Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Eleven "Havre de Grace"

The penultimate episode of the season finds Chalky nursing his wounds in the Pennsylvania countryside while Nucky tries to ferret out who the skunk in his camp is following a midnight call from Gaston Bullock Means. Roy's play with Gillian comes to light.

Old Man Duggan: First off, sorry for the delay, folks. I was out of commission on the Texas Gulf Coast without HBO or a computer to put this together with, so I come to you all cap in hand begging your forgiveness.

Wordy Ginters: Me? I was healing the poor. Giving sight to the rich. Or perhaps blithely endorsing a mini-vacation from the immediate reaction after-episode deadline pressure cooker.

OMD: Moving on past the excuses for our tardiness, this episode seemed to be operating primarily as a set-up piece for what is to come in next week's season finale. The backstory calm before the epic storm. Focusing first on Havre de Grace, where we spent much of the episode, it may not have been the source of a lot of tension or conflict, but I liked a lot of what was going on alongside the banks of the Susquehanna. Oscar Boneau (Louis Gossett, Jr.) was the first time the show has given us a link back to the black side of pre-Civil War America. It happened only in passing, but Boneau's talk of young black girls being sold on Queen Street and skepticism as to what the Civil War was actually fought over provided a nice bridge and historical depth to the proceedings.

WG: Gossett Jr.'s Boneau brings ancient gravitas to Albert's backstory, as well as a little heft to the race issues that Boardwalk Empire addresses in a pretty sophisticated way. I'm basically a slice of white bread in blue jeans and black Converse, so what the fuck do I know? It's pretty obvious that Terence Winter loves him some Chalky. Anti-heroes are about as passe as zombie fucking wives of vampire county reality TV these days, so to me it says something when an adulterous, murdering, Uncle Tom-ish, hot-head like Chalky is so Goddamn lovable.

OMD: "Never trust no buckras, no matter what." Chalky invoking the old Southeastern black word for white man or boss, likely derived from the Efik word for master, mbakara. Oscar's quick response, "Never trust no browns, neither," probably had a bit more relevance to Chalky's traveling companion than Chalky was gleaning from the advice, lending credence to Oscar's preceding statement, "Well, I told you a lot. Don't know what you heard." They also fit in "ofay" at the dinner table scene, just for good measure, dusting off another arcane term of disparagement against white people. Just like Nucky last season when he was entangled with Billie Kent and was unable to hear Rothstein's advice, we find Chalky in the same position, unable to see what people with wisdom on the matter at hand can see.

WG: The heart wants what the heart wants. The scenes in Maryland were beautiful. I watched the episode twice, and the second time around I realized that whenever Daughter and Chalky shared the frame, they were always separated by a window frame, a car door, a stile on the porch railing, or whatever. The composition on this show is unreal.

OMD: Yeah, it's really crazy how deliberately shot each episode of the show is. I guess that's what HBO money affords you. Time.

I also liked getting a bit more of Chalky's origins. The knockdown with some corner boys that he described in the car in the open took me back to The Wire for a split second. More than anything, though, I think this episode served as a moment for Chalky to peer through the looking glass and glimpse his future. For a man cut from his cloth, there is no going quietly into the night. Of course, Oscar probably goes down differently if Chalky never shows up in Havre de Grace, but as Tupac said, when you "live by the gun, [you] die by the gun."

WG: All in the game, yo. All in the game. I had the same Wire vapor trails sensation during that scene. Had to be a sly nod from the writers. If anything, I wish they would have introduced some of that backstory sooner or spent more time with it. Gossett Jr. was fantastic.

OMD: On the Gillian front, I believe I called it, but let's start at the beginning. The scene with Leander and Mr. Ferry on the stairs was nicely set-up, Gillian torn between her desire to hold onto the past or step into the future, the realization that what she needs to do for Tommy is to simply let go and that she needs to sell the Commodore's house, thus becoming unanchored, whirling out of control. Nicely done, Allen Coulter. Her gift of Jimmy's war medals actually seemed to give her a little shred of dignity before the fall. And what a fall it was. It played out like a long con straight out of The Grifters, surely the intention as the sudden influx of cash by way of the sale of the house gave cause to wonder if Roy wasn't, in fact, simply running a con on her. In a sense, I suppose he was. A Pinkerton. Who'd have guessed? Oh, that's right. Me. You can't run from Roger's corpse, Gillian. Ron Livingston will see to it.

WG: Nice call. Old Man Duggan, Plot Hunter.

OMD: I have to say I really liked the framing and composition in the scene in the diner with Eli and Tolliver. Tolliver: the lawman, bathed in light, clarity of face equating to clarity of vision. Eli: the fallen lawman, face obscured in the shadows, the darkness symbolic of the position he finds himself in, no clear way out. Eli's assessment of Nucky showed that he knows Nucky better than Nucky knows himself. Nucky's constant talk of wanting out is just Nucky trying to run from the obvious fact that he is addressing an internal need in his quest for supremacy.

WG: I'm glad you mentioned that scene. I dug the smoke from the table behind Eli billowing over his shoulder on the close-ups. Poor bastard was stooped over his coffee, bent, broken, and smoking. Knoxiver looked like he was being lit for a 1950's toothpaste commercial. Speaking of smoking, have you had the pleasure of viewing Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast? The Beast looks like a cross between Sluggerrr and the Lion from The Wizard of Oz, but he literally emanates smoke in many of his scenes. I don't know how they worked that effect back in the 40's, nail a smoke pot to the back of the costume? Smoke. So versatile. So sexy. So deadly. So visually communicative. So fucking smokey.

OMD: I've seen none of Jean Cocteau's work. My minor in film studies fails me yet again. Damn you, University of Minnesota. Damn you straight to Hell.

Of course, Eli couldn't cover his tracks well enough at the dinner table after Tolliver's visit to Eli's house was inadvertently revealed while they supped. Nucky knows something wicked his way comes. There's no fucking way he's at that meeting with Masseria and Narcisse, right? He could certainly use the meeting to clear the way a bit, conveniently getting held up elsewhere. He's a cool, calculating sonuvabitch, and he clearly knows something is amiss with Eli. Of course, he could just have Harrow take out Narcisse and anyone else who stands in his way.

WG: I think you've probably bagged another plot twist for your trophy room. I'm guessing Willie and Nuck had time to suss out the queer "insurance salesman" anecdote, and Nucky has done the algebra required to solve Means's hilarious phone call. Harrow will have Narcisse in his crosshairs. If only because I don't think Winter can give history the finger. Got to be a denizen of the fictional world.

OMD: That was a fantastic phone call, wasn't it? I laughed so many times during that scene.

So just a few days to wait for this season's conclusion. Any predictions? I got Harrow snuffing out Narcisse, though I hope Leandor Sydnor takes over his Harlem Chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, running it on the up and up. I sure as hell hope Scrapper and Levi come back to the A.C. with Chalky as soon as they send Weems a-dirt-nappin'.

WG: I think one of the "good guys" gets whacked. Harrow or Chalky. Like Abraham offering his son Isaac. Winter has to let some blood to keep things fresh. Leandor administering a regular program of lectures and one-act plays for the Universal Negro Improvement Association is the Boardwalk Empire spin-off yin to Breaking Bad's Better Call Saul yang.

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