“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eleven: “Havre de Grace”

* Owls. The moon. Poetic for no reason at all, poetic just because it’s nice to be poetic.

* Bold choice, I thought, to introduce the concept of Chalky’s mentor, stunt-cast him, introduce him, and kill him off in the space of a single episode.

* “There’s a skunk in your cellar.” Boardwalk Empire‘s answer to “Bonponsiero…he’s wired for sound.”

* I’m not convinced Gaston Means understands how bargaining works. As your position worsens, you ask for less money. But Means must believe his possession of greatest value is Gaston Means, and the prospect of losing it drives up its price.

* Not that I blame him. A man who responds to getting busted by asking “Who has sent you grim-visaged thugees?” is a pearl beyond price.

* “Ain’t that water lucky?” Ha, you know, fine, I can see how this show could read as pompous and hamfisted. A honeyvoiced Southern lady drawling that kind of line plaintively? Yeah, that could be a real embarrassment. But it’s not because the show goes there all the time, with no fear. An owl, a moon.

* I laughed hard at the big intro line for Chalky’s mentor: “I know what you thinkin’. ‘Fuck happened to him?’” Lou Gossett Jr.!

* He had Daughter’s number, too, although he dialed it maybe a bit too emphatically. “Had me a blue-tick coon once, and didn’t call him ‘Hound.’”

* Oscar, the blind and aged one-time crimelord, lives in a weathered old plantation house with the paint peeling off everything. Just in case you thought Boardwalk Empire was gonna go subtle on you!

* Note I regret writing but will post here just to keep myself honest: “Don’t trust the nephew, Chalky!”

* Leander’s back! “Well, maybe I’ve changed.” “That rarely occurs.” In retrospect the venom in his voice makes sense, as does the fatalism. And man what a fabulous line for anyone to say, for any reason.

* “He talks about peace — he doesn’t mean it. He never has.” Eli’s not wrong about Nucky and grudges, and that of course is the problem for him, as Knox points out. “Whatever your excuse, you and I are down this road together. Explain that to a man who never forgets.” The irony is that Nucky has given Eli a pass for turning on him, to the point where later in the episode he talks about passing him the empire. I mean, that forgiveness is legit. So both Eli and Knox seized on something that Eli’s continued existence belies, at least in part.

* Tommy Darmody remembers his mommy and daddy. Between this scene and the frequent mentions of the Commodore, there were quite a few ghosts haunting this episode.

* It’s good to see Richard and Gillian together again if only as a reminder of how much Richard must hate her. And he’s not a character who hates.

* It was also good in that it gave Gillian a chance to accuse Richard of planning the whole thing and thus shows how hard it is for Gillian to think of anyone’s actions as anything but a scheme — which in turn indicates what a tremendous force of effort it must have taken her to trust Roy Phillips so entirely. Sigh.

* Gillian gives Tommy Jimmy’s dog tags. I hope that has meaning somewhere down the line; I hope Tommy’s a character at some point.

* “You’ll both take good care of him.” Whoa — she’s giving up. Didn’t see that coming at all.

* Note I don’t mind having written: “The strange angles, the fade, the sounds…I don’t like Gillian’s odds.”

* “Lovely day for the beach” says Mrs. Eli Thompson, surrounded by gunmen. LOL

* Chalky will get no help from Oscar because he has none to give.

* Gillian to Phillips: “I’m free. I’m finally free.” Of H? of the house? of Tommy? All of it, it seems she truly believed.

* “We squeaked by last time. You ready for that again?” Yeah, you know, Eli raises an important point: Is the show ready to revisit a seat-of-your-pants all-out gang war for control of Atlantic City one season after the last one? I doubt it.

* “He’ll be better off. He will be. It hurts to say it but I know it’s true.” Whoa, Gillian, turning over a new fucking leaf. “You made the right decision. I’m happy for ya.” Phillips backing her up also surprised me, though it winds up making perfect sense obviously.

* “I hate when things end.” Ugh.

* “Have you been lying to me?” “About what.” “Your wife.” “I didn’t lie about that.” Ugh.

* “I’m not saying goodbye. I do have to leave. I want you to come with me. I want you to marry me. Really marry me.” Another regret among the notes: “Oh please do it, Gillian, do it!” Ugh ugh.

* “What’s stopping you from asking?” “Hell, I thought I just did!” I chuckled at that. Now it seems like he just kind of forgot his lines. Ugh ugh ugh.

* Eli’s wife brings up the insurance salesman and he loses his shit. “Just shut your goddamn trap for once, okay? Just shut it.” Oh Eli. You really do suck at this. Remember how bad he was at bullying his underling in the police department into silence, how the attempt just ensured the guy would talk? He coulda just let it slide and Nucky would have thought nothing of it, most likely.

* “Got me’s a rendez-vous in Ballmer.” Really happy to be hearing Maryland accents in close proximity to Michael Williams again.

* Another note, and I stand by this one: “These guys can be his new crew. Maybe. Or not. Who knows. WTF.” The show did a super-solid job of making it difficult to read how Oscar’s underlings were going to react to Chalky’s presence.

* Jesus fuck, what gorgeous lighting on Chalky and Daughter as evening falls. Preposterously good, varying according to whether we’re looking toward or away from the setting sun, alternately golden and blue. Good Lord.

* Parking lot notes: “What is going to happen here oh my god oh my god are they going to blow him up what is happening what is happening
Oh shit. The drunk.
huh.”

In retrospect, the plothammered, stagey way in which this incident took place was, of course, a reflection of, well, the plothammered, stagey way in which it took place. It was a ruse, a performance. But I would have eventually been willing to swallow it for the same reason Gillian did: It just seemed like the kind of thing that happens to and around Gillian.

* “It’s always been pretty easy to get your father’s goat.” You can say that again, Nucky!

* Willie HAD seen Eli’s “babyfaced insurance guy.” I never realized that before. But he musta been at the warehouse when Willie picked up the liquor from Mickey Doyle, right?

* “The day come everybody gonna run out of road.”

*Oscar’s not a fan of his nephew, nor of Daughter. What I like about his advice to Chalky to ditch Daughter, as well as his advice about not trusting Nucky or white people generally, is that it’s both valid, even sound, and also something where you could take the opposite side and have that be valid and sound as well. You so rarely are presented with that kind of thing in drama, unless it’s a Sophie’s choice someone has to ostentatiously wrestle with.

* Nucky reciting the poem Eli wrote to his middle-school crush. Eli getting a kick out of it. Genuinely adorable.

* Alright, so Nucky wants to do the big meeting NY/AC/FL meeting and have Eli put it together. “I think it’s the best way out of this,” says Eli, and for certain definitions of “this” he’s even telling the truth.

* But Willie managed to signal to Nucky to beware, if Nucky’s got his receivers out to pick that signal up, and that’s a big question about the finale, one that the closing exchange with Sally about wanting out only makes tougher to answer.

* Now that we know what we know, we also know that Ron Livingston was given a very specific and very weird role to play during what I can only assume will be his sole season on this show, one during which he was billed in the opening credits. But I’m a big fan of the work he did here, a hugely endearing riff on Jimmy Stewart’s dramatic roles. Get a load of his line readings during his supposed struggle with his conscience, of where he places the emphasis: “I don’t know what he was GONNA do. It wasn’t a gun. I killed a MAN. I took his life. How do you do this?…*I* saw me. GOD saw me.” The words he leans on tell the story he wants to tell.

* Here’s another magnificent thing about this extraordinarily strange storyline: When Gillian confessed to him, I wrote the words “GILLIAN JESUS CHRIST” just like that because it seemed like she was so besotted with this guy that she was oblivious to how her murderousness would play to him. And watching him react, it at first seemed like I was right, that it was a terrible idea, that he was going to reject her, maybe even strike her. Then he asked “Who was he?” as if he was teasing out more information in order to come to grips with it, and I thought “Wow, he’s going for it.” Then he said “You get that?” and I immediately wrote “He’s a fucking PINKERTON!”

* Leander sold her out! “I owed Louis something. I’m sure you can understand that.”

* Notes: “Careening camera. overhead shot. Madness. Sickening. Holding her down. Christ, jesus christ. jesus christ. crying. wow. wow. wow.
The fall of the house of Darmody.”

That was the toughest scene to watch in the history of this show. Fitting that it came as the closing curtain on the storyline most explicitly about artifice on a show that, ever since those luminous CGI boardwalk shots and Scorsese throwback aperture opening and closings in the pilot, has itself been about artifice.

* So Daughter runs, Oscar dies, and the nephew and the hat guy come through on Chalky’s behalf. He’s got his strike force if he wants it.

* “I want out.”

* The Capones and Van Alden and Torrio. Rothstein and Anaconda Realty and Margaret. Rothstein and Mickey Doyle. I think those are all the storylines that need to get wrapped up in the finale in addition to the ones this episode explicitly set up, i.e. Nucky and Eli, Nucky and Sally, Chalky and Nucky, Chalky and Narcisse, the meeting of all the crimelords, Eli and Knox. The finale’s title, by the way? “Farewell Daddy Blues.”

5 Responses to “Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eleven: “Havre de Grace”

  1. A quibble: the concept of Chalky’s mentor wasn’t new, and neither was his name. Oscar Boneau has been mentioned by Chalky a few times going back to the second, maybe even first, season.

  2. Waiting with bated breath for your finale. I thought season 4 was a masterpiece, and the finale better than the series finale for Breaking Bad (which I thought was very strong.)

  3. Jesse Irmler says:

    * So Daughter runs, Oscar dies, and the nephew and the hat guy come through on Chalky’s behalf. He’s got his strike force if he wants it.”
    I am still wondering who sent that crew to Oscar’s house – was it Narcisse? Did Daughter sell out Chalky and if not how did they know where to find him?

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