“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Ten: “White Horse Pike”

* We open on cream in the coffee. If this were Breaking Bad in its final episodes that would have some kind of plot significance. Here it’s just a visual throughline. I like this better.

* Eli’s looking worse for wear. “You’re a good father,” says Knox when Eli remembers his dad’s Navy career, something I hadn’t put together. So that’s a point in Knox’s favor, I suppose.

* “You missed me? Awww, shucks.” “And Sally, I owe you one.” “Don’t think I don’t know it, sport.” Sally’s growing on me, and not because of sleeping-with-a-shotgun shit, but because she has fun with language, the sign of any great Boardwalk Empire character.

* Knox comes to Eli’s house. Always a big mistake to pull shit like that. Just ask Gloria Trillo.

* “He knows that in an instant, tragedy can strike, and everything a man’s worked for, everything he loves, everything he holds dear can be gone.” Why lord it over him, you creep? Like I said before, Knox really only has one mode: bullying. Like a lot of Boardwalk‘s gangsters, he’s just a reasonably sharp thug.

* The shot of him sitting mute and menacing at the head of Eli’s table? A+

* Spilling coffee. Hm. Coffee as a throughline. This was the first moment I thought “Eli is not going to live through the season.”

* Swoop in on Margaret’s phone, cute.

* Rothstein’s back, back again. Rothstein’s back, tell a friend. “Have you any milk?” Love his hat.

* “Clothing, sundries and what have you.”

* “May i offer you some free advice?” “Is there anything more expensive in the world?” Honestly? I think this is the best-written show since The Wire and Deadwood in terms of the quality of the prose, as it were.

* One thing that’s not entirely clear to me is whether or not Rothstein knew he was buying into a swindle and was just gonna out-swindle them, or if he really got took. I’d thought Anaconda Realty had something to do with the land Nucky, Lansky, and Petrocelli were going in on down in Florida, and Rothstein used his insider info from Lansky to make a killing. Now it’s not clear, not if pulling off the scheme depends on the dumb luck of Margaret working there.

* I am fully in favor of Chalky White sticking up for Richard Harrow.

* “Bring Knox,” Nucky says to Eli regarding the raid on the heroin-laden booze convoy. Sigh. I really think Eli handled this poorly.

* Haha, Van Alden’s a comer in Capone’s outfit! And Torrio’s nervous. “It’s good you’re thinkin’ ahead.” At that moment I thought it was possible he was even being sincere. Again, this is a situation where some foreknowledge of the actual people involved in the storyline is a bit of a dampener.

* Chalky’s hit on Narcisse was awfully no-nonsense. Just walking right up to his window and opening fire. It speaks more to Chalky’s anger than any particularly well-placed confidence in the move’s success, I’d say.

* Narcisse, missed, growling. Elegant with a gun. Both those elements are revealing, as revealing in their way as Rosetti’s nude blood-soaked rampage.

* Knox is a Poe fan. I see his story ending differently than the Dupin ones, however.

* “Really this doesn’t have to be so bad.” He truly is clueless about how bad he looks to other people. Ruthlessly executing a hooch wheelman doesn’t help in that regard, and once again speaks to his barely concealed brutality. He’s got a lot in common with Van Alden in that regard, if you can still remember early Van Alden. And yes, this is an attempt to good cop, to use honey as well as vinegar, but look how unconvincing it is compared to the intimidation and violence.

* Nucky to Narcisse: “Who the fuck do you think you are?” He is an awfully arrogant man, whatever else he is. His legitimate persecution and marginalization has led him to believe he’s a real special snowflake.

* “When i run him through, watch the light go out, i hope he knows what a friend he has in you.”

* Chalky in red white and blue bunting. Fuck subtlety. And tended to by Richard Harrow.

* Margaret’s tired of living in a slum. It’s the abuse upstairs that triggers it.

* Lansky survives his almost-execution only when he becomes the most Lanskyish. “There’s a fortune to be made in heroin. Millions and millions of dollars….What would you have done if you were me?” Yep. That trumps “the boy-scout routine” and, as far as it goes as a characterization of Nucky, happens to be true.

* Can we please have more shots of Kelly MacDonald biting her lip?

* “Thought you didn’t want a war.” “I don’t want the trots, either, but when I get them I deal with it.”

* The mayor and Narcisse together, and Willie’s looking. That doesn’t bode well.

* The interesting thing about the whole Masseria-Narcisse alliance, and Narcisse’s demand for Chalky white’s head on a platter being treated as non-negotiable, is that it seems safe to assume Masseria’s doing this mostly to force Nucky to be accommodating, not out of any sense of loyalty to Narcisse whatsoever. Should things go the way one assumes they will, with Narcisse dead and Chalky alive, Nucky could present this to Masseria as Narcisse losing a fight he picked; even if Masseria suspects Nucky reneged on the deal in order to help Chalky, what would he care? As long as Nucky and Chalky are equivalent partners in terms of the services provided by the then-deceased Narcisse, what’s it to Masseria? Narcisse’s skin color makes him as expendable to Masseria as Mickey Doyle’s obnoxiousness makes him to Nucky, I’d assume. That’s if the show does the thing I hope it does and has Chalky win. I mean, I’m not 100% convinced.

* Saving Chalky via the mayor and the police department was a schoolboy error, however.

* Nice machine gun attack on Capone’s brothel. Lotta that going around! I particularly liked the reveal coming in the form of sun glare from the windows across the street. That’s a very Coppola touch.

* Al’s first thought is for Ralph. Genuine anguish and terror in his voice. I think Tim O’Neil is right to say that Boardwalk is distinguished by refusing to portray its gangsters as complex, tortured antiheroes, but that doesn’t mean Al Capone didn’t genuinely love his brothers and fear for their safety in this dangerous line of work, and that’s material to be mined.

* “Lucky for Johnny he left when he did.” Now, is he being more or less sincere than Torrio was earlier in the ep when he praised Al’s forward thinking?

* “A rent-free apartment, guaranteed for five years, a safe neighborhood, with rooms for the children.” Now we’re just haggling over the price, Mrs. Thompson. “I earned this.” Okay!

* “I’ve never done business with a woman before.” “Well, how did you like it?” “Quite the treat.” I love this exchange. Margaret’s response put Rothstein on his toes more than an expected “We’re quite capable blah blah blah” would have, and Rothstein’s response, in its focus on the pleasure of the exchange, speaks more to the equality of the relationship than stating such outright.

* Yeah, okay, so, Willie tips Nucky off as expected.

* GODDAMMIT I hope Chalky doesn’t think Nukcy sold him out.

* Jesus this episode is good.

* Knox still getting nowhere with Hoover.

* Chalky’s daughter could be a cool character. A Margaret figure, but seemingly smarter and with a much better head on her shoulders, her primary disadvantage in life being the color of her skin. She just seems both fearless and together in a way few women on this show are — usually you can be one or the other.

* “At times, it seems all there is is us and our unhappiness.” “Dangerous, for people like us” to be something we’re not supposed to be. To be what we are, where we are, and dare to stand free. What could be more lonely?” These are sort of mission statements for Narcisse a la “what the fuck is LIFE if it’s not personal?” for Gyp Rosetti.

* I got scared as hell when Narcisse popped up on Chalky’s daughter, but ah, of course, why kill her? He thinks he’s won. No sense in killing someone in Chalky’s family if Chalky’s not there to see it.

* “This is the life you want?” “Pop, isn’t it what we do?” “Alright, let’s get it sorted out.” Super, super menacing final line. What I wonder is whether Willie’s entrance into the life changes anything for Eli. Does it make it imperative on him to keep playing ball with Knox, or to stop?

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