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).

Nucky Thompson

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.

Sally Wheet

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.

William Thompson

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.

Eli Thompson

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.

Valentin Narcisse

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.

Chalky White

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.

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I'm Kevin Licht, a graduate from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor emphasis in Film Studies. When I'm not working I watch and write

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  1. Harrow’s a favorite of mine but they really should tie his character in with one of the power bases, rather than have him roaming around all the time. He’s the show’s Omar, and that’s great, but I think he should settle somewhere for a bit. Chicago, maybe? He doesn’t get along with Capone too well, but who wouldn’t want to see Van Alden and Harrow together?

  2. I’ve been dreading wiether Nucky will take down Eli but I don’t think that the writers/producers would go down that path since they would be treading on that whole Michael kills Fredo Godfather thing and it would come off a little cheesy.

    I think Eli is going to pretend to go along with the game for a while with the FBI but at the same time will alert his brother. There will be some real nail biting episodes around this but in the end Nucky (and Eli) will use their powerful connections and deep pockets to get off the hook.

    We saw in one of the last episodes that the FBI has gotten a hold of some of Nucky’s cronies, and there is Stephen Root’s character, Gaston, who is a double crosser. These guys will go bye-bye soon.

  3. Darren Hopkins

    I don’t agree about your statement that Eli will be giving up his big brother. I don’t know if I’m just interpreting this incorrectly but to me it seemed obvious that Eli was giving his son up to the feds. When they asked him to nod his head he never did so, but maybe people are assuming he did afterwards (that’s the cliff hanger?). I think what I’m taking into context is the fact that his father was pissed at his son for his decision and didn’t want him in his house. He wasn’t upset at Nucky but at his son. I thought the song at the end was symbolic, “Does the spearmint lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?”. As if to say, did Eli’s “flavor” (mind) change overnight or throughout the day? Was he still “furious” at his son as he stated earlier in the episode. This whole show is focused on Nucky, there is no way he is going to jail from THIS moment. His reaction when he entered the home said it all to me. He sort of just looked at his son in that “disgusted” sort of way. When he hugged him he gave him a one arm hugged. It didn’t seem loving, it seemed like he just made a tough decision… and that was letting his son burn.

    • Kevin Licht

      I could certainly see it going either way with Eli. It doesn’t appear as if he was going to tell Nucky about the feds, and I read the final scene as him being through with Nucky now that he has seemingly been too much of an influence on Willie.

      I think it would certainly be fitting if Nucky had to get rid of a family member this year after his speech about how much blood matters.

      No matter what happens I see it as highly unlikely Nucky actually ends up in prison since this show puts a fairly high emphasis on certain historical accuracies.

  4. The pacing and flow seems a lot smoother this season especially compared to S3. Narcisse, Knox and Willy all interesting new blood in the show. We’re seeing a more human side to Nucky (finally) with his relationship with Willie. I like how they dedicate episodes to specific characters so they can flesh them out more.

    • Kevin Licht

      I completely agree. It feels like the show has taken a page from Game of Thrones and hasn’t been afraid to leave some characters out during any given week.

  5. Lois Bradley

    The writing and stories were a lot crisper in season 1 and 2. The show is still light years better then most of the crap on tv these days.

    I just think the whole way the conflict between Narcisse and Chalky is unfolding is sloppy. Narcisse is a king in Harlem and all of a sudden he’s hanging out in AC for weeks at a time? Why? It’s not like he’s even a bootlegger or running liquor? He deals in heroin. From his scenes in New York it seems like he’s making good money over there, is the money he’s making in AC that much better? Also Narcisse having so much support in AC so quickly is a stretch as well.

    • Kevin Licht

      I’m wondering if some of these issues could sprout from the show not being great at giving the audience a sense of the timeline. It looks like these first 8 episodes have spanned about 6 months. There are certain historical moments that the show depicts in order to give us some notification of the when (Frank Capone’s death), but Narcisse has been involved since at least February of 1924. I think a character of his stature could do some damage in 5 months.

  6. Buchanan

    Something I didn’t even consider was that Daughter Maitland was in the plot to kill Chalky. I can only speculate as to what caused her to have a change of heart–probably when she sang to Chalky and he started crying. Because now Dr. Narcisse will want them both dead.

    Can’t wait for next weeks episode.

  7. It is correct to call Nucky a so-called protagonist because he acts more like an antagonist. This show blurrs protagonist and antagonist. Always a dangerous, risky move. Just some thoughts.

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