Although the plot largely revolves around Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire has always been an ensemble show. This has become especially evident in the expansion of locations seen in season 4 – which has felt like it’s spent as much time in Cicero and Chicago as it has in Atlantic City.
And with all that jumping around from location to location and story to story, the series can sometimes feel (on an episode by episode basis, anyway) like it loses track of the elements tying the many disparate story arcs together. As a result, many of the plotlines tend to show up for seemingly little more than throat clearing, while another character or location’s story winds up being the focal point of an episode.
While ‘All In’ certainly does its fair share of plot jumping – we visit the increasingly entertaining Capones, drop in on Nucky at the Onyx Club and even head off to Temple so Willie can unwittingly murder the class bully in horrible fashion – there’s the sense that, for the first time this season, all the various plots and machinations going on within the larger world of Boardwalk Empire are connected by the running theme of gambling – or, more to the point, the idea of going all in.
It’s a simple connection to make between all the characters and the episode’s title – one that’s only helped along the way by Arnold Rothstein’s insistence that Nucky play him in a game of high-stakes poker for the opportunity of his partnership in the sure-to-be-disastrous real estate deal that’s scheduled to go down in Tampa.
Rothstein’s long been tied to gambling, whether its mentions of the 1919 World Series fix, his near ubiquitous presence at a card table, or the significant amount of time the character is seen playing billiards. When the element of gambling is involved, it’s fairly certain the cake-loving gangster won’t be far behind. But rather than make ‘All In’ yet another round between him and Nucky, the episode transitions Rothstein’s partner Meyer Lansky (although he’s frequently perceived as his lackey) to move up a notch in the East Coast gangster food chain by going all in on the Florida land grab – and apparently bringing Lucky Luciano in on it with him.
At four episodes in, this development appears to have shifted the plot of season 4 out of neutral – which no doubt stems more from the ancillary characters like Bill McCoy (Pearce Bunting) and Patricia Arquette’s beguiling (at least to Nucky) barkeep Sally Wheet having successfully been introduced.
While it’s nice to see some inkling of plot progression happening, perhaps the real delight comes from seeing a new side to Rothstein (as the obsessive gambler who never met a losing streak he couldn’t wildly over bet to try and reverse), and getting a better feel for the kind of man Lansky is – which, in typical Boardwalk fashion, is revealed to be prone to outbursts of extreme violence accompanied by ramblings uttered in his native tongue.
At any rate, may Nucky’s wild bet on Lansky bring him (and the series) many prosperous days filled with merriment and mayhem.
Boardwalk Empire will continue next Sunday with ‘Erlkönig’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: