Boardwalk Empire’s 4th season has had its highs and lows (read any of my reviews), but the one consistently engaging storyline has been the emergence of Chalky White and his burgeoning rivalry with Dr. Narcisse. Not only has this storyline been great in that it’s giving valuable screen time to talented African-American actors (I know this isn’t ground breaking but it’s still unfortunately rare), but it’s also finally started to flesh out a character that has been with the show since it’s very beginning. I remember when Boardwalk Empire’s first trailer went online; my brother and I were so excited that Michael Kenneth Williams, who had played the coolest character on show full of them, would be given another substantial role on a quality TV drama. But it was to my disappointment that Williams’ role as Chalky White had very little prescience in the shows first season. Even though Williams nailed every scene he was in, the first three seasons of Boardwalk Empire seemed to waste the potential for such an interesting character. Well, I’m happy to say that Chalky White has finally become a fleshed out character. “The Old Ship of Zion” not only brings the this 4th seasons overall story beats closer to a head, but it also gives us a showcase performance in Michael Kenneth Williams’ Chalky White who just flat out owns the episode.
While we’re on the subject, let’s stick with the Chalky part of “The Old Ship of Zion” and get into why this all worked so well. Chalky is very much an impassive man, but he was open to crying twice this episode as the titular song, “The Old Ship of Zion” made him both yearn for Maitland but also showed a side of him we hadn’t seen before when he felt remorse for his dead father (who was buried to the very same song). After seeing how his people who had once relied upon and treated him as their leader, now talk behind his back disapprovingly, Chalky decides to find out who’s running this heroin trade. His raid of the heroin flap house was very The Shield-esque, with Dunn Purnsley being in the Vic Mackey situation of having to think on his feet to hide his true involvement. We then saw Dr. Narcisse get mad over the people’s thoughts on his play (“It’s symbolism was beyond them”) and more importantly Chalky’s claim that Narcisse was to blame for the heroin problem. Narcisse won’t go out in the sunset quietly though, so he tells Maitland to make Chalky stay longer than usual the next time they meet. This leads to the best scene of “The Old Ship of Zion” where Chalky is crying when Maitland sing, and then Purnsley and Chalky have their final standoff. It’s a messy fight with the two being pushed all over the room. Ultimately Chalky wins (Thanks to a save by Maitland), but the duel between him and Narcisse has only become even more personal.
Hopping over to Nucky’s world, we see Sally make a trip to Atlantic City. Patricia Arquette is great as the sassy Sally (Did I really just write that?) who came to Atlantic City without giving it much thought. One of the funnier scenes to come out of this story was Mickey’s flirtation which quickly took a turn for the worst (Scorsese style) when Nucky (jealous and feeling inferior) beat him with Kessler’s old cane. The other Thompson, Eli, went through a struggle of his own when Agent Knox gave him the Kessler treatment this time with Willie on the line. I would be surprised if Terrence Winter and his writers go down the Eli being a trader to Nucky well again, but they are trying to go down the Jimmy well with Willie so all bets are off I guess. Ultimately, “The Old Ship of Zion” was a solid episode of Boardwalk Empire built around an incredibly taut performance in Michael Kenneth Williams’ Chalky White who revealed more about his character to the audience in one scene than almost all of the first three seasons combined.
The Old Ship of Zion” = B+
– Sorry for the late review, just had one of those long nights where TV wasn’t my first priority (Yea, those things happen every once in a while, weird)
– Whenever someone doesn’t like something I’ve made I’m going to pull a Narcisse and say “It’s symbolism was beyond them.”
– Even though I liked how they handled Willie’s storyline, I still feel it was sloppily done and could’ve been executed better.
– Here’s a question: “Does The Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?”
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