There are traitors in our midst and they are myriad. Named after the Edgar Allen Poe poem that appears in William Thompson’s (Ben Rosenfield) college lecture, “Boardwalk Empire” episode “William Wilson” centers thematically on duplicity, doppelgangers, and those who are not what they appear to be.
The most obvious deceiver so far is FBI Agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) who has infiltrated Nucky Thompson’s (Steve Buscemi) bootlegging organization despite Eddie Kessler (Anthony Laciura) committing suicide after Knox essentially blackmailed him to sing like a canary and work as an inside man. But the chinks are starting to show in Knox’s armor and he’s perhaps not as clever as he thinks he is. For one, last episode he handed Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham) a monogrammed handkerchief with the initials J.M.T.—James M. Tolliver—his real name, with Knox just being his undercover sobriquet. Eli, a former policeman, brings it to Nucky’s attention and he discusses his suspicions with one Gaston Means (Stephen Root), the already two-faced special investigator for the Department of Justice. Gaston used to act as the middleman in Attorney General Harry Daugherty’s (Christopher McDonald) protection racket for organized crime, but as we learn in this episode, Daugherty quietly went to prison earlier this season for corruption. Gaston plays a side move, telling Nucky he knows nothing of Knox’s job, but gives him background info regardless—boring, uninformative details on the young FBI agent to get him off the scent—and then later warns Knox/Tolliver to be more careful with details.
Knox’s secondary issues are pride, anger and jealousy. His boss J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Ladin) has just stolen his work as his own, telling a whole room full of people, including Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon (James Cromwell) that he has personally uncovered a nationwide bootlegging conspiracy that threatens the security of the country and that he will do everything in his newfound power as head of the FBI to bring it down. Of course, this is all Knox’s legwork so he’s steaming mad at his boss’ betrayal and we’ll assume this schism could be the one vulnerability that saves Nucky’s skin later down the road.
Double-dealer number two was not so hidden. Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) has been gunning for Chalky White’s (Michael K. Williams) number one spot from jump street, but in this episode some of his more canny chess moves are revealed. First off, the good Dr. with Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey), Chalky’s second-in-command, arrives at White’s church congregation with a full-on coup in mind; something he’s been slowly planning all along. The community is upset about the growing heroin problem (Narcisse’s trade) and the Dr. turns everything on Chalky, asking where their Negro leader is and why he isn’t here at this important meeting. Narcisse essentially makes a play for power and the community seems to be in tune with his eloquent sermon, all the while Purnsley (who has already become turncoat), tries to play the role of White’s dutiful, but unhelpful aide. More importantly, Narcisse has been playing a wicked longtail game.
Chalky’s in love with the sultry Onyx Club singer Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham). She’s done a number on his head and we discover at the end of the episode, this has all been a manipulative scheme on the part of Narcisse. She is essentially sleeping with Chalky to get inside information, but we’ve got to assume the Negro bootlegger and club owner is going to ballistic if/when he learns of Narcisse’s plans. Later that episode, the church priest Deacon Cuffy, a quietly cunning man, who informed on Van Alden in season 2, is about to tell Nucky of Narcisse’s backstabbing plans, but he is cut off, by the end of Dunn’s knife making this betrayal against Chalky complete with no room for repentance.
Meanwhile, conflict arises in the Thompson household, but it’s not Nucky’s, and Eli is all too eager to remind him. Eli’s son William—still grappling with the morality of his crimes, betraying a friend to save his own skin, and accidentally killing a rival—is disturbed and distracted by his actions. More importantly, he’s haunted by guilt which manifests in him acting strange and isolated at school. Home for dinner on a weekend, he reveals to his family that he’s quit college, intimating he is ready to go work for Nucky (who never needed college). Eli goes ballistic and Nucky has to peel the man off his son after giving him a beating for talking back. William takes refuge at Nucky’s place, Eli gets roaring drunk and tempers flare between the two brothers. Eli warns Nucky, this is his family and he shouldn’t interfere (though he already has, having gotten William out of trouble in the aforementioned accident that Eli knows nothing about). Heated words are tossed around and the offended Nucky—who already forgave his brother for one big betrayal in season 2—begins to lose his patience. The showdown subsides, for now, but considering Eli isn’t aware of how Nucky meddled in his son’s affairs (albeit saving his skin), there are plenty more sparks left to fly.
Things are brewing on the South Side of Chicago and it’s not just the brewery that Chicago mobster boss Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) just bought from Dean O’Banion (Arron Shiver) as a move that squares them with O’Banion for helping rig the election in their favor. The problem is that the brewery warehouse is a lemon and seconds after Torrio signs the deed, the police bust in and arrest everyone. Torrio is hopping mad at what appears to have been a shrewd and calculated moved by O’Banion, despite his protests. And with Al Capone (Stephen Graham) still grieving for his brother Frank, who was shot to ribbons last episode, and out for revenge, when Torrio gives his lieutenant the order to kill “the Irish prick” O’Banion, Capone is utterly surprised and delighted. Blood will flow next episode for sure.
Bits and Pieces
— More lies and manipulation take place in the office of Mrs. Rohan, aka Margaret Thompson (Kelly MacDonald). Working as secretary at a brokerage firm on Wall Street, she comes face to face with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), coming in to do business with her boss under the name of Abe Redstone. Clearly recognizing each other, they play a nervous and awkward game of pretend and then Margaret quickly excuses herself. Always a sly one who see’s all the angles, Rothstein calls her up later, and they come to an understanding. Rothstein asks Margaret if she’d rather not have her true identity revealed. She of course says yes, and Rothstein says, good, he’d like to keep his secret intact as well, so let sleeping dogs lie for now.
— Several other pieces are moving into play what appears to be some big showdown. Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi) has gotten wind from Tampa friend Vincenzo Petrucelli (Vincenzo Amato) that Charles “Lucky” Luciano (Vincent Piazza) was down in Florida to do business with Nucky Thompson (Masseria’s rival). While Luciano admits as much, and stresses he bowed out of the deal, Masseria actually has another idea. There’s heroin trade power down in Tampa and he’s about to send Luciano back down South very soon.
— Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) is starting to look less peaked and that’s because her would-be beau Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston) has locked her in an apartment so she can go through heroin withdrawal. It’s not very pretty, but Phillips, who has always been somewhat of a vague character with unclear grander intentions, seems to reveal his true colors. And these shades all seem to be moral, upstanding and virtuous. Phillips appears to be genuinely in love with Gillian and is here to rescue her. He lets down his guard and reveals secrets (he’s actually divorced) and the two of them become closer and more amorous. We’ll see if it it lasts, but it’s one of the few genuine and sincere moments of the episode.