Boardwalk Empire Recap: Things Fall Apart

Boardwalk Empire
Episode Title
King of Norway
Editor’s Rating

Well, we have three episodes left in the Boardwalk Empire saga and, as “King of Norway” shows, things are beginning to unravel at a breakneck pace. This episode alone had many of the characters getting immersed in, if not pandemonium (as Van Alden noted a few episodes back), then full-on, life-shattering hysteria.

As always, let’s start with Nucky. Even though he’s kept a calm, Zen-like levelheadedness this season, he’s beginning to get the fire back in his eyes after Torrio set him and Maranzano up to be tommy-gunned down by Luciano and Lansky’s boys. He walks away with minor cuts and bruises (thanks to the eagle-eyed alertness of his bodyguard Arquimedes/”Archie”/Cuban Richard Harrow), but it gets him turnt up enough to ring up Torrio and tell him that he, along with those “two pissants,” will be in their graves soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nucky goes completely into I-don’t-give-a-fuck mode and just goes on a blazing-gun warpath, especially after he finally hears about Sally’s death and learns that no one will be held accountable for it. For Nucky, no matter who it is, somebody always have to pay.

When Nucky does find out about Sally, it almost seems like he realizes everything he knows and has known is wrong. It certainly reminds him of the days when he was a young deputy sheriff, as the show’s flashbacks have now also time-jumped to 1897, and everyone kept telling him how wet behind the ears he was. “You don’t know what’s going on,” that old lady under the boardwalk first tells him. Mabel’s Chris Parnell–sounding daddy echoes the same sentiment, practically predicting Nucky’s future as a fast-talking fixer. As much as Sheriff Lindsay tries to shield Nucky to the shady dealings that Nucky keeps trying to be a part of, we all know how this chapter of the story is going to unfold.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Eli’s life continues to collapse. Once again, he’s brought into the episode with the same spiraling montage of images that introduced him in the second episode. We eventually learn those images are from a drunken nooner he had with Van Alden’s wife, the increasingly bitter and resentful Sigrid. Unfortunately, he remembers this at the wrongest of wrong times, right after he had dinner at Van Alden’s house, with Van Alden’s family and Eli’s visiting wife, pregnant with their ninth (!) child. (The framed wall portrait of the king in the kitchen, where he and Sigrid did the damn thang, immediately jogged his memory, with Sigrid filling in the gaps in everyone’s presence.) 

It’s bad enough the dinner was already Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?–style tense and hostile, with Van Alden still shaken up by his nearly fatal run-in with Luciano and Capone last week and his wife making things worse by being, well, her. But here comes undercover agent D’Angelo knocking on the front door, rounding up Eli and Van Alden and ordering them to get Capone’s ledger books so the Feds can get him on tax evasion. D’Angelo gets the idea from Capone himself, who wants to move his books to Cicero the following day.

Gillian is still living in that land of hysteria known as a sanitarium. After a fellow inmate comes back from surgery with a big-ass scar over her stomach, Gillian tries to convince Dr. Cotton that she’s all better. But the doctor doesn’t buy it, informing her that her “temporary insanity” needs to be taken out of her body — and her time under the knife will be soon. I know she’s hoping Nucky will finally read that Nellie Bly letter (I think we can all agree it came from her now) and help her get the hell out of there.

And, finally, there’s Chalky, who returns to the club he and Nucky once ran together to lay low from the authorities. Apparently, he has made peace with Nucky, whom Chalky assumed set him up to be killed last season. But he still wants Narcisse. He nearly gets his wish when he heads to his Harlem whorehouse packing heat. (Even though Chalky was patted down, the door guy didn’t find that piece in his waistband. And I thought the White House had looser security.) Right when he heads into Narcisse’s office, he sees not only a kid sleeping on the couch, but the kid’s momma, who is — surprise! — his old girlfriend Daughter.

So, is the kid his or Narcisse’s? Will Nucky get vengeance before Luciano historically goes on to rule the Mafia? Will Eli and Van Alden become drinking buddies? Where the hell did Jeffrey Wright go? I guess we’ll find out in these last few episodes.

Here we go again with the stray thoughts:

  • As most of the characters went quietly bugnuts, it was Margaret who kept her cool the most in this ep. She holds her own when she hands over the check to the widow Rothstein (played, as I've said before, by Dharma’s best friend from Dharma & Greg) and steadfastly refuses to come up with proper funds when the check comes from an out-of-state bank. “This is the deal — the only deal,” she says before the widow snatches the check. Jesus, I love Kelly Macdonald!
  • Well, some fans online have already made up their mind that new club employee “Joel Harper” is really grown-up Tommy Darmody. If he is Jimmy’s son, I have this sneaking suspicion he’ll have more to do with Nucky’s downfall than Luciano, Torrio, and all of them. (Think the ending to Carlito’s Way.)
  • As incessantly sleazy and traitorous Mickey Doyle has been over the years, did you really think he was gonna give up Chalky to that U.S. marshal, possibly incurring the wrath of both Chalky and his boss Nucky? As much as writer Steve Kornacki and director Ed Bianchi tried to ratchet up the suspense (even throwing in staccato piano notes, courtesy of the piano tuner that was on the club floor), I knew the scene would end with Giggles giving the marshal the runaround, purposely fingering the wrong black, facially scarred guy.
  • Last week, a commenter or two pointed out how Stephen Graham’s Psycho Capone routine is historically accurate. After all, in his later years, Capone suffered from dementia brought on by syphilis, which led to violent outbursts from the man. (If we are being accurate, that wouldn’t have happened until after his Alcatraz stay. We’re still in 1931, right?) Even if the writers are staying true to Capone’s true-life history — he did have terrible constipation — and showing his descent into madness, there are better ways to do it besides making him go Joe Pesci on an underling. If there’s a story line that deserves some tragic, Richard III–style pathos, it’s this one.
  • This week’s Michael Shannon funny moments: telling his recorder-playing son, “Chester, that would sound better much further away,” and telling Eli, “I, for one, refused to fueled by fear,” before immediately hopping up out of his chair when Sigrid calls him.
  • Apparently, little Abigail Mueller believes her mom died and was a ballerina. I honestly can’t blame Van Alden for lying to the kid. If your momma was Lucy Danziger, would you want people to know about that?
  • I’ve been meaning to commend Meredith Tucker on the casting choices for the flashback scenes. I mean, it’s not every day you can find a man who can pass off for a young Steve Buscemi, which Brit actor Marc Pickering pulls off quite amazingly. (He even has the teeth!) Also, shout-out to John Ellison Conlee, who does an impressive job emulating a middle-age Dabney Coleman as the Commodore.

Well, what you got to say about the whole thing?