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BOARDWALK EMPIRE Recap: The Old Ship of Zion

Chalky ascending, Eli cornered, and Nucky… well, that’s still unclear after this week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire. Let’s recap:


Chalky finally knows, for the most part, what’s up. That came about in the wake of Deacon Cuffy’s murder last week, while Chalky sat in the church listening to Daughter Maitland and the choir sing “The Old Ship of Zion” while, as his (real) daughter noted, everyone seemed to be staring at him. Under suspicion for the murder, Chalky decides to take control, busting up a drug den on Baltic Avenue that, earlier in the episode, Dunn was shown to control, collecting from house manager Mose.


In the process of busting the joint up, Chalky elicits from one of the men there that the place was run by Mose, but before he can talk to Mose and, ostensibly, discover that Dunn was really in charge, Dunn bursts into the office and shoots Mose dead. Finding a bag with two bundles of heroin and cash, Chalky pats down the dead guy and finds a playbill for a play being staged by Dr. Narcisse. That’s his cue to round up his guys — and Dunn, who still has to act like he’s on board, even though Chalky has his suspicions — and disrupt the play with some banging on a trash can lid, then, in front of Narcisse, the burning of the heroin (“Harlem by Torchlight,” he calls his “performance”).


And that sends a nervous Narcisse to Daughter Maitland’s bedside with instructions to keep Chalky in the room when he comes by for sex that evening, because “there will be another visitor.” She has trouble keeping Chalky there, though, until he orders her to sing “The Old Ship of Zion,” the same song that was sung at his own father’s funeral. She does, interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s Dunn, and he tells Chalky that the heroin is all Narcisse’s fault, offering to go with Chalky to take care of the matter. But Chalky is finally wise to what’s really happening, and barks, “How much is he (Narcisse) paying you to fuck me?” The resultant fight seems to be going Dunn’s way, choking Chalky until he suddenly stops, stabbed by Daughter. This is becoming a repeat plot point in the series — remember Richard Harrow saved by a timely shotgun blast from his sister? — and it’s unclear whether we’re supposed to tie them together or if the writers just like to lean on that kind of thing. Anyway, that sets up Chalky vs. Narcisse, finally and directly, even if it also means that Dunn, who was an interesting character, is no more.


The other plot points that ended up tied together were Agent Knox/Tolliver’s investigation, the Willie Thompson saga, and Eli vs. Nucky. Let’s see if we can simplify: The FBI got wind of the Willie thing, Knox/Tolliver went to Philadelphia and got Clayton to spill the whole story, then Knox/Tolliver went to Atlantic City with another agent and basically cornered Eli, threatening him if he doesn’t implicate Nucky. Meanwhile, Willie, helped by the intervention of Sally Wheet, visiting from Tampa with the first shipment of oranges and booze, convinced Nucky to find a place for him to start in the “organization” (working in Mayor Ed Bader’s office) in exchange for apologizing to his parents, which came in an uncomfortable final scene when Eli returned home after his chat with the agents. He found Willie leading the family and Nucky in a sing-along to “Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” (The earlier version of the Lonnie Donegan novelty skiffle hit “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight?,” a particularly irritating ditty) and accepted Willie’s apology with a hug, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but right there at that moment. “Didn’t I say it would work out?,” Nucky asks him, beaming. “You did,” Eli responds, looking like he’s about to vomit. “Thank you, brother.”


Details: First, this one carried some of last week’s stories forward, so we still don’t know what Richard Harrow’s up to, the Capones have to wait until next week to go after O’Banion, and Gillian and Mr. Piggly Wiggly are nowhere to be found for now. Margaret’s back in figurative witness protection again, so that whole thing with Rothstein is on hold. There was a minor subplot to fuel Nucky and Sally’s contentious relationship in which, of all people, Mickey Doyle began to interest her (probably to make the Nuckster jealous), ending when Nucky snatches Eddie’s cane, which Mickey had stolen, and whacks Mickey in the head with it. Why more characters don’t take whacks at Mickey, I don’t know — his laugh alone should be irritating enough to cause that. And showing Willie in Eddie’s room at the Albatross sleeping with the window open, as if Eddie had just jumped out, was visually arresting. (Seeing Willie kept awake by Nucky and Sally banging away next door was less appealing.)


A strong episode this was, although it’s interesting that Dunn’s exit came this quickly and augurs a similarly quick end to the Narcisse arc, which is unfortunate if it means Chalky goes back to the sidelines. The Eli situation sets up some interesting possibilities, though, brother against brother. Somehow, because it’s too early in the narrative to take Nucky down, you can assume he’ll find a way to beat this thing. In the meantime, the Chalky-Narcisse confrontation is something to anticipate, and the return of the Capones next week is also welcome. Nucky remains the least interesting of the bunch, but the pending entanglement with the feds holds out promise. Unless, that is, we get treated to a Season 5 set in a federal courtroom.

Now, let’s sing along:


And here it is with Muppets!:

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  1. PCMan says:

    Millions of people were not simply raised to be “insenstive”, they were raised to see other people as not full humans. How does one exactly “teach” these millions about humanity when they see others has something between property and a meat blow-up doll?

  2. RG says:

    Man, the moment in the theater when Narcisse’s play is just totally over the heads of the audience felt super relevant. That guy’s never seemed so neutered (which, in this show, is always the prelude to some chaos).

    But the scene says a lot about wayward elitism, too. Even today, a certain vocal minority always calls for strict new social standards about how to create equality, and they do so with passionate good intentions… but they sometimes do it in such a condescending or self-congratulatory way that it doesn’t actually reach the main source of the problem; it doesn’t help re-educate the millions of people who were simply raised to be insensitive.