Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 4.11, “Havre de Grace”: Action stalls in penultimate episode

Boardwalk Empire S04E11 promo pic

Boardwalk Empire S04E11 promo picBoardwalk Empire, Season 4, Episode 11, “Havre de Grace”
Written by Howard Korder
Directed by Allen Coulter
Airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO

Kate is new to Boardwalk Empire this season and her reviews will approach the acclaimed series from the newbie’s perspective.

This week, on Boardwalk Empire: Chalky takes a breather, Gillian falls hard, and Nucky wants out

Much of this season, Boardwalk Empire has struggled with too many characters and disconnected storylines, leaving the overall narrative scattered. This week the show focuses in, following Chalky and Gillian while the other characters take the episode off, other than a few scenes setting up Eli and Nucky for the finale. However while this helps highlight these two characters and allows them to shine, the direction the writers choose to go with them makes the episode, and in one case, much of the season, feel absolutely wasted.

Chalky’s struggle with Narcisse has been an entertaining one, when the show has dropped in on it, and the recent boiling over of tensions into violence has been compelling. A close look at Chalky, his relationship with Daughter, and what he’ll do next should be exactly what the show needs, but while we get that this week, it’s couched in the character literally taking a detour to a friend’s country house. We see some really nice scenes reflecting on Chalky and where he’s at, but there’s little self-awareness to them. The show asks viewers to believe Chalky will walk away when everyone watching knows he’ll have to return to face Narcisse; it’s where the entire season’s been building and it’s the only satisfying option the writers have left themselves. That would be fine if the scenes with Chalky had an underlying fatalism or dread to them, a sense that the show knows what the audience does, that this can’t last and that Chalky is bringing doom upon his friends. Instead these moments genuinely feel like a respite. Chalky doesn’t need further motivation to take out Narcisse; having him spurred on by the death of a friend feels trite and overdone. As for Daughter, we finally get some discussion of her past and her psyche, but it’s too little too late. Her scene with Chalky is lovely, but it needed to happen several weeks ago, letting her feel like a fully realized and developed character, rather than a plot necessity.

Gillian’s scenes work far better and Gretchen Mol is the absolute standout of this episode, but unfortunately the devastating Pinkertonian curveball that leaves her destroyed leaves the audience scratching their heads. Why have we followed her all season if she wasn’t going to somehow tie in with the action surrounding the rest of the characters? She’s just confessed to murder- if she doesn’t spend the finale in jail it will feel incredibly false. So how can she possibly affect the larger storylines, which seem to be slowly, but surely tying together? Had this been part of a larger sting operation run by Knox as a way to get useful information from Gillian, it would’ve dovetailed nicely with everything else, particularly as his work trying to prove nation-wide links in organized crime has allowed Van Alden’s exploits with Capone to feel connected to Nucky and the rest of our characters, however tangentially. This could still potentially come next week, but given how much needs to happen with Nucky, Eli, Chalky, and Narcisse, it seems unlikely. Again, Gillian’s individual arc this week is great and the performances of all involved are incredibly moving. They would be great on a different show. Here, they’re puzzlingly extraneous.

The final disappointing surprise this week is Nucky’s episode-closing line. He may want out, but everyone watching knows he’s not going anywhere. His declaration is played as a surprise, a cliffhanger of sorts to lead into the finale, but though he says he’s ready to get out of the life, this plays identically to Chalky’s earlier statements and that doesn’t seem like a coincidence. Nucky has already proven himself incapable of sitting “quietly in a room”. His desire to do so now doesn’t change that. The rest of his scenes with Eli are clearly building to the finale, but again, they feel less like death knells for Nucky or his criminal empire and more for Eli. Many series take a breather in their penultimate episode each season, a calm before the storm of the finale, but too much of this entire season has felt like calm- we needed a ramping up of tension this week, not yet another stall. Hopefully these concerns will be remedied by next week’s finale and what promises to be one hell of a showdown.

What did you think of this episode? Were you surprised by the Gillian twist? Think Daughter will show up next week? How do you think the battle with Narcisse will come together? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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