BEWARE: SPOILERS FOR THIS EPISODE AND PREVIOUS EPISODES ARE INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW.
Boardwalk Empire is definitely ending in a couple of weeks. This week’s episode, “Devil You Know” made damn sure to remind us of that fact. In this episode, we said goodbye to two characters. Nucky mourned Sally with a bottle and a couple of girls, Eli and Van Alden’s attempt to get the ledger was not well thought out, Chalky reconnected with Daughter and in 1897, Deputy Nucky apprehended a young thief named Gillian.
The first thing that stuck out to me was that this episode picks up right where last week ended, with Chalky in the brothel with Daughter and her daughter. I’m still not sure how I feel about the sequence of events that occurred with Chalky and Daughter in this episode. The actual scenes between the two were well written and well acted; I just don’t know how I feel about the end of Chalky White.
Daughter is in town with her (and Chalky’s) daughter, Althea, to ask Narcisse for help getting her record played and, basically, her music career started. Chalky abandons his mission to kill Narcisse and strikes a deal with him. Chalky will help Narcisse deal with the Italians and, in exchange, Narcisse will get Daughter booked in any city she wants. Chalky accepts his deal with the devil he knows and Daughter leaves the brothel.
Of course, at this point, Chalky accepts that his deal is actually a death sentence. He accepts it and gets killed at the end of the episode by Narcisse’s men. Whether or not Narcisse will make good on his end of the deal is left up in the air, but I’m left hoping Luciano and Lansky take him out.
I’ve come to accept Chalky’s death and respect the character’s arc overall. Knowing his wife and family are safe in St. Louis and now knowing that Daughter and Althea won’t have to live with a debt to Narcisse, Chalky went out on a high note. Chalky’s death was redemptive and showed that he learned from his mistakes. He couldn’t kill Narcisse without sacrificing his daughter. It was a fitting end.
Speaking of fitting ends, things got hairy in Chicago this week as Eli and Van Alden attempted to get the ledger from Capone’s headquarters. I adored the scene between the two of them outside of the lion’s den. All season long, their dialogue has been so carefully constructed to balance a bit of lighthearted comedy with the intensity of working for Capone’s organization. The scene in the hallway was no different as they came to the realization that their plan wasn’t very well thought out.
Of course, they don’t get the ledger and, even worse, they’re discovered. They’re case is filled with newspaper clippings and, when Ralph Capone discovers it, the show’s best and most bumbling duo have almost enough luck to slip out of the situation. Alas, Al comes back early from an evening out with Paul Muni and George Raft (who are researching their roles in Howard Hawkes’ “Scarface”) and is informed of Van Alden and Eli’s suspicious behavior.
What follows is now one of my favorite scenes of the entire series. It’s somewhat twisted to see Van Alden pin the robbery on his wife, but it made for such a beautiful moment when he says they’re having problems at home and Eli raises his finger and says “I can vouch for that.” But the climax of the scene gives a fitting bookend to the arc of Nelson Van Alden.
With Al Capone’s gun to his head, Van Alden, ever the caged animal, unleashes himself onto the kingpin. He screams his name and tells Capone he will face justice. That’s when undercover fed Mike D’Angelo puts a bullet through Nelson’s head. It’s a shocking scene and it continues with Eli breaking down, frantically apologizing to his wife under his breath.
Capone orders D’Angelo to kill Eli, face down in a cornfield. When asked about Nucky, Capone mentions that “Luciano’s taking care of him” with a cold nonchalance. Stephen Graham was fantastic in this scene. The man can swing Capone’s mood from intimidation to near slapstick humor effortlessly.
Eli ends up in the elevator, an echo from Van Alden and Eli in episode 2, with the ledger and D’Angelo, who then throws him some money and tells him to get on a bus. You can see how little D’Angelo respects Eli, which I thought was a nice touch for an undercover fed who was just forced to murder a man because Eli and his partner suck at their jobs.
I imagine Eli is heading back to Atlantic City to help Nucky fight Luciano. I imagine he’ll get killed fairly quickly.
Nucky had a fairly low-key episode this week, somewhat similar to a lot of season 4, actually. He spent the episode mourning Sally in a bar and entertaining two women. Steve Buscemi was electrifying in this episode. Nucky was a very complex character in “Devil You Know” with a lot of internal pain, external anger and a lot of inebriated horniness. Buscemi handled the task perfectly.
A running theme this season is Nucky’s drinking and how it’s essentially turned into alcoholism. Here he barely holds his liquor as he flirts with a pair of women under a fake name (Francis X. Bushman, a silent film star). What I found interesting about Nucky in this episode is that one of the girls drunkenly talks about how she was almost chosen as King Neptune’s consort, yet it doesn’t really seem to register with him; at least not until later. Nucky’s “original sin” was turning Gillian over to the Commodore, after she was chosen as King Neptune’s consort at the Opening of the Sea ceremony.
Nucky gets into a bar fight and then asks the ladies for a drunken threesome outside where they rob him and knock him out. Nucky wakes up after a flashback to when he met Gillian and then mistakes Joel Harper for her. The kid has to be Tommy Darmody or a red herring. The writers are beating us over the head with it. Nevertheless, Nucky confides in Joel about Sally’s death and offers the kid money for helping him. It’s the second time Nucky has offered money to someone who initially denies it.
That’s when we see that Mickey has rustled up soldiers for Nucky’s war against Luciano. “We saddling up for a showdown or what?” Mickey asks amongst a sea of men with guns. And thus Boardwalk Empire ensures a bloody, bloody final two episodes.
The Deputy Nucky flashbacks this week moved closer and closer to the aforementioned original sin of turning Gillian over to the Commodore. We see that Mable is pregnant and making strawberry pie in the middle of the night. I feel like this scene was meant to allude to Mable’s impending mental issues. It also demonstrated that Nucky isn’t where he wants or needs to be with the Commodore.
While talking to a cigar shop owner, Deputy Nucky sees the Commodore with a young girl through the window. Later, he meets a young Gillian under the boardwalk. Given how desperate Young Nucky is for the Commodore’s attention and seeing that he knows that about the Commodore’s pedophilia, I think giving Gillian to him will be what gets him into the Commodore’s inner circle.
I think the flashbacks in next week’s episode will focus on Gillian’s tragic encounter with the Commodore. Then, in the series finale, we’ll see what happens with Mable and the baby in the flashbacks.
Only two episodes are left and, if “Devil You Know” is any indication, it’s going to end in a bloody mess.