"I've been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bath, some chow, and then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies."
The previous sentence spoken by Al Capone closes out the eleventh episode of this season of Boardwalk Empire. It not only sets up a raucous finale, but concludes one of the finest hours for the show in its three year history.
Week by week, Boardwalk has built this season as one where the country-wide bootlegging business, started in response to Prohibition, gets nasty, bloody and extremely personal. In my last couple reviews I've clamored for one of those episodes; the kind that take shows from pretty good to fairly great. Well it took damn near three months but I finally got my wish.
The outset of "Two Imposters" shows us the aftermath of Nucky's unwelcome midnight delivery, the body of his number one do-it-all henchman Owen Sleater in a crate. After seeing the reaction off his wife, who was having an affair with Owen and planned to run away with him, Nucky immediately confronts his butler Eddie Kessler about what he knew of the adulterers. Before he can make much headway into that conversation Nucky finds his penthouse office in the Ritz Carlton ambushed by Joe Masseira's men. This leads to one of the best, high tension, high action scenes in the series. For the first seven or so minutes of this hour we're treated to Nucky and Eddie eluding their foes, and in typical Jersey fashion this shit is violent and unforgiving.
So unforgiving that Eddie is shot in the stomach and requires immediate medical attention. Since Nucky can't trust anyone, and even finds himself being shot at outside the hospital that has an entire wing named after him, he flees, hoping to find an ally elsewhere.
Meanwhile Gyp Rosetti takes over Nucky's office and decides to spread the (premature) word that the kingpin is dead and that he's now in charge. The Italian that is convinced he is perpetually given the short-end even drops in on Gillian Darmody and tries to commandeer her business. He basically tells his horde of thugs and enforcers they can crash there, which leads to a hilarious scene which involves Gillian smacking bare asses with brooms to get people to stop banging in the commons room.
The episode tries to divide it's time per the Boardwalk standard but this one is all about Nucky and his desperate attempts to survive minute by minute. Nucky does find solace at Chalky White's house, but per the laws of gangsterdom, Mr. White wants something in return: ownership of his own nightclub/restaurant on the boardwalk. Nuck tries to tell him it's nearly impossible, but Chalky won't have it.
Meanwhile, Eddie Kessler's health begins to fade due to his bullet wound so Chalky calls in the young black doctor that tried to marry his daughter earlier this season. As they fix him, and he screams in agony due to the subpar conditions and an untrained doctor at the helm, Gyp Rosetti swings by Chalky's house to chat about the new era of Atlantic City politics. The scene is gut-wrenchingly taut, with both Gyp and Chalky giving respect through gritted teeth and smart-ass retorts. Gyp does eventually leave, but not before announcing a hefty reward for the murder of Nucky Thompson.
In an almost meta moment Nucky watches over Eddie as he recovers from his surgery. Nuck quizzes his servant on some particulars of his life, and he's surprised to find Eddie has a wife and kids. It's a funny moment because Eddie has been around since episode one, but for some reason among a massive cast full of odd cats and weirdoes, he's the one figure who seems more like an NPC. The fact that Nucky doesn't even know where the man who serves his meals and answers his phone calls comes from or who he associates with on off hours not only points to the small oversight in failing to give Eddie his obligatory 1920's quirk that comes with the show, but also encapsulates the episode's overall theme — Nucky might be more alone than he ever thought. Who is he to trust when Owen is dead, his wife completely absent from his life (and for the entire episode, we never see Margaret in this hour, maybe the first time since early season 1), and his brother is unreachable?
Even Chalky senses this, and suggests Nucky flee from the "black part of town" because twenty-five thousand is just enough money for a man to do something stupid, like kill the most powerful man in town. After a bumpy ride in the back of a truck, Nucky reaches solace thanks to his nephew, Eli's oldest, Willie.
It's there Nucky and Chalky come to an agreement: if the latter agrees to gather the blacks to war with Rosetti Nucky will do everything he can to secure the restaurant for him. Then something more important happens: the two both acknowledge their friendship, a certain bond that maybe goes beyond booze and blood feuds.
That's when Eli shows up with a whole battalion of armed goons, and delivers his brother's new guardian angel, the lethal, smirking mobster known as Al Capone.
The sudden alliance of Nucky-Chalk-Alfonse is a welcome surprise to the season as the first half of "Two Imposters" looked bad for Mr. Thompson. I also have to commend the writers for their approach to Al Capone. As they like to at least pay history some respect in regards to accuracy, the writers did not give Capone much clout early on, and decided to push him into his legendary role with ease and subtlety. This year we saw Capone take more responsibility in Chicago, and witnessed his boss Johnny Torrio take a soft step back, almost bowing to Capone's more savage thuggery in a Sith Master/Apprentice type way.
A couple more important segments take place, but their endgame has yet to be revealed. One) Lucky Lucanio is set up and arrested by the cops on a heroin deal. Doesn't seem too prudent to the main plot but hey, it gave us a cool scene with another eccentric character. I think the show is trying to show one of the dozens Lucky's arrests in his long career in crime. Two) We see Richard told off by Gillian a couple times for trying to obtain happiness (the bastard!). She kicks him out of her whorehouse, and at the end of this episode we find Harrow getting all his weaponry ready for something big. My guess is he's going to go rescue Tommy from his wicked grandmother. I'm still hoping he's the one to kill Rosetti.
The main plotline concerning Nucky and Gyp is thriving, but there are plenty of characters on the edges of the main thread that may or may not show up in the finale episode of 2012. Whatever the case, if the last installment of this season can match the intensity and surprise of this one there should no lack of excitement with what's coming in 2013.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies&nb
sp;and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.