‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 4, Episode 11 Recap: “Havre de Grace”


If there’s one thing Atlantic City emphatically is not, it’s a place where dreams come true. Whether you’re Gillian, Chalky, or just a kingpin who wants to import booze and sell heroin in peace, plans have a nasty habit of crashing and burning on this show. Not that it’s anyone’s fault but the characters’ own: organized crime rarely pays off in the long run, and as we learn in “Havre de Grace,” neither does first-degree murder. Unless something insane happens in next week’s finale, we’ve probably seen the last of Gillian Darmody for a good, long while.

Boardwalk’s most long-suffering character suffers an especially agonizing fall this time around. Now that the heroin’s finally out of her system, Gillian’s seeing clearly for the first time in years. She’s back to being the shrewd, pragmatic survivor, agreeing to sell the Commodore’s mansion for a fraction of what it’s worth. More importantly, she finally lets go of Tommy; realizing that a prolonged custody battle (and, probably, ending up with her) would do the kid more harm than good, she gives him a few of Jimmy’s old dog tags and simply walks away. Independently wealthy and out from under some gangster’s thumb for the first time in her life, Gillian feels so “free” she’s practically high.

This, obviously, is when things go completely off the rails. Roy tells her he’ll have to leave Atlantic City now that the merger’s gone through, and the suddenly wised-up Gillian smells a rat. Is he going back to his wife? No, he wants to marry her! Too bad he ends up shooting a disgruntled former colleague before they elope to California. Back at the mansion, Gillian consoles him… by telling him about that one time she murdered a guy in cold blood. Roy instantly drops the act, revealing that he’s a Pinkerton detective hired by Leander to put her behind bars as revenge for the Commodore’s death-by-pillow. Part of this makes perfect sense — I finally understand why Leander didn’t give her the boot years ago — but Gillian’s confession feels way off. The woman knows how to keep her secrets locked up tight (hello, incest), especially when they relate to her survival. And while she likes Roy, I don’t see someone raped at 13 and used as one man’s pawn after another ever since suddenly believing in a love so deep it can survive a murder confession. Regardless, it looks like the end of the road for Mrs. Darmody.

Chalky’s stuck in a similarly dead end, having run off to his old mentor’s retreat somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland, maybe?) Oscar Boneau may have gone blind, but he sees right through his protege: he’s pissed off his rival, alienated his family, and possibly lost his most important ally, so he’s bolted to the only place left to go. The problem is that there’s not much there for Chalky to run to besides an old man and his nephews. And as Daughter points out, his problems haven’t gone away; there’s his family to think about, not to mention the revenge he obviously wants. Even though Chalky says he wants to run away with her, Daughter doesn’t buy it enough to stay, walking out into the great unknown without him.

Good thing, too: she realizes Chalky’s not gonna ignore Oscar’s advice to dump his “easy rider” forever, and besides, the Doctor’s out for blood, sending three gunmen who take out Boneau. I’m Team Daughter on this one. She’s got her own demons to wrestle with in the form of her messed-up relationship with the Doctor, who’s more or less been her world until this point. The only way to get beyond that is to strike it out on her own, without yet another man to serve as her surrogate father figure. And she’s right that Chalky can’t be trusted not to return to the full life he’s built for himself back in Atlantic City. So by the episode’s end, Chalky’s down two more important allies.

All this lends credence to the “Chalky’s gonna die” fan theories, but after the events of this episode, my money’s on Eli Thompson to buy it before the finale’s ending credits. In a desperate attempt to shore up his finances, Gaston Means attempts to extort Nucky in return for ratting out the “skunk in your cellar.” He’s arrested for perjury before Nucky can get any more details, but the call is enough to arouse his suspicion. In the meantime, Tolliver’s upping the pressure on Eli to arrange a meeting between the Atlantic City, New York, and Florida contingents. As he’s happy to remind his informant, the FBI now has double the blackmail: Willy’s murder and Eli’s own cooperation with the Feds. If either one gets out, Eli’s screwed.

Unfortunately, what’s supposed to be a “normal” day at the beach quickly wises Nucky up to the weak link in his chain. June lets slip at the dinner table that an “insurance agent” stopped by the house, and Eli, smooth operator that he is, proceeds to confirm any suspicion his brother had by flipping out and ordering his wife to “shut your goddamn trap.” Nucky puts two and two together, starts asking Willy some questions about a certain “baby-faced” Prohie, and starts reminiscing about their shared childhood before giving Eli the go-ahead to arrange a peace summit. None of this is good news for Eli, who’s too relieved at Nucky’s quick acquiescence to listen to his own advice from the beginning of the episode: Nucky’s never really wanted peace, especially not with the Doctor. And judging by the way he spits “I want out” at Sally, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get it.