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Recap: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 4 Finale “Farewell Daddy Blues”

by Rodrigo Perez
November 24, 2013 9:58 PM
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“After today I’m not making plans,” Atlantic City kingpin Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) says on the phone. If only he really knew how true that might be. He’s evidently retiring and telling his Florida business partner and occasional lover Sally Wheat (Patricia Arquette) that after he wraps up loose ends he’s moving down South to Cuba, taking her with him. It’s understandable—the New Jersey mobster’s become hip to the fact that something fishy is going on with his brother Eli (Shea Whigham) and that it probably involves a maybe-not-so-crooked FBI Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty), which can’t be any good.

But before Nucky can even finish his call to Tampa, a quiet, deadly fog rolls into his seaside mansion. It’s Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) slinking in under the radar Omar style (with bandana and hat) and he’s out for blood. Even though Nucky did try and save Chalky’s skin in the season’s best, antepenultimate episode “White Horse Pike,” Chalky doesn’t know this and just assumes the worst. The Atlantic City negro mobster presumes Nucky, in cahoots with the mayor and his Harlem rival Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), tried to put his lights out for good, so he stalks in with a pistol pointed at his former friend’s face.

“So he’s your n*gger now?” Chalky hisses after making Nucky admit he’s doing business with Narcisse, who’s also sitting pretty in the Onyx Club. It’s not quite that simple. Nucky was forced to make a deal, pretend to hang Chalky out to dry and then would have regrouped once he got him out of the city, but that plan was shot to hell rather fast. But it’s understandable why Chalky’s feeling more than a little betrayed. “You’ve gotta believe me Chalky, we want the same thing,” Nucky says of Narcisse’s head on a stick. “Oh, I know you want it now,” Chalky counters, still aiming his gun.

Farewell Daddy Blues,” the final episode of season four of “Boardwalk Empire,” is gripping and absorbing as is par for the course in the final episodes of this mob drama series, but also tragic and heartbreaking in ways you might not have imagined. Moreover, unlike previous seasons, nothing is wrapped up nicely in a bow. The villains this time aren’t vanquished, the restart button hasn’t been hit. Instead, almost every character is left in a state of disarray and flux.

While the conclusion of the episode may have effects on her fate, as it stands now, it seems as if Gillian Darmody’s (Gretchen Mol) narrative is coming to a close. She’s been caught in a sting operation admitting to first degree murder, and in this episode, her trial is already underway. Testifying against her is her former employee Richard Harrow (Jack Huston). He fought beside her son Jimmy (Michael Pitt) in WWI and was his friend; he’s certain beyond any doubts that the body Gillian buried, claiming to be Jimmy, was someone else. Gillian gets herself thrown out of court after an outburst, however, there’s one rub in her favor: the boy who was “buried” in Jimmy’s place was cremated. There’s no body of evidence, setting off a chain of events that one character will never recover from.

Over in Chicago it’s all about body language. And we’ll hand it to the show, the writing and direction is never obvious about these details (and or we’re reading this wrong, or it’s purposefully vague). When we pick up in Chicago, Capone (Stephen Graham), his brother Ralph (Domenick Lombardozzi) and George Mueller (Michael Shannon) are trying to figure out who shot up their club and tried to have them all killed. Capone’s boss, the head Chicago mobster Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci), who interrupts, assumes its Earl "Hymie" Weiss (Will Janowitz)—Dean O'Banion’s second in command whom we haven’t seen since last season—who was trying to get revenge for his boss’s death. And while Capone plays along, “yeah, I’m sure you’re right,” he’s firing daggers out of his eyes at his boss. There’s been tension between them all along, Torrio was recently offended that Capone suggested he may retire in the next few years, so it could make sense that Torrio ordered the hit on his too-big-for-his-britches man all along.

While all signs point to Capone, it’s not quite clear who sent the assassin that comes for Torrio later in the episode. He shoots up the old man badly, and for anyone else it would be curtains, but the tough as nails Torrio hangs on for dear life in a hospital. Later on when Capone goes and visits him, he seems genuinely torn up for his boss. Even as Torrio passes the torch—saying this is it for him, he’s out of the game and living the rest of his life in Europe —Capone seems to find little joy in the moment. If he did indeed try and have his boss killed, Capone is at least a very sentimental guy. And thus, Al Capone is one step closer to ruling all of Chicago.

Agent Knox is under a lot of pressure, and the strain is painfully visible when his career-making case crumbles. His story is one of respect, or rather lack thereof. J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Laden), his old college friend, is leagues above him as the director of the FBI, and undermines him at every turn. In this episode, Knox’s master plan has come full circle: he’s about to get Nucky Thompson and all the major New York, New Jersey, Harlem and Tampa mob bosses in the same room, colluding to commit federal crimes thanks to Eli Thompson, forced to help the undercover FBI man so his own son won’t go to jail. But Nucky, wise to it all, is a no show (so is everyone else) and Knox begins to lose it. So much so that when his own men question his judgement, Knox becomes borderline unhinged, even challenging one of his colleagues Agent Selby (Jacob A. Ware) to try and take his gun from him.

Thus when Knox comes to Eli’s house, he’s on fire with rage. Before any of this takes place, we’re witness to one of the most tense showdowns in the show’s history: Nucky vs. his younger brother Eli once again. Nucky summons Eli to pick him up to drive him to this mob meet. It rings false to Eli, but he has no choice but to do as his brother says. Once he arrives at Nucky’s house, he finds an empty domicile. Or so he thinks, as Nucky comes out of the shadows with his new manservant armed and dangerous. “You have a lot to lose,” Nucky says, a pistol aimed at his brother’s skull for betrayal number two. “I don’t have anything,” Eli says in return, alluding to the central theme between the two siblings. “Sooner or later you take it all.” But before Nucky, gritting through teeth trying to decide if he should end his brother, can pull the trigger, Eli’s son Will Thompson (Ben Rosenfield) shows up and near bedlam erupts.

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  • TedG | February 21, 2014 3:09 AMReply

    "Capone’s boss, the head Chicago mobster Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci), who interrupts, assumes its Earl "Hymie" Weiss (Will Janowitz)—Dean O'Banion’s second in command whom we haven’t seen since last season"

    Hymie Weiss was in several episodes of season 4.

  • Ashleycc | November 26, 2013 8:55 PMReply

    Such a great movie, I was able to watch The Hunger Games catching Fire for free, check it out!

  • Humble Frank | November 26, 2013 4:47 PMReply

    As I watched Richard Harrow's final moments my thoughts flashed back to Ambrose Brice's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and the wonderful short French film made from it.

    All over the web everyone seems upset over Harrow's death but the death of a total innocent "Chalky's daughter) upset me even. But this is the sad nature of Boardwalk - innocent people (Nucky's girl friend last season, Tommy's wife and her girl friend and so on.).

  • marc balco | November 26, 2013 1:02 PMReply

    did not want to see Richard die. too many good characters are killed off. he was the best character by far.

  • cdsbooks | November 25, 2013 10:40 PMReply

    a trite review from a spic critic.

  • wow | November 27, 2013 2:55 AM

    cdsbooks, you actually used the word 'spic'?
    i imagine you typing that while sitting in a small, dirty smelly apartment..
    harsh overhead florescent lighting bringing out the stains in the carpet, the crumbled fast foods wrappers strewn across the floor, your bloated gut and your pale, tiny little dick.
    it probably made you feel really excited to type that for that one second, but then you returned to your miserable reality so i hope it was fun while it lasted. prick.

  • mary | November 25, 2013 4:33 PMReply

    sorry huge nucky fan ...not lucky.

  • mary | November 25, 2013 4:32 PMReply

    who cares about the names or terms they use... what about the killer finale, I hate that it's over, I don't think there's another show on, that the characters are so compelling, I am a huge Lucky fan, and and chalky and richard fan, and I love to hate jillian and narciesse, It is just a awesome show and great acting, I want more.. and patricia arcette was the best possible choice for nucky.

  • steve | November 25, 2013 12:25 AMReply

    what a great episode! but i am saddened at the loss of my (and i'm sure a lot of people's ) favorite character--richard harrow

  • Feev | November 24, 2013 11:00 PMReply

    What's so horrible about the term "Negro?" I understand that it's freighted with a certain amount of baggage, but in its essence it's just Spanish for "black." Sticks and stones...maybe in the twenty-first century, it's time for all of us to stop looking for the pettiest of things to take offense about.

  • really 23 | November 24, 2013 10:56 PMReply

    The reviewer is pretty liberal with his verbatim racially degrading terms in 2013 regarding this period piece...

  • Petar | November 24, 2013 10:49 PMReply

    If you are to write on a show based on history it's best you know the history wouldn't you agree. As you do not I can only assume this first sentence needs to be further explained. In the sixth paragraph on Chicago you should read up on both Torio and Capone, and maybe you may learn something about a George Moran. Also Arnold Rothstein has a gambling problem and will later be killed for it in next season.

  • No, F oFF | November 25, 2013 6:20 AM

    No, he's reviewing a show, nothing more. There's absolutely no reason to look up anything.

  • FEEV | November 24, 2013 11:11 PM

    I agree with your wider point, but this show has already departed from history to a significant extent. It's not the real-life "Nucky Johnson," but the fictitious "Nucky Thompson." Are we holding Chicago to a stricter historic standard than we are New Jersey?

  • dudetb3 | November 24, 2013 10:29 PMReply

    "the most vicious fist-fights-to-the-death we have scene in years," go watch Banshee episode 8 and tell me otherwise (or go on youtube and go watch "olek vs. Ana Fight scene,"

    Anyways this was a great finale and that final scene was perfect

  • steve | November 25, 2013 12:31 AM

    it was glorious when after the multiple punches eli threw at knox--he takes big glass vase and crushes his head!

  • Rosie | November 24, 2013 10:28 PMReply

    ["The Atlantic City negro mobster presume . . ."}

    The Atlantic City "negro" mobster? Negro? Are we still living in 1963?

  • Lord, dummies | November 25, 2013 6:21 AM

    Y'all, as usual, are regarded.

  • Susie | November 24, 2013 10:58 PM

    If the term "negro" is so offensive these days, perhaps the "United Negro College Fund" hasn't gotten the memo. Get a grip. The word "negro" is no more offensive than the word "caucasian."

  • FYI | November 24, 2013 10:42 PM

    The show is set during prohibition and this is how the characters are described.

  • samson | November 24, 2013 10:41 PM

    My thoughts exactly. I think this was the author's of this article's sly way of trying to be provocative. No excuse for the use of the term even when reviewing something from a period piece.

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