“We saddlin’ fer a showdown or not?”
-Mickey Doyle to Nucky Thompson.
There were indeed showdowns in this episode as well as predicted outcomes, but the manner that led to them was unexpected. The two deaths in this episode now leaves only seven characters who’ve been with us since the first season. With only two episodes remaining, that number will most likely dwindle by the series’ end. So what happened?
The episode picks up where the last one left off, with Chalky White coming face-to-face with Daughter Maitland for the first time in seven years. The little girl in the last episode is her child (named Althea). She claims that Dr. Narcisse isn’t the father and urges Chalky to leave immediately. In the meantime, we learn that after Daughter left Chalky last season, she became a maid for a White man in Tennessee named Mr. Engler. In retaliation for not returning, Narcisse blackballed her as a singer throughout the country. Because of his reach, no one will even play her self-produced records. With her daughter in tow, she came back to Harlem to essentially beg Narcisse to grant her freedom. It just so happens that she arrived at the same time that Chalky arrived with the intent of killing him. Narcisse arrives shortly and voices his resentment for being forced into Lucky Luciano’s ‘protection’ racket. He offers Chalky a deal: Give himself to Narcisse and mother and daughter are free and set up comfortably in another town. Before giving a response, Chalky has Daughter play one of her recordings. Agreeing to work for Narcisse, Daughter pleads for him to come with her. He tells her no and advises Althea to stay away from men like him. By the end of the episode, it becomes clear that Chalky entered into Narcisse’s services so that he could be killed. Once he’s out of sight, he has several of his men gun down an oddly content Chalky like a firing squad.
Van Alden and Eli Thompson have been forced by undercover Treasury agent Mike D’Angelo to retrieve ledgers from Al Capone. Well at his door, their still planning on how to do so. Once inside, they enter with a case full of money and clumsily attempt to gain access to the accounting room. They catch Capone’s brother Ralphie (played by Domenick Lombardozzi) having sex which leads to them being caught. He empties the case and find it full of newspaper clippings. He calls in D’Angelo to question them both. Without blowing his cover, he offers to take them out before Al returns. Right on cue, he arrives back with some Hollywood producers with him. Before he can entertain his guests, the matter of Eli-Van Alden duo is brought to his attention. He questions them and pulls a gun on Van Alden for a second time. But this time, he gets the drop on Capone. He punches him and begins to choke him while proudly and fiercely proclaiming his identity as Van Alden, as a federal agent, and religious fundamentalist. He’s then shot dead by D’Angelo who’s then given orders to take Eli away and kill him. But, before he leaves, the Capones give D’Angelo the ledgers for safe keeping in Cicero. Now that he has what he needed, Eli isn’t really necessary. But, nonetheless, he gives the disheveled ex-Sheriff some money to leave town.
Flashback time! Deputy Sheriff Enoch Thompson is now married to Mabel who’s pregnant with his child. He’s beginning to play both sides of the fence and it’s also the start of when people first began calling him “Nucky”. Mabel teases him with this while he wishes for the Commodore’s respect and adoration. While meeting with a store owner on the Boardwalk who’s reporting a thief to him, Enoch catches his first glimpse of the Commodore’s predilection for underage girls. Later, a young Eli is asking Enoch for a job in the Sheriff’s department, but he maintains that he doesn’t yet have that kind of pull. He’s also telling him a story about his first sexual encounter with his future wife June. The tale is interrupted when Enoch spots the young thief, chases after him under the boardwalk where he disappears. While down under, Enoch finds a treasure chest full of stolen items. The Thompson brothers are later on a stakeout under the boardwalk until they catch the young thief. The thief gives the name “Nellie Bly” at first, but then is shortly revealed to be a young and tomboyish Gillian Darmody.
The present-day Nucky Thompson spends most of the episode getting drunk. He uses the alias of Francis X. Bushman and starts to get plastered at a no-name bar. While there, he plays a game of drunken limericks with two women who are obviously up to no good. He gets into a bar fight and then tells the women that he wants to have sex with them both. While about to do the deed in the alley behind the bar, they get the drop on him and knock him unconscious. He’s found by his employee, Joel Harper while drunkenly spouting buried memories. After resting in his club, he admits that Sally Wheet’s death has hit him hard and offers Joel some money to make up for his behavior. Now sober, he enters the fray surprised at the number of men Mickey Doyle has amassed as his army of protection. In the end, he confirms to Mickey that they’re all ready for war against Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky.
THOUGHTS: Capone, Luciano and Lansky all survive the end of the Prohibition era with the formation of the Commission, so their fates are secured. I thought that Eli was going to be killed right along with Van Alden. What he gets instead is basically a get-out-of-jail for free card. And the irony of Ralphie Capone giving D’Angelo the ledgers is what historically lands Al Capone in prison for over a decade. The unintentionally deadpan comedy duo of Shea Whigham and Michael Shannon will be missed, as will Shannon’s trademark shifting of emotions in his characters. His attack on Al Capone before dying was fun to watch, as was his rage-filled reversion to his persona from season one. For one last time in one brief moment, he once again became the monster who burned a man’s face with an iron, killed back-alley gangsters and put his wife in her place. Watching Stephen Graham’s Capone exhibit a mixture of real fear and disbelief at Van Alden’s attack spoke volumes about the cracks in his tough-guy facade.
Nucky’s drunken tryst is just to show the viewer that he’s a “regular joe”. He was sad and wanted to drink his troubles away. I think it was included to reinforce the flashback sub-plot about how he worked his way up from poverty. But his rise has come with regrets. Mabel commits suicide after having a miscarriage and his need for the respect of those whom he views as more powerful and respectable began with his association with the Commodore (and culminated with him meeting Joseph P. Kennedy). When he saw the young girl brought by her mother before the Commodore, a light bulb went off in his head. He didn’t seem important, so he was forced to be creative in petitioning the Commodore for an audience. His first encounter with a young Gillian Darmody begins this trend. Previous seasons established that Nucky made Gillian the woman we’ve come to know. He’s the one who brought her to the attention of the Commodore, who later raped her and left her pregnant. His drunken rant to Joel Harper (“Stupid fucking child, why would you trust me?!“) sheds some light on this guilt. Also, the Nellie Bly address sent to Nucky during this season’s third episode came from Gillian, perhaps being the catalyst of his re-emerged guilt.
And finally, Chalky White. But first, I have to give props to Jeffrey Wright for playing Narcisse with such a menacing cool. His character is adept at reading people and is a master of subtlety. His offer of freedom to Chalky White was a portent of death as has Chalky’s season-long resignation. Althea Maitland is clearly his love-child and the accidental death of his own daughter seven years prior has haunted him. He knew that he’d be killed by taking up Narcisse on his offer, but it was catharsis knowing that Daughter and Althea would live. Though I was sad to see Chalky go down without a fight, what did I expect? Michael Kenneth Williams illustrated that he had lost the will to live. Also, in many ways, he one-upped the good doctor. Though killed, he died at peace. Seeing as how the relationship between both characters within the narrative was symbiotic, I believe this storyline is now concluded. Another thing to note is that this is the second HBO series in which Michael Kenneth Williams’ character is killed in the antepenultimate episode. With only two episodes left, the outcome of the series will be determined by its status as a period-piece. Since it’s based on history, the outcome is dictated by mostly by the historical context that serves as the basis. Grade: A
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, movies, hip-hop, et. al.
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