Following the events of the season 4 premiere, Boardwalk Empire is afforded the chance to introduce the season’s newest, most high-profile addition, in the form of Jeffrey Wright’s Dr. Valentin Narcisse. And, as we see, Dr. Narcisse is a man of considerable intellect who has a way of throwing his weight around without necessarily making much of a ruckus. It’s the kind of display of power that hits men like Nucky where it will elicit the swiftest, and most agreeable (under the circumstances) sort of response: their wallet.
Wright’s introduction and his performance in ‘Resignation’ is striking not simply because he has all the menace of anyone else on Boardwalk Empire, but also because there is an undercurrent of social commentary in his place on the show. Narcisse may be a gangster and a criminal in his own right, one who is willing to pull all the entertainers out of Chalky White’s Onyx Club in retaliation for the gruesome murder of his talent scout Dickie at the hands of Dunn Purnsley, but he’s also unafraid to address Chalky’s supposed rise in society by calling him “a servant, pretending to be a king.” Normally a remark like this might have sparked some sort of outrage on Chalky’s behalf, but considering it was in reference to the customer who just rubbed Chalky’s head for good luck, it was more a stinging indictment than confrontational insult.
If the season is setting up Narcisse as the Big Bad in the same sense that Bobby Cannavale’s Gyp Rosetti was a foil to Nucky’s empire, then it’s going out of its way to demonstrate just how different the cold and calculating Narcisse is from the simmering rage of Rosetti. For one thing, he’s far less cartoonish in his villainy; he’s more a reflection of Nucky than anything else. But his presence and his intentions carry an altogether different weight than Rosetti or Nucky Thompson. Rather than exude pure menace, Narcisse chooses his words carefully and imbues them with meaning meant to say more about the speaker than to convey an actual message. “A thing mixed is a thing weakened,” he says to Mrs. Pastor, seconds before she’s yanked from his car and dragged off to her doom. As far as last words go, Mrs. Pastor’s were mostly words of confusion – something Dr. Narcisse is likely familiar with.
But all this points to a continual problem in the way Nucky Thompson runs things. He’s so adamant about carving out his slice of the pie and assuring everyone he has no interest in helping himself to another man’s plate, he’s blind to the notion someone might fancy his portion. To a certain extent, this has been the plot of season’s two and three, which saw Nucky taking on his own brother, and eventually slaying his surrogate son, and then again with the aforementioned Gyp Rosetti. Similarly, in season 4 there’s a threat lurking somewhere close, in a place Nucky never thought or never cared enough to look. That lack of awareness – the kind that leads to his manservant Eddie Kessler handing in his resignation as a means of demanding more respect and responsibility – may yet prove to be Nucky’s downfall.
Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with ‘Acres of Diamonds’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: