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 “White Horse Pike.”
Ah, yes, the old heroin in the orange box trick. Is it possible to briefly summarize everything that happened in “White Horse Pike” in one sentence? Let’s try: Chalky tries to kill Narcisse but doesn’t succeed, so Narcisse tries to kill Chalky back, but he, too, fails, even though he’s now working with Mayor Bader, Joe Masseria (and by proxy, Meyer Lansky, Charlie Luciano, and Vincent Petrucelli), and Nucky, kind of, but not really, because Nucky’s got his own sh*t to worry about, including the aforementioned heroin and, although he doesn’t know it yet, he should keep an eye out on his brother, who’s collaborating on the sly with mad man Agent Tolliver…Dammit. Came to an end of an sentence without even mentioning Margaret’s deal with Rothstein, Hoover targeting Marcus Garvey, Willie not being a waste, Richard Harrow generally being the best, and Narcisse going by a fake name that I first heard as Richard Pasta, which would have been fantastic, but is instead Richard Pastor. Phew. Let’s break this down into smaller segments.
The reason why I love Boardwalk Empire so much, and why I don’t understand so much of the criticism that’s thrown at the show, is because it’s entirely independent of wild theories and Big Ideas About What It All Means. Instead, it’s just a, to paraphrase Nucky via Rothstein to the point of barely being a paraphrase at all, bunch of ridiculously talented actors and actresses portraying fascinating characters wearing great outfits sitting in a room together, talking. The Richard Harrow gun shows and Nelson Van Alden snarls are nice to have around, but so often, the best scenes are the quiet ones, where Steve Buscemi shares a space with Michael K. Williams for a few minutes. Like much of season four, especially the past two or three episodes, “White Horse Pike” works so beautifully because it has both elements, the violent and the quiet. Margaret can Peggy Olson her way into a better home, while Chalky and the boys can try to assassinate his enemy. And somewhere in-between, there’s…
Agent Knox/Agent Tolliver/Agent Psychopath talking his way into getting Eli to rat on his brother, even if the information is years old and literally dead (lest he do that again, Tolliver reminds him in his home that “in an instant, tragedy could strike”), while also BOOM goes the anonymous driver. He’s a man of many sides: two.
Like any good recently married man, Richard now spends his days with the fellas down at the club. And by fellas, I mean a guy who recently had a bullet go straight through his shoulder, and by the club, I mean the deserted legion hall. Oh yeah, and he wraps the bullet guy with an American flag, like Bill the Butcher. The wisest thing Chalky ever did, besides decide to go by Chalky, is become friends with Richard Harrow. He’s a one-man, half-face army, and hey, he’s good at first-aid, too. “I’ve been around many people who’ve been shot.” Classic Harrow humor.
OMG HE’S A MUSTACHE-TWIRLING VILLAIN FROM A ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE COMMERCIAL. STAY AWAY FROM RAILROAD TRACKS AND ROPE, MAYBELLE. How much do you want to bet Narcisse planned his reveal with Joe Masseria? “No, no, it will look TOTALLY awesome.” And it did. Even Nucky later admitted as much to Eli, probably, once he got over the shock of Narcisse and Masseria sitting in a tree, k-i-s-selling heroin in Nucky’s boxes of oranges that are actually boxes of booze-i-n-g. Their terms: we use your Florida shipments and you hand us Chalky. Nucky’s terms: give me one-third of the profits, then yes. They agree to disagree, but mostly winkAGREEwink, and soon after, Nucky calls the Mayor to have hired protection take Chalky out (of town).
“So. Capone’s going to be doing lines off a fat hooker and then they go into an office so he can use the phone and she’s going to unzip his pants to give him a blowjob when a bunch of guys from across the street begin firing at them with tommy guns.” The Boardwalk Empire writer’s room must be a fun place to work.
I mean, sure, Omar Little can terrify an entire Baltimore community by merely whistling “The Farmer In the Dell,” but Chalky White is able to fend off and murder two cops with one arm while in a moving car. I would pay good money to see Omar and Chalky in a fight. The winner: AMERICA. Also, Omar, probably.
No blood was shed in the nerve racking scene between Narcisse and Maybelle, but there easily could have been. Narcisse knows better than to kill the boss’s daughter in his own club, in his own office at that, so he does the next big thing: show her compassion and intoxicate her with his lovely he-done-speak-all-pretty-like turns of phrase. Uh oh. And so we head into the final two episodes of the season, where hopefully every scene consists of Nucky going around town, yelling, “Who the f*ck do you think you are?” at everyone. Best season finale ever.