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

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist November 24, 2013 at 9:58PM

“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.
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Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Farewell Daddy

Gun still to his face, Nucky forces Eli to tell his son what’s really going on: he’s sold out his brother to the FBI, but the full confession provokes Nucky’s sympathies as Eli only did it to save his son. “Nothing will fill that hole that you have inside you,” Eli says, intimating that Nucky’s greed extends as far as trying to appropriate his brother’s son for his own. Nucky tells him this is his mess to figure out and walks away. William, aghast at what his father has done, runs away into the night.

So when Eli comes home to find Knox there again, he’s none too happy. Before Eli can even explain what went wrong, the men are at each other’s throats and a threat forces the embarrassed and unhinged FBI man to pull his weapon. “My partner Agent Selby thinks I’m crazy,” Knox says, unraveling more and more with a gun to Eli’s head. “What do you think?” Before anyone can answer any questions, a melee ensues; one of the gnarliest and most vicious fist-fights-to-the-death we’ve seen in recent memory (easily the most violent and ugly we’ve seen on TV in years). The living room is practically destroyed, the Thompson family is terrified, and it all ends with Eli exploding in a cathartic fury, beating Knox to death with his hands.

Moving back to the Gillian Darmody storyline, what’s missing in her case is a body, and if Richard Harrow wants to put his life of crime behind him and become a true father figure to Tommy Darmody (Brady Noon), he needs proof. He comes to Nucky hat in hand for a favor: he needs to know where the body of Jimmy Darmody lays. Why should Nucky put himself at such risk for Richard? Because Richard, in exchange, will do anything the mobster needs, and it turns out Nucky’s in the market for a favor. Soon after, Harrow sends away his new family, his wife Julia Sagorsky (Wrenn Schmidt), Paul Sagorsky (Mark Borkowski) and grandson Tommy until this new action dies down.

Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Farewell Daddy

Where have Narcisse and Chalky been all this time? Earlier on, Nucky and Narcisse broker a meet. The Harlem gangster is aware that Chalky’s still alive and he wants answers. Nucky tries to clean his hands of all of it, he’s here to be the middle man. Chalky just wants assurances of safe passage to return for his daughter’s wedding. In exchange for? Nucky’s not here to make deals, just pass on information. “The only thing your people have in common is we both know what a dollar’s worth.” Nucky tells the doctor that he doesn’t care which “of you coloreds” rules the northside. The conclusion? Playing into Narcisse’s assumed belief that all white men are racists, Nucky sells him a story of Chalky coming at him in the middle of the night with a gun and wants to be assured that this will never happen again (i.e. do with him what you like).

Chalky and Narcisse finally come face to face at the Onyx club, but it’s not quite the upper hand deal the former club owner had intended. While hurling threats and insults at each other across the table—the Doctor wants to know where Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) is, for one—Narcisse pulls an ace from his sleeve, Chalky’s daughter Maybelle (Christina Jackson). Of course, no one’s come to this fight without a fix in the game. Up in the rafters sits Richard Harrow, his sniper rifle in hand dead-aimed at Narcisse’s head (the favor Nucky needed; using Harrow’s deft assassin skills). What Nucky and Chalky haven’t allowed for is the once ruthless Harrow losing his nerve. Perhaps becoming a family man has cost him his edge because Harrow hesitates and when he does finally regain his wits, he doesn’t see Maybelle wandering into the frame of the shot.

Blood spatters across Narcisse’s face, Maybelle drops like a stone, a bullet through her head right in front of her father who is in agonized disbelief. Pandemonium breaks out at the sound of gunfire. Chalky and Narcisse run for the exits while Harrow has to fight off a hail of bullets. Both men, however, are apprehended in an FBI raid and tagged. A bloody Harrow makes his quiet escape. And then the walls close in for everyone.

Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Farewell Daddy

Nucky, trying to set sail for Cuba, gets nabbed by the FBI: he’s not under arrest, but he’s being questioned in the murder of FBI agent James Tolliver (Knox) who was found dead in the Eli Thompson household. J. Edgar Hoover has a bigger plan for Narcisse. He threatens him with jail time for life unless the Dr. agrees to narc out the dangerous, negro dissident Marcus Garvey (the seditious political leader Hoover’s been more consumed with than gangsters all season). Out of options, Narcisse must agree.

Daughter Maitland sings us out to the titular episode title in some dive club. Over montage, the various fates and conclusions of our characters are revealed. On the run, Eli turns up in Chicago, George Mueller picking him up under a bridge. Chalky’s back in Maryland brooding, thinking about his daughter’s death. Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) is seen showing Margaret Schroeder/Thompson (Kelly Macdonald) to her new apartment after the deal they struck. And most tragically, we find Richard Harrow in his dreams. He’s with his new family and his face is no longer disfigured. But when we’re shown the reality of the situation, Harrow is lying dead under an Atlantic City boardwalk pier. Mask fallen off his face, his bloody hand evincing the wounds that took his life. A man who had seemingly changed his ways caught in the crosshairs of criminals and the fateful choices he made to ensure his new family stayed together. Cruelly, Harrow, of all the immoral snakes this season, pays the grandest price for trying to go straight.

This article is related to: Boardwalk Empire, TV Reviews, TV News, HBO , Television, Steve Buscemi, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston, Jeffrey Wright, Michael K. Williams, Stephen Graham, Michael Shannon


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