Boardwalk Empire: Devil You Know Review

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t even open until after you've seen Boardwalk Empire Devil You Know.

I’m not kidding about the spoiler alert. I’m opening right up with this Boardwalk Empire “Devil You Know” review with who we won’t be seeing next week, unless it’s in a flashback. This is HBO and Boardwalk Empire’s in its death throes, so you know it’s going to hurt. I’m just filling in space so it doesn’t show up on the search engine teasers and ruin it for people who don’t want it ruined.

Death scenes may be great for actors, but they suck sometimes for us. Not because we aren’t thrilled at how it moves the narrative and keeps us on our toes, but because we don’t get to see the actors do their thing anymore. And on HBO death usually comes right when they’re about to do that thing they do really really well. For instance, we will never see Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) through Chalky’s eyes anymore. Was she really that attractive? Was her voice as good as it sounded to my ears? Or was it just that Chalky emanated that? I mean, it doesn’t really matter. I’d buy a Sister Maitland album. Singing the songs she made famous on Boardwalk Empire. It was effective either way.

Humphrey Bogart was not a sex symbol until Ingrid Bergman looked at him with love and lust in Casablanca. The way one actor reacts to another actor can have a great effect on the audience, especially in the hands of an expert. Damn, that means Michael Kenneth Williams is the new Ingrid Bergman. I hope he finds a lot of work that takes this much work and the same goes for Michael Shannon.

Michael Shannon broke through on Boardwalk Empire and I have already gone on about his work in The Iceman and Grand Theft Parsons. But damn I’m going to miss him. Van Alden and Eli just started to become the Abbott and Costello of Boardwalk Empire, except Bud didn’t get a bullet in his brain when he said they weren’t talking about a shortstop. Land Fucking Ho. Van Alden and Eli were great, trading those lies and lines and sideways glances, looking for an excuse that didn’t get them in deeper shit. Two marvelous actors having a blast with understatement. And that death scene. Holy shit. You know he had to go but, like Automobile Club of America, did he have to be that good?

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Death scenes are gold. All the way back to the golden age of Hollywood. Before that even. Romeo and Juliet each went out brilliantly, but Willie knew to save the best for Caesar. When Van Alden jumps on Capone and tries to take him in, he blows Capone’s mind. This is the guy with the irons. A fucking badge. It is crazy. But no crazier than handing off corroborating evidence to a fed in mugs’ clothing.

Poor Al. I said last week that I was looking forward to the George Raft payoff. Raft and Paul Muni, who starred as a Capone type in the gangster classic Scarface, visit Capone via his affable Irish New York mob friend Owney Madden. Raft actually did know Madden. An uncle of mine said Raft used to drive stolen cars before he tangoed his way to Hollywood. He’s always been a personal favorite and I urge anyone who watches Boardwalk Empire to catch the classic Hollywood tough guys, Raft, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield, in the films that inspired this series. The subtle and not-so-subtle references in the show itself jump out like in-jokes. It makes an enjoyable series an even happier experience.

Raft and Muni don’t really have lines. They just sit there looking a little uncomfortable. Not overly, though. A smidgeon of anxious. I’m glad they didn’t act scared. Though Muni was a classically trained actor, I don’t imagine him cowering. He’d probably soak in the atmosphere to see what he could glean for his character. Raft I picture smiling in amused recognition of his West Side Highway days.

Young Nucky (Nolan Lyons) is even more recognizable in his 1897 flashback. Same actor, he’s just matured, grown into his teeth. Good casting on both young Nucky and Eli (Ryan Dinning) parts. Dinning is already showing some of the older Eli’s mannerisms. Can’t say much about the young thief they caught, all covered up in a flat cap and sandy denim. It’s older Nucky who’s almost unrecognizable, letting himself pass as a floor polish salesman from the state of oblivion. A state that makes Francis X. Bushman feel homesick. But even in his buzzed mourning, we see Nucky’s mind working. That knock on the kisser dislodged his fighting spirit and when Mickey Doyle starts leading the charge in his name. You can see the plan stretching out on Steve Buscemi’s forehead.

Nucky’s going up against Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Lansky (Anatol Yusef) next week. I predict this is not going to turn out well. Lucky and Meyer lived long after Boardwalk Empire is set and Nucky is really a composite character based mainly in fiction. Nucky Johnson will do jail time, dust himself off and live fairly well into the 1960s, but Nucky Thompson is expendable.

This is where hope comes to get fucked in the ass. Amazing episode and I don’t have to say that. Francis X. Bushman, Nucky’s nom de plumage in the dive bar with the worst booze in New Jersey, played Romeo in the silent movie version of Romeo and Juliet. He was also Ben Hur’s rival Massala in the silver but silent screen Ben Hur. He may best be known to science fiction geeks as Sessom in the 1961 film, The Phantom Planet.

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“Devil You Know” was directed by Jeremy Podeswa and written by Howard Korder.

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5 out of 5