Michael Kenneth Williams, Erik LaRay Harvey
[WARNING: The following story contains major spoilers from Sunday's episode of Boardwalk Empire. Read at your own risk.]
On Sunday's Boardwalk Empire, the battle between Chalky White and Dr. Valentin Narcisse went to the next level. And by the end of the episode, another important character was counted among this season's body count.
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After Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) became increasingly suspicious of Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) and his influence on Chalky's turf, Chalky recruited Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey) to help him wipe out one of Narcisse's heroin headquarters. Of course, because Dunn is secretly heading up Narcisse's heroin operation in Atlantic City, he quickly kills the man Chalky was hoping to interrogate.
When Chalky interrupts a performance of Narcisse's one-act play to publicly burn the drugs, Narcisse orders Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) to keep Chalky occupied at her apartment, where Narcisse sends Dunn to murder Chalky. But executive producer Howard Korder tells TVGuide.com a showdown between Dunn and Chalky is long overdue.
"The bill for Chalky's treatment of Dunn Purnsley has been gathering interest since they met seasons ago," Korder says, referencing a jailhouse beat-down Dunn received in Season 2 at the hands of Chalky. "I think there's been a reckoning that's been very long in coming. That powder keg has always been there, it's just been waiting for someone to light the fuse. That's what happens in this episode."
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But just as Dunn gains the upper hand and begins choking Chalky to death, Daughter betrays Dr. Narcisse's wishes and stabs Dunn in the back, fatally wounding him. "She has a deep and very twisted relationship with her mentor, father-figure, Svengali, Valentin Narcisse, and this is a very violent act of freeing herself," Korder says. "I don't think she knows what she's freeing herself for, but it is an act of rebellion. What happens in this episode is she and Chalky fall in love. Somewhere underneath everything, they are kindred spirits. So, something in her rises up and definitely tries to free itself, and she does that by stabbing Dunn. The fate of these two characters is locked for the rest of our season."
Below, we chat with Harvey about saying goodbye to his character, the downside of Dunn's ambition, how Harvey turned a one-episode appearance into three seasons on the show. Plus: Why is Chalky so lucky?
At what point did you learn that Dunn wouldn't survive the season?
Erik LaRay Harvey: I didn't know from the top of the season what the story line was. I think around Episode 5 they told me that Episode 8 was going to be my last episode. It was shocking to me, as I think it will be to the audience. But it has been a great journey. I really appreciate all three seasons that I have been on the show.
Dunn and Chalky never really got off on the right foot. Do you think that's part of why Dunn decided to betray Chalky this season?
Harvey: I don't think Dunn ever got over the vicious beating he received. He got his eye kicked in and his teeth kicked out. Chalky saw in Dunn that bold, aggressive character that he was and wanted him in his camp. He knew he could be a great enforcer. So, he took Dunn along to become his right-hand man, but I think in the back of Dunn's mind, it was never really resolved. This year, they obviously went full circle with that story line. Narcisse comes along right at the time that Dunn wants to step out and make his own road. He has the opportunity with Narcisse, so he takes it.
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Do you think if Narcisse hadn't come into the picture, Dunn would have still tried to strike out on his own?
Harvey: I can only go off of what was written. But after Episode 1 of this season, when Chalky started calling him "Sweetback," I think Dunn started seeing the contempt displayed by Chalky. He was really looking for a way out of that situation. He didn't like that at all. He was ready to go, and as the universe and fate would have it, the door opens and there was Dr. Narcisse.
But Dr. Narcisse has his own flaws. Do you think he thought about whether or not he was actually improving his situation?
Harvey: I don't think he sees Narcisse as a savior. He just believes that Narcisse offers him a way to make his own living and to step out of the shadows of Chalky and create his own kingdom. Dunn knows this guy isn't on the up and up. It's just money. Their relationship is just all about money. It seems like he's gone from Chalky's right-hand man to Narcisse's right-hand man, but there's a lot on his own in between the two. Everything in between has been Dunn operating for his own interests.
And Dunn repeatedly resorted to lethal force to protect those interest and his new operation.
Harvey: It is a lot of self-preservation. In a cruel, cold way, it's all about making that step up toward the money and the power. I think he's ruthless in that sense that he would do anything to continue the level of success he's instantly seen in the short time he's been with Dr. Narcisse. I think he'll fight tooth and nail for that not to be destroyed, even at the expense of the community.
Do you think that thirst for money and power was Dunn's fatal flaw?
Harvey: [Laughs] Someone on set actually said during this episode, "Ambition's a bitch." But I really wouldn't have it any other way, and I wouldn't change that story. I wouldn't call ambition a flaw. I would hope all our characters and everybody in the world would have ambition. If you have to die because you have ambition, so be it. But with Dunn's death — he was literally backstabbed. If Daughter hadn't turned on Dr. Narcisse, Chalky would not be alive.
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What was Dunn thinking in that final showdown with Chalky?
Harvey: Someone's got to go. Someone's got to get beat down, either him or me. Personally, filming that scene was really hard for me to do — the choking scene. I didn't want to do it. It's that love-hate thing: You can only hate someone if you love them. Over the seasons, I've come to love Chalky, as a character and [Michael K. Williams] as an actor. They were telling me as I was choking him, "Go harder, go harder!" There was so much tension in my arms, because I didn't even want to do it. But it had to be done.
And Dunn had the upper hand for most of the fight!
Harvey: Chalky's a lucky guy! [Laughs] He would have gotten beat down in jail if he didn't have his boys. And he would have been dead this season if he didn't have Daughter. I could have killed him, but he got out of it twice.
At least Dunn didn't die in vain. I'm sure Daughter's actions will have major ramifications in the coming episodes.
Harvey: Yeah, definitely. It's gratifying to help move the story along. I had a ball doing it. I wasn't even scripted for a season originally. It was just one episode. To have them write me into the show for three years has just been great. I have had so much fun. And they trusted me enough to give me this whole episode. Even though I die in Episode 8, it was one of my best episodes ever. I can't wait to see it.
Boardwalk Empire airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO. What did you think of Dunn's showdown with Chalky?