There were three main plotlines tonight’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, “Devil You Know,” and ironically, it was the Nucky Thompson plotline that was the least interesting. In part that’s because — despite the fact that there are only two episodes left after tonight — most of Nucky’s storyline involved him hitting bottom (getting in a bar fight, getting knocked out by a couple of bar floozies) and spinning his wheels until the end, when his men Deus Ex Demonstrated their loyalty to him by all agreeing to rally behind their guy in the coming war with Lucky Luciano (spoiler: Luciano doesn’t die).
The ongoing flashback with Nucky, which has yet to prove itself particularly worthwhile to the series, continued in that vein, although I will grant that the kid who plays young Nucky Thompson (Marc Pickering) does one helluva Buscemi impression. The flashback this week worked itself up to the point in the timeline in which Gillian Darmody came into Thompson’s life as a young thief who lived under the boardwalk and looked like a boy. What story Terence Winter wants to tell with all of this remains elusive, unless it is eventually the story about Nucky’s wife losing her child and killing herself, which could bring us full circle back to Margaret.
But the two major subplots tonight involved Nelson Van Alden and Chalky White. Where it concerns Van Alden — and his death at the hands of one of the government agents, Mike D’Angelo, after he was forced to kill Van Alden before he was ratted out — it was a fitting death for the character, but not necessarily for the actor. I feel like Michael Shannon was kept on the show beyond the first season because he’s such a phenomenal performer, because his career was taking off, and the show wanted to take advantage of that. However, the series never quite figured out what to do with him, other than to make him a Capone lackey. They kept him on the show, but they never really gave him a meaningful role. It was an unfortunate demise, but if Van Alden/Mueller had been played by nearly any other actor, it wouldn’t have had much impact at all.
However, where it concerns Chalky White, I feel like he did get an end worthy of his character. That character has strayed from his origins, and the Boardwalk writers may have gotten lost along the way, but I think they did the best they could with the corner they’d written themselves in. They made Chalky a martyr. They made his death worth something. He did not die defined by revenge; he died defined by his selflessness, with Daughter Maitland’s beautiful voice echoing in his mind during the final seconds before the shots rang out.
RIP Chalky White.