Monday, October 28, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Eight "The Old Ship of Zion"

Shit, well, shit hits the fan this week as Chalky addresses the influx of heroin to the community by way of Dunn Purnsley and Dr. Valentin Narcisse sans subtlety. Narcisse counters the public airing of dirty laundry with an attempted hit on Chalky. Tolliver/Knox moves his attentions to Eli. Nucky gets his first shipment of rum from Florida with Sally Wheet sitting shotgun when the trucks pull in.

Old Man Duggan: Normally I'd work up to this, but let's get down to brass tacks. Much as I surmised last week, Dunn wasn't long for this world. Of course, Daughter Maitland's lapside rendition of "The Old Ship of Zion" sure had me doubting myself for at least a minute or two--especially given the revelation of Chalky's relationship to the song--so bully for Cristine Chambers, Howard Korder, Timothy Van Patten, and Terence Winter for the misdirect.

Wordy Ginters: Some sweet and sour tension in that scene. Powerful. Did Daughter know that Chalky knew he was being double-crossed? Shit was complex. Chalky thinking about his own family, his father's funeral, his children, his infidelity, his problems. Daughter maybe actually loving Chalky and torn at the thought of aiding his demise. Who knows what was behind the pooling tears in those beautiful soulful eyes? Was Chalky able to put the puzzle together by the way she sang the song? I loved his line about Daughter's singing, "...that sound like you tying up a secret."

OMD: Also as predicted Daughter Maitland chose Chalky over her keeper, though the scene played out much better than I could have hoped. I loved the framing and the distance between Dunn and Chalky, pitted against each other in rooms opposite each other. As the distance between the two closed, the tension mounted spectacularly. It would have been anticlimactic for Chalky to go down this early in the season, especially at the hand of Dunn, not Narcisse, but when Dunn was choking the life out of Chalky, my heart was in my fucking throat. Luckily for Chalky, Daughter Maitland chose the potential for freedom that was behind Door Number Two and plunged that knife square into the middle of Purnsley's back. Something about his trying to reach to the knife that was just out of his grasp was humanizing in his last fateful moments. It was really quite a turn for Erik LaRay Harvey, who got to stretch his legs quite a bit more this season. In that final moment, the hope draining from his eyes was palpable.

WG: One of two centerpiece scenes in the episode. I really didn't have any idea which way it would break. For a moment, I thought Chalky was so depressed at the realization that he had been thoroughly undone by Narcisse's scheming that he preferred to let Daughter kill him softly with her song, so to speak. So satisfying to see Chalky fight back. Stabbed him in the mouth with a piece of splintered wood. Sweet revenge for Purnsley being a dick about Chalky's illiteracy way back when. He's been a shadow of his former bad-assed self for most of the season. White patrons patting him on the head. Narcisse making him look like a rube. His daughter's fiance's family thinks he's gauche. He's got everything he always wanted in the Onyx Club, but appears to have less clout than ever. With Purnsley out of the way, things get tight as a drum. What happens to Daughter?

OMD: I can't imagine she doesn't end up being collateral damage. Narcisse will likely see through her when she tries to lie about Dunn's demise.

While we'll likely have to wait until the finale before Narcisse actually dirties his own hands on Chalky White, it's safe to say at least part of him feels like maybe a re-evaluation is in order. It ultimately came down to Chalky's bond with Daughter Maitland, but he still came out on the other side, and all this while punking Narcisse out in front of his incredibly dull play. I can tell you this much: I enjoyed Harlem By Torchlight a whole helluva lot more than Ominira.

WG: I'm with you on that one. Loved watching Narcisse mouth his own dialogue with such sincere pride. "Its symbolism was beyond them." The failed playwright's lament.

OMD: By the way, the Harlem By Torchlight was standoff was fantastic. It really did a nice job of ratcheting the tension up, with Chalky's sneer driving me to maniacal laughter. It felt so good to have him one-up the Doctor.

WG: For me, the trash can lid heroin bonfire represented the best of what Boardwalk Empire can offer. TVP is the go-to guy when it comes to directing episodes that need to reel in plot pay-off. Chalky riffing on The Warriors "come out and play" bottle clinking by banging on the trash can, and then recouping his rep and tarnishing Narcisse in one monologue and a pile of burning smack was magic.

OMD: Moving to the other side of town, wouldn't you like to know what kind of arrangement Eli and Tolliver/Knox came to? Obviously Eli is pissed at Nucky for stepping over the line from uncle to father, but would Winter & Co. really go down the fraternal betrayal road again? I doubt it. My guess is Eli decided to play along with Tolliver/Knox to get a hold on what his angle is. We'll find out soon enough, and if Eli is, in fact, choosing to screw his brother over again, at least this time it will have been in an attempt to protect his son. Something tells me that maybe Tolliver/Knox ends up wrestling with the gators, coming out, well not coming out at all.

WG: It appears that Eli has chosen saving his son over protecting the family biz, but it most definitely could be a holding ploy. Maybe it does boil back down to the sibling rivalry thing. In retrospect, it's like a boil that has never been lanced.

OMD: I loved the look on Shea Whigham's face when Tolliver's compatriot tried to shove him in. Can we give him the Emmy for that? Hell, that whole scene, the intensity on his face followed by his non-verbal sussing out of his options? Fucking great. And the look on his face as Nucky and he come together, Nucky reassuring him--we're to assume that he's turned on Nucky given this expression, though again I wouldn't jump to that conclusion quite yet--and then watching his family have fun while only he knows what's to come, that look is brilliant.

WG: The acting on the show is fantastic. Buscemi may be the weak link, but he's not required to do much other than to look askance at the morons he's forced to tolerate. Shea Whigham is nails. Fucking Knox.

OMD: Perhaps the most shocking turn of events in the episode was the fact that somehow I felt bad for Mickey Doyle, if only for a moment. When Nucky cracked him in the forehead with Kessler's cane, I sort of felt bad for him. What the hell is going on here?

WG: Seeing Nucky get physical is like watching Billy Butler steal a base. Hard to believe on any level. I thought Mickey was pretty solid in the episode. Loved the mindless yammering anecdote about the twins (which may have been allegory about the prohee's, and the difference between Knox and his predecessor), and the stereotypical numbskull math that equates spending money on dates with sexual favors. His awkward reaction to literally getting caned by Nucky was pretty brilliant, too. I thought Sally Wheet was chatting up Mickey just to get Nucky jealous, but her brazen cleavage is as unpredictable as it is independent. Another great character. She was most definitely on top in that scene where the noisy sex woke up young Willie, right? Winter was involved with The Sopranos, so when I heard the heat and the clatter, I imagined Sally treating Nucky the same way Janice treated Ralph Cifaretto, i.e., femdom assplay.

OMD: Oh yeah. She was definitely in control.

We've now got three different times in which Ragged Dick has come up, if I'm not mistaken. Horatio Alger's rags-to-riches story was first used way back in Season One, when Nucky was saying that Jimmy Darmody once reminded him of Ragged Dick. Last season, Gyp took Nucky's copy of Ragged Dick from his desk after he'd run Nucky from the Ritz Carlton. Now [presumably] that same copy returns, this time with Nucky giving the book to his younger self, Willie, as Willie packs up to return home.

WG: Ooh, that's good. I had totally forgotten about the Darmody occurrence. I definitely remember when Gyp lifted it from his desk. I've never read Horatio Alger, but obviously Winter is trying to tell us something.

OMD: Lifting oneself up by the bootstraps. The American Dream (and perhaps a Pynchonian take on it). Roughly half a century after it was published, and the people trying to actualize the rags-to-riches fairy tale are dropping like flies because they're doing so on the wrong side of the law, the concern for the means by which it is achieved being less than an afterthought.

So the theme tying this episode together would certainly seem to have been betrayal by one's right hand. Dunn ends up dying on account of his attempted power play. Eli, painted into a corner by his brother and son, would seem to have been forced (again, not an entirely safe assumption, as a second betrayal would all but guarantee his death) to turn on the man whose side he has served at. Is the bond of blood thicker than the resentment that symbolic servitude breeds? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

WG: Way to put a bow on that mofo. How about some Lou Reed?

OMD: Picture that shit burning atop a garbage can for Sweet Lou.

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