TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, “Old Ship of Zion”

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

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Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The Low Down: The action stays in Atlantic City this week. Willie Thompson is on the outs with his family and lost in a sea of being in his 20s. Sally (Patricia Arquette) comes up from Florida to “oversee” the first-ever rum shipment. Agent Knox makes Eli an offer he can’t refuse…but one that could take Nucky and everyone else down. Meanwhile the bulk of the episode revolves around the brewing war between Dr. Narcisse and Chalky White.

The Body Count: One of Narcisse’s heroin dealers gets lit up by Purnsley. Daughter Maitland drives a butcher knife into Purnsley’s spine.

Favorite Performance: Michael Kenneth Williams has always killed it on Boardwalk Empire. The writers are giving a ton of screentime to the character this season and Williams is running away with it. The entire end sequence where Chalky demands Daughter Maitland sing “Old Ship of Zion,” the same song sung at his own father’s funeral was almost Shakespearean in dramatic proportions…like he knew his end was near. The tear rolling down the hardened exterior of Chalky was a beautiful touch. Williams has taken a character that was really a fun but one-dimensional recurring character and made him an emotional and dramatic juggernaut.

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Shea Whigham as Eli Thompson. Eli’s had a really nice run this season. His scene in the restaurant with the FBI agents was fantastic. His refusal to move down the bench for the one agent was comically defiant. It was a great visual gag for sure, but it also showed Eli’s inner bullishness. Yet, it was Eli’s eyes that did all the talking in this scene. When Knox tells him the only way to save his son from jail is to give up Nucky, you can see the world crashing down behind his tear-filled eyes. Eli’s betrayed Nucky before…but this time it’s completely different.

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The Best Part of The Episode: The last 15 minutes of this episode were absolutely, hands down, the best part of this season. It was so tense, so nerve-racking, I almost could not stand it and one of the Top 5 sequences in the show’s run. The whole time I’m wondering, “Are they seriously going to kill Chalky? There’s no way they can kill him!” But then again they’ve killed other major characters in this series so it’s not outside the realm of impossibility. While Chalky and Purnsley are fighting you’re wondering in the back of your mind how Daughter Maitland is going to react — is she loyal to Narcisse or will she help Chalky? Well, just as you think Chalky’s going to eat, she shows her true colors. This scene was so intense…it’s one you should search out and watch immediately.

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: Overall, this was a good episode, nothing really stood out as being sub-par.

The Little Thing We Loved: Chalky robbing Narcisse’s heroin den reminded me of Michael Kenneth Williams’ most famous role as the inner city Robin Hood, Omar Little. It’s a reference only fans of The Wire will get, but it’s a nice little nod even if it was completely unintentional.

Final Thoughts: This was vintage Boardwalk Empire — intense, visceral and to the point. We focused on The Thompson and Chalky/Narcisse storylines and that was it. I think the less is more approach to storytelling for this series is how it should be handled from now on. Regardless, the final 15 minutes with Chalky, Daughter and Purnsley were some of the best moments in series history, hands down. I also loved how they used the Willie Thompson accidental homicide (a story I wasn’t into in the first place) as the leverage to get Eli to turn on Nucky. Eli has worked against his brother in the past, but always for selfish reasons. This time around, he’s doing it for family, which could lead for a really interesting conclusion to this season. If Boardwalk Empire’s fourth season final episodes would remain focused on these two storylines and somehow incorporate Chicago into it, I think it would make for one hell of a season.

photos credit: hbo

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