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Review: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 5 Episode 5, ‘King of Norway,’ Sets Nucky Up for Vengeance

Review: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5 Episode 5, 'King of Norway,' Sets Nucky Up for Vengeance

The Whole Kit and Caboodle

Now over the hump in “Boardwalk Empire’s” abbreviated final season, “King of Norway” rounds up what’s going on with all of our characters, who, only a little over a decade after being bound to Atlantic City, are now spread far and wide.

We visit quickly with several characters: Al Capone struggles to, let’s say, relieve himself in his Chicago home. Margaret slyly settles her dispute with the Widow Rothstein. We even catch up with Gillian Darmody (still not confirmed as the sender of the mysterious “Nellie Bly” letter) as she tries to talk her way out of the crazy house, to no avail. They each only get a brief plot point — Capone’s demand to move to Cicero, Margaret’s questionably legal financial planning, Gillian’s attempts to reason — while other stray characters dominate the episode.

With their past lives revealed, Van Alden and Eli get roped into turning on Al, but not before Eli and (Norway native) Sigrid’s affair is revealed, ruining what could have been a perfectly good visit for June Thompson. Meanwhile Chalky turns up in Atlantic City again, and finds a surprisingly firm ally in Nucky as well as Mickey Doyle. 

But the meat of “King of Norway” once again surrounds Nucky and his impending battle with Luciano and New York. Attempting to make peace through John Torrio and befriend Sal Maranzano, Nuck receives a very clear message that that just isn’t going to happen. 

What We Learn About Nucky this Week

In Nucky’s flashbacks, the setting has leaped ahead to 1897 and Deputy Sheriff Enoch Thompson (Marc Pickering) is a young man like any young man, full of sarcasm, ambition and romance. But there are shades in this young man of what made Nucky Thompson into the great crook we know and love. In 1897, Nucky has a thirst for pleasing people, and a knack for doing it well. He is quick with plans to present to the Commodore and has mastered dealing with the constituency already, but his greatest challenge in “King of Norway” is Mabel’s father. The two have a talk that provides one of the richest exchanges in the episode, and labels Nucky in a way that continues to define him in 1931: “I think you talk a bold lie. I think you have a nose for figuring out what people would like to hear. But I don’t think you know what you are.”

I only wonder now how close these past sequences will come to the beginning of the timeline from Season 1. The jump it already took was unforeseen, and he appears close to marrying Mabel. Perhaps, the trauma of the death of their son is coming up, which will be a painfully heart-wrenching plot to watch.

READ MORE: Review: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 5 Episode 4, ‘Cuanto,’ Brings Clarity to Margaret and Nucky

The Most Shocking Moment of Violence

Everything in the first half of this week’s episode, and more accurately all of Season 5 since the Masseria hit and Nucky bumping into Meyer in Havana, has been meticulously creeping toward this moment: Nucky, an Irishman in Italian territory, having a drink with Salvatore Maranzano, the only man who stands immediately in Lucky Luciano’s way. Why was it shocking when bullets rendered the bar unrecognizable, leaving Lucky to say it resembled a slaughterhouse? There are a few reasons. This is the most intimately our fictional Nucky has witnessed a crucial historical moment (more on that later), but also it was a betrayal. John Torrio had just preached his friendship to Nucky, but he did seem nervous. For the first time in years, Torrio has stopped promoting peace and seems more than ready to come out of retirement for real.

Most Flagrant Flouting of the Law

Who is on what side of the law? That has been an enduring question throughout “Boardwalk Empire.” Treasurer and Sheriff Johnson, and a lot of crooked Prohibition agents has hopscotched the line. Van Alden burst through it with emphasis. Even smaller characters — the under-cover detective who Gillian fell for, for example — bring to light the omnipresence of this fluidity and confusion. Now, IRS agents are pursuing Al Capone on a tax charge, and Eli and Van Alden are forced to help, once again leaping back from the dark side. “You both wore badges,” they’re told, “Here’s your chance to earn them.” Of course, since the ledgers they are sent to steal from under the Boss’s nose are written in code, that’s where it gets tricky. A closet is opened in the back of the room, and on the ground is the screaming bookkeeper, beaten and bound and covered in cockroaches. Yeah, I think he’ll cooperate. 

Most Memorable Dialogue

Because it covered such a great geographic range, “King of Norway” offered very little dialogue that revealed the depths of “Boardwalk Empire’s” arc, but there were plenty of brief exchanges to buzz about. Just one of these stems from Chalky White’s return to the open arms of Nucky Thompson — because the most memorable line from this dialogue isn’t even “Doesn’t anyone drink anymore?”

No question about it, Nuck owes Chalky his life, so his kindness and gratitude are understood. “You can stay here,” Nucky says, “Under protection. I owe you that. There’s no sense looking back. The only think you can do is start again. I really believe that.” Chalky answers, “We ain’t school boys no more,” to which Nucky says, “We’re not dead either, and that leaves a lot of road in the middle.” Their history and friendship is palpable. 

Nucky has always been a man of business and business only. We watched him kill the man he helped raise because he didn’t know who he could trust. We know his infant son died of negligence because he was starting out as treasurer. To see him and Mickey aid Chalky so fully was a rare sign of humanity on the boardwalk. When he hands Chalky some money, White is shocked because they haven’t done any business. “This is between friends,” Nucky says, and I really want to believe him.

Smartest Editing Choice

This week’s episode ended on Chalky White in Narcisse’s cat house. When he draws a gun and sneaks into a private room, his intentions seem inescapably clear: Chalky wants revenge on Narcisse. And he may get it, but not in “King of Norway” — instead, when Chalky turns the corner and the camera fixes for a few seconds only on his revolver, the the depth of field shifts, and a little girl is lying on the couch behind him.  At first, it’s a powerful moment that serves as a reminder of how White’s own daughter was killed, but even more so, it comments on the perpetual bind between outside violence on the family’s safety. And as if that weren’t enough, the scene cuts to the girl’s mother — none other than Daughter, the apex in a love triangle that bound Chalky and Narcisse in Season 4.

Where Story Meets History

On September 10, 1931, four men were hired by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky to break into Salvatore Maranzano’s office, disarm his guards and stab the capo di tutti capi (Boss of all Bosses) to death. In “King of Norway,” Maranzano is meeting with Nucky Thompson to discuss the potential threat Luciano and Lansky made on them — immediately after some rather ominous conversation (“Didn’t Caesar get stabbed in the back?”), automatic weapons tear through the air, at the very least killing a civilian. “There’s no telling who’s dead and who’s alive,” says Lucky later on.

So, is this another of the several occasions upon which “Boardwalk Empire” has veered from the truth (deciding that fiction does in fact tell a better story)? Or, is Maranzano still alive? He is seen evidently alive peering from under a barstool, but one can never tell, and bullets were still flying. But it is late in the summer, judging by the way Torrio and Nucky talk about the weather. Either way, Maranzano’s days are numbered, and the “syndicate” that Meyer mentions is closer and closer to becoming the most powerful group in America. At the very least, this week showed a glimpse into the disease that will eventually kill Al Capone, and if this scene is any indication, Luciano and his friends might be the disease that Nucky Thompson finally can’t beat. 

Best Musical Interlude

Are repeated songs supposed to be read as motifs, or are there only so many songs from the period worth featuring? Season 5 Episode 2, “The Good Listener,” opens with a record playing a ditty by Rudy Vallee that is repeated for a momentary interlude in “King of Norway,” helping a trippy, inexplicable mess of shots of fish and flesh and photos make sense. This week, it is Van Alden’s daughter, a huge Vallee fan, who puts it on. For a minute, it is a minor escape, some juvenile fun breaking up the extremely tense dinner between the Eli Thompsons and the Muellers. Then, not only does the song sound familiar, but Eli locks eyes with a picture on the wall of, you guessed it, the King of Norway, and those eyes match the pair from “The Good Listener.” The moment catches on fire as things come crashing down.

The Biggest Flopperoo

Last week, this superlative went to the anonymous Cubans who were responsible for killing Sally. This week, the title stays on the island. When Nucky calls his partner in Havana looking for Sally, from whom he surely should have heard by now, half of the truth is spilled. The events of Sally’s death are shared, but nothing more. Nucky demands the names of those responsible, and when he is denied he hangs up the phone. This is a man who has just narrowly escaped death, whose business is being threatened and who has just lost one of the few people he genuinely liked. If you think you can keep him from enacting vengeance, you don’t know Nucky.

The Best, Most Killer-Diller Moment

The climactic delivery of Season 5 thus far is Nucky Thompson, cut-up and splattered with blood, gripping tight to the telephone and saying this: “I will not rest until I see you in your graves.” 

Can one line of dialogue really be the best moment from an hour of adrenaline-high television? Yes it can. From Luciano’s role as mere annoyance that Rothstein carted around, to his near-involvement with Nucky’s affairs in Cuba, Luciano (as well as Lansky) have marked the ebb and flow of time and now they have grown into fully-functioning enemies. They tried to eliminate Nucky, likely for the second time. Message received.

Grade: B

READ MORE: What Makes ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Great, And What Keeps It From Breaking Out?

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