In an episode heavy on talk about beginnings and endings, the most telling conversation in “King of Norway” comes between Nucky and Chalky, who are reunited at last. After Nucky advises Chalky to forget about the past and focus on starting over, Chalky reminds Nucky that “we aren’t schoolboys no more.” Nucky replies that “we aren’t dead either. That leaves a lot of road in the middle.” Skeptical of Nucky’s newfound optimism Chalky comments, “Maybe you just don’t see the end of it.”
While this exchange might foreshadow Nucky’s fate (as well as being a nice hat tip to the “You never see it coming” line from The Sopranos), it could also apply to almost everyone still standing in Boardwalk Empire. As the series sprints toward its conclusion, it seems every character is hoping for some sort of a new beginning. That some will have their hopes dashed is obvious. The only question remaining is who has some road left and who doesn’t.
The signs keep piling up that Nucky is nearing the end of his journey. His attempt to become a legitimate businessman hit a sizable snare last week when he learned of Luciano’s plans to eliminate him. Nucky travels to New York to warn Maranzano about his underling’s intentions. During the meeting a firing squad sent by Luciano and Lansky opens up on both of them (why the two were sitting at the front window is a mystery). The hit attempt fails and Nucky, instead of taking his escape as another sign to retire, vows revenge. If Nucky does indeed follow through on this promise, it’s a war we know from history that he won’t win.
Two others at a crossroads are my favorite gangster odd couple, Van Alden and Eli. Just as it appears that Eli will be given a new beginning with his wife and family, one of his drunken blackouts comes back to haunt him at the worst possible time. A photograph of the King of Norway in the Van Alden’s kitchen sparks a hazy memory of an affair with Van Alden’s wife, Sigrid. Sigrid’s anger at Van Alden boils over and she reveals the liason in colorful, heavily accented language to Eli’s wife and Van Alden.
Before a violent scene can erupt between them, the Feds charge in and take Van Alden and Eli away. Having identified both of their real identities as well as their past crimes, the Feds offer them a choice: retrieve Capone’s ledgers for the IRS or go to the gas chamber. While Eli finds the scenario amusing, Van Alden embraces the opportunity, even though his enthusiasm seems to be fueled by something of a “I refuse to run any more” death wish.
The flashback scenes again offer insightful looks into Nucky’s past. An older Nucky, played uncannily by Marc Pickering, is now a deputy for Sheriff Lindsay. Nucky spends a revealing dinner trying to convince Mabel’s father to give his daughter to him in marriage. At the meal, her father expertly sizes up Nucky, telling him, “You have a knack for telling people what they want to hear, but you don’t know who you are.” This apt description of Nucky is the dilemma he has never outgrown, and the one he’s been struggling with throughout his life.
Chalky’s motivations have always been clear and this season has been no different. What I’ve been assuming would be his fate—that he would exact revenge Dr. Narcisse—appeared on track as Chalky locates Narcisse in Harlem and sneaks into his bedroom, gun in hand. But it isn’t Narcisse Chalky surprises, but Daughter, tending to her little girl. We are unsure whose daughter it is, but this discovery opens up the possibility that Chalky might get the new beginning he’d been so skeptical of in his conversation with Nucky.
In yet another reference to beginnings earlier in the episode, Mabel’s father mocks Nucky’s ambition. “From a bell boy to a Deputy,” he needles him. Nucky cheerfully replies, “Every story has to have a beginning.” What goes unsaid is that it also has to have an end, and more and more it’s looking like Nucky’s end will not be a happy one.
Predictions, questions, erratum.
Nucky tells Capone that “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” This is highlighted by the dilemma facing the Commodore in the flashbacks: a squeeze from the New York syndicate. The Commodore settles it by force, just as Nucky seems determined to, as well . . . Much like Nucky being told he doesn’t know who he is, Gillian’s psychiatrist asks in an existential tone, ”How do you know what you are?” It’s a question everyone seems to struggle with in Boardwalk . . . “Am I making you uncomfortable?” “Land ho,” and “That would sound much better from far away” are just a few of the many hilariously absurdist Van Alden lines destined for the Michael Shannon lexicon . . . Though Margaret seems at home in her new more powerful role in the firm, I hope it will be explained how she made Carolyn Rothstein agree to take a lower amount than she initially demanded . . . Okay, that’s all for now. I’m off to short some Mayflower Grain stock.
Read all of Court Haslett's posts for Criminal Element.