Boardwalk Empire, Season 5, Episode 5: “King of Norway”
Written by Steve Kornacki
Directed by Ed Bianchi
Airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO
As Boardwalk Empire rounds the curve toward its curtain call, we’re given an episode that moves things along nicely while calling several characters to account for their actions.
“King of Norway” begins with a bleary eyed Eli awakening from a recurring dream in a drunken haze. This is truly a broken man, and instead of becoming less apparent with the arrival of his wife, it becomes even more pronounced. She reveals a pregnancy to him as the first order of business, and holy crap there’s enough Thompson kids at this point to take the one ring to Mordor.
In any case, where this storyline really hits it’s stride is with a “friendly” dinner at the Mueller residence. Sigrid is particularly prickly as the rest of the family and guests try to amicably side-step her barbs but when Eli takes a trip to the kitchen, the entire illusion of the dinner occurring a few feet away crumbles instantly. The titular king of Norway is seen on the wall of the kitchen, and when Eli matches it and the music to his recurring fever dream, he realizes that not only has he slept with Van Alden/Mueller’s wife–he completely blacked it out. It’s the bombshell of the season thus far, and is easily the standout moment of the episode.
As if this complication wasn’t enough, Van Alden and Eli are also taken in by law enforcement, and all their secrets laid bare on the table before them. With no more room for lies, the two are put up for one last job: seizing the books from Capone’s operation. The charge will be tax evasion, and anyone who knows anything about the history of Al Capone should be quick to suss out where this is going. Whether Eli will still chase his ill-planned run at the piles and piles of Capone money he was lusting after remains to be seen, but that he and Van Alden disagreed before is a given, and now things are even more complicated.
A clean-shaven Chalky is back in town, and when Nucky sets eyes on him sitting in his old chair, it’s like a phantom is in the room. Though the typically weaselly Mickey Doyle plays fast and loose with Chalky’s freedom when the law comes asking, Chalky and Nucky mend fences (something that is made more believable by the time jump) and Chalky tracks down Daughter Maitland in a nearby brothel. Even though her name was clearly listed on the guest bills for the final season, it’s still somewhat surprising to see her turn up. What the writers intend to do with Chalky, Daughter, and Narcisse as the series comes to a close remains the most tantalizing mystery of all.
Gillian is also brought under the microscope as it is revealed that, unsurprisingly, she plead temporary insanity as a means to escape jail time. The asylum she finds herself in is prison-like by any stretch irregardless, but the fact that she finds herself unraveling amidst the daily madness of the institution is a beautiful irony, and if she remains trapped in these machinations as the end for her character, it will be a perfect comeuppance for the coldest and cruelest of Boardwalk‘s denizens.
Finally, Nucky meets with Torrio, and sets up a parlay with Maranzano, which is cut short dramatically by the razing hail of machine gun fire. The second legitimate surprise comes when it’s revealed that Torrio set up the hit with Luciano and Lansky, and when the quick, cold call from Nucky reaches this unlikely trio, the main conflict for what is likely to be the remaining episodes is set in motion.
Nucky also speaks with his Cuban army connection and learns of Sally’s death. When he asks the ultimate question of the episode: “Who will be called to account?” the general simply responds with an earth-shattering admittance of a broken world. “No one.” he says. This seems to be a counter-statement to the season’s tag line about no one going quietly, but that it’s deliberate and calculated, fans should have no doubt.
Lastly, in the past, Nucky’s storyline takes an overdue jump of its own, exploring his own time in law enforcement. While this version of Nucky is cleaner than the one we’ve come to know, the scrupulous and calculating nature of his character are readily apparent in all of his actions, and as this gives us our first glimpse into a new and nuanced mirror of our central character, it stands head and shoulders above the majority of the childhood flashbacks from previous weeks. As a sidenote, a welcome commendation must be given to the casting director for finding such a perfect young Nucky. Steve Buscemi is a man whose face and mannerisms have a lot of unique character to them, and casting someone who so readily inhabits the shoes of such a performer must have been a striking challenge indeed.
Perhaps it’s not terribly surprising considering the general structure of a Boardwalk Empire season, but at last, this formerly scattered collection of episodes seems to be really coming together. With a mere three hours to go, this bodes well that the series might finish well yet.