Monday, November 25, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Boardwalk Empire: Season Four, Episode Twelve "Farewell Daddy Blues"

This season comes to a conclusion with, well, not a bang, per se. Narcisse and Chalky meet. One should fall. Neither do, yet both do. Nucky leaves Eli to deal with Knoxiver on his own, and boy, does he. Having ensured that Tommy grows up a Sagorsky, Harrow gets off the train at the Elysian Fields.

Franz Nadorp's Goethe's Ankunft im Elysium
Old Man Duggan: I really don't know where to start on this one. It's odd having so few bodies dropping and so little ultimate resolution from a season finale of Boardwalk Empire. We open on a storm in the distance, and then a field at night. The storm has its obvious symbolic resonance, but the importance of the spot in the field over which the camera hovers is not clear until about fifteen minutes later when Jimmy Darmody's actual body is finally unearthed. With one exhumation, Gillian's life is effectively over. I think I speak for all of us when I say, thank fucking Christ.

Wordy Ginters: A Boardwalk Empire season with the Boardwalkiest kind of finale imaginable. I too was at full stature during the opening scenes. Thunder rumbles. Restless wheat (nice foreshadowing). Bell Buoys tolling. Unfortunately, the can of whoop ass that was clearly hinted at was only punctured, not completely opened.

OMD: Yeah, after last season's EXPLOSIVE finale, this one wasn't even remotely as big, though they did manage to keep Narcisse in the fold.

Now, of course, this does mean that there could well be an investigation into Jimmy's death now, but I doubt Nucky cuts the deal with Harrow unless he was sure that Jimmy's murder couldn't be pinned on him. Let's hope this officially puts Jimmy's death and its fallout in the rearview.

WG: Good riddance, Michael Pitt. For fuck's sake, let's make it permanent this time. I'll be surprised if the ghost of Darmody is able to get a mention in edgewise next season.

OMD: No shit. Michael Pitt was actually one of the hurdles I needed to jump over to fully embrace the show. He definitely lacked the gravitas of his fellow actors, Paz de la Huerta excluded, in the cast. I'm ready to move on.

Most of the conflict this season came from the corners of Chalky White and Dr. Valentin Narcisse, so it makes sense to go there next, I guess. Chalky sneaks back into town under the blanket of night, sets Nucky on the task of taking care of Narcisse, and meets with Narcisse at the Onyx Club--Havre de Grace posse in tow--where Maybelle ends up catching a bullet meant for Narcisse. On the Narcisse side of the things, at the meet he produces Maybelle in exchange for information on Daughter Maitland's whereabouts only to have Maybelle display the worst timing ever and step in the path of the bullet from Harrow's rifle, ensuring that each one loses a daughter on account of their feud. Hoover flips Narcisse, turning him into an informant on all matters Marcus Garvey; Chalky is left sitting on Oscar Boneau's porch, Maybelle dead, family--for all intents and purposes--lost, much worse off than when the season started. It would appear as though each man is worse off than when the season started. I guess there's a lesson somewhere in there about hubris and fidelity, especially since both men were often in the wrong this season--even within the skewed morality of this show. Both men got too wrapped up in their pride and vanity, and both came out at the end of this season stripped of much of their metaphorical virility. I suppose we'll find out Chalky is actually content to just have his bankroll in one pocket and his pistol in the other next season. We'll likely find out just how Narcisse likes answering to a master, too.

WG: Unconventional to have both Chalky and Narcisse survive, both wounded, both reduced, both nearly broken. It's almost as if the writers set out to present the perfect hell for each character: Narcisse in service to the man, dropping dimes on a personal hero; and Chalky bereft of his daughter, his business, and stuck on the porch back in Havre de Grace with Scrapper and the country cousins.

OMD: Definitely. I really have no idea what trajectory these two characters will be on next season. They've definitely both been effectively stripped of their independence.

I'd posit that the two strongest scenes of the episode revolved around Eli, understandably so given the character's internal conflict these past few episodes. In the first, Eli comes out to the Albatross to pick up Nucky for the meeting that will never happen, and the tension between the brothers hits a fever pitch with Nucky holding all the cards, or at least holding the gun to Eli's head. When Nucky seethed, "It's what you deserve," I thought for sure Eli was a goner. Bravo, Winter, Korder, and Van Patten. The resolution of that scene was fucking spectacular. "Nothing will fill that hole you got inside. Don't you know that yet?" For a second straight week, Eli shows that he understands Nucky better than Nucky does himself. In the second, Eli gets to--as Nucky put it--drown in his mess. I love that the saw-playing--much like the machete for the coconuts earlier in the season--something so innocent, was sullied so effectively with an act of violence. That, mon frere, was a knock-down, drag-out fight if ever there were one, the second epic one this season. Eli's rage worked in his favor this time, that's for sure. Once again, Shea Whigham is outstanding, as he has been all season. In a banner year of award-worthy performances on Boardwalk Empire, it really seems like Whigham's performance stands above them all.

WG: He was/is outstanding. As was Jeffy Wright. And Mike K. And Huston. Van Alden, of course. The dude who played Knoxiver [Brian Geraghty] imbued him with a glee club ruthlessness that was perfect. The show is fucking quality. I'd love to see what Milch would do with those guys and this story. The scene at the Albatross was great. Eli staring Nucky in the eyes, willing/daring/begging him to pull the trigger was intense. I wish the episode could have wrung more of that taut fucking drama out of other scenes. Definitely a good battle between an unhinged Knoxiver and a emotionally-amped Eli. The saw bit was great. As were the other accoutrements of family life that got summoned into deadly action. Vases. Decorations. Windows. A neck tie. Shades of Season Two, Gimcrack & Bunkum. You'll recall in that episode, Nucky made Eli kiss his shoes and beg for forgiveness. Shortly thereafter, Eli ended up beating a dude to death in his garage with a wrench. No one can push your buttons like family.

OMD: Holy hell, that vase. The shudder of Knoxiver's feet as Eli slammed the vase into his head one last time was huge. While we are on the subject of Eli, how about that shot of him waiting under the El for Capone's car only to have Van Alden driving? The bewilderment. The borderline incredulity. The hesitancy that gives way to resignation. I bet they'll have some catching up to do. That definitely adds a nice wrinkle to goings-on in Chicago, now that Torrio has handed the reins over to Al.

WG: Maybe a silver-lining to the tepid hand-job this finale proved to be is the promise of sexy action next season. Van Alden and Eli catching up on things is definitely one of them. Hoover interacting with Narcisse is another.

OMD: More so than in season's past, this finale definitely leaves a lot of strings left untied, ready to be taken into next season. The lack of resolution this season certainly could bode well for next season, as the stakes should be higher next year what with all this pent-up anger carrying over for so many characters.

Are those for us? We're going to need them.
The saddest part of the episode, obviously, was Harrow's demise. Clearly part of him felt like he was saying goodbye to Julia and Tommy at the train station, though that wasn't necessarily what he wanted. If only Harrow was still the ice-cold killing machine that he was before he finally recovered his humanity this season. Sure, within the constructs of this show there wasn't anywhere for his character to go at this point--with Tommy securely in a stable home and too many corpses in his past from which to possibly escape--but clearly we were all rooting for the image that he saw as he walked up the path to the house--his family, his life all put back into place. At least at the time of his death, he had pieced a life back together for himself. It's too bad soldiers such as himself don't get to simply walk away from the war.

WG: A cruel twist to make the new family man and morally re-born former assassin Harrow accidentally plug an innocent woman and fail his last job. Absolutely beautiful death scene though, from the moment he was riding the train, to the imagined homecoming, to the dirt nap by the sea. Harrow was easily one of my favorite characters. Let's tip a glass to the half-mask.

OMD: That was the bitch of it all, wasn't it? The chasm opened up in my heart is the size of the Grand Canyon. I'll miss you, old friend. You got the death scene chock-full of poesy that your tortured soul deserved. Oddly enough, it was hard for me to separate the scene with all its poignancy from the Steven Wright short film One Soldier, in which Wright's character heads to the afterlife in a train after being put to death.

It certainly appears as though Nucky isn't getting to head to Tampa after all, what with Sally Wheet drinking by herself while (I believe) we're to understand that Eli's family is heading out to the Albatross for the time being. Funnily enough, it certainly appears as though Nucky is, in fact, taking Eli's family from him, though at least mostly out of obligation.

I feel like I only scratched the surface. Any thoughts?

WG: Three thoughts. One, Truth is what those in power wish it to be. Two, why is Mickey still upright? Three, how great would Margaret and Rothstein be on House Hunters?

OMD: Three corresponding thoughts. Word. So Nucky can rap him with Eddie's cane again. Outstanding.

One Soldier by mrCham

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