The Whole Kit and Caboodle
An atypical ”Boardwalk” episode, “Devil You Know” finally loosed the emotional weight pressing upon its seemingly hardened characters, especially Chalky White and Nucky Thompson, but in subtle ways also Al Capone and Eli Thompson. And with the flashback sequences inching closer and closer to where the series began, Nucky is growing more and more into the man he has become.
This week’s episode picked up immediately where last week’s left off. Nucky had just survived an attack in New York, only to go home and try to drink away his sorrows, grieving Sally’s death. He comes mighty close to also having to grieve his brother, as Eli and Van Alden get caught by Capone’s men when trying to steal the ledgers, as ordered at the end of “The King of Norway.” Eli is allowed to go free, but Nelson Van Alden is not so lucky.
Chalky concluded last week’s episode, “The King of Norway,” planning to assassinate Dr. Narcisse. Here, he runs into a road block, because he cannot do it in front of Daughter and, presumably, their daughter. Conflicted, he does what is in her best interest and does not go through with it, knowing full well that he and Narcisse cannot coexist.
Two more episodes left in the run of “Boardwalk Empire,” we say goodbye to two original characters. With Chalky gone, the one ally left that Nucky worked with at the beginning is Mickey Doyle, whose survival to this point is nothing short of a minor miracle.
What We Learn About Nucky this Week
In a slightly different approach, this week this will be more like What We Learn About Gillian Darmody this Week. Through the first two seasons of “Boardwalk Empire,” it would have been impossible to imagine that Gillian’s story would contribute more to the show and be more noteworthy in Nucky’s development that that of her son Jimmy.
In this week’s episode, Deputy Nucky has caught up with a thief — among the goods, Nellie Bly’s “Around the World in 72 Days” — underneath the boardwalk and demands that the young boy say his name. “Gillian … I’m not a boy.” Being confused for a boy for much of her early life, it is not surprising that Gillian became a hyper-sexual woman when she came into her own, a sort of Freudian over-correction. On the other hand, she was first handed over to prostitution, which does not seem very far off. Nucky remains disappointed that after thirteen years of service to the Commodore he still is not being recognized, and he is as motivated as ever.
“I have you. I’m gonna be a father. I’ll make my way because I know what I’m doing it for,” he says. That blind, unwavering ambition is just the sort of thing that can cloud a man’s judgement. Mabel is pregnant. We know that Nucky begins as Treasurer around the time of the birth of his son, so very soon will his loyalty to the Commodore be rewarded. Maybe delivering Gillian is the final step.
The Most Shocking Moment of Violence
Time and again, Nelson Van Alden has narrowly avoided paying for his actions. He acts on impulse, and violent impulse at that. That is why he killed his partner years ago, and why he melted a man’s face with an iron. But he has also had a way of keeping himself alive, be it by sweet talking Al Capone or striking deals with the Thompsons. In “Devil You Know,” his luck ran out. The shocking part may not even have been the bullet blowing through his skull and out his eye on the other side. That was shocking, but more so was seeing someone raise a hand against Al Capone. Mueller, finally confessing his history as Agent Van Alden, beat the legendary boss on his own desk before being gunned down. It seemed, for a split second, like sly old Mueller might sneak away once again.
Most Flagrant Flouting of the Law
As if a former public official hitting on two women at a near-empty bar and getting drunk during Prohibition (I bet you forgot purchasing alcohol was illegal, didn’t you?) weren’t disregard for the law enough, Nucky took it one step further. In his edgy and emotional state, he got caught in a bar fight, and he manages to land a few good right hooks. Not that the guy didn’t deserve it, but Nucky, traditionally a man of business and business alone, has not been one to have an outburst, let alone against a perfect stranger.
Most Memorable Dialogue
“This really hurts my feelings.” Al Capone, neither in legend or in his portrayal on “Boardwalk Empire,” is known as a sympathetic man. He shows anger. He shows anger a lot. And he was saddened by the death of his brother Frank. But as far as emotions go, that has been it until “Devil You Know.” Eli and Mueller were trying to steal from him, or so they say. Capone is understandably insulted that these men, especially Eli who he took in as a favor, would turn on him. But he is disappointed especially because he thought he and Mueller had come a long way together.
“I though we was buddies,” he said, before turning a gun on the former-Prohibition agent. “You steal from buddies, what kind of a man does that make you?”
After the deed is done and the recently revealed Van Alden is lying on the ground, Capone repeats in a panic, “He was gonna kill me,” as if he needs to justify to himself killing his buddy.
Smartest Editing Choice
It is becoming apparent that quite often, the final flashback sequence ends to 1931 Nucky waking up. This time he woke up from being knocked-out and robbed by the women from the bar,and he immediately hollars what would otherwise seem like nonsense about a monkey, but ends with a line that will cause a twinge in the spine of anyone who spent the last five years with “Boardwalk Empire”: “You stupid fucking child. Why would you trust me.”
This comes on the heels on a moment in the flashback when Nucky first meets and exchanges introductions with Gillian Darmody. Her trusting him resulted in the abrupt end of her childhood and possibly Nucky’s turn from a man of morals into a man of anger and regret. Until this episode, the impact of Gillian Darmody was so clear to me, explaining Nucky’s long-term relationship not only with her, but with Jimmy, the Commodore and his own status in a position of power, with her a constant reminder of how low he had to get to get there.
Where Story Meets History
In “Devil You Know,” Al Capone entertains a few friends. They are Paul Muni and George Raft, two Warner Bros. actors best known today for their starring roles in Howard Hughes’ 1932 picture “Scarface.” Inspired by Capone — evident in the title alone — Muni describes what they’re working on as a gangster movie that is “kind of a Shakespearean drama, man’s rise and fall.” Beyond being a clever way for the writers to remind viewers of Capone’s celebrity standing, that particular description of “Scarface” sounds an awful lot like another crime drama: “Boardwalk Empire.” The rise and fall of Nucky Thompson, filled with lots of action and finding the balance between biography and fiction, stands in as the modern “Scarface” (and HBO the new Warner Bros., the edgiest and most star-studded of the great studios). Of course, Capone reminds us how Tony, Muni’s protagonist, winds up: “The guy get it in the end right?” With two episodes to go, things really look bleak for Nucky Thompson.
Best Musical Interlude
During the most tension-filled scene of the episode, Daughter gives Narcisse a record of her singing to convince him to help find her some work again. With guns drawn and crooked offers made, Chalky has a simple request. He demands Narcisse to put the record on. Daughter’s music was a constant in Season 4, and Chalky, who truly loved her, thirsted to hear it one last time. And it moved him. At the sacrifice of his own life, that interlude at a critical moment led him to help Daughter by keeping Narcisse alive long enough to help her get back on her feet.
The Biggest Flopperoo
With both himself and Eli on the chopping block, Van Alden attacked Al Capone and was subsequently killed. Then, Mike D’Angelo, who forced the two to betray Capone in the first place, lets Eli go free. Be there no confusion, someone in this arrangement made a heck of a flopperoo. Assuming D’Angelo always intended to stand behind those guys, Van Alden should have held his tongue and been freed along with Eli. But if Eli is ever spotted again, or if somehow he gets the truth back to Capone, D’Angleo will regret not having taken care of him when he had the chance. (There is another possibility, that D’Angelo concocted the whole scheme not to betray Al, but to out Agent Van Alden by sending him on a suicide mission.)
Best, Most Killer-Diller Moment
As if hearing a protagonist say, “Someone I was close to just died” weren’t tragic enough, Nucky ends that though with, “Because of me.” Last week I wrote that having just survived an assassination attempt and hearing the bad news about Sally, Nucky was bound to seek vengeance. The 1931 storyline in “Devil You Know” takes place over the course of a very short amount of time, possibly no longer than a few hours spent in a random bar, or Capone’s suite, or Narcisse’s office. Nucky’s heartbreaking news hit him hard, and he has let his grief get the best of him, but when he wakes up, long-time partner Mickey Doyle rallies him and rallies the troops. Luciano and the Cosa Nostra have a target on Nucky’s back. So, with only two episodes left, Mickey asks, “We saddling up for a showdown or not?”