HBO’s Boardwalk Empire is one of the most sprawling and involved shows on TV, with a cast the size of an extra large beer barrel (or at least equal to The Wire). So this season, the show’s fourth, we’ll be breaking down the eight most bloody and boozy moments from every episode, including last night’s “The Old Ship of Zion.”
“At this point, I just about had it. Seriously. Dinner, the show at the Adelphi, a lot to sit through, as far as I was concerned. Then over to Rendezvous Park. Ices. Pretzels. Candy apples. I can’t believe what she’s cramming down there. The whip. The coaster. My head’s turning in circles. Finally, we’re off in a dark corner. ‘How about a little something for me?’ SMACK. Right across the kisser. ‘Some nerve from a fella I just met.’ What are you talking about?! We’ve been at this for a month. Turns out, this was her sister.” I feel like I’ve told this exact story surrounded by booze, too. Also, Mickey Doyle is the best. Shame he lost “his” cane.
More TV shows should have scenes where a bunch of dudes carrying baseball bats smash up a heroin den run by someone named Moses. You hear that, Dog with a Blog?
Boardwalk Empire is more than JUST men in expensive outfits drinking booze, but sometimes Boardwalk Empire is exactly men in expensive outfits drinking booze, and that’s totally fine with me.
“The symbolism was beyond them.” Dr. Narcisse is every high school student who’s upset that no one “gets them.”
Sally is such a welcome presence for all the reasons why, to quote a common criticism of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky isn’t a “great” main character on the level of Tony Soprano: he walks around like he won’t take no for answer, until someone like Sally comes along and tells him no. She’s a spark of energy, the kick of vodka in the orange juice. Sally travels from Florida to New Jersey to follow the business, not Nucky, who’s confused that she never alerted him and that she isn’t ready to take his accommodations/body. With so few female characters on the show, it’s reassuring when one comes along, and even more exciting when she’s as independently riveting as Sally.
This scene has neither blood nor booze, but give Michael K. Williams all the awards. OMAR CRYIN’, YO.
“No, really, I was literally stabbed in the back.” The biggest moment in “The Old Ship of Zion” was also its bloodiest: Daughter Maitland killing Dunn Purnsley, who was sent by Dr. Narcisse to lure Chalky White into a dangerous trap, shortly after Dunn accompanied Chalky during the aforementioned baseball bat-smashing heroin bust and run. And suddenly, with one stab of a butcher knife, plots are connected and the stakes are raised even further: Dr. Narcisse won’t stop until he’s taken down Chalky and even Daughter, and Nucky, who drops by to check in on Chalky, will presumably get involved, whether he wants to or not. (Also worth mentioning: Tim Van Patten’s fantastic directing. Dunn and Chalky’s conformation begins with a wide shot, where the room feels like it stretches for miles, before physical contact is made and the camera zooms in tight, to a nearly suffocating degree.) Boardwalk is so good at dotting the i’s and murdering the t’s.
Speaking of: Dunn’s death was the episode’s most immediately shocking scene, but the one that will prove the most fascinating from a long-term perspective is Eli’s deal with the devil known as Agent Knox, excuse me, James M. Tolliver, but really, Agent Knox. Unlike Kessler, who could at least take the coward’s way out (and did), Eli’s boned either way: he either rats on his brother, and the heat will be taken off his dumb son, or he stays loyal to Nucky and Willie replaces Chesterfields number one fan, Clayton, in the electric chair. The final scene, where Eli enters his recently fractured home, only to see his son regaling the family with a song, is heartbreaking: Eli’s the best man to wear the family name, and now he’s caught choosing which fellow Thompson to save.