I didn’t get the memo about the final season of Boardwalk Empire being only 8 episodes. I learned it *after* the dramatic events of last night and now I understand why they put the pedal to the medal.
I tried to resist using this post title but I could not. Van Weirdo has been living on doomed turncoat copper/gangster borrowed time since season-2 but I won’t go into the *other* big event of Devil You Know until after the break.
The Keystone Krooks: The comedy team of Eli and Van Weirdo play their last engagement in Al Capone’s hotel suite. They’ve been charged with snatching the Big Boy’s ledgers by mole Mike D’Angelo and they attempt to do so with very little planning. As Van Weirdo puts it, “this is not well thought out.” A bit of an understatement Nellie baby or is that Georgie baby?
Capone is out on the town with Paul Muni and George Raft who are doing research for Scarface. They learn a bit more than expected. The Big Boy is informed by brother Ralph (Herc with hair) that there’s a problem with Eli and his ungainly sidekick. It’s no big surprise that Scarface loses his shit and goes after the Keystone Krooks. He orders the tune box cranked up so can “interrogate” the Oddest Couple.
Van Weirdo also loses his shit and goes for the Big Boy like a dog after a Bob’s Big Boy burger. He nearly chokes the syphilitic mobster whilst providing a desktop confession that he’s still a cop and sanctimonious bible banger at heart. We’re put out of our misery by a bullet from Greasy Thumb’s roscoe. Hmm, I wonder if it was greasy from going to Bob’s Big Boy? Probably not, it’s a Western chain and it wasn’t founded until 1936. I can dream a little dream, can’t I?
Eli continues to be the Keith Richards of Boardwalk Empire, surviving the wrath of the Big Boy instead of winding up “face down in a corn field.” He was lucky to be escorted out by federal mole Mike D’Angelo who was given the outfit’s ledgers by Herc with Hair for safekeeping. An unwise move by a wise guy. I bet they’ll never see him again.
One more thing about Stephen Graham as Capone. He has the best onscreen fake/menacing laugh since the heyday of 1930’s mogul/villain Edward Arnold. Arnold wasn’t in Scarface, but was one of Frank Capra’s favorite villains partially because of his evil/insincere/pompous laugh.
Francis X. Bushman Gets Rolled: Nucky is taking Sally’s slaying very hard. He’s so upset that he does something uncharacteristically reckless, gives his ear-cutting bodyguard the slip, and goes to the diviest dive bar in television history. The regulars at this shithole would kick Norm in the balls and cut Cliff Clavan’s tongue out. Pity that Sam Malone never thought of that…
Nucky hangs out with two heartless harpies for several hours. They’re a new sub-category of movie whores: hookers without hearts of gold. The Nuckster tells them his name is Francis X. Bushman who was the original Ben-Hur in the silent picture. They’re remaking that stinker with Boardwalk alum Jack (Richard Harrow) Huston in the title role. Why, I’ll never know.
Things go from bad to worse when Francis X gets into a barroom brawl with a creep who objected to his endless recitation of Longfellow’s The Song Of Hiawatha. Everybody’s a literary critic. Nucky kicks the drunk’s ass. I guess he didn’t like being called a squirrel faced cunt so he punched him in his gitche gumee.
Nucky doesn’t even get any nookie. He gets mugged in the alley by the harlots who abscond with his wallet thereby proving that sleazy gin mill was indeed “where hope comes to get fucked in the ass.” The heartless hooker did at least have a way with words as well as with brass knuckles…
Mercifully, Nucky is found and taken home by young Joe Harper. More about Joe anon.
Living In The Past: I continue to enjoy the Nucky origin story. It beats the hell out of seeing Brando as Kal-El, y’all. This week we learn that Enoch initially disliked his nickname but was reluctant to correct people. Young men on the make prefer not to contradict their elders and betters. He is, however, able to confide in his pregnant wife Mabel. She is quite manic in their scene together, foreshadowing her eventual suicide after the death of the couple’s son, Enoch Jr.
The most interesting bit is when we see Constable Nuckster on the beat. One of his jobs is collecting protection money from Atlantic City merchants. And you thought Sicillians invented the protection racket. Just call it good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity. One shopkeeper is being plagued by theft and refers to the youthful shoplifter as a “sneaky little monkey.” I thought it was a racist comment and we were about to meet Chalky as a young urchin. Instead, the urchin turns out to be Gillian.
The reveal of Gillian as the sneaky little monkey thief cuts to Joe Harper finding a bruised, battered, and shit faced drunk Nucky in the alley. The latter seems to be having flashbacks to when he busted Gillian under the boardwalk, down by the sea. I’m 80% sure that Joe is Tommy Darmody or 20% sure that Terence Winter is fucking with our heads. We shall see.
Albert Chalky White, R.I.P.: The other shocking death in Devil You Know was that of my favorite AC gangster, Chalky Fucking White. One of the many devils in the episode is his old bete noire, Dr. Valentine Narcisse. The two enemies come face to face 7 years after Chalky’s daughter was shot dead at the Onyx Club.
Narcisse has effectively been holding Daughter Maitland and her kiddo Althea hostage for years in his Harlem bordello. She pulls out a 78 that the bad Doctor has suppressed and gives it a spin. It’s a gorgeous rendition of Dream A Little Dream Of Me. Sounds like a hit to me, but it’s never seen the light of day.
Hearing her voice reminds Chalky of why he fell in love with her to begin with. Narcisse and Chalky make a deal: freedom for the mother and child in exchange for Chalky’s services in the upcoming gang war between Narcisse and Charlie Lucky. I should have put deal in quotes: Narcisse had no intention of letting the Chalkster live. Daughter and her daughter (who is more likely than not Chalky’s) do leave the brothel but Chalky is killed the next morning. He expected the betrayal but saving Daughter and Althea is vintage Chalky White, a gangster with soul. He will be fictionally missed by Boardwalk Empire viewers. There’s even an in memoriam video at HBO.com.
The End Game: Gang war is now inevitable and the deck is stacked against Nucky. He’s a fictional gangster fighting against historical mobsters who don’t die in 1931. Also, the Big Boy has washed his pudgy hands of the Thompson brothers and vows to let Luciano take care of our boy Enoch. We could be headed for a mosbtery red wedding episode.
Devil You Know closes with a needle sticking on a record after we see the calm expression on Chalky’s as he faced Narcisse’s de facto firing squad. My needle seems to be stuck too, so I’ll close with, two count ’em two, musical selections: