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Acres of Diamonds
Nucky has reservations about investing in a Tampa land deal engineered by transplanted bootlegger Bill McCoy. While there, he meets speakeasy owner Sally Wheet. Valentin Narcisse books a sexy jazz singer, Daughter Maitland, to perform at the Onyx, and gauges Dunn Purnsley’s allegiance to Chalky. Willie, Eli’s son, turns to Mickey Doyle and his bootleg warehouse to elevate his social standing at college. Gillian agrees to pose as Roy Phillips’ wife to impress a possible partner. Harrow tries to bury his past, though not before taking care of some unfinished business with Emma.
For the most part, money remains the grease to everybody’s wheels and goes beyond mere transactional fulfilment. Nucky demands his cut from Bader, even though he’s not involved in his latest development. He is owed simply because he is involved in everything, even Eddie knows this much. The first and usually also the last thing to which Richard’s victims have recourse is money. It invariably fails.
The difference has very little to do with money itself, and more to do with the situation of the principals concerned. When velvet-voiced newcomer Dr Valentin Narcisse runs his game, 10% of the Onyx Club is his price. Nucky, that most seasoned of players, reaches calmly for the solution while Chalky still seethes in a soup of his resentment. Like much of Boardwalk Empire, this episode is a study in contrasts. Compare the easy manner with which Chalky’s hand slips to his wallet when the band members ask for money up front, as Mr Pastor used to do. A few dollars here and there is one thing. It makes Chalky feel like Prince Largesse, but a slice of his club? That’s a different game and Dr Narcisse is a different player.
The scene between them, with Nucky acting as chaperone, formalises the differences between the two men. Although they are, according to the Doctor, both of the ‘Libyan Tribe’, they take opposing responses to their rising status, a difference that could be custom designed to engineer conflict. Whenever his identity is challenged, Chalky accentuates his blackness, as he frequently does in the presence of his son in law. Faced with the mannered gentility of Narcisse he does so again, despite, or perhaps because, it marks him as the odd man out in the room.
Narcisse shares his counterpart’s hyper-consciousness of racial identity, but his response is in opposition. Playing Stringer Bell to Chalky’s Avon Barksdale, Narcisse has a manner that is deliberately soft, delicate and precise and he wears his education with pride. ‘Mr Narcisse?’ asks Nucky. Doctor Narcisse, he is corrected ‘I spent too long studying to forgo it’. It’s not simply the pride in a doctorate as an insistence on status he earned for himself. He shares his studied observations with all who will hear it. The Onyx Club is owned by black people, staffed by black people and offers black people as entertainment but no black person may enter as a customer. If Chalky believes that his growing wealth really is the same thing as an increasing status, then Narcisse is only too willing to burst his bubble. The relationships between and within Boardwalk Empire’s various communities has been a theme from the beginning but it looks set to be particularly so this season. It is a difficult path to tread, many of the wounds inflicted in the 1920s have yet to heal and several of the tensions remain unreleased. Even though the show does not balk at giving its characters a mouthful of brutal epithets, sometimes words are not enough. Fortunately, we’re given more than that.