'Boardwalk Empire' Finally Puts Chalky White in the Spotlight

Michael K. Williams in Boardwalk Empire The Old Ship of Zion

[This is a review of Boardwalk Empire season 4, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]-

There have been over three-and-a-half seasons of Boardwalk Empire and, for the most part, Michael K. Williams' Chalky White has had little more than an ancillary role in the larger storylines of each season. But now, with the addition of Jeffrey Wright's Dr. Narcisse and his perfect elocution, all that has begun to change. Chalky is now at the center of his own story, which not only sees the series utilizing characters in a manner it hasn't before, but it is also depicting a portion of the show's population that has only been looked at in a mostly tangential manner, as well.

One of the more significant takeaways from a character standpoint is how Chalky reacts to certain realizations, and how different his approach to that information is than, say, someone like Nucky. Whereas Nucky is frequently heard telling people – like Arnold Rothstein and Joe Masseria – how happy he is with what he has, how uninterested he is in expanding his territory and how he just wants to avoid another Gyp Rosetti situation, Chalky tends to make his voice heard much more through some sort of defining and unambiguous action.

Back in season 2, Chalky was sequestered in his home after defending his warehouse against a brutal attack by a group of Klansmen. That proactive Chalky wasn't really seen again until his good buddy Nucky came calling for help when New York declared war on Atlantic City.As per usual, Chalky arrived with a helping hand, but after the dust settled, the hand was still there, expecting to be paid in full.

That depiction of the Chalky as someone prone to resolving his conflicts through direct action continues to be highlighted throughout 'The Old Ship of Zion.' Rather than attempt a negotiation with Narcisse, after discovering the heroin den he'd been running with Dunn Purnsley's help, Chalky not only confronts Narcisse directly, but he also does it in full view of the people for whom the good doctor was supposed to be seen as a moral and intellectual authority.

Brian Geraghty in Boardwalk Empire The Old Ship of Zion

To an extent, it fees as though Chalky and Narcisse are filling a character gap that has always existed in the world of Boardwalk Empire, which makes the sudden and additional focus on them feel like the show is actually doing more diverse character work this season. In a way, the same can be said for Agent Knox/ Tolliver – though it generally feels like he is filling in for the absent Agent Van Alden, who is now living in Cicero under the guise Mueller. While Brian Geraghty lacks the full-blown intensity mixed with humor that Michael Shannon brought to his tightly wound lawman, Knox seems to make up for it in sheer tenacity. It's hard to say that Knox is much of a replacement for Van Alden, but he definitely fills the show's need for a representative from the other side of the law to keep all these would-be lawbreakers feeling the pressure reprisal.

This is probably the most significant amount of action and storyline Boardwalk Empire has granted to Chalky and his part in the grand scheme of things. And when you look at the emotional roller coaster that takes Chalky from tearful remembrance of his family members' funerals to being attacked and nearly killed by Dunn, it's clear Chalky and, obviously, Micheal K. Williams is more than up to the task of delivering  the kind of content Boardwalk Empire specializes in.

The only question now is: after waiting for so long, when will we get more of this newly captivating and more richly layered Chalky White?


Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with 'Marriage and Hunting' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:

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