The Old Ship of Zion
Boardwalk Empire | Season 4 | Episode 8

The Old Ship of Zion

TV-MA | 58 MIN

Written by Cristine Chambers and Howard Korder
Directed by Tim Van Patten

On the Northside, Dunn Purnsley conducts business at a heroin den, overseen by his underling Moses. Dunn supplies Moses with two bricks of heroin, in exchange for cash. When Moses complains he's running low, Purnsley orders him to cut the batch a minimum of four times. As he leaves, Dunn hands Moses a flyer for Dr. Narcisse's play, "Ominira," telling him everyone is expected to attend.

Agent Knox continues to work his criminal conspiracy case in Washington, D.C. When his team presents him with nothing but "anecdotes" about Nucky's associates, Knox threatens to put them all back on land fraud cases. After a moment, an agent coolly mentions the poisoning case involving Nucky's nephew Willie, and the murder trial his former roommate Clayton Davies is facing. Looking for leverage, Knox meets with Clayton in jail, offering him three packs of Chesterfield cigarettes in exchange for information on Willie Thompson.

Restless at the Albatross, Willie offers to join Nucky on the day's business until he learns his father will also be present. Frustrated with his nephew's extended stay, Nucky tells Willie that while returning to Philadelphia isn't practical, he needs to think about how to turn recent events into an opportunity.

As Daughter Maitland sings "The Old Ship of Zion" at Deacon Cuffy's funeral, Chalky realizes the Northside community is turning against him, toward Dr. Valentin Narcisse. Chalky's wife, Lenore, and his daughter Maybelle notice that Chalky is drawing stares and whispers from the congregation.

At Mickey Doyle's warehouse, Eli is still upset over Willie dropping out of school. Nucky advises Eli to leave Willie be and "it'll sort itself out." As Eli and Nucky meet the first rum shipment up from Tampa, Nucky is surprised: Sally Wheet came along to oversee the delivery. Immediately, she deduces that Nucky is thrown by her presence and she attaches herself to a welcoming Mickey Doyle (who has Eddie Kessler's cane in hand) for a night on the town.

Chalky greets a surprised Dunn at the Northside barbershop, questioning him about his absence from Deacon Cuffy's funeral. To get back in the Northside community's good graces, Chalky, Dunn and some men raid the heroin den to find out who is supplying the drugs. Before Chalky can find anything out, Dunn kills Moses, silencing him. Eyeing Dunn, Chalky uncovers a satchel full of money, bricks of heroin - and the "Ominira" flyer tucked in the dead man's vest.

Mayor Bader arrives at the Albatross in search of Nucky, and ends up chatting with Willie about his political career while he waits. Once Nucky sends his nephew away, Bader reminds him it's an election year. In light of recent unrest in the Northside, Bader has concerns, "I'm nowhere without the colored vote." Nucky tells him that's not his problem; Bader needs to make his own connection with Chalky.

After his visit with the mayor, Nucky heads to the Onyx Club and observes Chalky's fixation with Daughter. "Don't let your life get out of hand," he advises his friend. Downstairs, Nucky confronts Mickey, busy flirting with Sally at the bar. When Sally attempts to leave with Mickey, Nucky cracks him on the head with Eddie's cane and leaves with her instead.

Sally, after a night of raucous sex with Nucky, finds Willie attempting to rustle up breakfast. After an awkward introduction, she assembles a feast for them on the porch. When Nucky joins them, Willie tells him that after talking with Sally, he realizes he can't stay at the Albatross any longer. He wants to make his own way in Atlantic City, starting from the bottom. Nucky agrees to his plan on the condition he apologizes to his parents.

Following a performance of Dr. Narcisse's morality play, "Ominira," the underwhelmed audience gets an encore show when Chalky arrives to confront Narcisse. Outside of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Chalky sets fire to the bricks of heroin uncovered at the den, telling Narcisse, "This one called, ‘Harlem by Torchlight.' " Later, Narcisse goes to see Daughter at her rooming house and instructs her to keep Chalky there that night, and to expect "another visitor."

At the warehouse, Sally prepares to return to Florida with the trucks. When Nucky misinterprets her coy behavior as an invitation for a farewell romp, Sally is quick to correct him: "I didn't babysit your first shipment north just because I have a good heart." Getting it, Nucky offers $1000 for the job, but Sally successfully pushes for $1500.

With Nucky's help, Willie takes a job in Mayor Bader's office and promises to be his eyes and ears. Nucky gives him his copy of "Ragged Dick" for inspiration and asks Willie to figure out what he wants, not what he thinks Nucky wants. Recalling the days when Nucky was treasurer and his father was sheriff, Willie tells Nucky he wants the family "to be back where it belongs."

That evening, Agents Knox and Selby confront Eli at a coffee shop and reveal they're with the Bureau of Investigation. Knox tells Eli about his illuminating talk with Clayton Davies—and how Nucky got Willie's murder charge pinned on Clayton. If Eli doesn't cooperate in Knox's investigation of Nucky and his co-conspirators, Knox will put Willie in jail.

Post-coitus, Chalky prepares to leave Daughter's room at her boarding house. Following Narcisse's orders, she encourages him to stay. Chalky asks Daughter to sing "The Old Ship of Zion," which reminds him of his youth and his father's funeral. They are interrupted by Dunn, who tells Chalky he's found out who has been pushing heroin on the Northside. Chalky, aware Dunn is lying and working for Narcisse, confronts him. They have a vicious fight, and just as Dunn is about to kill Chalky, Daughter plunges a knife in Dunn's back, killing him.

Shaken by his confrontation with Knox and Selby, Eli returns home to find Willie, Nucky and the rest of his family happily reunited. Willie apologizes and asks for permission to move back in. Eli hesitates for a moment, then opens his arms and welcomes his son home. Clapping his brother on the arm, Nucky reiterates to Eli: "Didn't I say it would work itself out?"