“Havre de Grace” was the inevitable calm before the storm, and while Season 4 of Boardwalk Empire has had a little too many calms, this one felt earned because we were waiting it out with characters who we’ve grown to care about. This penultimate episode works not because something major happens (although there are a few key reveals), but because as the audience we sit and mull over the characters fates as the characters themselves do the same. “Havre de Grace” brought back this season’s cold, mournful quality that its premiere “New York Sour” had, but with much needed humanity in the guise of Chalky White. It was quite a beautiful episode, letting its characters reflect on their past and possible futures (visualized through several shots of characters on porches and balconies contemplating). While “Havre de Grace” wasn’t as viscerally striking as Season 3’s penultimate “Two Impostors,” it did serve as a solid respite for both its characters and audience who will probably need it once Boardwalk Empire’s season finale “Farewell Daddy Blues” comes around town.
After “White Horse Pike” and Chalky’s thrilling escape, the big question remained of whether he would blame Nucky for his attempted murder. We find out he does blame Mr. Thompson when he goes to hide out with an old mentor named Oscar Boneau (played by the venerable Louis Gossett Jr.). The scenes with Oscar might have ruffled a few people’s feathers given that they were a break from the tension that had been building on the boardwalk, but I think it served as a nice interlude that gave us more background and much needed insight into the character of Chalky White. I mentioned in my “White Horse Pike” review that Chalky has been my gateway character when it came to being emotionally connected with the how, and Chalky’s time with Oscar furthered the emotional journey he’s been making by forcing him to come to terms with the fact that he’s alone in this fight. His mentor scolds him throughout his stay, Daughter leaves him which takes away his option of forgetting it all and starting again, and then later on his mentor dies at the hands of the men who were after him. Chalky’s alone, outnumbered, outgunned, with no one left in his corner. He doesn’t have the luxury that Nucky has at the end of this episode, he’s completely alone.
Speaking of lonely people, Gillian really had a rough day didn’t she? We finally learned who Roy was and why he had suck with her throughout her heroin problems and other vices. His reveal of being a Pinkerton agent felt fairly satisfying in the moment and it definitely explains his allusive behavior and a kindness that verged on sainthood, but it’s isolation from the rest of the character’s storyline’s this season makes it feel a little extraneous. Why did they need to bring back Gillian in the first place? If the writers let her die when she was drugged by Gyp Rossetti at the end of Season 3 wouldn’t have that sufficed? We could have spent that time fleshing out other more interesting characters like Dr. Narcisse or Agent Knox. Maybe there is more to come that I’m just not seeing yet, but as it stands I felt like Gillian’s storyline was a waste of time (even if I do love Gretchen Mol).
Dinner with the Thompson’s: come for the jokes, stay for the uncomfortable bursts of hatred. Eli is losing it (what else is new) as Agent Knox’s plan to get every big-wig drug dealer under one roof forces him to try and persuade Nucky to follow through on that plan. I was hesitant at first to see Eli struggling with taking down his brother because we’ve seen that storyline in the past, but it’s really worked for me this season mostly because the weight of Shea Whigham’s performance. His Eli isn’t succumbing to greed or petty vengeance like so many of these Boardwalk gangsters; he’s just stuck between a rock and hard place. The other reason this storyline has worked as well as it has is because Agent Knox (played by the underrated Brian Geraghty) has been such a surprisingly threatening antagonist, wielding a petty want for recognition and the will to do anything for it (Seriously Hoover, give this guy a medal so we can all go to sleep and be on our way).
“Havre de Grace” ends with Nucky Thompson calling Sally and telling her: “I want out.” It’s one hell of a last line, making the possibilities for how the finale plays out endless (well as endless as the Wikipedia page for each of these gangsters), but we know that there will be a meeting where all the major parties involved will get together to try and sort things out. “Havre de Grace” might have been a calm before the storm episode, but with Agent Knox and Chalky planning to crash this upcoming get together, I would say the odds of “Farewell Daddy Blues” being one catastrophic storm are very high.
“Havre de Grace” =B
– I hope this wasn’t the last time we see Gaston Means, mainly because Stephen Root’s line delivery will be missed: “Who has sent you grim-visaged thuggies?”
– Roy’s reveal of being a Pinkerton agent was surprising, but was anyone else hoping for a crazier ending where in Roy was a figment of Gillian’s mind used to cope with her pain? (Just me? Okay then)
– Brief thoughts on reviewing- Someone commented on my last review (sorry I didn’t comment back) that I wrote a recap and not a review which I thought I should address. First thanks for commenting, even if you didn’t like my style your (and especially the person that defended me) comments mean a lot. But I disagree with your idea that I’m just writing a recap and as a person who hates reviews that only recap; I’m definitely surprised you got that impression. There’s a big difference between a recap and recap/review. I wrote a recap/review which instead of just giving the plot dives into my thoughts and feelings towards those plot details and how I think they align and gel with the season as a whole. Again, I’m not trying to single you out. I just thought I should make my case. Thanks for the comments and would love to hear more.
– What were your thoughts on the penultimate episode of Boardwalk Empire?
[Photo via Craig Blankenhorn/HBO]