Boardwalk Empire: The Old Ship of Zion – Seizing Opportunity
This week Boardwalk Empire took a huge step forward and advanced things rapidly while at the same time being one of the most focused episodes of this most recent season. This week was essentially about 3, maybe 4 characters, and Chalky White played a large part. The events of this particular episode are going to trigger what is sure to be a violent 2nd half of the season, so let’s get right into it with the characters that appeared on the show this time around, many of which had very small bit parts this week (the total count of characters actually appearing in this episode looks to be at a relatively measly 12).
The so-called protagonist of the show was sort of a large character somewhat looming in the background this week. However, his role was very important, and his actions subtly displayed why he has been so successful in business and in his ability to stay alive throughout the series.
Nucky’s influence is at it’s height throughout most of the story as he attempts to be a sort of role model for his nephew Willie and makes an attempt to mentor Chalky. Yet there is a selfish quality gleaming through. Every move Nucky makes has an angle and some can see it much better than others.
“I want you to give some thought about how to turn this into an opportunity,” is what Nucky tells William regarding his leaving school. This seems to be exactly how Nucky himself is thinking about William, and how Nucky has done business in the span of the show, thinking about how to turn everything into an opportunity for himself. There can’t be much belief at this point that the former treasurer is invested in what’s best for his nephew, and by the end of the episode Nucky has William exactly where he wants him.
Not only has Nucky seemingly taken control of his nephew, but also reminds the audience of the power he still has over Chalky, in both his demeanor and his business acumen. In a conversation with a heavily distracted Chalky (we’ll get to more about that later), Chalky infers that Nucky is in charge and basically free to come and go from the club as he desires. Nucky even tells Chalky how he needs to take control of his people in the scene, supporting the ideas earlier this season that while Chalky may be a relatively powerful figure, he is still a servant in many ways.
Many have claimed Nucky is the most uninteresting character in the show, however this writer feels for the past 2 episodes the series may have found a way to utilize him best and to illuminate how he has managed to get by in the bootlegging business without suffering the ultimate consequence. It seems the show has found a way to have him involved in everything, but in a more subtle manner than one would expect.
Patricia Arquette received an expanded role this week and pushed her way into the Thompson family. She is a much different female character than what is typical for the program; much more in control than the vast majority of women who have made appearances (quite possibly the only one who has truly been in control of anything). Sally arrives in Atlantic City with Nucky’s latest shipment of Florida-based booze. Nucky is taken by surprise with her visitation and spends much of the episode trying to woo her in a similar way that would only be effective with the usual type of woman Nucky “associates” himself with.
Sally manages to leave Nucky bewildered for a time as she consistently resists his typical charming strategies of a gentleman. Alas, she does end up in bed with Nucky (poor Willie has to listen to some groaning and pounding noises as he’s staying in his uncle’s beachside property). In the morning, after the off-screen sex scene, Sally manages to penetrate the Thompson family as she seems to be the one to get Willie to think about his future, something that had seemed hopeless when Nucky tried to talk to him.
This turn by Arquette came as a somewhat unexpected female performance and she may be the major female character this show has really needed for quite some time.
Since we’ve already mentioned William a little bit why don’t we get him out of the way right here. Willie is a fairly typical teenage type character, and he has gone through a systematic development this season. There’s not a lot of surprising or particularly interesting things going on with his character.
In this episode he was able to have a conversation with Ed Bader, the mayor who is only mayor because Nucky wanted him in the position. It was hinted that William would be pursuing a political career, and while it does look like he’ll be willing to work to move up, he remains naïve. It doesn’t appear he realizes his uncle is using him. I would be surprised if William turns out to be much more than the pawn he seems to be in this story.
Poor Eli. He really can’t catch a break. His son dropped out of college. His brother has essentially taken over influence of his child. Nucky also pretty much controls Eli’s life. And now he’s getting pressed by Agent Knox and company to turn over his brother. This is very bad news for Eli and from the way events unraveled in this episode, it appears he will be betraying his big brother for a second time in the series.
Eli has always been a troubled character and this seems like the natural way to go for the show. Eli had his suspicions about agent Knox and this episode validated his suspicions in a rather unfortunate manner.
This is the first episode in which weakness was shown by this character as he lets his anger and pride get the best of him with his order of an assassination of Chalky. With a name like Narcisse I don’t think it’s surprising that pride may be his downfall. While Chalky did end up lighting his heroin on fire, it seemed that Narcisse was more upset about his play being interrupted by Chalky, leading him to discuss a violent retaliation with Daughter Maitland.
Michael Kenneth Williams took center stage in this episode and his character took a step forward. The whole time the audience was being set up to believe that this was quite likely the end of Chalky White, depicting him as a distracted man due to his obsession with Daughter Maitland. Even before his conversation with Nucky he is gazing at her on stage.
Chalky is often seen in a daze throughout the hour simply does not seem present. He seemed doomed to meet his end the entire time. So, naturally, he survived and instead it was Dunn Purnsley who met his end at the hands of… Daughter Maitland. Chalky’s newfound love interest stabs Dunn in the back with some broken glass just in time to save Chalky from being strangled to death. This turn of events not only signifies a shift in power from Dr. Narcisse to Chalky, but is also interesting because of the part the female plays.
Daughter Maitland and Sally Wheet are two female characters that had a huge impact on the way things turned out in this episode. This was an episode that finally displayed some of the power women can have in this traditionally male-dominated series. While Chalky did see the Purnsley betrayal in time to put up a fight, it would have been no use if he didn’t have the help of a woman behind him.
The show achieved a great deal in this episode and it was one of the more intense and suspenseful Boardwalk entries in quite a while. It will be exciting to see how this season is closed out in the final four episodes.
What do you think? Leave a comment.