“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode 12: “Farewell Daddy Blues”

* I think there’s long been a sense that Chalky White, and Michael K. Williams, and by extension African Americans, have been underused on this show. From what I gather from post-finale interviews with Terence Winter, he realized this was true at some point, and this season was conceived in part as a corrective. From an in-world perspective one solid way to demonstrate the vitality of this character is to have him sneak back into town with a small handful of strangers and quietly level the entire defense force surrounding Nucky Thompson’s beachfront redoubt. Like, by rights this episode should feel elegiac regarding Chalky, and to an extent it does — it’s his last best failed attempt to retake the throne. But he remains formidable until the moment Richard Harrow pulls the trigger.

* “So he your nigger now….So you HIS nigger now.” Chalky’s spite is righteous, even if misdirected.

* “Wearing another man’s clothes,” he spits, complaining of his situation. No, this isn’t a guy who’d take well to usurpation.

* THE NEXT DAY in big block letters was my thought when we cut from the standoff between Nucky and Chalky to Knox’s meeting with Hoover in DC the following morning. It let us know that the two of them lived through the night, no matter what else its purpose was. A curious choice, but that’s kind of how the show works.

* I love the audible sneer quotes Hoover places around “organized crime.” I’m actually quite excited to see if Hoover becomes a major character, since in the end he’s easily the most dangerous and destructive person historical figure we’ve encountered so far. (I suppose you could make a case for Lansky & Luciano, but that would require extending a lot more kindness to Hoover than I’m inclined to impart.)

* Are we to take it that the state used a prosecuting attorney with a facial deformity in part to normalize star witness Richard Harrow? Or is the purpose more extradiegetic, a reminder that there are a lot of Richards out there in one sense or another?
* “They keep my face on.” Gasps from the crowd. Richard must be miserable being the center of attention like that. Even as a sniper he operated from a remove from the target audience.

* “I was in love! I was tricked! How can that be right? I’m not allowed to speak. I’m not allowed to live. Why does a man get to do anything he wants!” Cheering! Gillian Darmody, proto-Solanis.

* “You have a brother, Knox? Whatever fuck your name is. Family?” “That’s none of your business.” “Fuck you. You too, you smug son of a bitch.” There’s really no better Eli than end-of-his-rope Eli. Remember when he beat that ward boss to death in his garage when the guy started wimping out of the anti-Nucky conspiracy?

* “Weiss. With Bugs Moran and Schemer Drucci. Sure, after that O’Banion thing? Who else could it be?” One thing I really enjoyed about this episode is that by the time the smoke clears, it’s no clearer who was responsible for the various assassination attempts on Capone and Torrio than it was at the start — to us or to them. I mean, you can read that final scene in the hospital as Torrio and Capone basically acknowledging they’d each tried and failed to have the other killed, they feel bad about it, and Torrio’s bowing out gracefully. I mean, as best we can tell from history that’s not in fact what happened — the North Side mob really did try to hit them both. But look at this as a more effective version of the sleight-of-hand the show pulled last season with Luciano and Lansky trying to strike out on their own as heroin suppliers and Masseria and Rothstein colluding with corrupt cops to teach them a lesson. You can color within the lines of history but still use an unexpected palette.

* This just occurred to me: ex-lawmen Nelson Van Alden and Eli Thompson are going to be two of the gunmen who dress up as cops to perpetrate the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on Al Capone’s orders, aren’t they.

* Sign #1 that Nucky was wise to Eli: Eli knew nothing about Nucky’s trouble with Chalky the previous night.

* LOL at Mickey Doyle giving Richard the hairy eyeball.

* If somehow an anonymous source were to disclose to the authorities the whereabouts of Jimmy’s body, what would you do for that anonymous source.” “I would do whatever you asked.” I’ll tell you what, the awe in which all these seasoned killers hold Richard Harrow’s ability to kill strikes some very deep chords in me. That is such a menacing, magnetic dynamic.

* “If that’s Darmody, then who’s the other one?” I love when Boardwalk does the anonymous-reporter-voice-in-a-crowd thing. And Christ, that overhead shot of the burial site, the path worn through the field. Our final glimpse of Jimmy Darmody is one of people feeding off him.

* “I’m the mayor.” “I’ll change that if it’s the last thing I do.” Poor Mayor Ed. Backed the wrong horse, guy.

* “Endings have been attempted, have they not, on all sides.” I was just about to say “I’m gonna miss Narcisse,” but I’m not, am I? He’ll be back.

* “I don’t have friends. I have partners.” Nucky sums himself up. And yet…

* “I don’t ever want to worry about that spook coming at me in the dark again. Do we understand each other?” “We do. At long last.” We know this isn’t a legit sellout of Chalky because Nucky doesn’t talk that way.

* “That singer. He says he knows where she is.” That’s the kicker.

* “What are we, paupers? I want artichokes for Christ’s sake.” Been there, Johnny! And then another nice Godfather-style hit, just to scratch as many of your itches as this show can. Fuckin’ Boardwalk Empire works really hard for your ungrateful ass.

* Knox is nervous with the bug in the room. He’s getting bugsy, if you will.

* “Pop! Pop, it’s Uncle Nucky!” “We should walk in together. Present a united front.” The saw-playing. Willie eyes the phone. Marvelous stew of sights and sounds in that one little plot-advancing phone call from Nucky to Eli.

* Richard has a brother-in-law now, lol. I guess the sister settled!

* “Tommy. I love you.” Oh no.

* “I will see you in three days.” Messiah!

* Eli walking up to the camera and past it to go to Nucky’s house.

* “Hello? Nuck?”

* “I’m leaving town. Heading to Cuba with Sally. As soon as I finish what I need to do. I intended to tell you now. There is no meeting. I saw to that. There are names on a hotel register with three empty rooms, and you, and me.” Eli, you really do suck at this and always have.

* “Nucky, I–” “‘Nucky I’ what. ‘Nucky, I’m sorry?'” “What’s it matter what I say?” “You have a lot to lose.” “Me? I don’t have anything. Sooner or later you wind up taking it all. Can’t help it. I’m ready. Are you?” Re-reading that dialogue…you know, I wasn’t sure another Nucky/Eli confrontation, or another season-finale facedown between Nucky and someone he once loved and vice versa, was going to hit all that hard. But it does, doesn’t it? There’s a weariness to it that we in the audience can feel along with the brothers precisely because we have been here before.

* I do wonder what would have happened had Willie not burst in. I wonder what would have become of all three of them.

* “Nothing will fill that hole you got inside. Don’t you know that yet?” And maybe here we see what separates Nucky from, let’s see here, Tony Soprano, or Walter White, or Don Draper, or Jaime Lannister: He’s not tortured inside. He’s unhappy, but his response is to try to make himself happy, not to wallow. And that’s how Eli gets his number here.

* Hahahahahahahahaha NO MEETING FOR YOU, KNOX, NO MEETING FOR YOU, YA PRICK! “You’ve been duped, Jim. Let’s face it.”

* “How you feelin’?” “I’m okay.” “Never heard you say that before.” Aw, Al and Johnny, you lovable mugs ya.

* “This is a young man’s game. I’m not gonna fight. It’s yours, Al. Take it.” “Take what?” “The whole operation.” “You win, kid. I’m outta your way. It’s Europe for me.” Al kisses the ring. What I’m curious about is whether we see Johnny again. The show aged him up considerably — though he was indeed Capone’s boss and mentor, he wasn’t yet 40 years old when prohibition started. But eventually, in real life, he took on an elder-statesman role and helped broker the alliance that eventually became the Commission, working closely with Luciano in the process. I hope he sticks around for that, which is what I kind of assume the whole show is building to.

* Here, in their entirety, are my notes about the fight between Eli and Knox:
My partner Agent Selby. He thinks I’m crazy. Do you think I’m crazy, Eli?
Playing the saw,

Sort of the show’s Dan Dority vs. Captain Turner, wasn’t it. Breathtaking.

* “Stay rightchea and don’t raise no fuss.” “Don’t like it.” “Not meant to be liked.” Chalky has a lot of confidence in the plan.

* “A daughter for a Daughter.” “I understand I rocked her right. That was some sweet jelly.” “Behold the noble savage.” “That me. Bankroll in one pocket and pistol in the other. And all the rest? I never did give a fuck.” “A nod from me and she’s gone. I’d say that makes us even.” These right here are two men who haaaaaaaaate each other. Narcisse is to Chalky what Gyp Rosetti was to Nucky: a force of nature our hero had the misfortune to attract and aggravate. The only difference is…well, it’s Richard, isn’t it?

* My notes on the sniper sequence, in their entirety:
There’s richard.
Oh shit.

Even if he were to survive, Richard would not survive this. Chalky, a man who couldn’t stand wearing another man’s clothes, likely couldn’t weather this either. And Maybelle White, a character I was just two weeks ago saying could have been fascinating, is lost to us. This was an ugly scene.

* Narcisse arrested. Everyone’s getting rolled up because Eli killed Knox — and Hoover’s using it to come at Marcus Garvey, not any of the world-historical criminals tangentially involved in the murder.

* “Truth is what those in power wish it to be.” Lord Valentin of House Narcisse, ladies and gentlemen.

* “I am a businessman and a follower of Christ.” Beneath Narcisse’s narcissism is a deep-rooted need for these things to be true, of course.

* “Yes…sir.” Now that’s a comeuppance.

* “Your father is safe with friends out west….He’s your father. My brother. And I’m not the person you think I am.” Or that I thought he was, for that matter. Once Eli popped up in the next scene I knew where he’d be and who’d be picking him up, but until he popped up I figured he was dead. Nucky surprised me.

* Eli and Van Alden, together again. Gillian’s nicked. Rothstein shows Margaret to her lush new apartment hahahahaha. Sally stood up. Chalky out to pasture. Daughter singing in some shithole. And Richard’s on the train, thank christ
oh no.
no, please.

Took me about 17 hours from when it aired, but I cried my fucking eyes out over the death of Richard Harrow. Thank you for bringing this magnificent character, responsible for my all-time favorite line of dialogue and my all-time favorite TV action sequence which ended with a shot that made me instantly cry harder than anything I’ve ever seen in a show or film, into my life, Jack Huston, Howard Korder, Terence Winter, Boardwalk Empire.

* This is a very, very, very, very, very good show. See you next year.

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11 Responses to “Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode 12: “Farewell Daddy Blues”

  1. You know, with Narcisse’s whole “follower of Christ” thing…I think he does consider himself one, but I don’t think he identifies with the disciples or even apostles, I think he identifies with CHRIST HIMSELF. That seen where we see the scars on his chest and find out about his past with Daughter where they sit in her dressing room purring prose poems about the sufferings of Christ to one another is when it struck me. He reminds me in some ways of Roman Grant from Big Love: the one a gangster posing as a cult leader, the other a cult leader posing as a gangster, both attempting to bear the kingdom away violently.

    I too was utterly unprepared for how hard that Nucky vs Eli showdown landed. If anything, it was more intense than the Nucky-Jimmy showdown from To the Lost.

    So many threads drawn together in the Maybelle scene–her curiosity about her father’s life, Chalky’s thinking he could buy a better life for his children, Richard becoming Manny Horvitz, slayer of innocents…and with Chalky and Eli’s domesticate facades both shattered. There was a motif of stripping away the bullshit this episode (and season), of the lies agreed upon that sustain these relationships crumbling and peeling away like the paint on the walls in Havre de Grace.

    You’re right about how good a show this is. This season converted some holdouts, and though I figured out it was great in season 2, this did strike me as the best season so far, and frankly I found it superior to the final season of Breaking Bad, excellent as it was.

  2. Also, did you think Gillian’s “Why can a man do whatever he wants?” complaint was a meta moment? Obviosly it worked in the context of the scene, in which a mass murderer was testifying against her, but I also felt like Winter was calling out the fans who judge Gillian, Margaret, Carmela Soprano, and Skyler White so much more stringently than the men in these shows.

  3. Karl Ruben says:

    All it took was about a week and one heapload of Sean T. Collins’ ever more impressionistic Boardwalk Empire Thoughts to make me feel better about a season I didn’t quite know how to react to last Monday. I regret that real-llife circumstances put a damper on any big emotional reactions on my part beyond… exhausted resignation. But like you said about the final Eli/Nucky scene, sometimes, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Thanks so much for doing this again this season, as always, your weekly words have been indispensable.

    It’s slightly depressing to see how the word on BE never seems to change, how stubbornly people seem to cling to the one prevailing perspective. If nothing else, it’s a very useful reminder to be a bit leery when dealing with critical consensuses.

    • I know what you mean about the one perspective, but I felt like something finally changed in the write ups this season–Seitz flat-out called it a masterpiece, Greenwald almost did, and there was generally less of the ” not quite great” hedging, at least after the finale.

      • Something’s in the air for sure. That said, Greenwald’s always going to condescend to the work in front of him if that’s an available option, and with Boardwalk Empire that fruit is low-hanging enough to be irresistible. Nussbaum brushed the show off as irredeemably pompous and I don’t recall her changing her tune, and she’s got the best gig going. Seitz switching it up is big, for sure; it’ll take a major reevaluation from, I dunno, Lambert to really move the needle, I think.

    • You know, the more I think about those tweets Karl linked to, the more they piss me off. I love The Sopranos to death, and there’s a lot to be said for the way Chase undermined fan expectations, but isn’t there something anti-art about being “the number one fan of gangster movies,” as Chase claimed to be, but being so neurotic and self-loathing that he could never let fly with the showdowns he himself manipulated fans into anticipating?
      Isn’t there something refreshing in Winter being healthy minded enough to unashamedly enjoy the operatic violence and toughness that draws people to the genre in the first place?

      And fan service? I find it difficult to accuse a season that offed the two characters that fans have the most unmixed affection for–Eddie and, of course, Richard,–of fan service, especially when, had Winter listened to the vox populi, he would have stuck Richard with Nucky two seasons ago instead of having him off on the margins developing one of those “relationships” that tweet claimed the show lacked. Not to mention taking Chalky from the pinnacle of success to the depths of defeat but having him survive to suffer it, and rehabilitating the relationship between Eli and Nucky (a development that was very popular among fans) only to destroy it. Smell the fanservice!

  4. T. Malone Chandler says:

    “Thank you for bringing this magnificent character, responsible for my all-time favorite line of dialogue and my all-time favorite TV action sequence which ended with a shot that made me instantly cry harder than anything I’ve ever seen in a show or film, into my life, Jack Huston, Terence Winter, Boardwalk Empire.”

    What about Howard Korder? He seems to have written most of this season, as well as created the character of Richard Harrow, according to Winter himself.

  5. Tim O'Neil says:

    After pondering your words for the last day, I think you got it exactly right: unhappy, but not tortured. The fact that Nuckie is actually able to conceive and execute a plan to extricate himself from his daily misery, and that he’s not held back by some defining trauma or insecurity that drives him towards self-destructive behavior, makes him pathologically unable to move past his old wounds, this makes him the odd-man out of the cable-TV anti-hero sweepstakes.

    Of course, we know he’s not actually going to make it to Florida, right? I mean, they couldn’t actually take the main character out of the titular setting and expect the change to stick, right?

    • I’ve got to disagree here. This season demonstrated he’s not able to relax and let go, he “gets all wound up” as he told Sally when he tries, which is why he will inevitably return even if he does go to Florida, and if you look at how isolated he has progressively gotten through the series I think it is pretty clear that his behavior is self-destructive to a degree. The traumas that drive this behavior are, first, his monstrous father and the burden this put on young Enoch to be the defacto paternal figure in the home (which completely warped his relationship with Eli–in season 1 he and Jimmy resembled nothing so much as rival brothers squabbling over Papa Nucky’s affection) and the loss of Mable and Enoch Jr. under nightmarish circumstances. I agree he’s not so much tortured as unhappy, but I think the same applies to Tony and Walter (except perhaps in the early episodes of BrBa.) The difference, it seems to me, is that Nucky is the Bogart-like strong silent type Tony longed to be, with the irony being that he is no less miserable than Tony was, as his compulsion to be the provider that his family can take pride in has left him with fewer and fewer people to provide for, to the point that he has now had to usurp his brother’s family.

  6. Jesse Irmler says:

    Great, great season and always look forward to your post show write-ups Sean. I think it’s’ the best thing on TV along with GOT. Great job and look forward to watching and reading next season.

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