TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Havre de Grace’

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

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Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The Low Down: Chalky White heads to “Havre de Grace” to seek shelter under the protection of his mentor Oscar Boneau (Louis Gossett Jr.) who is none too quiet about his objections to Chalky’s current state and Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham).

Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) finally decides to give her grandson Tommy the childhood he deserves by giving up her custody fight for him. Roy (Ron Livingston) announces that the merger he was trying to set in motion has finally be completed but things get a little complicated.

Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty) puts the squeeze on Eli (Shea Whigham) to get Nucky (Steve Buscemi), Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) and the New York/Tampa contingent to meet up and then get busted. Nucky gets a call from Gaston Means (Stephen Root) that there’s a skunk in his organization.

The Body Count: One gunned down in AC, multiple in Havre de Grace

Favorite Performance: This was Gretchen Mol’s night. We finally see her do good…she gives Tommy his childhood back. Then she finally gets the man of her dreams, Roy, to propose to her. Then her world is destroyed by Roy, Leander and The Pinkerton Detectives. Throughout the episode, Gretchen Mol’s performance was consistent with her body of work on Boardwalk Empire. However, when Roy reveals his deception her eyes say it all. Literally, you see her world crumble behind her baby blues. Gillian’s future is up in the air on this series and if her last moments on the show is her flailing and screaming — you couldn’t ask for a better moment. –BB

Gretchen Mol has done some amazing work with a very unlikeable character. Gillian’s backstory is certainly very tragic and rather than falling victim to the life that was dealt her, she fought for power and self-control, grasping it at times, but growing warped and twisted in the process. While Gillian’s actions have often been reprehensible, Mol has consistently found the humanity in the character, giving glimpses of the deep pain that lies beneath the surface. It’s a sad twist that her apparent downfall comes in the same episode in which she finally commits a selfless act, giving up the custody battle for Tommy, so that he can have a happy, normal childhood. Mol’s strongest moment this week was without a doubt the scene where Roy reveals his true identity and her dreams of happily-ever-after come crashing down as she’s pinned to the floor and placed under arrest. Gillian’s anguished cries and pathetic, frightened attempt to run were actually heartbreaking and that’s a credit to Mol’s performance, as rather than cheering a monster’s downfall, I found myself pitying this latest sad chapter in the character’s wretched life. –KRF

The Supporting Scene Stealer: It’s really been a Chalky and Eli season in terms of strong performance. Tonight, I’m going to pick Michael Kenneth Williams’ performance. Rarely have we seen Chalky White in a humble position. He’s always a strong sometimes bullish man, but he’s always a force to be reckoned with. Tonight, in the presence of his mentor, we saw a more modest, humble side of Chalky. Williams really played it subtle tonight and it’s a nice change of pace. We also saw the tender side of Chalky as he renounces his vengeance and hatred for Narcisse and Nucky as well as his family and his money in order to be with Daughter. Michael Kenneth Williams has been amazing all season and tonight was a reminder of it. –BB

Steve Buscemi had his best performance of the season to date, as Nucky slowly comes to realize just who the skunk in his cellar is. While Buscemi’s Nucky doesn’t pack the swagger of bluster of the show’s more charismatic gangsters, he’s certainly quick on the uptake and likely the cleverest. When Eli angrily cuts off his wife’s story about the baby-faced insurance salesman who came to their home, Buscemi’s eyes flash with recognition, as Nucky, still troubled by the tidbit of information provided by Means, instantly draws a connection between June’s description and Eli’s earlier dismissal of his worries about Agent Knox. I also loved the subtle trap he sprang for Eli, reciting the younger Thompson’s eight grade love poem to gauge his reaction and how Eli’s nonchalance confirms his suspicions. At episode’s end, Buscemi is able to capture Nucky’s ensuing weariness, depression, and feelings of betrayal through his reading of just three words, “I want out.” –KRF

The Best Part of The Episode: The big reveal. The entire season Roy has been a little off. He was too perfect for Gillian. So, obviously we had questions. Was he a con man trying to fleece the Artemis Club from Gillian? Was he a detective sent by the family of the boy Gillian killed? Was he a relative of the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) seeking vengeance? Well, when he gets Gillian to finally admit that she killed that innocent boy last season and he reveals he’s working with The Pinkerton Detectives…it was one of the great “OH SHIT” moments of the season, if not the past few seasons. Then, the kick in the pants, is that Leander (Dominic Chianese) is behind it because he’s avenging the death of his fallen friend The Commodore. I did not see that coming and it’s great work by the writers to bring back a plot point from Season Two. Remember, The Commodore’s death was kind of swept under the carpet. So this was a great way to tie that up. However, the most shock thing was that we thought Gillian finally found happiness. Roy had “proposed,” she gave Tommy his childhood back and the house was finally being sold. Then her world gets shattered again as she must pay the price for her sins (and rightfully so), but it just sucks that this character can never, ever be happy. –BB

It seems like the Thompson family dinner scenes almost always end uncomfortably and I loved this week’s, as Eli’s rage at his wife’s teasing not only puts an end to any pleasant banter, but also unwittingly reveals his betrayal to Nucky. –KRF

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Louis Gossett Jr.’s character. The character didn’t have enough meat to it for me to care about him eating it in the end. He was a bit of a caricature and I feel maybe a little more time spent on why he was so important might’ve really made the character better. Now don’t get me wrong Louis Gossett Jr. was really good, but he didn’t have enough to work with in order to make his cameo something special. –BB

While it’s totally plausible and certainly deserved that Gillian would have to answer for the murder of poor Roger, I was not a fan of the big reveal about Roy’s true intentions. The fact that a detective investigating the boy’s homicide would try to get close to Gillian is believable, what’s not is the convoluted, overcomplicated way in which this storyline played out. Roy’s method was like a Rube Goldberg approach to detective work; pretending to be a supermarket executive, complete with fake business meetings, getting her off heroin, romancing her, and then staging a faux-murder in hopes that she would confess her sin in order to ease his conscience – that’s a pretty intricate mousetrap. Also, whatever Gillian’s many flaws, being a fool was never one of them and it’s hard to believe that such a shrewd player wouldn’t suspect anything about Roy, who never seemed as disingenuous as he did during his odd, stilted marriage proposal. I don’t have a problem with the end result per se, as it makes sense that Gillian would eventually receive her comeuppance, but I think the way it was executed was overwrought, soapy, and strained credulity. –KRF

The Little Thing We Loved: The moment between Nucky and Eli at the Albatross was really sweet. Nucky embarrasses Eli a little and then admits he was jealous of his younger brother. It’s a brotherly moment we haven’t seen often on the show and it was a nice touch. –BB

I really enjoyed Oscar’s hilariously insulting commentary on Daughter’s cooking skills, particularly the annoyed remark, “Chicken’s drier than your grandma’s snatch.” –KRF

Final Thoughts: This was a really, really good penultimate episode. The payoff for the Gillian/Roy storyline was awesome. It was one of the weakest story lines in the season, but man oh man, did they really knock it out of the park with the big reveal. I wish the Nucky/Eli storyline had started a little earlier in the season because I really love the way they’re building it up. This makes me wonder if they’re going to prolong the story through next season. Had it not been for the Roy/Gillian wrap-up hadn’t occurred my favorite part of the episode would’ve been how Daughter totally betrayed Chalky. She had us all fooled. We knew she was under the spell of Dr. Narcisse but we thought Chalky had broke it. Now when she’s got Chalky ready to throw in the towel on his life … then she calls in Narcisse’s cavalry. Hot damn, did not see that coming. I’m interested to see how this season will end since especially since so many story lines are just turning the corner. Will we not see a neat ending like we have in years past? I’d be all for it. –BB

“Havre de Grace” certainly bucked the trend of the action-packed penultimate episode. It wasn’t completely devoid of heart-pounding moments (the shootout at Oscar’s home had my heart racing and hoping Chalky would make it out once again), but it was more of a table setting episode, putting a lot of things into place for a big finale next week. Other than seemingly wrapping up Gillian’s storyline for the season, we’re still left with a lot of questions about Nucky, Eli, and Chalky – Exactly how much does Nucky know about Eli being flipped? What happened to Daughter? – plus the resolution of the Narcisse / Masseria and Capone / Van Alden storylines. While Boardwalk traditionally ends well, there’s still a ton of ground to cover and I’m wondering if they’ll be able to do it all in one episode or if next week’s finale will continue to buck the trend and end on a cliffhanger. –KRF

photos credit: hbo

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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