Whenever a television show is down to its last three episodes, be it for the season or the series finale, that’s when a viewer expects all of the pieces to be in place for when the final moves are to be made. Viewers are banking on the writers having a gambit that leads to a satisfying endgame. With serialized dramas, the expectations are much higher for an ending that’s both resolute and gratifying. Some succeed such as Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and The Wire; others such as Dexter, Entourage and Weeds hit stellar marks with their first few shots out of the gate and then eventually become bastardized through a lack of foresight and creative staffs that often operate with a blatant disregard for continuity. While this second-to-the-penultimate season four finale episode appeared slower than most, the people behind Boardwalk Empire seem to know what they’re doing.

RECAP: Agent Knox continues to pump Eli Thompson for more information in regards to organized crime. He wants Eli to give up Nucky and Joe Torrio in Chicago. To further drive the point home (literally), Knox goes to Eli’s house under the guise of a friendly insurance salesman. While intimating to his family that tragedy could strike at any time, Knox manages to get under Eli’s skin. In Tampa, Sally Wheet oversees the bootlegging operation when she overhears Vincenzo Petrucelli, Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano discussing their covert side-operation to smuggle heroin along with Sally’s liquor. Sally promptly informs Nucky who has Eli and Agent Knox verify her story. They travel to US-Route 30 (aka the White Horse Pike) to stop their convoy. They find the heroin, but not before Agent Knox kills when of the drivers with a headshot to assert his authority (and to show off). Eli and Nucky then question Meyer Lansky at gunpoint about his role in the heroin smuggling. As with everything during this period, he did it because his boss gave him no choice and because “there’s a lotta money ta be made!“. They demand that he get in touch with his boss, Joe Masseria in New York to come to Atlantic City to discuss the matter. Lansky gets to keep his life and the heroin. Interestingly enough, Lansky was being questioned in front of a body-sized ditch that was dug for himself and the heroin. The same kind of ditches witnessed in various scenes of the 1995 film Casino, which was directed by Martin Scorsese (executive producer of BE).

Arnold Rothstein (under the alias “Abe Redstone”) once again goes to Margaret Schroeder in Manhattan to offer her a better job in return for insider trading in real-estate stocks. At first, Margaret refuses. But a combination of a home life racked with neighboring screams of domestic abuse and the realization that her boss is a 1920’s version of Gordon Gekko forces her to reconsider. She gives Rothstein the information he requested and makes a deal with him for her and her children to live in a better neighborhood with better rent. 

In Chicago, Al Capone meets with Nelson Van Alden to discuss territory acquisition since the death of Dean O’Bannion. Joe Torrio enters and it becomes clear to this viewer that Al wants to supplant Torrio as the Chicago boss. While enjoying themselves in a brothel, Joe makes a surreptitious exit immediately before Capone receives a threatening phone call. Seeing poised assailants from across the street, Van Alden cries out a warning before their space is riddled with machine gun bullets. A few working girls are killed, but Al, his brother and Van Alden are unharmed. Al then tellingly mentions that “Thank God Joe got outta here in time, eh?“.

Perhaps taking up the majority of the episode is Chalky White’s war with Dr. Valentin Narcisse. Chalky’s with his staff outside in the back-alley of Club Onyx planning an ambush on Narcisse. Richard Harrow, now a custodian for the club, happens upon the meeting while emptying garbage. Some of Chalky’s staff liken Harrow to an immigrant taking jobs away from the Negro. Chalky stands up for Harrow as a friend, shakes his hand and offers him “work”. Considering his formidable skill-set, if Chalky added Harrow to his ambush, Narcisse would’ve been dead before the end of the episode.

Chalky and company go to the North side and shoot up Narcisse’s storefront while he is present. They kill everyone but him. Before escaping, Narcisse manages to shoot Chalky in the shoulder. Hiding out in American Legion Hall, Chalky has Harrow tend to his wound when Daughter Maitland shows up. Narcisse is furious after the shooting and goes to Club Onyx demanding for Nucky to disclose Chalky’s whereabouts. Fed up, Nucky implicitly threatens Narcisse while sternly telling him numerous times to “get the $^%@” out of my club“. AC Mayor (and Willie Thompson’s new boss) Ed Bader campaigns at the crime scene of Narcisse’s storefront, scolding violence while Nucky and Chalky meet at American Legion to discuss Narcisse. Nucky later has his meeting at the club with Masseria who introduces his partner in the heroin trade: Dr. Narcisse!

Narcisse says he would like to involve Nucky in the business venture IF he delivers Chalky White. Nucky considers the money proposed and makes the deal. But then, he calls Ed Bader to send over two sheriff deputies to take Chalky out of town. Through Willie, Nucky learns that Bader had met with Narcisse earlier and realizes that he and the mayor are now allied. The two sheriff deputies sent to Chalky try to kill him and Daughter while they have them in tow. Chalky manages to kill both of them. At the FBI headquarters, Director Hoover has his agents view a film on Marcus Garvey. Claiming Garvey has committed the ultimate crime of putting ideas in the heads of Negroes, he is a threat that can only be taken down from within. Hoover claims to have an undercover agent in Harlem doing just that (I wonder who that could be?). Meanwhile, Chalky’s son and daughter visit the club after hours. Narcisse, under the pseudonym Richard Pastor, tries to seduce the daughter into his fray when learning of her parentage and cancelled wedding plans. 

Back in the Thompson home, Eli returns to find dozens of armed men out front. Nucky informs him of the Narcisse/Bader alliance while arming himself. He tells Eli that Willie fed him this information and that their both ready. Eli is surprised and shocked at his son’s indoctrination into the “family business”. But relents and ends the episode with “All right…let’s sort it out.”.

MY THOUGHTS: Wright usually portrays Narcisse as the epitome of cool, calm and collected. Except on tonight’s episode. Giving his character that level of emotional outrage at Chalky’s assault was essential as it added a depth that was heretofore unseen. I cheered when Chalky just went straight H.A.M. and tried to kill him early on. The twist of Narcisse’s reach with both organized crime and political figures was also well-played.

One nice symbolic touch in the episode was Richard Harrow, a war veteran, tending to Chalky White’s wound in the basement of an American Legion building. Harrow makes Chalky an arm sling out of an American flag. This same flag is used by Chalky to kill one of the law enforcement officers bribed to kill him. Even in the 1920’s, “irony” and “poetic justice” are terms that carry heavy meaning.

The ending of the episode felt reminiscent of The Godfather. Willie Thompson is like Michael Corleone while his two father figures, Eli and Nucky represent Vito Corleone’s dichotomy. They don’t want him involved in their line of work, but they reluctantly permit it anyway. When Eli asks his son if this is what he wants for himself, Willie calmly responds by imposing an even more imposing question: “Pop, isn’t it what we do?“.

Narcisse is nowhere near as vile and reprehensible as last season’s chief antagonist, Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), which is why I’m not eagerly anticipating his inevitable send-off. I like the character’s mystery so much that I hope he gets a stay-of-execution until next season. I also hope that the last two episodes deliver a pay-off that leaves me salivating for more.


Grade: B+
Written by Sy L. Shackleford (sylar10)

Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, hip-hop, et. al. He also writes reviews for hip-hop albums which can be viewed on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sy.shackleford