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BOARDWALK EMPIRE Recap: White Horse Pike

White Horse Pike is one of the two old roads that connect Atlantic City to the Philadelphia area and, back in the Boardwalk Empire days, to, basically, civilization. (Hey, this is Nerdist; we deal in being obsessive. So I know the area. If I REALLY wanted to be obsessive, I’d mention Ideal, the clothing store on said White Horse Pike that generations of Philadelphians knew from its impossible-to-forget jingle. Whoops, just mentioned it.) Interesting, then, that the road, which lent its name for the title of this week’s episode, is the scene of something less than civilized, a hit gone bad. In fact, there are THREE botched assassination attempts in this episode. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Three of this episode’s plot lines — the Chalky-Narcisse battle escalating, the introduction of the heroin trade to the Tampa shipments and Atlantic City in general, and Eli’s dilemma — ultimately merge, while things change for the relationships of Al Capone with Johnny Torrio and Margaret with Arnold Rothstein. The upshot of all of this is that Nucky’s situation has gotten very complicated and, if at all possible, darker and more ominous than ever. And we’re seeing more things tied together, heightening the tension and sending the show hurtling to what could be an explosive season ender.

First, Eli’s problem: After he tried to pass old information to the agents as new — naming a Torrio lieutenant who’d actually been dead for two years — Knox/Tolliver (can we just call him Knox? Good) shows up at Eli’s house, posing as an insurance salesman (with the name of the dead mobster), checking on things and issuing veiled warnings that in an instant, “everything can be gone.” So if Eli’s cooperating on the surface, he’s trying not to do that at all. And who knows if it’ll matter: Knox/Tolliver (sorry, I’m used to it by now) is in Washington with J. Edgar Hoover, who has turned his attention to black folk; When Knox/Tolliver proudly proclaims that he’s found the “weak link” — Eli — in Nucky’s organization, Hoover blows him off. You know that the agent isn’t going to give up, but he’s no longer the fair-haired boy. But, then again, Hoover was shown watching newsreel footage of Marcus Garvey, his new target, when he was talking about the racial issue, and we know that Narcisse uses Marcus Garvey’s organization as a cover, so this could change.

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But before we get to how that plays into things, there’s the Chalky-Narcisse battle. First, Chalky brings the Onyx staff into the alley to plan for an assault on Narcisse at his North Side office and Harrow comes into the alley; he’s been hired by Chalky via Nucky to work in the kitchen. Chalky et al. show up to shoot up Narcisse’s place, but they don’t kill Narcisse — a mistake, because Narcisse gets up and shoots Chalky in the shoulder. Narcisse then heads to the club demanding that Nucky have Chalky killed. But Nucky just asks him “who the fuck do you think you are?…. You’re leaving on your feet or on your back, so don’t make a mistake.” He tells Narcisse to take up his problems with Chalky. Meanwhile, Chalky gets tended to by Harrow (not his son-in-law to be, the doctor? No, for reasons that become apparent later), who bandages him up before Daughter Maitland shows up to visit. She warns Chalky that Narcisse will “come after you… after us. ” “Let him come,” Chalky responds. When Nucky visits, Chalky wants his help going after Narcisse. “I can tell you what I don’t want,” Nucky tells him, “and that’s a fucking war.” But he adds, “I don’t want the trots, either, but when they come I deal with it.” Mayor Bader is out in front of Narcisse’s place, posing for pictures with Narcisse and proclaiming that he will not rest until the perpetrators are caught. Keep this one in mind for a few moments….

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(And as for the son-in-law, we learn when Chalky’s daughter goes to the Onyx Club office looking for Chalky and finds Narcisse (posing as “Richard Pastor”) instead, that the wedding’s off. And Narcisse’s leering “sympathy” towards Maybelle may augur more complications for Chalky, as if Chalky doesn’t have enough trouble in his life.)

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Up in New York, Margaret’s at the broker’s sweatshop, calling about apartment rentals when Mr. Redstone — Rothstein — interrupts. He does some quick calculations to determine that her income doesn’t come close to covering her proposed rent; he gives her his number, offers to employ her, then asks her to inform on her boss’ stock dealings and feed the tips to him for his investment benefit. Insider trading is, of course, highly illegal, but illegal is beside the point for pretty much everyone in this show. She mulls the offer, then, after laying awake at night as the upstairs neighbors fight, she accepts a visit from Rothstein for dinner; She asks for a five-year deal and an apartment in a safe neighborhood, rent-free. It’s a deal, surprising Rothstein, who admits that he’s never done business with a woman before. We’ll see if it remains business.

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Chicago? Oh, nothing, other than an attempt on Al Capone’s life. Al gets an anonymous call telling him goodbye; when Nelson/George, there serving as bartender for the Capone Boys and their prostitutes, sees machine guns poking out of the window across the street behind Al, he shouts for everyone to get down and dives on Al, saving his life. Al muses how lucky it was that Johnny Torrio just happened to leave minutes before the incident. Luck, he most certainly thinks, had nothing to do with it.

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In Tampa, booze is being put in the orange crates while Sally orders everyone to get moving. Returning the bar, she sees Luciano and Lansky with Petrucelli, and they’re putting heroin in the crates. She calls Nucky to tell him about it, prompting Nucky to tell Mickey Doyle and Eli to interrupt the shipment on the way to New York. The shipment gets interrupted, all right — by the feds, accompanied by Eli. Lansky’s along for the ride, too, and Knox/Tolliver blows the driver away with one shot to speed things up. The next day, Nucky has Lansky on his knees with Eli holding a gun to Lansky’s head (and Knox looking on), and Lansky blames the heroin thing on Masseria. But after Nucky makes it clear with a slap that he’s not buying the Boy Scout routine, Lansky tells him about the millions to be made in the heroin trade; Nucky tells him to call Masseria and tell him that if he ever wants to see Lansky or the heroin again, he’d better “get his ass down here.” That, Masseria does, introducing his partner — Narcisse. “What the hell is going on?,” asks Nucky. “The world is going on,” Narcisse responds, “with or without you.” Nucky’s resisting, but Narcisse is putting a non-negotiable demand on the table, Chalky delivered to Narcisse. Nucky asks for a third of the operation, Narcisse quickly agrees, and they have a rather uncomfortable deal. Maybe.

Nucky asks Bader to make sure Chalky gets sent out of town. Sure enough, a couple of sheriff’s guys pick Chalky and Daughter up. But Willie informs Nucky that he saw Bader and Narcisse have a long meeting — over an hour — at the office, and Nucky immediately suspects trouble. Meanwhile, Chalky sees that the car is not going the normal route to Philadelphia. He feigns sleep, and when one of the guards turns and pulls a gun, Chalky grabs it, turns it on the would-be assassin, and pulls the trigger. He then chokes the driver with his makeshift sling. Yes, Bader’s turned, and Willie’s informing on him to Nucky. “This is the life you want?,” Eli asks. “Isn’t this what we do?” Willie responds. Well, yes, this IS what they do.

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So, after three attempted assassinations, the heroin, Chalky-Narcisse, Knox/Tolliver-Eli, Masseria/Lansky/Luciano, and Nucky/Tampa worlds are colliding. Al Capone is finally apparently about to make that move to take over the operation. Margaret exists. This barnburner of a season is getting more barnburner-y. Two episodes left in the season, and it’s getting good. Really good. Unlike some other shows (coughHomelandcough), this season is actually bringing Boardwalk Empire to some new heights, even if the main character’s still taking a back seat to the co-stars and some plot lines go AWOL for extended periods. The way things are going, I kind of can’t wait to see how they wrap this season.

Did you watch? Post your observations in the comments below… and a little traveling music:

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