If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
The conceit of “Havre de Grace,” a.k.a. Boardwalk Empire‘s Episode 11, edged close to last season’s penultimate episode, “Two Impostors,” which had Nucky taking refuge with Chalky while his enemy, Gyp Rosetti, plundered Atlantic City. This time around, it’s Chalky who’s on the run while Dr. Narcisse closes his grip on the Northside. But these episodes tend to work on Boardwalk Empire because after a string of blood-spattered confrontations, the protagonists need to reassess their strategies before entering the final battle of the season – which will be next week. So, while the episode wasn’t entirely devoid of violence, Chalky and Daughter Maitland were able to take a break from the villainous Narcisse in order to re-evaluate their relationship. Instead of Nucky returning the favor of a safe haven, Chalky and Daughter are housed by Oscar Boneau (a very, very welcome Louis Gossett Jr.), the man who, according to Chalky, “taught me everything I know.” Think of Oscar as Chalky’s version of the Commodore, crotchety and plenty bored in his “retirement” years. But he teaches his protégé a valuable lesson as we gear up for next week’s inevitable showdown with Narcisse: You can’t trust anyone but yourself.
While the Chalky-Narcisse-Daughter story line took a brief breather, Gillian stepped into the foreground as the source of heart-wrenching drama this week as Roy Phillips, who always struck me as both shady and too good to be true, finally revealed what the hell Ron Livingston was doing on Boardwalk Empire – although I stand by my earlier statement that he doesn’t necessarily belong in the opening credits. He wasn’t there to whisk Gillian away to a settled life of slipcovers and vacuum sweepers. But his task wound up being worthwhile after all, for it was Roy who shattered Gillian’s fantasy world for good and he’s the one person who will make sure she pays for her laundry list of dastardly deeds.
A Thompson family day at the beach couldn’t mask the growing tension between Nucky and Eli, which is of course the setup for next week’s denouement: Will Eli turn his brother in to the feds? And does Nucky suspect that his brother has gone turncoat (again)? Or is he just setting him and Willie up to take over the business? If that late-night call to Sally was any indication, Nucky might be heading for an early retirement come next week.
So after killing those two Atlantic City cops working for Narcisse, Chalky and Daughter somehow get themselves down to Havre de Grace, Maryland, and into the safety of Oscar’s dilapidated house. But it’s hardly a haven of grace for these two, for Daughter is immediately handed an apron and put on kitchen duty – only to be berated by Oscar for her “dry” chicken. And instead of help, all Chalky gets is an earful from his now-blind former mentor, who chastises him for getting in deep with so-called white friends like Nucky Thompson. (“You forgetting who you are.”) Gossett steals the show with his inimitable presence in every scene, but the more important developments came from Chalky and Daughter, who, for the first time in their relationship, take a long, hard look at what their actions have cost them. At sunset by the Susquehanna River, Daughter acknowledges that their carefree romance can’t last forever – Chalky has a family he left behind and he’s got a death wish for both Nucky and Narcisse. But Chalky is more interested in Daughter ‘fessing up about Narcisse murdering her Storyville, New Orleans, prostitute mother, which she does through tears: “I didn’t know my name,” she says. “He called me Daughter. And that’s who I am.” Much as they try to fight it, this relationship is doomed, so later that night, when Chalky tells his lover they’ll leave in the morning to go wherever she chooses, and they share a romantic kiss in the darkness, the only thing that’s missing is the sound of a train passing by to add to the predictability. Yep, a few hours later, Daughter’s gone – and a shootout at the hands of Narcisse’s men, which ostensibly kills Oscar with a gunshot wound to the chest, gives a devastated Chalky little choice but to plan a return to the Northside. Because there’s no such thing as “safe” for him anymore.
For all of her despicable behavior, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Gillian when she receives her comeuppance in this episode, because it occurs just as she’s exhibiting her long-dormant maturity. Following a frank discussion with Leander Whitlock, and learning that the remainder of Tommy‘s childhood could play out in an orphanage if she maintains an ongoing custody battle, Gillian capitulates to her financially strapped reality. She accepts a purchase offer for the former Artemis Club, and visits Tommy to give him a hug, Jimmy‘s dog tags and her reluctant blessing that her grandson has found a good home with Julia and Richard. She leaves the Sagorskys with a heavy heart, but once she knocks on Roy’s door, she’s in a fabulous mood, finally feeling “free.”
That evening, at dinner, Roy, as usual, is reciting his script perfectly, but his shifty demeanor belies his marriage proposal – at least to the audience. Gillian, however, is happy as a clam. As they make their way toward Roy’s car, plotting out their future together, they’re interrupted by a disgruntled business associate of Roy’s (the one from Evansville, Indiana), who makes like he’s going to shoot the newly engaged couple. In a panic, Roy pulls out a gun and fires, the man falling to the ground lifeless. Gillian, well-seasoned in the maneuvering of sticky (usually illegal) situations, immediately takes charge and gets Roy back to her house. She coaches her shell-shocked fiance in the fine art of not calling the police and of learning to live with your crimes: “No one was there,” she instructs him. “No one knows. You can just let it go. You can get away with it.” And that’s when she makes her fatal mistake – she opens up to Roy about more of her sordid past. Interesting how she didn’t notice that Roy, in his grief over taking a man’s life, was lucid enough to ask pointed questions that allowed her to confess to the murder of Roger McAllister. Soon after uttering the name of her hapless victim, Roy’s face stiffens, and he reveals himself as a Pinkerton detective hired by Leander; the shooting of the Evansville colleague was entirely a ruse. A horrified Gillian, retreating back into her fantasy world (“But we’re going to California!”), makes a weak attempt to escape, but in a beautiful overhead shot through her foyer’s chandelier, she’s pinned down by Roy’s associates. Her woeful screams make us forget for just a split second that this is exactly what we’ve been waiting for since Season One. Then again, Gillian’s a survivor, so it’s unlikely she’ll go to prison without a fight.
Given his proclivity for nocturnal phone calls to Tampa, Nucky had no reason to be so curt when Gaston Means rang up after he was already in his pajamas. In the minutes before he was arrested on the charge of “perjury before a Senate committee,” Means tries squeezing a fast half million out of Nucky for the name of the “skunk in [his] cellar.” He doesn’t get the money, but at least Means served his purpose of getting Nucky to take inventory of his inner circle. Means may be going to jail, but he’s sure got great timing. When Eli, June and the rest of the Duggar clan arrive at the Albatross for a family day of sun and fun, all Nucky can think about is that so-called skunk. And who better to share your troubles with than your little brother, who just so happens to be under pressure from Agent Knox (Skunk alert! Skunk alert!) to start informing on Nucky? Well, Eli’s got the perfect solution: Set up a meeting between the associates from New York, Tampa and Atlantic City. That way, Nucky can suss out the snitch, and Knox can show his frenemy J. Edgar Hoover that he’s got a bigger set of balls than anyone in the Bureau of Investigation. And if that doesn’t work, Knox can just continue stomping his feet whenever he’s in Hoover’s company. But at dinner that evening, June’s loose lips reveal that perhaps it’s not Joe Masseria or Charlie Luciano who’s the problem, but Eli’s apparent closeness with a “blue-eyed baby-faced” insurance agent whose description matches Knox’s to a T. Nucky, always the calm diplomat to Eli’s hostile brute, outwardly assuages Eli’s fears that he’s been found out. But when Nucky agrees to the meeting and Willie notices his uncle’s pained expression as the family drives away? Classic case of our Atlantic City boss about to put one over on someone. Which is why when he calls Sally and announces, “I want out,” it’s clear that Nucky knows way more than he’s letting on.
Previously: The Fixer