“All you have to do is nod and you get to hold on to what matters,” Agent Knox tells Eli Thompson in this week’s episode of Boardwalk Empire. The scene ends before we can see whether or not Eli gives Agent Knox the nod he’s looking for, but either way it seems likely that it’s the beginning of the end for at least one of the three Thompsons.
After a few slow-moving episodes in a row, this week’s episode, “The Old Ship of Zion,” is an explosion of forward momentum. It’s a welcome reminder of just how good Boardwalk Empire can be. Yes, it can be supremely frustrating to sit through all the build-up as the disparate subplots slowly gather steam, but once things get going there are few shows on TV that are as thrilling. There are more nooses being tightened in this episode than at a hangman’s convention, and one character in particular sees himself rather violently dispossessed of life.
One strength of Boardwalk Empire has always been its snappy dialogue, and the His Girl Friday-esque back and forth between Nucky and Sally in their scenes together this week is a high point in an episode full of high points. Sally is in rare form after she makes her way to Atlantic City by accompanying Nucky’s shipment of “oranges,” and Patricia Arquette’s acting chops are on full display. That’s not all she has on display, either, much to the amusing discomfort of Willie Thompson. The highlight of her stay in the city, though, is the confrontation it leads to between Nucky Thompson and Mickey Doyle, caused not only by Nucky’s jealousy over Sally’s friendliness toward Mickey but also Mickey’s continued use of Eddie’s old cane. Nucky puts the cane to good use, which causes a bit of a headache for Mickey (literally).
While the scenes between Nucky and Sally are great, it’s Chalky’s scenes that really make the episode. Narcisse’s ego causes the beginning to what is sure to be his eventual downfall as Chalky finds a poster for Narcisse’s play in a bag full of heroin, and that’s all the evidence Chalky needs to finally take action against the not-so-good doctor. “This one called ‘Harlem by Torchlight!'” Chalky announces to Narcisse and a crowd of onlookers before setting fire to the stash of dope. For the first time, we see a look on Narcisse’s face other than a look of smug superiority. There was a lot of money in that dope, and Chalky calling him out in front of all those people was the first real blow to Narcisse’s carefully cultivated image as Savior of the Libyan.