Agent Sebso during a baptism in front of a church full of witnesses.
    • Rothstein once tricked a man into choking to death on a cue ball for his own amusement.
    • Richard Harrow volunteering to murder an innocent family without blinking, then actually murdering a fourteen-year-old boy without blinking.
    • Manny's response to Jimmy signing off on his assassination attempt: murdering Jimmy's wife and her lover.
    • Eli unabashedly endorsing Nucky's assassination and later letting one of his deputies get beaten to a pulp by some thugs for talking to the prosecutor, even though the deputy didn't actually give them anything.
    • Gyp Rosetti kicks and shoots dogs like there's no tomorrow. Almost every scene with him ends with a kicked or dead dog.
    • Nucky sending Chalky White and Dunn Purnsley to scare Eddie Cantor into working a play with Billie Kent
    • Gillian's most evil act is her cold-blooded murder of a lover to get Jimmy's inheritance. However, her condescending behavior toward Richard Harrow's romance and her insults about him being half of a man are more in the vein of this trope.
    • Owen Sleater rather pointlessly telling Katy that he'll marry her while conspiring to run off with Margaret, who calls him out by demanding to know who he's lying to.
    • Dunn Purnsley murders the local deacon and then turns on Chalky, who nevertheless gets the better of Dunn.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch:
    • In "What Does the Bee Do", it might seem cruel to brutally and continually slap an 80 year old man who's suffered a stroke. When the man is The Commodore and the attacker is Gillian Darmody, finally enacting revenge for his rape of her twenty-odd years previously, it's hard to find much fault.
    • Nucky's beatdown of Eli in "Gimcrack and Bunkum".
    • Jimmy throwing Mickey Doyle off the balcony of Babette's.
    • Nucky arranging the murder of Hans Schroeder. It was brutal but given that how despicable Schroeder was, its difficult to see his beatdown as anything other than Karma.
    • Doctor Narcisse has Dickie's wife murdered to show what a cold-blooded kingpin he is, but the fact that she had willingly participated in what amounts to sexual assault makes her hard to sympathize with.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence:
    • Jimmy - reassuring his assailant that It Gets Easier, for added awesome points.
    • Gyp Rosetti gets backstabbed while yelling the song "Barney Google with the Goo Goo Googly Eyes". Oh, the indignity.
    • Van Alden gets one hell of an exit in "Devil You Know", shot through the head while strangling Al Capone.
    I am NELSON, KASPAR, VAN ALDEN. I am a sworn agent of the United States treasury. And I swear by Jesus our lord that justice will RAIN down upon you if it is my LAST—"
  • Killed Off Screen: The seven-year Time Skip from 1924 to 1931 skipped, among other things, the murder of Arnold Rothstein in 1928. Meyer Lansky makes an offhand reference to A.R.'s funeral when he meets Nucky in Havana.
  • Kill 'em All: By the end of the series finale only 8 of the 21 characters to be billed in the opening credits over the course of the show haven't been killed. Two of them - Luciano and Al Capone are historical and can't have their fates rewritten and another two (Lucy Danziger and Roy Philips) were extremely minor in the scheme of things and by the time of the finale hadn't appeared in years. Even more strikingly, only two notable characters that appeared in the pilot are still alive in the end Eli and Margaret.
  • Kneel Before Zod:
    • After finding that his brother Eli has come crawling back after chickening out of his attempt to depose him, Nucky twists the knife further. When the traitor is sobbing and begging to be taken back, Nucky says they'll sort it out, but there's something the traitor needs to do for him first. The traitor replies "Anything, Nuck!" Nucky tells him "I need you to get on your knees. Bend down to the ground, and kiss my fucking shoes". He then slaps him around and berates him some more and provokes a full-on brawl between them.
    • Lansky forces Nucky to kneel before him to even past affronts and to underscore that the Young Turks have taken over the underworld from the old guard.
  • The Klan: The Klan are a problem for Nucky Thompson because he gets a lot of his political support from the black community and the black gangster Chalky White is one of Nucky's main associates. In season one when one of Chalky's people is lynched, Nucky allows him to torture a Klan leader for information. In season two, the Klan has its revenge when they attack Chalky's liquor warehouse and kill four of Chalky's men. When Chalky kills one of the Klansmen in self defense, Nucky has to pull a lot of strings so Chalky is not tried and executed for murder. However, the Klan has little power in Atlantic City so they are never too serious a problem for Nucky.
  • Knife Nut: Arquimedes, Nucky's Cuban bodyguard in season 5, prefers his switchblade. He collects the ears of the men he kills.
  • Knight Templar: Van Alden, who cares more about catching Nucky than about enforcing the law for good if we look at his treatment of the dying, bleeding witness.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: A major theme in the final season, paired with the gambler's conceit. Torrio advises Nucky to quit while he's ahead, before being forcefully retired like A.R. and many others. The crash of '29 and the prospective repeal of Prohibition make Nucky stay in the game for a last round.
  • Kosher Nostra: Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and the fictional Manny Horvitz.
  • Lady Macbeth: Gillian is this in Season 2 for her son, Jimmy, with a side of The Consigliere. She's the one who encourages him to stick to his guns and go through with his assassination of Nucky.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Liam, the Mook that slashed Pearl's face is shot in the face by a facially disfigured veteran.
    • Hans Schroeder, who beats Margaret so badly she miscarries, being beaten to death himself.
    • Parkhurst in "Gimcrack and Bunkum". Disrespects Jimmy and bludgeons him with his cane, but is reverent of Native American artifacts. Gets scalped by Jimmy and Harrow.
  • Late to the Tragedy: When Nucky finally gets round to Storming the Castle in his war with Rosetti... he finds that someone's already done exactly that. Namely Harrow, who went in to rescue Tommy.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Mrs. Van Alden wants desperately to get pregnant but can't. Meanwhile Nelson knocks up Lucy with one unfortunate encounter.
  • Lawful Stupid: Van Alden. He believes that by getting rid of Nucky, the only gangster boss in the series who actually has a decent side to him, that "This Sodom will be cleansed," Sodom being Atlantic City. However, in Season 2 he starts learning hard lessons about corruption and unenforceable laws.
  • Laxative Prank: Gone Horribly Wrong. Willie Thompson spikes a college bully's drink with milk of magnesia (which he made himself in the chemistry lab). After spending all night in the bathroom, he's found the next morning sprawled dead on the floor, bleeding from the mouth and nose... and everybody knows it was Willie who supplied the booze.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Occurs a lot. The journalists waiting for Nucky outside jail in "Ourselves Alone" lampshade his tendency toward this.
  • Let's Get Dangerous:
    • Meyer Lansky is small, cool and cerebral, but when two thugs try to rob Benny Siegel within earshot of Meyer's door, he steps out and guns one of them down, then gets into a gunfight with the second.
    • In "You'll Be Surprised," Sigrid reveals that she understands that Van Alden is a criminal on the run, but has rather psychotically rationalized him into a victim. When a fed comes snooping around their apartment, she smashes him on the head and immediately volunteers to hold his legs while Van Alden finishes him off.
  • Let The Past Burn: When Nucky's father's ill health forces him to move out of the house his son grew up in, it's given away for free to one of Nucky's associates who's starting a family. The man is incredibly grateful and has the place renovated, but when Nucky visits the place to see if a new paint job will help him forget the years of brutal abuse his father gave him, he douses the empty house in turpentine and throws in a match, handing a wad of cash to the astonished new owner as he walks away.
  • Libation for the Dead: In "To the Lost". This doubles as a Title Drop as well as Throw It In.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: By the third season, Villain Protagonist Nucky Thompson had taken a level in jerkass and embraced his role as a gangster to a degree that he was no longer clearly the Gray in the Black and Gray Morality framework. So, he was given an opponent in Gyp Rosetti, a brutal sociopath with a Hair-Trigger Temper, against whom Nucky looks like a saint in comparison.
  • Light Is Not Good: The scene in which Van Alden drowns Agent Sebso is filled with much light and Christian-based imagery. Van Alden's fundamentalist religious views and severe self-righteousness also play into the trope.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Several:
    • "The Ivory Tower" refers to a novel of the same title by Henry James, which Margaret reads in the episode.
    • "The Emerald City" comes from Land of Oz books; Margaret reads one to her children in the episode.
    • "What Does the Bee Do?" comes from a children's poem by Christina Rossetti. Emily recites it in the episode.
    • "Two Impostors" refers to a line from Rudyard Kipling's "If" (If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same). Eddie Kessler quotes the poem in German in the episode.
    • "Erlkönig" refers to a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Part of the poem is recited in the episode by Eddie and Agent Knox.
    • "The Old Ship of Zion" refers to a Christian hymn of the same title. Daughter Maitland sings it in the episode.
    • "Golden Days for Boys and Girls" refers to a newsmagazine Nucky read as a young child. A phrase in it comes back to him many years later.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: As of the second season sixteen actors are series regulars and a few dozen more make up the recurring characters. No HBO show since The Wire has had a cast this sprawling.
  • Lock and Load Montage: Richard, in the penultimate episode of season three.
  • Lonely at the Top: Nucky is without family other than a father and brother that hate him, and he doesn't even seem to have many friends. The emotional connections he makes are few and far between.
  • Loveable Rogue:
    • Owen has aspects of this in season three. He's a gangster, a Mad Bomber, and a romantic cad, but he's shown to genuinely care about Margaret.
    • In "Blue Bell Boy," a young thief plays this role to the hilt in an attempt to charm Nucky and Owen into not killing him. Nucky seems to admire the kid, but Owen has his doubts. Ultimately Owen warms up to the kid, but Nucky guns him down without warning. He was never going to spare him.
  • Love Dodecahedron: The Darmody household. Jimmy is married to Angela, but also has a very weird relationship with his mother, and falls in love with a prostitute, Pearl, in Chicago. When he brings Richard back home with him, Richard falls (albeit chastely) in love with Angela, while Angela begins an affair with her friend Louise, and Jimmy continues to have affairs on the side.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The Wild Mass Guessing wasn't so far off the mark - the Commodore is Jimmy's father.
  • Mafia Princess: Margaret fulfills -and struggles with- the role.
  • Male Frontal Nudity:
  • The Man Behind the Man:
    • Nucky is this in-universe. His only official position is Treasurer of Atlantic County, New Jersey, but he controls not just the city but the entire New Jersey Republican Party.
    • It's common knowledge that Daugherty pulls the strings of Invisible President Harding.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Jimmy makes sure to get Richard Harrow laid as soon as possible.
  • Mangst: Nucky suffered from childhood abuse, survived a dead wife and an infant son. Season 3 adds the death of Billie Kent to the mix. He's not without feelings, but rarely complains about his misfortunes, explicly pities himself for them, or lets others do it.
  • Match Cut: "White Horse Pike" has a match cut from a car's headlight to the light from a movie projector which Hoover is using to show a newsreel about Marcus Garvey.
  • Mathematician's Answer: In season one.
    Mrs. McGarry: Of what nature [is Nucky's offer]? Financial? Domestic? Sexual?
    Margaret: Yes.
  • Meaningful Background Event: McGarrigle's murder.
  • Meaningful Name: Shell-Shocked Veteran Richard Harrow.
  • Meet Cute:
    • In "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", while on the beach, Angela sees a woman arguing with a police officer who tells her to cover up because she's showing too much leg. As the conversation grows heated, Angela intervenes, and hits it off with the woman. Apparently Angela's gaydar was pretty good.
    • Richard and Julia meet because her father had to be helped after losing a boxing bout at the American Legion.
  • Mêlée à Trois:
    • Season One is Nucky vs. Rothstein vs. the U.S. Prohibition Agents (Namely, Agent Nelson Van Alden.)
    • Season Two is Nucky vs. Jimmy vs. the U.S. Attorney's office.
    • Season Three is Nucky vs. Gyp Rosetti vs the US Attorney General. And there are independent conflicts brewing in New York (Masseria vs. Lansky/Luciano vs. Rothstein, to a degree) and Chicago (Capone vs. O'Bannion) to boot.
    • Season four is Nucky/Chalky vs. Narcisse vs. The Bureau Of Investigation (Namely, Agent James Tolliver.
    • Season five has Van Alden/Eli vs. Al Capone vs. The Bureau Of Internal Revenue. Namely, Mike D'Angelo.
  • Mexican Standoff:
    • In "The Age of Reason", it's Luciano and Lansky against Jimmy, Richard, and Horvitz.
    • In "Spaghetti & Coffee", a very similar scene takes place with Owen and Eli up against Gyp and the Tabor Heights PD.
    • In "Margate Sands", the tension between Capone and his Chicago gangsters and Chalky and his African-American gangsters comes to a head. Nucky and Eli solve this problem by mediating with shotguns.
  • The Mistress:
    • Nan Britton is Warren Harding's.
    • Chanteuse Billie Kent is Nucky's in Season 3.
  • Mob War: In season 3 a full-on war erupts between Nucky and Rosetti. By the time it is over, close to a hundred people are dead. We also see the beginnings of the Chicago mob war that will result in the Valentine's Day Massacre, and Luciano, Lansky and Siegel's slow-burn war against Joe Masseria.
  • Modesty Bedsheet:
    • Margaret wears a nightie for sex with Nucky in numerous episodes.
    • Esther has the bedsheet version in "Battle of the Century" when she's talking to Clifford post-coital.
  • Moe Greene Special:
    • Considering Terence Winter's love of all things The Godfather, it's unsurprising that this trope pops up a number of times. The preeminent example is probably Jim Colosimo's death in the pilot - shot through the eye so that the blood spatters the camera.
    • Nelson Van Alden gets an incredibly gruesome Reverse Moe Greene, shot in the back of the head with the exit wound removing most of the side of his face.
    • Getting shot in the cheek, just below the eye, is a recurring theme. Richard recounts shooting a sniper in this way and does so again to the gangster who slashed Pearl. This also happens to the paper boy in Tabor Heights, Jimmy himself, and ultimately Nucky.
  • The Mole:
    • Agent Sebso.
    • Herman was one for Waxey Gordon. Emphasis on was.
  • Moral Guardians: The Woman's Temperance League.
  • Morality Pet:
    • Played with Margaret who is one for Nucky depending upon how moral you think she is. Her relatively Happily Adopted children provide a straighter example.
    • Al Capone has his deaf son.
    • Jimmy has Richard Harrow, a disfigured and awkward veteran, who Jimmy got laid and introduced into gang life.
    • Tommy and Angela serve as Richard's.
  • More Gun:
    • The Klansmen use a truck-mounted heavy machine gun to shoot up Chalky's warehouse.
    • Al Capone gets in on the action with a Maxim gun.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Narcisse is a playwriter of seemingly highbrow, anvilicious works about the improvement of the Libyans, aka negroes.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Jimmy Darmody, Lucky Luciano, Owen Sleater, Meyer Lansky, and for those who like slightly older guys, Chalky White.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lucy seems to have difficulty keeping clothes on. Then there's Gillian Darmody and her topless revue. Billie Kent has nude scenes in each of her first two episodes.
  • Mundane Utility: Richard Harrow is a highly capable Cold Sniper. When he's not killing other gangsters, he uses his sharpshooting skills to win prizes at the fair for Tommy.
  • Mugging the Monster: Two thugs try to mug Jimmy of his winnings after leaving a card game. They know that he's armed, but didn't realize that he's just as handy with a trenchknife.
  • Murder by Mistake: In the Season 4 finale, Richard accidentally kills Mabel White when she walks in front of his scope as he's targeting Narcisse, right in front of Chalky. Richard is so shaken by this that he blankly walks out of the Onyx Club while security rains gunfire upon him.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution:
    • Pretty much all of the gangsters who Jimmy associates with in the second season endorse this, and it borders on a life philosophy for Al Capone and Manny Horvitz. Well showcased when they all recommend killing Nucky, whereas Jimmy wants him imprisoned (and Richard categorically refuses to kill him).
    • Gyp Rosetti talks his way out of his own permanent retirement by successfully convincing Masseria that killing Arnold Rothstein and Nucky Thompson instead is the most sensible and economic decision in these uneasy times. Played with in that Masseria is initially skeptical about Thompson and Gyp makes a point about encroachment, but fails to deliver.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In "Farewell Daddy Blues", Richard is appalled when he accidentally shoots Maybelle White instead of Narcisse. He doesn't have to live with it for long, though, as he takes a bullet while fleeing the scene.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Jimmy has a flashback to the war when he's shot.
  • Mysterious Past: We don't know the specific reason for Kessler's unparalleled loyalty to Nucky other than that Nucky "stuck up for him" as a German immigrant during the war. We don't really know anything about Kessler, and neither does Nucky, as he realises when the guy takes a bullet protecting him. We learn a bit more about him in season four — he fled his family in Germany after being caught extorting money.

    N - R 
  • National Stereotypes:
    • In universe, Nucky takes advantage of Hans Schroeder's German origins to use him as a fall guy. Use of slurs about any ethnic group and their mother is rampant.
    • Nucky's German butler is as meticulous and precise as you'd expect a German to be.
    • Norweigan-born Sigrid is religious but pragmatic, cheerful and very liberal, especially when compared with The Fundamentalist Van Aldens. She is also handy with a hammer.
    • Nelson Van Alden is a native-born American of Dutch extraction. His joyless personality and fervent faith are typical Dutch Calvinist stereotypes.
    • Margaret's French boss at the dress store is a snooty, elitist French Jerk.
    • A minor plot point in the first season has Nucky struggling to recruit little people to play Leprechauns and get green beer for the Saint Patrick's Day celebration. In a later episode, Irishman Owen Sleater jokes that all Irish people will clean your shoes if you leave them by your door, referencing the American perception that they're all servants.
    • Lansky and Rothstein are calm, cultured cerebral Jews who care about business first. On the other hand, there are complete opposites in Benny Siegel and Manny Horvitz.
    • Italians Luciano, Capone, and Rosetti are impulsive, violent and loudmouthed but they are contrasted with Torrio and Masseria.
  • Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters:
    • Nucky is a neighbourhood friendly powerbroker and kingmaker who eventually becomes a gangster while keeping his Villain with Good Publicity image and his magnanimous regalities, mostly aimed at the upper classes.
    • Chalky White is half gangster / half social leader. His community looks up to him as a pillar of the community, though some criticize him for only helping them as much as it benefits him.
    • When Gyp takes over Tabor Heights, he first beats the sheriff into submission, but afterwards instead of merely relying on intimidation, he buys off the locals at $200 per head, which given his nature is a magnanimous gesture. He even enjoys himself with a reassuring New Era Speech where he reminds everybody of the importance of reading!. Played with as everybody gets the implication and he cancels Bible Camp.
  • New Year Has Come: Season 3 premiere "Resolution" is set on Dec. 31, 1922. Parties are had.
  • Never Learned to Read: Chalky, who was born a poor, black working man, in contrast to his classically educated family. Dunn Purnsley is also illiterate. He insinuates that Chalky can't read, but can't actually prove it by pointing out that Chalky gives the wrong title for the book he's "reading."
  • Nice Hat:
    • Both Jimmy and Capone ditch their working-class caps for fedoras as a metaphor for their maturation as gangsters.
    • After being told that he might become a "general" one day, Gyp Rosetti steals a Revolutionary War general's hat and wears it in front of his men.
  • Night Swim Equals Death: Played with in the opening scene of the finale: Nucky strips off all his clothes and swims far out into the ocean at first light, ducking under the water in the final shot. It's left ambiguous whether this is a flash-forward to his death or simply a recreational swim. Later on, he tells Eli he'd been for a swim out of nostalgia, as he used to do it as a kid. He had considered swimming out too far, but decided to return instead.
  • Nipple and Dimed: In-story, the dancers can't show their nipples in Nucky's strip club, The Old Rumpus.
    Margaret: Do the women take everything off?
    Nucky: They have to leave little pasties on their...
    Margaret: Nipples?
    Nucky: Yes, those.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: McGarrigle, the Sinn Féin big shot in "Ourselves Alone" is a transparent expy of Éamon de Valera. However, he's somewhat older at this point in history than his historical counterpart was, and diverges from him in "The Battle of the Century" where the real de Valera is mentioned and McGarrigle is murdered by his colleagues for seeking to make peace with Britain.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Jimmy dishes one out to a photographer after misunderstanding his son and thinking that the photographer was having an affair with Angela. In reality, Angela was with the photographer's wife, although the photographer did suggest a threesome.
    • Dunn Purnsley gets one after picking a fight with Chalky in a cell full of guys who owe him a favor.
    • Gillian dishes one out on the Commodore after his stroke.
    • Purnsley gives one to a patron after he slashed the face of Chalky's daughter's boyfriend.
    • Al Capone gives one to an O'Banion mook after the mook gave one to one of his henchmen the night before.
    • Narcisse gives one to Daughter Maitland, though most of it is offscreen.
    • The finale features one with Eli crushing Knox's skull with a vase.
  • Nothing Personal:
    • Nucky tries to point this out, but Gyp Rosetti is not a man who gets swayed by it.
      Nucky: I learned a long time ago not to take things personally.
      Gyp: Everyone's a person, though, right? (later) Nothing's personal? What the fuck is life if it's not personal?
    • After surviving a hit, Maranzano says that he doesn't take such things personally, but this time Nicky retorts that nothing is more personal than a man trying to kill you.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Darmody and Harrow. Averted with Meyer Lansky.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Nucky's servant Harlan overheards him talking to his lawyer about Van Alden, and Nucky snaps at him for eavesdropping. When he starts to say he's worked for Nucky for years, Nucky cuts him off with a thank you for not joining the strike. When he mentions his church, Nucky curtly thanks him for his prayers. Just as he's leaving the room, Fallon asks him what he wanted to say, and he finally gets a chance to reveal that he and his entire congregation witnessed Van Alden drown his partner.
  • Not Quite Dead: Hey, remember those drivers Jimmy and Capone massacred at the end of the pilot? Turns out one of 'em ain't dead yet.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Agent Sebso seems extremely incompetent, but he is actually The Mole. He uses the fact that people think he is an idiot to get away with murder.
    • Mickey Doyle is not as stupid as the others think. When his Italian partners are laughing and talking about him behind his back, he knows that it is time to switch sides and set them up to be killed.
    • After Nucky is arrested, Margaret goes to his office pretending to be a poor, pregnant woman who needs Mr Thompson's help and is utterly confused by the fact that he is not there. The state policemen searching his office are completely fooled by the act and take pity on her. She uses the opportunity to retrieve incriminating evidence.
    • Warren Knox, a new Prohibition Agent introduced in Season 4, acts like an incompetent hired on the basis of nepotism, but reveals himself to actually be very calculating. After learning of a liquor warehouse protected by a booby trap, he allows his partner to get killed by the trap and then coolly executes the remaining guard, leaving all the liquor for himself. Later episodes reveal that Knox is working for J. Edgar Hoover to take Nucky Thompson down.
  • Odd Friendship: Hotheaded and loud-mouthed Lucky Luciano with impeccably-polite businessman Meyer Lansky. Truth in Television.
  • Oedipus Complex: Jimmy and Gillian's relationship is shown to be increasingly Oedipal as the show goes on until "Under God's Power She Flourishes," when it's revealed that they already had sex years ago. In the same episode, Jimmy takes it to its logical conclusion by killing his father, the Commodore.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Nucky sends Chalky and Purnsley to strongarm Eddie Cantor into working a play with Billie Kent. They do it in an unusual passive-aggressive way, obviously amused by how terrified he is of them.
  • Offing The Annoyance: In season 3, mob boss Gyp Rosetti has a habit of doing this. The real problem is that his definition of "annoyance" can include virtually anything. His Establishing Character Moment comes when a Good Samaritan helps him fix his car, but (completely unintentionally) appears to be patronising Rosetti for not knowing a simple expression. Rosetti lets him finish helping and then beats him to death with a tyre iron.
  • Oireland: Discussed in-universe. Eli and Nucky are Irish-Americans who idealize their homeland and buy into oirish stereotypes, and have been called on it by actual Irish people.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The classic Tocatta plays after Richard Harrow does his first assassination. A definite Visual Pun given Harrow's resemblance to The Phantom of the Opera. The scene then segues into a screening of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where the music is playing.
  • Ominous Walk:
    • The show seems to like giving them to Richard and Jimmy, who both have notable ones in "A Return to Normalcy" and "To the Lost".
    • Nucky has one in "The Emerald City" and another in "Ourselves Alone".
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", Nucky takes Owen aside to demand to know what Owen was doing during a time he was supposed to be on duty and when Owen gives the excuse he was visiting an old friend, Nucky pointedly asks if that friend was from Ireland. Owen has an Oh, Crap reaction, as while he did visit with (and kill) an acquaintance from Ireland that day, he also had sex with Margaret later and thinks Nucky knows about it. Luckily for Owen, Nucky was referring to the assassination and Owen gives a sigh of relief when Nucky brings up approaching the IRA for a business deal.
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Averted thanks to Deliberate Values Dissonance; Eddie Cantor brings a heavily pregnant Lucy a bottle of hooch to cheer her up.
  • One-Man Army: Richard Harrow stages a one-man assault on the Artemis Club to rescue Tommy.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted; the supporting cast contains both Eddie Kessler, Nucky's german valet, and vaudeville star Eddie Cantor.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Nucky, at times. Meyer Lansky, at others.
    • In season three, Eli becomes this particularly when he's the only one who realizes that trusting the police Mickey paid off may not be a foolproof idea.
    • Johnny Torrio is this for the Chicago crowd, which doesn't bode so well when Torrio starts to relinquish control of the organization to Capone.
  • OOC Is Serious Business:
    • After a shipment of booze gets repeatedly delayed, Rothstein's smiling "poker face" finally cracks, and he snarls angrily at Nucky. A.R. makes a point of it lampshading it's not a habit of his to be emotional.
    • With her business in the red and running out of options, the Stepford Smiler Gillian delivers a Precision F-Strike to her employees.
    • The only thing that gets past Meyer's cool facade is Charlie Luciano's life being threatened. In "Ourselves Alone", he shouts at Jimmy and Charlie to quit fighting in his place of business, and in "Margate Sands", he shouts at Charlie to stop trying to kill Rothstein for selling them out.
    • During an argument that divides Lansky and Luciano's partnership, Luciano digs into Lansky with an antisemitic slur, despite repeatedly defending Lansky's Judaism in the past.
    • Hoover forcing Remus to drop his third person shtick for the first time ever shows that this young agent is hardass and means business.
  • Open Heart Dentistry:
    • Alden takes a gunshot man to a dentist, but all he's interested in is using the dentist's cocaine to keep the man alive long enough to give him a name.
    • Samuel, a medical student still two years from graduating, is forced to treat a gunshot wound. He states himself that he has no idea what to do, but manages to get his way through it.
  • Opera Gloves: Gillian wears them to a night out at Chalky's club in "Acres of Diamonds".
  • Orphanage of Fear: Gillian's backstory before running away to Atlantic City to become a Street Urchin. Whether her life was better or worse for Nucky not sending her back is something she still seems unsure about... which speaks to how hellish the orphanage must have been.
  • Papa Bear: Richard takes a paternal interest in Tommy. When Julia's father starts manhandling him, Richard tells the man quite flatly that he'll kill him if he keeps it up. Later, Richard stages a rescue of Tommy from Gillian and Gyp Rosetti's men.
  • Parental Incest: Jimmy and Gillian, with Gillian initiating. Alcohol was involved, but there were hints of attraction on both sides even before the reveal...
  • Parental Substitute: Several generations in a row;
    • Nucky was resented by his bitter and abusive father, and latched onto the powerful, wealthy Commodore at an early age in his attempts to find appreciation and success.
    • Jimmy, the Commodore's own son, grows up respecting Nucky far more than his absent and barely-acknowledged biological father.
    • Jimmy's son Tommy has, by turns, his grandmother Gillian and minder/bodyguard Richard, though Richard would rather it was Richard and Julia and Gillian would rather it was Gillian and Jimmy. By the end of season three, he's been left in Julia's care.
  • Passed Over Inheritance: The Commodore never changed his will after finding out his faithful maid had been poisoning him. Jimmy tears up the will, after checking that it all goes to him/his son if the will isn't found.
  • Patricide: Jimmy kills his own father.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil:
    • Chalky and his father's carpentry tools are set loose on a Ku Klux Klan leader to see if the Klan was involved in his friend's lynching. Eventually Chalky is satisfied that they weren't...and then keeps going for another ten minutes.
    • When the Klan attack Chalky's business in "21" and an entire season goes by with Nucky refusing to allow Chalky vengeance, Jimmy and Richard deliver the three Klansmen to Chalky in "To the Lost".
  • Perfect Poison: Averted. Jimmy eats a cookie poisoned with arsenic and it causes him to vomit. The Commodore is being poisoned with the arsenic for much longer, but it also just makes him really sick. The poison is discovered before it has a chance to kill him.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Nucky with Margaret, especially when he visits her at the hospital at the end of the pilot.
    • Van Alden buys Lucy a record player after she becomes suicidally depressed due to months of isolation (at his insistence) while she's pregnant. It's actually an equally humanizing moment for both of them.
    • Al has a soft spot for kids, both his own son and Jimmy's son Tommy.
    • Frequently subverted with Nucky's liberal attitudes toward all people and races. He deals with the black community, but only because it's profitable. He hired Kessler in spite of the bad reputation that Germans had after the Great War, but he uses this fact to shame and guilt him. He supports women's suffrage, but only because he thinks he can control their votes.
    • Julia's father's reaction to Richard showing up on his doorstep with Tommy, covered in blood. He calmly orders Julia to take Tommy to his late son's room (something that had previously caused him to become violently angry) and has a lucid discussion with Richard. He might be a drunken asshole, but he keeps his composure when blood's been spilled.
    • Mickey plays with it when he slaps Willie Thompson for trying to steal a box of booze but finally reconsiders and allows Willie to take it anyway. While Mickey sounds like he's taking pity on the kid, it's left ambiguous if Doyle is only being nice to avoid Eli's wrath.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: In "Peg of Old", Jimmy most likely would not have ordered Nucky's death if Al, Eli, Lansky, Luciano, and Gillian hadn't been pressuring him to do so. Overlaps with The Chains of Commanding, as he discusses with Gillian how he had to be seen to be decisive.
  • Phony Veteran: Al Capone, although he stops making such claims after Jimmy calls him on it.
  • Pinkerton Detective: The agency is involved in a lengthy sting operation against Gillian, to trick her into admitting her guilt in a murder.
  • Plot Armor: Throughout the show, Nucky survives six assassination attempts, sometimes by luck and sometimes by the vigilance of his minions. His armor finally runs out in the final scene of the finale.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Unless you are the Villain Protagonist, then they're excellent tools. The Prohibition Agents are just as prone to corruption, many are incompetent and they are prevented from pursuing non-alcohol related crimes.
    • The Tabor Heights police. Eli notes that the portly local sheriff was turned down for a job in Atlantic City. He shrugs when Rosetti's men invade the town, asking, "What could I do?" His replacement vows revenge, but Nucky's men are dubious of his chances. It turns out he and the rest of the police force simply swapped sides.
    • Esther Randolph's attempts to get Nucky and Rothstein into jail fail due to their deep political connections.
  • Police Brutality:
    • While Nucky is the boss of Atlantic City, the police department is glorified muscle for his criminal empire, with his brother as the Police Captain.
    • Two New York cops beat information out of Lucky, telling him they can do whatever they want because they're the law. It turns out that they're shaking Lucky down on behalf of Arnold Rothstein.
    • After Nucky and Daugherty fall out, two agents from the Department of Justice punch and arrest Mr. Thompson.
  • Politically Correct History: Averts it just as much as Mad Men. Casual domestic abuse, racial slurs, midget boxing, and a band in blackface feature just in the pilot. A black man shooting a white one in self defense still faces a lynching no matter how well connected he might be.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Pretty much everyone (with the exception of Nucky), especially the Commodore, Senator Edge and Joe Masseria, who is very insistent about the untrustworthiness and greed of the Jews. Partial example in Rosetti, as he Hates Everyone Equally.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Happens to Nucky several times, since the people around him aren't as educated as he is.
    • When Mickey Doyle says that he changed his name:
      Mickey: What's that supposed to mean?
      Nucky: Read a fucking book.
    • When he sees Chalky being harsh with his underlings:
      Nucky: Simon Legree.
      Chalky: I don't give a fuck they agree or not.
    • When he talks about Eli about Eli's betrayal:
      Nucky: Et tu, Eli?
      Eli: What?
      Nucky: Shakespeare. Julius Caesar.
      Eli: There's a character named Eli?
  • Ponzi: An excellent Historical In-Joke—one of Nucky's friends in the first season is a client/victim of the Trope Namer, the infamous Charles Ponzi, seller of "international reply coupons".
  • Power Trio: Luciano, Lansky and Siegel form a solid one in the thirties, with the first two men acting as equals and Bugsy as a loose cannon.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: A pretty big theme of the show, as certain bootleggers (e.g. Nucky, Rothstein and Torrio) argue for rational and business-minded decisions, while others (e.g. Gyp Rosetti and "Mustache Petes" like Maranzano) make decisions based on impulse, emotion or honor.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Chalky ain't building no damn bookcase.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: In "Belle Femme," Agent Sebso tells a mook that he had to shoot the mook because he tried to commandeer Sebso's gun. As the mook is trying to puzzle this out, Sebso shoots him.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    • When Jimmy and Al Capone assassinate Charlie Sheridan and his men.
      Jimmy: I think you'd agree that Greek Town belongs to us now.
    • Also, from "The Emerald City".
      Lucien: (While Jimmy is loading his gun.) Oh, oh fuckin' tough guy. Are you gonna shoot me for mouthin' off?
      Jimmy: I wasn't going to, but you kinda talked me into it. (BANG)
    • Owen's got one in "Peg of Old":
      "Led me on a merry chase these five months, you traitorous fuck!"
    • Richard and Jimmy get a tandem one before Richard blows Neary's brains out:
      Jimmy: It's not a confession.
      Richard: It's a suicide note.
    • Nucky, of all people, before finishing off Jimmy.
      "I am not seeking forgiveness."
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Margaret goes from zero to Country Matters when she's finally had enough of Lucy.
    • She also drops an F-bomb to Nucky when she's finally had enough of his patronization, and he takes offense at a nice girl using that kind of language.
    • Richard, who rarely swears, says "I don't fuckin' believe this!" when it's revealed they've caught Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano (and by proxy, Arnold Rothstein) working with Nucky.
    • Gillian drops an F-bomb at her employees, showing how pressure she's under between her declining business and her denial over Jimmy's disappearance.
    • Meyer Lansky is usually excessively polite but when it comes to his loose cannon of an apprentice and friend, Benny Siegel, he has some just for him.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Generally averted. However, in one scene Richard gives a man a Moe Greene Special from across the street, and at first the rest of the cafe's patrons only notice because the bullet shatters a water jug in passing. The victim remains sat at his table, with his head slumped back and blood running from his nose and a dainty new red birthmark under one eye.[[
  • Prison Rape: After Agent Knox's attempt to bring Nucky down fails, he tells Eli that he's going to send Willie to prison where he'll be raped. This pushes Eli into a homicidal rage.
  • Professional Killer: Subverted by Gaston Means, who double-sells the services of professional assassins he claims to know for quite a large sum. It turns out that he does the job himself and completely bungles it.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Gretchen Mol (Gillian) and Jack Huston (Richard Harrow) for Season 2. Mol also gets the "with" credit.
  • Protest Song: The "Stand Up For Prohibition" song sung by the Atlantic City Women's Temperance League towards the end of the first seasons fifth episode "Nights in Ballygran".
  • Psycho for Hire: The D'Alessio Brothers seem to enjoy killing a little too much.
  • Psychopathic Manchild:
    • Al Capone, before getting called on it.
    • Gyp in season 3 is a particularly brutal example.
  • Pun: Nucky prompts for one by asking a little person for a dollar. The little person grudgingly replies, "Sorry, I'm a little short!" and rolls his eyes while walking away.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Owen, the IRA hitman, is a pretty friendly and laid back guy in spite of occasionally killing people either for Nucky or the Cause.
  • Punny Name: Albert "Chalky" White, the black mobster, has three names meaning "white."
  • The Purge: The opening scene of the season three finale, showing the turning tide of the Mob War after the arrival of The Cavalry in the form of Al Capone.
  • Put on a Bus: Lucy blows town in Season 2 after popping out Van Alden's baby. Rumor has it this was partly due to the actress not working well with the crew.
  • Quit Your Whining: Nucky sits in the bar, moping over the state of his life, as a drunken Sally gets increasingly more irritated in the background. Then, with no warning, she socks him in the mouth, knocking him out of his seat. Cue Slap-Slap-Kiss.
  • Quizzical Tilt: Harrow will do this in reaction to violence, showing his detachment. He does it as he regards a crying, panicky fourteen-year-old boy, right before shooting him as well as when Al callously suggests that he kill Nucky.
  • Raised Catholic:
    • The Thompson brothers. Nucky is even knighted by the Church despite being a non-practicing member.
    • Prominent with Margaret, who starts feeling guilty about living the good life as Nucky's kept woman and has a Catholic relapse in Season 2.
    • Gyp Rosetti bows to the Almighty. This doesn't preclude good ol'Gyp from ranting against the Lord, beating His ministers and robbing His temple.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Van Alden finally getting fed up with his salesman colleagues' mockery is truly a sight to behold.
  • Rant Inducing Slight: In "A Dangerous Maid", Nucky is shown as largely successful at containing his rage at the Commodore for betraying him (as well as encouraging others to to do so). He is even able to keep his temper when he sees the Commodore at the same restaurant he had chosen, eating with Nucky's former cronies. However, when the Commodore orders a dish Margaret had wanted, and the restaurant was consequently out of it, Nucky lets the Commodore have it (and throws his dinner on the floor).
  • Reality Ensues:
    • No matter how Badass and well connected Chalky White is, in the 1920s a black man killing a white Klansman will cause a shitstorm of trouble. No one cares that it might have been self defense or that the Klansman just murdered four black men.
    • A badly aimed, small-caliber gun shot to the head fails to kill Jimmy, forcing Nucky to Mercy Kill him with a second shot.
    • A character that was just far enough to survive an explosion and not get burned still feels like shit days later, and it only gets worse when he refuses to take meds that would ease the pain. Ash Face this is not.
    • A character's hand still hurts almost two years after having been shot there, despite looking like it has completely healed, and another character that was shot on the foot is forced to walk with a cane.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic:
    • This may be an explanation for the appearance of Harrow's facial prosthetic. They looked much more true to the wearer's face in reality than what's seen on the show.
    • This also applies to his wounds themselves. You might think nobody could survive that with the medicine of the time, but men actually survived a lot worse types of facial injuries.
  • Red Herring: Gyp's erotic asphyxiation fetish. When first introduced, he allows himself to be strangled to the point of blackout. However, when Gillian tries to murder him, she doesn't simply strangle him into unconsciousness, instead relying on her syringe of heroin again - and she fails.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • Al Capone's hotheadedness compared with Jimmy's rationale.
    • Luciano and Rothstein, as well as Luciano and Lansky. Luciano's always the Red. Luciano even makes a joke about it when he temporarily trades roles with Lansky.
    • Richard is the Blue to Jimmy's Red.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Al executing the last of the D'Alessio brothers, stepping over the corpse, picking up an apple from the dropped bag of groceries, and biting into it.
  • Relative Button: Tolliver knows Eli's family means more to him than anything, that's how he coerced him into cooperating in the first place. Yet he still taunts him with [[his son's impending Prison Rape before he's got him in cuffs. His colleague may have been right about him having a death wish, after all.]]
  • Remember the New Guy:
    • Gyp Rosetti. It's eventually explained that Nucky started their business arrangement during the two-year gap between seasons two and three.
    • After a long Time Skip, Salvatore Maranzano is introduced in the Season 5 premiere, at which point he is the most powerful gangster of New York in the wake of his triumph in the Castellammarese War.
  • Replacement Goldfish: In "Ging Gang Goolie", Gillian takes a new lover, a fair-haired young man who vaguely resembles Jimmy. She tells him that he reminds her of someone and decides to call him "James." It later turns out that she really needed him to stand in for Jimmy's corpse so she could take control of his inheritance.
  • Returning War Vet: Jimmy and Richard for WWI. Paul Sagorsky for the Phillipines.
  • Revealing Hug: In the first-season finale, Jimmy makes a tearful plea to Angela to rebuild their relationship. She agrees, but her empty stare when they hug reveals mixed emotions. Later in the episode she confirms it by getting an Important Haircut referencing her departed lover.
  • Right Through His Pants: The sex scene between Nucky and Sally Wheet in "The North Star".
  • Right Through the Wall: Will Thompson has to listen to his uncle having sex with Sally Wheet ("The Old Ship of Zion").
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Pretty much all of "Margate Sands", which consists of Nucky getting back at literally everybody who wronged him up to that point. Also one for Harrow, who shoots up a bordello guarded by Rosetti's men in order to rescue Tommy.
    • After Frank Capone is gunned down by Chicago police officers, Al starts murdering random policemen in broad daylight and makes plans to kill O'Bannion, who he suspects is responsible for Frank's death.
  • The Roaring Twenties
  • Rousing Speech: Jimmy pulls one out of nowhere in "Gimcrack and Bunkum" during a Memorial Day ceremony.
    '"'Mr. Thompson just said some impressive things about me, but they're not true. I'm no one's idea of a hero, least of all mine. When people ask me what I did over there, what I tell them is 'I made it back'. We fought for the idea that democracy was worth saving. We fought for our mothers, for our sons, for our wives. We fought for America, and I believe it was worth it. (pauses for applause, then holds up the list of names) These are all brave men."''
  • Rule of Drama: Basically the entire second season.
  • Rule of Three: Three main characters, Angela, The Commodore and Jimmy die at the end of season 2 in just as many episodes in a row.
  • Running Gag: Regina the dog, of constantly shifting ownership. She starts out as a good Samaritan's dog until her owner gets killed by Gyp. Later, Gyp shows up at Nucky's black tie party holding the dog, having apparently adopted her. After getting angry, he storms off and leaves the dog behind, to Margret's annoyance. We later find out that the Thompsons have reluctantly adopted her. When Gyp takes over Thompson's office, he takes Regina back and orders her fed.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The crooks from out of town are all more ruthless than the local Atlantic City hoods. Arnold Rothstein is the most dangerous but he's reasonable and nuanced enough to downplay it sometimes. Gyp Rosetti, also from New York, is a classic example; a most violent, unpleasant and confrontational gangster who tries to take over the protagonist's turf and operation.
    • Maranzano and Masseria are both native Italians, "Moustache Petes" who are more traditional and conservative than the younger American mobsters like Luciano. Their mutual desire for absolute control causes the massive Castellamarese War. Masseria is also one of the few people that Gyp Rosetti is afraid of, with Gyp frequently having to talk Masseria out of killing him for his screwups.

    S - Z 
  • Sarcasm Failure: When Sigrid nags Nelson again about the plumbing, he angrily claims that he got the president of the Roebuck company to personally send a crack team of men to fix the problem. She believes him, forcing to him to state that it was sarcasm and storm out.
  • Satellite Love Interest:
    • Mary, Angela's girlfriend that she sees while Jimmy's forced to flee Atlantic City. All their conversations seem to be about are Paris and how they'll flee there together, dragging Jimmy and Angela's son along, mind you, and be together forever. When Mary later abandons Angela the same day they were supposed to elope, Angela goes home and seems to reconcile with Jimmy, though an apologetic postcard from Mary makes her cut her hair out of spite.
    • Billie Kent's entire role seems to have been to entice Nucky with the prospect of a carefree life — she's not as damaged as his previous mistress, but neither is she as morally uncompromising as Margaret. Beyond her professional ambitions, we don't get much of a clue as to why she's getting mixed up with Nucky.
  • Scary Black Man: Chalky and Purnsley both know how to play it.
  • Scenery Porn: The incredible recreation of the Atlantic City boardwalk.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Margaret in the third season finale when Nucky tries to get her to come back by holding a wad of money at her.
  • Secret Test of Character: After Eli has a suspicious outburst at dinner, Nucky tests him by quoting his embarrassing teenage love poem. Eli just laughs it off, revealing to Nucky that he's not just in a prickly mood.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
    • Nucky, Rothstein, and Lansky are prone to it.
    • The two hobos that Harrow meets in the woods:
      "You're an easily bamboozled individual."
      "Aw, lay off your pontificating."
    • Gaston Means. Full stop.
    • Doctor Narcisse likes to go out of his way with cultured circumlocutions.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: The aftermath of the restaurant explosion intended for Nucky and Rothstein, which only succeeds in killing Billie.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jimmy is not the same guy since he volunteered to serve in The Great War. Richard Harrow is even more messed up.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: In "Two Imposters", the second-last episode of season 3, we see Eddie Kessler as well as Margaret and the kids get shunted out of the picture to focus on the season finale's coming bloodbath.
  • Shoot the Dog: A literal example occurs when Richard's sister asks him to shoot her ailing dog, but Richard has become averse to killing and makes her to it instead.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Harrow does it when one of Rosetti's men holds Tommy hostage.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Among the many stylistic flourishes of Martin Scorsese's that the show mimics, there are several instances when background music is used repeatedly, either within the same episodes or across several. Many times different versions of the same songs are used. This is something that Scorsese does in his films quite often.
    • The season 1 finale does two in the same scene; the deaths of the remaining D'Alessio brothers resembles the deaths of the rival dons at the end of The Godfather in how they're shown during the midst of the main character doing something seemingly benign (Nucky is giving a speech on crime, Michael at the christening). Furthermore, one of the D'Alessio's deaths (the one killed by Al Capone) is very reminiscent of the death of Steve Buscemi's character in The Sopranos.
    • Nucky compares Chalky to Simon Legree, upon seeing Mr. White chiding his underlings, but Chalky doesn't "give a fuck they agree or not."
    • In the second episode, the Commodore humiliates his servant, by asking her opinion about politics and finance, just to prove his point: women shouldn't be allowed to vote. There is a very similar scene in The Remains of the Day.
    • Margaret reads The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to the children, and Richard Harrow compares himself to the Tin Woodsman.
    • Gyp's right-hand-man tells him about seeing Nosferatu in the theater. The film actually hadn't been released in America at this point in history, however.
    • During the first attempt on Rosetti's life, the camera looking down on the deaths and the cinematography as a whole mirror several moments of the shootout scene of Scorsese's Taxi Driver, even the music is reminiscent. The influence is also present in the Season 3 finale when, like Travis Bickle, Richard unleashes a carnage on a bordello to rescue a minor he deeply cares for.
    • Gyp references Barney Google and sings the theme song in the final episode of Season 3.
    • The second-to-last scene of Season 3 has a Door Closes Ending homaging the one from The Godfather, with a gender reversal as Margaret is the one who closes the door on Nucky.
    • The demise of Frank Capone, mercilessly gunned down next to a car and mourned over at the morgue, is very reminiscent of Sonny Corleone's. (In this case the Shout-Out comes full circle, since the death of Sonny Corleone is generally supposed to be inspired by the Real Life death of Frank Capone.
    • The address casually referred to by O'Banion is on Racine, which is clearly intended to remind the viewer of the Untouchables movie.
    • An attempt on the life of Torrio shares a lot connections with the hit against Vito Corleone. Both kingpins are ambushed by running gunmen who at first are only seen from below the waist, absorb numerous bullets at close range and are brought down to the ground in the presence of a disconsolate relative, and in both cases the target is not killed, only sent to the hospital.
  • Shown Their Work: The producers spent millions painstakingly recreating 1920 Atlantic City in modern-day Brooklyn. As with HBO's earlier series Carnivàle, the writers have put much time and effort into creating an entire world in the show and doing the proper research into real life figures.
    • Eli has a book on public speaking by "Dale Carnagey", who not long after changed his name's spelling and is now remembered as Dale Carnegie.
    • Michael Stuhlbarg researched Arnold Rothstein so thoroughly that writers often asked him how Rothstein would handle a situation.
    • The conversation between Nucky and Harry Daugherty about how Warren Harding would take the nomination at the 1920 Republican convention is almost exactly what the real Daugherty actually said at the time.
    • The play Eddie Cantor gives to Lucy to read, which gives its title to the episode "A Dangerous Maid", was the first play by George and Ira Gershwin.
    • The cyclone that Daugherty and Smith reminisce about in "A Man, A Plan" really did rip through their home town in 1885, and poor 10-year-old Mary Shackleford was an actual casualty.
    • "The Good Listener" has a scene where a reporter is quizzing Al Capone about how gangsters are portrayed in movies. That was taken from an actual interview Capone gave to Variety in 1931.
    • In the last season, after the seven-year Time Skip to 1931, Luciano is shown with a scar and a droopy right eyelid. It's only acknowledged once, and Luciano gives only a vague and dismissive wisecrack in explanation. In Real Life, someone—Luciano never said who—abducted him in 1929, beat and stabbed him, and dumped him in Staten Island. The scar and the droopy eyelid were the results of that attack.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Margaret's response to Lucy's attempts at a Breaking Speech.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Nucky to Margaret in "Paris Green". He points out Margaret never said "no" when he was helping her and reveals his knowledge about trying anti-conception. He also refuses to feel guilty about the death of Hans Schroder, who was beating her, the children, made her miscarry and did all of that with a smile.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Eli is jealous of Nucky, his Aloof Big Brother, and wishes people would bow to him the same way they do to Nucky. To Eli's exasperation, most just ignore or outright mock him.
  • Siblings in Crime: Nucky and Eli, the D'Alessio Brothers gang.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Nucky is single and a womanizer (at least initially), Equal-Opportunity Evil, and is pretty much a Non-Action Guy relying on intellect and charm; Eli is married with a large family, is a Politically Incorrect Villain, and relies more on brute force than smarts.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Nucky arranges for the hospitalized gangster who survived the first episode's massacre to be silenced, but this is prevented by federal agents, although the gangster still ends up dying.
  • Silent Credits:
    • Occurs after the end of the season 4 finale, where Richard dies.
    • Chalky has Daughter's rendition of "Dream a Little Dream" on his mind as he faces the bullets. After he dies and the credits roll, all we hear is the soft scratching of a finished record.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Gillian.
  • Sir Swearsalot: Many, but in particular the Commodore and Chalky, to the extent where Chalky can be jarring, considering the actor previously played Omar Little, who made it a point not to swear.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: "The North Star" has two examples:
    • A drunken Sally gets tired of waiting for Nucky to make a move, so she punches him and they tussle before falling into each other's arms.
    • Chalky gets into an argument with Daughter Maitland, culminating in them grappling briefly and then passionately kissing.
  • Slashed Throat: A lot. It seems to be Jimmy's calling card.
  • Sleazy Politician: All of them.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Like Gangs of New York, 1920 Atlantic City is surprisingly clean. Along with generous helpings of Living in a Furniture Store and Gorgeous Period Dress, the show is dripping with elegant Roaring Twentiesness
  • Smoking Hot Sex: In "The Age of Reason", Nucky tries to smoke after an unsatisfying session of sex with Margaret, but his lighter doesn't work.
  • Smug Snake:
    • Mickey Doyle, a smirking schemer prone to giggling.
    • Thorogood Junior likes to bring up his powerful father and is rather too pleased with himself despite the fact that his part in Nucky's plan involves his convincingly seeming like a total incompetent (which doesn't really require any acting from him).
  • The Sociopath: Most of the gangsters, frankly. Special mention to Gyp Rosetti, who tops them all.
  • Son of a Whore: Jimmy Darmody. Gets really squicky when you factor in that Gillian was fourteen when she had him, father-figure Nucky was the one who pimped her out, and that his father is the Commodore (who had to have been in his sixties even then. And no, you should not say a single ill word about his mother.
  • Sound-Only Death: In a season five meeting between Luciano and Masseria, Charlie steps into the bathroom and the camera follows him. He looks entirely unsurprised by the sounds of footsteps, a struggle and a hail of gunfire, and when he steps out Masseria is lying in a pool of blood and he asks the killers what took them so long.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • Almost all the final act of the pilot, first with a comedic number by Eddie Cantor taking place while a gang of bootleggers attack the members of a rival gang, and later with an opera playing as Jim Colosimo is shot in the head and a pair of corrupt cops beat Margaret's husband to death.
    • Cheery music interrupts Lucy's screaming as she gives birth.
    • Considering that the show's theme music is "Straight Up and Down" by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the soundtrack is (historically) pretty damn dissonant from the get-go...
    • The song that plays in the Artemis Club as Richard slaughters his way through Rosetti's men? "What I'll Do", a rather soft and upbeat song.
  • The Speechless: Lucky's heroin buyer, due to a knife-wound in the neck. Turns out that he's an undercover cop who can speak just fine.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • To The Sopranos, a criminal procedural series revolved around New Jersey & New York in which creator Terence Winter served as co-showrunner and one of the main writers. Several actors note  played major to minor roles in The Sopranos. The many similarities between the two series finales didn't go unnoticed.
    • To other HBO period dramas such as Deadwood and Carnivàle, with its lavish production values, use of foul language, and nudity. The notion than prohibiting intoxicant substances is a total failure that generates more problems than it solves and empowers the underworld draws a lot from The Wire. In-house HBO director and producer Tim Van Patten is always present in all these projects.
  • Spousal Privilege: One of the many Courtroom Antics Nucky plays to get his case dismissed.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Agent Van Alden to Margaret Schroeder. He steals her hair ribbon for some late-night ribbon sniffing and requisitions her immigration file to peruse in his free time. Even after his boss calls him out on his seeming obsession with the Schroeders, Van Alden still stops by Margaret's house and uses the opportunity to get details about her from her neighbor. Let's not forget about the time he whipped himself while staring at a picture of her in which she was only 16 years old.
  • Start My Own: Rosetti takes over the strategic chokepoint Tabor Heights to force Nucky into selling him liquor directly rather than have Rothstein acting as a middle man. However, Gyp soon realizes that he can start his own smuggling operation from there, supplant Nucky as Rothstein's main supplier and expand to the rest of New York. Rosetti is doubly delighted, as this makes Thompson obsolete.
  • Start of Darkness: Season five mixes flashbacks to the start of Nucky's career in with the events of the 1930s. The penultimate episode shows his real moment of crossing the line: Lindsay quits the Commodore's service when he's told to hush up the family of a child he's sexually abused, and it probably isn't the first time. Nucky steps in, purely to advance his own standing in the Commodore's service.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Eli, of all people, suggests that killing is how the new coalition of gangsters deals with Nucky.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • Gillian Darmody always smiles and acts casually cheerful to everyone to survive and get what she wants. She remains the concubine of the man who raped her as a child until she momentarily drops the act to enact her revenge. Even afterwards, she pretends that they're still good friends. In all other aspects of her life, she behaves as the smiling hostess even when she's talking gritty business and outright threatening.
    • Arnold Rothstein is almost always smiling. When he's amused, he smiles. When he's confused, he smiles. When he's irritated, he smiles. Even when he's chewing someone out over the phone, he smiles.
    • Eli's wife is emotionally fragile, covering up the stress of having eight children and an uncertain future by smiling. When Margaret suddenly draws back the curtain and talks about all the family dysfunction, Eli's wife simply cannot process it. She just pauses for a moment in silence, then changes the subject and starts smiling again.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Kessler doesn't mention that he's been shot in the stomach, because Nucky needs him. When he starts to pass out, he apologizes.
  • The Stinger: Episode Ten of Season Three ends with a devastating one: a flashback to an earlier encounter between Margaret and Owen when she tells him she's pregnant with his child. Right after the scene where she discovers he's dead by Masseria's hand.
  • The Stoic:
    • The unflappable Arnold Rothstein, who tends to smile when he's annoyed.
    • Richard Harrow rarely betrays his emotions openly, and always speaks in a slow, low tone. This partially the result of his injuries and partially the result of the damage they've wrought on his personality.
    • Meyer Lansky as well (who also picked up the smiling habit from his boss), in contrast to Luciano's hotheaded ways.
  • Storming the Castle: Richard Harrow coming to rescue Tommy from Gillian's place, overrun with Rosetti's men in the middle of a Mob War.
  • Straight Edge Evil:
    • Rothstein doesn't drink or womanize and uses some of the least profane language in the series.
    • Van Alden could probably also be seen as this / Family Values Villain with a dose of religious fanaticism and hypocrisy.
    • Remus shuns gambling and doesn't drink alcohol. Downplayed in that Remus isn't above enjoying ladies of company.
  • Street Urchin: A child shoplifter and grifter young Nucky is tasked with catching turns out to be Gillian. The grim prospects of being a young girl in such a life are a Foregone Conclusion.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Owen Sleater is mailed back to Nucky in a packing crate in "A Man, A Plan".
  • Stylistic Suck: Dr. Narcisse's play is stiff and preachy, with shoddy production value. Audience members are on the verge of nodding off.
  • Suddenly Significant City: As Arnold Rothstein puts it, Atlantic City is an extension of Nucky Thompson; a convenience of geography and supply. New York and not Jersey is the place where things "actually matter". The sudden prominence of the city is a credit to Thompson's ingenuity and resourcefulness.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Manny Horvitz is killed suddenly in the first episode of season 3.
  • Suicide by Cop: It's implied that Jimmy knew he was walking into a trap and went unarmed so that someone would kill him.
  • Surrounded by Idiots:
    • Rothstein's reaction after the D'Alessio brothers fail to kill Nucky.
    • Almost anyone's reaction when they have to speak to Mickey Doyle.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: In the middle of a tense standoff, Mickey is doing his usual wheedling when he's shot out of the blue, triggering a shootout that also takes out Arquimedes.
  • Tantrum Throwing: Taken up to eleven when Van Alden loses his temper at Faraday and assaults a colleague. He takes his remaining anger out on the desks and office equipment, sending everyone else scrambling for cover. Then calmly retrieves his hat and coat, and leaves.
  • Tarot Motifs: Gillian gets a reading in episode 3, including the High Priestess (a woman with significant power), the Moon (mystery and danger), and the Knight of Swords (a hot-tempered man). The tarot deck used as the prop, however, was first published in 1985.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Self-inflicted by the pious agent Van Alden: the most obvious reason are his <a-hem> impure thoughts caused by a photo of a 16-year-old Margaret. He keeps staring at the photo while he flogs himself, though.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Gangster groups are all rivals in the same business, so when they team up, it often results in this. Capone's and Chalky's gangs even come to blows while allied with Nucky.
  • The Teetotaler:
    • Margaret is one when the series starts but begins to drink as she is corrupted by "the good life".
    • The Temperance League, of course, is a legion of teetotalers.
    • As was true historically, Arnold Rothstein is one, drinking tea or milk when others imbibe, allowing him to be sharp when engaged in gambling or other activities.
    • As expected, given his values and dedication to his job, Van Alden starts out as one, but "gives into temptation" in this and other aspects toward the end of the first season. Even after becoming a bootlegger, he's still not much of a drinker, however.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
    • Frank is gunned down by a small army of men, a couple of whom are using shotguns, all of whom empty their weapons into him. It's like a Roaring Twenties version of Murphy's death from RoboCop (1987).
    • In season 3, rival crime boss Gyp Rosetti puts out a hit on Nucky Thompson by blowing up an entire restaurant on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the hopes that Nucky would walk inside in time. It instead claims the lives of everyone who was already dining inside and numerous bystanders, including Nucky's mistress Billie Kent. Rosetti's backer Joe Masseria later chews him out about this pointless massacre.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Narcisse insists on being addressed as "Doctor Narcisse" rather than "Mister Narcisse."
  • Thicker Than Water:
    • The Commodore uses this to tempt Jimmy into betraying Nucky.
    • A topsy-turvy example with Nucky and Eli. At the beginning of the show, Eli serves as his older brother's right-hand man. Later, Eli's jealousy causes him to betray Nucky, but then he tries to play the brother card when he pleads for Nucky's mercy. Even after coming to blows, Nucky ultimately forgives him enough to spare him and even sets him up with a low-level job after he gets released from prison. By the end of the season, Eli is the only man who Nucky trusts anymore However, Eli ends up betraying him again - to save his son from prison.
  • Third-Person Person: George Remus, much to Al Capone's confusion. Everyone finds it insufferable, but only J. Edgar Hoover has managed to make him cut it out.
  • Throwing the Fight/ Fixing The Game: Rothstein is worried that he'll be exposed as the fixer behind the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
  • Time Skip:
    • Season three skips ahead two years, to the time when Capone began moving out of Torrio's shadow, Luciano and Lansky began expanding, and the scandals of the Harding administrations were being revealed.
    • Season five takes place in 1931, seven years after the events of season four.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Season 5 contains flashbacks through Nucky's life, where we see Nucky and Eli as kids (played by Nolan Lyons and Oakes Fegley) and young adults (played by Marc Pickering and Ryan Dinning), and younger versions of Ethan Thompson, the Commodore (played by Ian Hart and John Ellison Conlee), and others.
  • Title Drop: Occurs in several episodes.
  • Thieves' Guild: Luciano deposes the old Mustache Pete's order and sets up "The Commission", a new governing body of the American Mafia made up of peers, with the five families of New York and the bosses of Chicago and Buffalo functioning as a board of directors who would mediate conflicts between members.
  • Tomboy: Young street urchin Gillian Darmody, as seen in the season five flashbacks.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • One of the D’Alessio brothers taunts the mobsters that have them tied up. Lansky winces, expecting the inevitable result, and does not make the same mistake.
    • Sally apparently thinks it's a valid strategy to point a gun at 10+ armed soldiers who attempt to detain her.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Season 3 ups the ante for the Thompson brothers, who have to personally tackle deadly threats and become Bash Brothers in the process.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Arnold Rothstein's milk and cake, which he eats in lieu of sophisticated vices like drinking, smoking and expensive meals. Nucky says that he eats like a child.
  • Tragic Dropout: Nucky thinks that Jimmy joined the Army because he "couldn't hack it at Princeton". As "Under God's Power She Flourishes" reveals that while he actually was kicked out of Princeton, he was also running away from his mother, whom he had recently slept with.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The next episode previews often take lines of dialogue out of context, or clip parts of them off completely.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: In "21" Nucky is delivering an impassioned speech to a black church congregation promising to protect them from Klansmen—then, after a cleverly disguised cut, Nucky is shown in a near-identical setting telling a racist white church congregation that the "coloreds" will be taught a lesson.
  • Two-Faced:
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife:
    • Sigrid is an attractive young woman, while Van Alden has a mug that "you don't forget."
    • Inverted with Gyp Rosetti.
  • Undying Loyalty
    • Eddie Kessler to Nucky Thompson, partially explained by Nucky employing him during WWI in spite of his German heritage.
    • Richard Harrow to Jimmy Darmody and by extension, Angela. Literally. He avenges Angela's death and transfers his loyalty to Jimmy's young son.
  • The Unfavorite: Both Thompson brothers believe themselves to be. "Home" reveals that their father is quite disapproving of the successful but Lonely at the Top Nucky, seeming to prefer his younger and more traditional family-man son, Eli. Later, however, Eli learns that their father believes that he's incompetent and needs Nucky to look after him.
  • Villain Ball: Played with in "21". The KKK member who has Chalky at gunpoint talks and gives someone else time to shoot him. Chalky watches the klansmen fleeing, then just before they get into cover aims and shoots one in the neck.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After a crushing defeat, Gyp starts singing the theme song to Barney Google, to the confusion of his remaining men.
  • Villainous Demotivator: Gyp Rosetti brutally murders one of his own men (for one of the slights that exist only in his deranged mind) in front of the man's cousin.
  • Villainous Rescue: Al Capone at the end of season 3.
    I've been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bed, some chow, and then you and me, we sit down and talk about who dies, huh?
  • Villain Protagonist: Nucky, Jimmy, Eli, Lucky, Lansky, Owen, Harrow, Chalky, Gillian, and Dunn. By the end of season 2 even Van Alden becomes one.
  • Villain with Good Publicity:
    • As far as the people are concerned, Nucky is a pillar of the community and a social celebrity in Atlantic City. In season 3 he also becomes a philanthropist and a Knight of the Church, albeit involuntarily.
    • Harry Daugherty, the massively corrupt campaign manager of Warren Harding and US Attorney General, boasts about outmatching Nucky in this regard, cautioning Thompson that he would lose badly in a battle of image and credibility.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot:
    • Eli violently expelling his stomach contents after a St. Patrick's Day dinner.
    • The Commodore, after drinking medication and being unable to eat breakfast.
    • Jimmy after eating a poisoned cookie.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Deconstructed. Eli attempts to murder a semiconscious, hospitalized witness with a pillow, but it takes forever, it wakes up a patient in an adjoining bed (separated by a curtain), and he eventually has to quit with the witness still alive when Van Alden comes in.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often:
    • We don't see this in Season 1, even as Nucky gets more and more anxious over the local 1920 elections, but in season 2 Nucky is charged with election fraud. In jail, he and Chalky discuss how they spent election night giving out money to anyone who would vote for their candidates.
    • Season 4 shows us election campaigning Chicago-style. During a municipal election in Cicero, Al Capone gathers various gangsters and hirde thugs and armed with bats and pipes they go to a rally for an opposition candidate. They beat up the candidates supporters but let enough of them get away to spread the word about what happens to those who support the wrong candidate. A later episode shows us Election Day where the Capones try to stop a group of workers from voting. It quickly escalates into a melee and this time the gangsters are outnumbered. This culminates in Frank Capone being shot dead by police.
  • Wall Bang Her: Nucky has sex with Sally Wheet this way in "North Star".
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: One of the motifs of the series. Season 2 opens to the tune of the song "After you get what you want (you don't want it)" and Nucky acknowledges it as a factor behind his unquenched thirst.
    Nucky: I recall that I was once [alive, before Prohibition] Till then, I was a simple, run-of-the-mill crook... a corrupt city official. And I was happy. Plenty of money, plenty of friends, plenty of everything. Then suddenly, plenty wasn't enough.
  • We Can Rule Together: Lansky talks his way out of a hail of bullets by proposing this to Jimmy, Harrow, and Horowitz; he and Luciano, along with them, will team up against both Nucky and Rothstein, and take over.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out: Chalky's medical student son-in-law has to operate on a gunshot Eddie Kessler on a kitchen table with bootleg whiskey for anaesthetic.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Prohibition agents- one even says specifically that he doesn't care about all the graft and corruption Nucky is responsible for; just that he gets nailed for trafficking liquor.
  • Wham Episode: The last three episodes of Season Two.
    • In "Georgia Peaches", having survived an assassination attempt that Jimmy encouraged to avoid paying him back, Manny goes to Jimmy's house to take care of Jimmy only to find Angela and her lover present and ends up murdering both of them.
    • In "Under God's Power She Flourishes" we find out in a flashback that Jimmy slept with his mother and that's why he enlisted in the army. In the present storyline Jimmy murders the Commodore (Oedipus Complex much?). Also Van Alden's murder of Agent Sebso is discovered and he goes on the run.
    • The season finale, "To the Lost", tops it all off when Jimmy tries to make amends with Nucky and when that fails, goes on a suicide run, Nucky allies himself with Manny Horvitz and kills Jimmy and Margaret marries Nucky, then signs over the deeds of land to the church.
    • "Margate Sands", for season three: Richard pulls a one-man Roaring Rampage of Revenge to get Tommy back, leaving him with Julia and Paul. Rothstein sells out his proteges, sending Luciano to prison and Lansky into further debt to Masseria, and steals Nucky's distillery. Nucky plays the long con on Rothstein, selling him out to Esther Randolph, and orchestrates a massacre of Gyp and Masseria's men. Gyp Rosetti, the Big Bad of the season, goes down at the hand of his lieutenant, Tonino.
    • The Season 4 finale, "Farewell Daddy Blues": Eli mercilessly beats down and kills Agent Tolliver, Richard accidentally kills Maybelle, an "anonymous" tip from Nucky leads to the discovery of Jimmy's body which royally screws up Gillian's defense strategy in her murder trial, Richard loses the will to live and dies from a gunshot wound, Dr. Narcisse is now cooperating with the BoI, Johnny Torrio gets shot and turns the reins over to Al, Eli moves in with Al's outfit, and a grief-stricken Chalky remains at his mentor's house. Holy shit.
    • In the Season 5 episode "Devil You Know", both Van Alden and Chalky are killed. Van Alden attempts to steal Al's ledgers and fails. When Al confronts him, Van Alden snaps and tries to kill him, only to be shot in the head from behind. Chalky, after cornering Narcisse, makes a deal with him where in return for him sparing Narcisse's life, Narcisse will publish Maitland's record album. Chalky is then gunned down by Narcisse's men. Meanwhile, Nucky has had enough and decides to take the fight directly to Luciano.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Havre de Grace":
    Roy: I need you to listen carefully. I'm with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. These men are my associates and are witnesses to your confession to first-degree murder.
    • "El Dorado"
    Nucky: Who are you?
    Joe Harper: Tommy Darmody.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Regina, the dog that keeps changing owners throughout season 3, is last seen with Gyp before his outfit occupies the Artemis club. Gyp's outfit is slaughtered, Gyp himself is backstabbed, and we never find out what happened to the dog.
  • When Elders Attack:
    • Jackson Parkhurst, the handicapped racist investor who whacks Jimmy across the skull with his cane, bloodying him up for apparent disrespect.
    • Even at his advanced age and suffering from partial paralysis, the Commodore manages to skewer Jimmy with a spear.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Dunn's taboo fling with a white woman ends pretty terribly for all parties involved. Doctor Narcisse notes how the world will readily accept the woman's story that he raped her.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?:
    • A grateful Margaret announces her intention to name her unborn child Enoch, to which Nucky replies that he can't think of something more cruel.
    • Daughter Maitland was too young to remember her real name when she was adopted by Dr. Narcisse, so he simply named her Daughter. When Oscar Boneau hears that this is her name, he remarks: "Had me a bluetick coon once and didn't call him Hound." For the rest of the episode, he calls Daughter "Bluetick".
  • Who's on First?: The scene in the pilot where all the major gangsters are arriving at the hotel. Sebso doesn't know who anyone is and mistakes "Nucky" for "Lucky", Rothstein for Colosimo ("does that man look big to you?") and doesn't know what a concierge is.
  • Wicked Cultured:
    • Nucky Thompson wears expensive suits and hits all the fashionable night spots as a fixture of the speakeasy community.
    • Doctor Narcisse dresses well and speaks with excessive erudition. In spite of his constant Bible quotes, he's a power player in the underworld.
  • Wife Husbandry: A particularly dark example is Dr. Narcisse and Daughter Maitland. It's revealed that he killed her prostitute mother and then raised her like a daughter to worship him. Although it's not clear whether they ever actually have sex, their interactions behind closed doors have clear sexual undertones.
  • Wild Card: Tonino, in a "cowardly mook-for-hire" kind of way. He first works for Gyp Rossetti, and by season five is running as a double agent between Luciano/Lansky and Salvatore Maranzano. He admits to Nucky how desperate and scary it is to work for a bunch of people he doesn't trust, and looks like he's going to turn his coat yet again, but his past treachery comes back to haunt him: one of the jobs he did for Rossetti was the hit on Babette's that killed Billie.
  • Worthy Opponent: Richard seems to regard Owen Sleater as this in "A Dangerous Maid".
    Owen: Why did you not shoot me?
    Richard: I may yet.
  • World War I: Barely fifteen months in the past when the show starts, and frequently referenced. Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow are veterans with PTSD, Al Capone lies about being in the Lost Battalion ("He got so lost he thought Brooklyn was in France!"), and Nucky reminds his German valet of how Nucky stood up for him during the recent wave of anti-German sentiment. In "To the Lost" we get a brief flashback of Jimmy in a trench in France, going over the top.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In "A Return to Normalcy", Margaret sees the tombstone of Nucky's first wife, Mabel Thompson which says that Mabel was born in 1884 and died in 1913. However, in "What Jesus Said", there's a flashback to 1884, where Nucky first meets a young Mabel, who looks around 10 years old. Terence Winter joked that "somebody made a mistake on the tombstone".
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Manny Horvitz kills two women, once an accident and once on purpose.
    • Richard suggests killing some marks' female family members to flush them out, and seems perfectly comfortable with the idea. However, he makes a distinction between the murder of Angela and the murder of Jimmy. He takes vengeance for Angela, whom he seems to have loved, but does not for Jimmy, saying that he was a soldier who simply died in battle.
    • After Sally punches him in the face twice, Nucky declares that he wouldn't hit a woman, but she makes it plain that she's going to keep punching him, so he pops her in the mouth.
    • Doctor Narcisse has one woman murdered in his presence and savagely beats another one.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Due to the location and time period, there are many Jewish characters who speak Yiddish as either a secondary or primary language. Some of Rothstein's gangsters, Agent Sebso and Manny Horvitz are all examples. Lucky Luciano also reveals that he can speak Yiddish, apparently from doing business with Jews like Rothstein and Lansky.
  • You Make Me Sic: "Mueller" (aka Van Alden) is asked by his wife "When you will be home?" Dodging the question, he angrily corrects her grammar in a patronising tone instead.
  • Young Future Famous People:
    • In the pilot, Nucky meets the crime dons of Atlantic City, New York and Chicago at a restaurant while Jimmy waits outside with one of Jim Colosimo's thugs. After a rather long conversation, the thug identifies himself as Al Capone.
    • Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky start out the show as young upstarts still in the service of Arnold Rothstein.
    • Meyer Lansky's yelping assistant who irritates Jimmy in "Ourselves Alone" is Benny "Bugsy" Siegel.
    • Season 4 introduces J. Edgar Hoover who is only 29 and has just been appointed as the acting director of the relatively unknown Bureau of Investigation.
    • "The Good Listener" gives us both Joe Kennedy — just thinking about getting into the alcohol import business which would make his fortune — and Elliot Ness — giving a press conference on his first day of the job — in the space of one episode.
  • You Have 48 Hours: Nucky delivers this ultimatum to Jimmy in "The Ivory Tower".
  • You Have to Have Jews: Subverted twice on the topic of Jewish lawyers. Nucky fires his Jewish lawyer in preference for one who can work the impossible by simply bribing judges. When Chalky is imprisoned, he brags that he's hired a Jewish lawyer. Nucky later tells him that his lawyer was incompetent.
  • You Shall Not Pass: Dunn Purnsley bellows for the striking restaurant workers to "hold the line!" against strikebreakers. It's a valiant effort, but the strikebreakers have bats.
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry: Nelson Van Alden is a stiff and repressed man who who snaps very hard when pushed to the brink on several occasions.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Lucien to Jimmy. His response: "I wasn't going to, but you kinda talked me into it."
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Chalky White's daughter spurns her straight-laced boyfriend, saying that she wants to marry someone interesting, like her father. White is furious. When she chances to see her father deliver a horrifying No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, he sneeringly asks if she still finds him "interesting."
  • Your Head A Splode:
    • An unfortunate rum-runner who takes a shotgun to the face in the pilot.
    • To a lesser extent, Sheridan, who had one of his Mooks cut up Jimmy's squeeze at the time as a warning regarding Torrio's move into Greek Town. Jimmy's response? Blasting Sheridan's brains all over the wall in his hotel's lobby.


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