Boardwalk Empire 5.06: “Devil You Know” Review

The X

A Television Review by Akash Singh


There are only two episodes of Boardwalk Empire left! But before we bemoan that too much, let’s focus on the sixth episode of the final season first. It’s a thundering ride downwards as catastrophe seems to be looming for more characters than one. Chalky strives to make a deal with Dr. Narcisse in a moment that’s not unaware of the situational irony that’s palpably exploding at the seams. Eli and Van Alden continue their task to take down Capone, not that they hadn’t tried to get rid off their situation. And Nucky, whose circumstances seemed doomed to just continue to go south, drowns his sorrow away in drink at the bar as a Mr. Francis X of Missouri. The ironic and morbid thing about the X is that it reminds me of the stitched all across Nucky’s back, an X seems that seems to be becoming larger than ever. But that target exploded over two other characters during this tremendous hour that brewed, exploded, brewed some more, and tore apart at the keg before brewing again.

“I am Nelson Kasper Van Alden! I am a sworn agent of the United States Treasury. And I swear by Jesus our Lord, justice will rain down upon you if it is my last – ”

Michael Shannon’s Van Alden, a staple of the series since the beginning in 1920, met his end at the hands of Ness. And what a terrifying death it was. A complete chunk of his face was blown off, his nonexistent eye a reminder of Harrow’s death at the end of Farewell Daddy Blues. It was a shocking, terrifying end to the character but the way it was executed, pun intended, was wrought with a dark comedy. The rapport between Van Alden and Eli was absolutely hilarious and Michael Shannon has almost never been better than in his final moments of the series. The straightforward, no-nonsense federal agent down the road to defeating his foe became just like them. In that moment, knowing full well that at any moment Capone’s guns were going to come out in a blaze of craziness, he was faced with a choice that would determine what he left behind, who he left behind. It was Nelson Kasper Van Alden, a sworn agent of the United States Treasury.

The episode opens up right at the end of King of Norway, with Chalky shocked to see Daughter Maitland in Dr. Narcisse’s whorehouse. He tries to assert some semblance of control and authority but she isn’t having any of it. How could she? He has no right to suddenly bust through a door and pretend like he has any right to be there. “It’s not his,” she says quietly when he looks towards her daughter. “Then whose?” he asks quietly, his face expressing the knowledge of what was true. She deems not to respond with a name. She simply says “Just mine” quietly, her voice choked up with resolution.

Chalky’s storyline comes to a terrible, tragic, knowing conclusion. There are certain characters who are unkillable simply because of historical context if the show chooses to accept it as it is. Chalky was not one of them. There was no revenge to be had against Dr. Narcisse or anyone else for that matter. There was simply a reality that his time was coming to a close just as the show was winding down itself. And for Chalky to go down for the sake of love and family was strangely, oddly fitting and poetic. He knowingly makes that deal with Narcisse so Daughter can go free with Althea, knowing full well that even though she may go free, he won’t. The heartbreaking irony is that Dr. Narcisse probably won’t let Daughter go free at all. “Ain’t nobody ever been free,” he notes ruefully. Jeremy Podeswa’s camera closes up on Chalky’s face as he closes his eyes, executing the sheer cruel tragedy of Howard Korder’s script. The screen cuts to black and a resounding gunshot echoes throughout the screen.

Nucky’s story goes back and forth between his present drinking at a bar with two women and his young self, trading barbs with Mabel, talking with a young Eli, and trying to catch a child thief. He hates the name Nucky and it’s easy to see why. He’s building himself up, twisting phrases as eloquently as possible, but the shadow of his true self seems to be utterly inescapable. “You’ll be recognized,” she says quietly to him, a simple statement after which he would run his entire life. His flashbacks turn him back towards that ragtag thief, a young Gillian dressed as a boy. She admires Nellie Bly, a nod that establishes that she’s been writing letters to Nucky. He sees her greeting the Commodore and he quickly turns away, as if it didn’t matter. “You stupid fucking child,” he breathes in a drunken stupor towards a young bootlegger who looks like Eli. At the Onyx Club, he sees Mickey Doyle leading a group of men with guns and the drumbeats echo throughout the background. “We saddling up for a showdown or not?” he asks blithely. “We are,” Nucky says in a quiet thunder, the drumbeats getting louder and louder and louder.

Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+“This has not been thought through.”

+“State of oblivion.”

+“This is where hope comes to get ****ed in the ass.”

+Althea, healing in ancient Geek

+“Let’s hope for the best.”; “Easy for you to say.”

+“How come you never lose?”; “We’re smarter than you.”

+“You don’t have a choice. Get yourself ahead.”

+Van Alden : “Trouble in the home.”; Eli: “I can vouch for that.”

+“Shakespearean, man’s rise and fall…”

+Young Eli so happy about June is adorable

+“This really hurts my feelings.”

+Di Angelo getting handed what he wanted with a quick note of

+The shot of a dark Eli in a lightened room was stunningly gorgeous

+“No one’s going to hurt you. You’re caught, that’s all.”



Title: Devil You Know

Written By: Howard Korder

Directed By: Jeremy Podeswa

Image Courtesy: GrandAndreasK1 @ YouTube


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