Thoughts on Boardwalk Empire Season Four

Spoilers all up in your face and mouth

A phenomenal finale. Eli and Tolliver’s fight was brutal and hilarious (where did all those objects coming from? Who keeps a saw handy?). The twists and turns of Narcisse and Chalky’s sit-down were thrilling. I was so caught up in the daughter trade-off that I forgot Harrow would likely have a role. The scene went from Chalky having the upper-hand, to him losing it to Narcisse, to me practically punching the air when I realised Harrow was going to save the day, to open-mouthed amazement when Maybelle fell. An emotional roller-coaster in the span of two or three minutes.

Narcisse surviving Chalky’s hit was too cliched a plot mechanic. Mr White wouldn’t have those people gunned down and then not step in to check for signs of life. Boardwalk is better than that

Three likeable, if minor, characters gone in the space of a single season. Eddie was at his best this season, and was even more amusing than normal when socialising with Ralph Capone.

And Purnsley too? Goddamit. Another of my favourite minor players taken out. At the time I thought his turn against Chalky came too soon, but on reflection, it had been simmering from the season’s beginning.

Alas poor Harrow. Richard was one of those characters who seemed to escape the reaper again and again, until he didn’t. Now that Harrow had a wife, a ‘son’ and a regular job, his task for Nucky looked like the ‘one last job’ that gets so many fictional criminals killed.

I was surprised by every one of these deaths, though they were clearly imminent (though more so Harrow and Purnsley). But those characters were so likeable that I struggled to accept that they might disappear.

Boardwalk reminds me of The Wire in the bleak way it sets up deaths. Characters find their options narrowing until a desperate move is the only move left. Eli is perhaps the only character to survive such a situation.

I think one reason those deaths were so surprising was that Boardwalk still seems like a fresh, new show, not one with just a single season remaining. It’s the show I watched as I assembled furniture in my new house, which doesn’t seem that long ago. It’s the show that really only hit greatness last season. It seems wrong that Boardwalk should be wrapping up so soon. Simultaneously, the showrunners should be applauded for ending the show on what will likely be a high instead of it running too long like, well, pretty much every other show.

I wasn’t sold on the way Roy caught Gillian out. Was it so obvious that she would tell her murder-tale there and then that the other detectives could just wait nearby? And if she didn’t confess at that time, would they continue to creep around her house hoping she didn’t hear them? I liked that the show told us Roy was up to something and I still couldn’t ascertain his end game (I thought he was trying to con her out of her money from the house sale).

I loved how the show plays with Nucky’s facade — him trying to project an image of someone disinterested in friendship and no sense in loyalty, an image we know to be false. This season he tried to deny his fondness for Chalky, and there was a feeling he was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. His move to save Chalky started from a good place, but ended up with two people dead.

Dr Narcisse’s lines seems to have been written by the same person responsible for Owen Sleater’s dialogue, in that his total lines: quotables ratio was incredibly high (“An exile does not choose his Babylon”, for example).

On the subject of verbosity, I enjoyed seeing Meyer getting some screen time. Sadly, his wordiness was rarely on display.

I enjoyed Brian Geraghty’s kind-of-dual roles as the FBI’s Tolliver and bumbling probie, Knox. Though I did feel that the more Geraghty played Tolliver, the less convincing he was as Knox.

Loved every Capone/Van Alden scenes, Al looking up into the clouds to intimidate a man who towers above him.

Van Alden was my favourite character in season one, but in subsequent years he had little place in the story and served mostly as comic relief. I loved his arc this season. Regaining his mojo after telling O’Banion his backstory and standing up to Al was a triumphant moment.

I love how Boardwalk will start an episode with something happening to a minor character (Capone’s man collapsing on the stairs, for example) and then show us the important repercussions from that seemingly innocuous event

While Boardwalk is still the Nucky Thompson Show, he really faced little peril in season four. Last year had a clear and brilliant antagonist in Gyp. This time, Narcisse was more Chalky’s problem than Nucky’s, and the threat of Tolliver and Hoover was one of which Nucky was mostly unaware. For most of the season, Thompson’s problems were deciding how to continue his booze-running and then whether to get into heroin dealing. Season three was marginally better than this year, perhaps because of the clear archetypal battle between Nucky and Gyp.


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