Boardwalk Empire Review: “White Horse Pike” (Season 4, Episode 10)

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Of course, the foulest corruption to spread throughout this season of Boardwalk Empire continues to be the influence of Dr. Narcisse. From the blight of his heroin trade upon the city, making junkies of the very community he claims to be trying to elevate, to the insinuation of Daughter Maitland into Chalky’s life, where it is destroying his ties to his family, to the alliances he has formed which have now put Nucky in a very uncomfortable predicament, Narcisse is practically a force of nature, leaving devastation and destruction in his wake wherever he goes.

Here’s a question, though: Why didn’t Chalky finish Narcisse off when he had the chance? Chalky certainly had the upper hand when he took the fight to the north side, catching Narcisse unawares, but the sloppiness that allows Narcisse to escape unharmed is pretty uncharacteristic for Chalky and seems like little more than a lazy out for the writers to keep the war between him and Narcisse going after having once again been escalated to a new extreme. But the writers can be cut a little slack here, because it leads to the one of tensest, most nerve-wracking moments in Boardwalk Empire history as Chalky’s daughter Maybelle retires to his office at the Onyx Club, only to be met there by Narcisse.

To Maybelle, Narcisse is a comforting figure as she unloads about her recent personal problems. To the viewer, however, he is a figure of pure terror, capable of perpetrating the most horrible acts of violence if he thinks it will suit his ends. The scene plays expertly off this fear. A sudden movement of Narcisse as he rises from his chair is as scare-inducing as the killer in a horror movie appearing from behind a half-closed door. In the end, though, it’s just another example of how Chalky’s business dealings and infidelity have ruined not only his own life but those of his family as well. Much like Agent Tolliver’s arrival at Eli’s home, it’s a reminder that in the criminal world inhabited by Boardwalk Empire‘s characters there is no distinction between business and personal lives.

That goes for Margaret Thompson as well, who now will owe her very home to her nefarious dealings with Arnold Rothstein, and to Richard Harrow, who brought work home with him in the form of Tommy Darmody. It goes for Sally Wheet, who was seen last episode sleeping with a shotgun, and for Willie Thompson, whose momentary lapse in judgement has put him on the path to following his father and uncle into a life of crime. Once the corruption starts spreading, there is no way to stop it.

For Van Alden, the corrupting allure of crime has been the most transformative. Far from the God-fearing, law-abiding prohibition agent of the first season, Van Alden has redirected his unhinged, violent temperament to the cause of making blood money by working for Al Capone. In this episode, he proves to be an invaluable asset for Capone, narrowly saving him from being gunned down by unknown assailants. It’s not likely the identity of those assailants will be unknown for long, though, and when it’s revealed that they were working for Johnny Torrio (because come on, it was practically spelled out for us), there is going to be one hell of a reckoning.

With only a few episodes left of this season of Boardwalk Empire, what remains to be seen is for which characters the corruption spreading through their lives will prove to be fatal. It’s not a show that’s afraid to kill off its key players, so besides Nucky himself (he’s the only character in the opening credit sequence, after all), nobody is safe.