[This is a review of Boardwalk Empire season 4, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
As the series turns into the last leg of the season, it’s difficult to think of an episode of Boardwalk Empire that leaves more pressing questions waiting to be answered than ‘White Horse Pike.’ Like many others, this episode is absolutely brimming with plot elements from nearly every corner of the show, and while that’s a lot to keep up with, there is also an overwhelming sense the season’s many hanging threads (partially a result of the many near misses depicted in the episode) are ready to be clipped and bring about a necessary conclusion.
For the most part, season 4 has been built on a foundation of vague unease and the persistent feeling that something unpleasant was headed Nucky Thompson’s way. Most of that is the result of various machinations going on in the background, working their way toward undermining Nucky’s empire and generally preparing to make a mess of things once they finally expose themselves. In that regard, Agent Tolliver (a.k.a. Agent Knox) has been as pernicious a thorn in Nucky’s side as Dr. Narcisse all season long, but somehow, the lawman has managed his destruction undetected – revealing himself to two key members of Thompson’s crew without any harm befalling him at all.
Tolliver’s appearance in Eli’s home as a life insurance salesman was about as thinly veiled a threat he could deliver to his new asset and in addition to his constant dismissal at the hands of J. Edgar Hoover, its clear Tolliver is nearing his boiling point. That kind of lingering menace found its way into the other storylines as well, as Al Capone found himself under fire, conveniently just moments after Johnny Torrio vacated the premises, as well as when Chalky White’s hit on Dr. Valentine Narcisse backfired and put Chalky on the defensive, while nursing a painful, but survivable (according to Richard) gunshot wound.
Narcisse’s survival and his determination to take a larger chunk of the heroin trade, by aligning himself with Joe Masseria, puts him in the unique position of having a legitimate place at Nucky’s table (with a grand entrance to boot). That puts Chalky in the unlikely position of being on the run and seeking what he believes to be the assistance of a friend. Of course, in typical Boardwalk Empire fashion, the assistance he asks for doesn’t come without some complications.
But those complications help give ‘White Horse Pike’ its edge and define it as one of the better episodes this season, despite existing primarily to set up what will be the storyline’s conclusion. For an episode to feel fulfilling, even though it leaves the viewer with little more than a handful of questions, those questions have to be intriguing, and the possibilities of their answers must warn of action and reprisal. At the moment, those questions revolve primarily around the uncertain survival of Chalky White and the promise of what his unlikely friendship with Richard Harrow might yield in terms of whether or not we see Michael K. Williams return in season 5.
At this point, the season still has a lot of story to pack into two episodes, and that’s quite a bit for any series to sort out. But more so than in seasons past, there is the sense that season 4 of Boardwalk Empire has been working to make sure all the set up means something when the time comes to deliver.
Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with ‘Havre De Grace’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: