It is Thanksgiving Day in Five Points, and rather than spend it with the damaged teen brothel rescue, loyal but temperamental madame, and insane, adulterous wife that now comprise his family, Corky tears up the town looking for a missing Maguire. Impossibly, the goriest scene in this episode has nothing to do with Kevin’s rampage, but the beheading of a turkey, its head falling to the top of a heap of other severed turkey heads, during the excellent market scene at the opening. It is a reminder that, though many Americans are now at a comfortable distance from farming and butchering practices, the Thanksgiving holiday is still a bit like a country-wide ritual sacrifice of one particular bird. Sometimes widely shot setpieces like the one mentioned above come off a little like a macabre Oliver!, but the show owning its theatricality is not necessarily a bad thing, and the sequence effectively sets the dark mood of the events to follow. While the general tenor of the episode is a counterpoint to the warm-and-fuzzy feel of most Thanksgiving specials, Copper does use the holiday as an excuse to explore the notion of family for its characters, albeit in an offbeat way.
Corcoran, of course, is haunted by the family he used to have, as opposed to his cobbled together band of misfits, topped off by a wife “barely able to string a sentence together” and going through deep withdrawal from the drugs she was given at Earle House. With, apparently, giant balls made of pure steel, Corcoran goes to Eva (the woman who, let’s not forget, killed a woman over her precious Corky) to ask for help looking after Ellen while he continues to search for answers and potentially, vengeance. Before heading over there, Eva has her own celebration with friends and employees, in which she speaks of her occasional homesickness, missing her parents and sisters who are back home in Prussia. This is the first time Eva has spoken of her family—she is the kind of woman who seems like she arrived in the world independent and fully formed, like Athena—and it is fitting for the theme of holiday gathering and the pattern of families broken and remade throughout this episode and, indeed, the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, Annie is on her best behavior, helping Corcoran take care of Ellen and complaining only mildly about wanting a real turkey and a real Thanksgiving. He promptly pours himself another drink, saying “this is as thankful as I feel,” but when Annie prays for Ellen’s recovery, he softens. Although it is always hard to know exactly what Annie’s motives are, perhaps Corky putting his foot down last week had some kind of lasting effect on her, because her actions feel touchingly sincere. At one point, Ellen toddles out of the bedroom and mistakes Annie for Maggie, her dead daughter, which highlights the fact that Annie is still a child, both in the eyes of any newcomer, regardless of how the girl has thought of Corcoran over the last few months, and in her reaction to the upsetting remark. The usually preternaturally mature Annie shows her age in her uncertainty in this moment, looking to Eva to handle the situation.
Uptown, things are getting a bit hot-under-the-collar for Robert Morehouse. First of all, he has received a friendly visit from the three Booth brothers mounting a New York run of Julius Caesar, and while Robert’s only current problem with that is the way the handsome, two-legged actors flirt with Elizabeth, we all know how this is eventually going to go down. The more pressing issue is that he is finding it difficult to maintain a facade of support for the South without actually committing a crime against the Union. Sensing the father to be a better financial prospect than the son, his rebel “friend” Kennedy extorts money out of Norbert by showing the older man he has evidence of his unscrupulous and illegal business practice all over the country. When Robert finds out about the deal struck between Kennedy and his father, he is outraged with both of them. Despite his frequent disagreements with his father and a devil-may-care attitude, Robert secretly sees Norbert as an admirably powerful man whom no one can cross. He still desperately seeks his father’s approval and plays the role of rebel in part because he feels he will never live up to the family name anyway. When he sees that his father has lied to him about meeting with Kennedy, Robert is genuinely sad, disillusioned by seeing that a man who has loomed so large over his life can be bought off with petty blackmail.
His disappointment is made even more complicated by the fact that even as his father’s weaknesses are revealed to him, his position in picking up intelligence has also been compromised because Kennedy guessed Norbert was the bigger fishy to fry. When Kennedy says, “Morehouse dollars are Morehouse dollars whether they are yours or your father’s,” it is an insult. Morehouse is frightened for his father and for the city, but also just a little bit pissed off that his heroic plan is being cut short because, once again, someone decided the real power lay with Norbert, rather than him. Not only is this a hit to Robert’s fragile ego, but the ramifications for his one-man spy operation are enormous. If Kennedy gets money out of the source of the stream, he won’t have to paddle around in the water with Robert anymore, and without Robert’s stalling tactics, the plans to burn New York may go forward far more quickly. Yet despite the stress and emotional toll of the situation, Morehouse plays it perfectly, his unflagging calm saving the day as usual. He allows Kennedy to believe he is galled by pride alone, which in turn makes the confederate spy comfortable enough to once again include Robert on the latest plan of attack.
Every good family Thanksgiving ends with a solid blowout, and in "A Day To Give Thanks" that is the showdown between Corcoran and Maguire, the man he considered to be his brother. As it turns out, yes, his friend was sleeping with his wife in his absence, he did get her pregnant, and the two of them did pawn the locket in order to pay for an abortion. But as the truth comes forth from Maguire’s lips, so does a searing indictment of Corcoran the conquering hero, criticisms that had been hinted at in rising tensions in the last two episodes finally boiling over. According to Maguire, Five Points is the closest thing to hell on earth, and for Corky to leave his wife and daughter alone there voluntarily, once to fight in the Civil War and once to combat the riots, is abominable. He says, “I did what a man needed to do. I took care of your family.” If that weren’t enough of a burn, he follows up Corcoran’s fair criticism that taking care of them didn’t necessarily have to mean sleeping with Ellen with the following zinger: “You’ve got no problem sticking your dick in Eva while searching for your one true love.”
What Maguire will not discuss, however, is his part in the death of Maggie, suggesting the far more sinister truth that Ellen confesses by the episode’s end. The mere fact of Maguire’s silence and everything it meant—Ellen’s culpability in her own child’s death and Maguire’s continued love and loyalty to her—made for such a powerful moment, the episode might have ended there. It was far more enthralling than Corcoran’s second confrontation, with Ellen (besides just the scene feeling anticlimactic, Alex Paxton-Beesley’s performance couldn’t quite hold up to that of Kevin Ryan in the preceding scene). The high stakes in the showdown between Corcoran and Maguire, the exhilaration of that long-standing tension between two equally tough but equally flawed men breaking open, made me realize that it was the tragic conclusion of their relationship, not the one between Kevin and Ellen, that the show has been quietly leading up to all this time.
- Maguire was not the only one delivering zingers here. Ol’ Norbert gets one in on his son with this parting line when abruptly leaving a meeting with the Booth brothers. “Robert, if you wish to discuss conduct when I return, we can speak of your seemingly infinite intoxication.”
- When the pawn broker finally comes clean about lying to Corcoran because Maguire paid him to do so for undisclosed reasons, he hilariously refers to Francis as “the one with the eye.”
- While Elizabeth begs Morehouse to trust her, suggesting she could become his new family where Norbert has essentially failed him, she seems fundamentally untrustworthy. It is still hard to pinpoint why, but recent actions, her selfishness and denial in dealing with Annie, certainly supports such suspicion.
- This episode reveals more about Maguire’s backstory. He came over from Ireland as a child, where his father died crossing the Atlantic, leaving just him and his mother, who is alive and well in Five Points. Until he was able to find a source of income, the local Five Points priest took them in. He described young Maguire as “a gentle child.”