Boardwalk Empire Thread: Ever talk on the telephone?


I didn’t recap Season-4 of  Boardwalk Empire, in part, because the first episode didn’t float my boat. But I was also in mourning for one of my all-time favorite characters, Gyp Rosetti. I was wrong about last season, it was extraordinary, with the introduction of a great villain in Dr. Narcisse and the dramatic departure of the world’s most lovable hit man, Richard Harrow. R.I.P. sweet homicidal prince:

Harrow under the boardwalk

That was a long way of saying that I’m recapping Season-5. The premiere episode, Golden Days for Girls and Boys, was a great set up for the final season. They’ve advanced the action to 1931, which was a momentous year for two of the real life characters, Charlie Lucky Luciano and Al Capone. It’s also the year that Nucky starts planning for the return of legal booze by corrupting a Senator and cutting a deal in Havana with the Bacardi people. Party on, Nuckster. Nucky is ready to go full circle and become legit again. I have the feeling that some of his old partners aren’t going to be very co-operative. He’ll probably have a Pacino in Godfather Three moment.

You know the drill, it’s time for some random, discursive and scattershot comments as well as the odd joke:

Urchin On The Make: We see Nucky’s origin story in this episode. Even as a kid, he was a hustler and leader among boys. If there was a way to make a few extra bucks, Nucky had an angle. We see how he met the Commodore and forged a relationship with him. That’s right, Nucky tried, and failed, to hustle him but succeeded in impressing the Commodore. Me, I was impressed by the resemblance of John Ellison Conlee to the Dabney Coleman we remember from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Nine to Five. The kid who played young Nucky, Nolan Lyons, was also well cast. I bet he knows how to pick a pocket or two…

From Chalky To Stripey To Escapee: Our favorite black gangster, Chalky White, is in jail; more accurately, on a chain gang. The guards call the shackled convicts stripey as they watch them work. Lazy fucksticks. Chalky is as surly as ever, which was a relief. Michael K Williams’ stock in trade as an actor are his dirty glares and laser looks.

We meet a new character, Milton, who spends his time entertaining the other prisoners and Uncle Tomming for the guards. It turns out to be a way of figuratively disarming them before they literally disarm and kill them. Then, it’s mass escape time to the sound of clanking leg irons.

The post title is a quote of Milton’s when he wrestles Chalky to the ground to try and enlist him as an ally. Milton has a weird way of making friends but it works. Here’s how the scene was described by Newark Star-Ledger recapper, Anthony Ventuolo:

“Ever talk on the telephone?” Milton asks. Chalky is befuddled and nods his head.

“How do they fit a body’s voice inside that little box?” Milton asks.

“”Electricity…” Chalky blurts. Milton says that he knows where some money is hidden and he wants Chalky to come along to “handle the telephones and such.”

The two them are firmly in cahoots as we leave them on the run. Clank, clank.

The Chalky scenes were shot *almost* in black and white, which evokes two movie classics, 1932’s I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang and The Defiant Ones from 1958. Chalky is *almost* like a scarred and even more stolid Poitier. Milton is nothing like Tony Curtis: Bernie didn’t have a dent in his head like Milton…

I’m All Ears: Speaking of evoking classic movies, the scenes of Nucky and Sally in Havana conjure up memories of Godfather Two; only with a young Jewish gangster, Meyer Lansky, instead of an old Jewish gangster, Hyman Roth, who was based on Meyer. The mind reels.

There’s a great action scene wherein a guy attacks Nucky with a machete.  The attack is initially foiled by Nucky’s resistance, and definitively by his Cuban bodyguard’s seizing the machete and killing the assassin with it. Machete through the head, motherfucker.  In yet another example of how criminals used to have style, the bodyguard, who is wearing an ice cream suit, cuts off the assailant’s ear and neatly places it in a handkerchief, and then in his coat pocket. I wonder if Politico is going to pitch a hissy fit about all the seersucker, tan and white suits in this episode. The optics, the optics…

Nucky pretends it was a robbery attempt, but Lansky’s presence in Havana makes that unlikely. The implication is that Charlie Lucky is trying to take care of past business as he does in New York where he has Gyp’s old buddy Joe Masseria wacked. Luciano is now boss of bosses as we saw in that initiation ceremony at the Italian Garden in the Bronx. All that palm cutting and blood sharing was pretty darn messy. I hope they had some earless hankies ready…

The Meyer Lansky sub-plot makes me want to go all Fog Of History on your asses. At that point in his career, Meyer wanted nothing to do with violence. He was a gambler and a friend of Charlie Lucky’s, not his henchman. There’s  a fascinating and exhaustively researched book about Lansky, Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life by Robert Lacey. Lacey exploded the Hollywood/media myth that Lansky was the CEO of Organized Crime. He was a gambler and casino operator whose finances never recovered from losing his Cuban casinos to the Commie beardos. The master of the universe image portrayed by Ben Kingsley  in Bugsy is a lot sexier than the truth, and as they said in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Tying Up Loose Ends: We get a glimpse of Margaret on Wall Street. Her slick and oily boss (a young Dabney Coleman could have played him in his sleep) discusses seeing The Front Page and then blows his brains out since he’s gone bust. (I blame Adolphe Menjou’s hamminess as Walter Burns in the movie. He was no Cary Grant.) Our last sight of Margaret is of her removing Arnold Rothstein’s file from the dead guy’s office. You may recall, that Rothstein set her up in an apartment in Season-4. I guess she’s protecting herself since AR was dirt napping by 1931.

We didn’t see Gillian in the slammer or da boys  in Chicago in this episode. Season-4 ended with Eli killing a G-Man and fleeing to the City With Big Shoulders to hang out with Capone and Agent Van Weirdo. I’m sure we’ll see them next week.

Anyway, I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. It looks as if Season-5 is going to be a helluva ride. The former Republican boss of Atlantic City, Nucky Thompson, is even planning to vote for a Democrat for President: Hoover was elected by the drys, and the Democrats were ready to repeal the Volstead Act. Bottoms up. Franklin.

I think the whole country needs a drink.

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