Boardwalk Empire: White Horse Pike, review

A family man will always do the right thing.

Eli Thompson, family man, good father, cheeseater. Agent Knox assures him that he’s doing the right thing selling his brother up the river, but that’s what all cops say. Who knows? Maybe they even believe it. Though I doubt it. Federal cops, history has pointed out, are only interested in one thing, a collar. They don’t care who’s lives they ruin. They don’t care what secrets they accidently spill. Federal cops aren’t like local cops. Oh, sure, they can be bought, but they have always operated above the law. Especially since the reign of Hoover, who steadfastly ignored a national crime syndicate because, he said, reds made better headlines. Personally, I prefer to believe that gangsters had incriminating pictures of him. I’d almost like to see those pictures, but I’m afraid they’d turn me off forever.

One of the things I like about Boardwalk Empire is how they will take a breath for a little bit of symbolism. The stain from the spilled coffee when Agent Knox invaded the home of Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham) is the spread of the rat poison that is spreading through Thompson’s veins. Edgar Allen Poe invented the mystery novel and it turned people like Knox into bulls. C. Auguste Dupin was the detective in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” and “The Purloined Letter.” I was glad when Hoover stepped on Agent Knox. Nucky (Steve Buscemi) still thinks Knox is a cop in the bag and even lets him do some of his dirty works.

Nucky’s nice clean booze has been soiled by piggyback shipments of heroin. Heroin made inroads in America around the same time as illegal booze was being distributed. Alcohol, of course, regained its legal standing. Heroin has always been treated like the dirty secret. Since the fifties and the Apalachin raid, more has been said about the mob’s involvement in white powder, but it was usually talked around. Marijuana wasn’t made illegal until 1937 when a stroke of a pen created an entire criminal class because one racist cop told congress it made white women want to sleep with black men. Look it up. It is in the law books. That is the only reason it’s illegal. That and because it competed with the alcohol business. I suspect another reason is that if it’s kept illegal it’s not taxed and it only makes its own money.

Heroin is seen as a plague though. Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright)  sees himself bringing it to pour desperate souls. He also sees himself making a lot of money doing it. Dr. Narcisse, not a particular favorite with Nucky Thompson at the moment, is teamed with Joe Masseria, through his man Luciano who is pressuring Lansky. Lansky, when he knocks off all that boy scout bull shit tells it straight. He’s living the same life, taking the same chances on booze that he’d be with heroin. But heroin has a higher profit margin. Sure you can water down booze and sell it to college kids who won’t know the difference, but you can only get away with that up to a certain volume. Heroin can be stepped on and stepped on and the more it’s stepped on the further down the social ladder it goes, because who’s gonna complain? The problem is that they are being transported in orange crates. You know oranges and mobsters don’t mix. Mickey Doyle (Paul Sparks) should tell him. He’s got time to go to the pictures.

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Chalky would rather get rickets than deal with those oranges. The man goes on the offensive. He puts holes in three of Dr. Narcisse’s man and gets popped in the shoulder for his troubles by the good doctor his bad self. Dr. Narcisse looked pretty capable with a gun. It puts a fire up his ass and assures him that, unfortunate as it may be for Libyans to kill their fellow brethren, Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams)  is one dead motherfucker. Dr. Narcisse doesn’t just assemble his men, he makes an end run to the Mayor. At the quarter to mark, I really thought that was the end for Mr. White, who I’ve grown quite fond of. I am so very glad he is quite capable himself. I was also heartened that Richard (Jack Huston) lent a helping hand. My skin crawled when Dr. Narcisse told Chalky’s daughter that daughters always get the bad end. Dr. Narcisse has a thing for going after the daughters of his victims. Making them his own. Molding them. He did it with Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham).

For Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) is also a capable man. He holds himself straight and gentlemanly at all times, but he is a rogue. More roguish than his character on Boardwalk Empire. He does have his fun, but there must always be an angle. Rothstein isn’t the kind of crook to endanger himself when he can work out his exit plan. He is the kind of criminal Margaret is accustomed to. She’s coming to realize that everyone is a criminal, even her bonded and legal Wall Street boss. So what’s a little insider trading? It’ll get her out of that Brooklyn shithole with the screaming maniac husband and wife. It really is a treat to do business with a woman.

Al Capone (Stephen Graham) wants to give a treat to his caporegime Johnny Torrio. Torrio’s been taking it easy and Capone’s been bringing up ambitious guys. Like George Mueller (Michael Shannon) here. He helped with that bad flower order, pay a fin and they still get delivered wilted. Capone is even moving up his brother Ralph so Al could take a more hands-on role in the business. When Torrio retires, Al wants him to know he’ll be leaving the North Side in good hands. Not that Torrio’s retiring any time soon. When Mueller  saves Capone seconds after Torrio calls it a night, it looks like Torrio might have set Capone up. But I do not believe that. Torrio always did alright by Capone and Al kicked up respectfully. There is no squeeze, just a junior partner making good. That attempt from across the street didn’t come from the family.

Family is important. Crime families may have different family values, but they are deep and respectful. The Thompson family is no different. They used to run Atlantic City the right way. Legally. Politically. On the side of the law. Eli was the law. The sheriff. His son’s been working at the Mayor’s office. On the books but with an ear to the ground to pick up whatever’s lying low. Willie reports back to his uncle Nucky. That’s the way it’s done in the family and Willie’s following family tradition. His father sees that. Eli Thompson, family man, good father. I don’t think he’ll be eating cheese any more.

“White Horse Pike” was directed by Jake Paltrow and written by Dave Flebotte.

Den of Geek Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

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4 out of 5