‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 4 Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire New York Sour Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Premiere Review

Which is better: An unfocused series that sometimes meanders from season to season and appears to lack complete, compelling narrative cohesion – or a program so focused on its destination that it is effectively doomed to repetitively lead its audience to the inevitable edge of its own storyline, only to consistently yank them back and start it all over again?

Truth be told, there are drawbacks and advantages to both of these options (the advantages being readily defended by the show’s more ardent fanbase). And while Boardwalk Empire has certainly been pinned as the former, perhaps there is something to be said for the freedom of the 1920s-set picturesque gangland drama’s lack of certainty (in terms of its plot and subtext) that allows it to expand and contract its scope without necessarily having to know where things are headed and why.

To a certain extent that’s okay: being oblique is a great way for the series to discover something about itself and to allow its characters to be far more flexible and mutable as the season-to-season plot dictates. In fact, it could be argued that by this point, Boardwalk Empire has developed so many characters and separate plot threads (some worthwhile and some not so much) that it has effectively segued into an accomplished ensemble piece, rather than a series led by the permanently pursed puss of Steve Buscemi’s Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson.

At the start of season 4, it’s clear that Terence Winter and his crew (which now includes famed novelist and screenwriter Dennis Lehane) have taken that concept to heart, as the series has all but forgotten its humble Atlantic City roots and now spends progressively larger amounts of time in places like New York City (and the various intriguing places it has to offer) and Chicago, to better follow the rise of real-life characters like Stephen Graham’s Al Capone, or Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano – who has now paired himself with Ivo Nandi’s Joe Masseria. Last season, James Cromwell and Stephen Root appeared as Andrew W. Mellon and Gaston Bullock Means, respectively.

Stephen Graham in Boardwalk Empire New York Sour Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Premiere Review

On one hand, all of this simply demonstrates how Boardwalk Empire has expanded and grown over the course of three full seasons, and that, in order to tell a more comprehensive story about the criminal element profiting from prohibition, these are the things that must be included. One the other hand, the drawback of all these admittedly superlative additions to the cast, then, is a further dilution of the central concept behind the series – which wasn’t too clear to begin with – and the further marginalization of criminally underused (or perhaps misused, is the better word) characters like Kelly Macdonald’s Margaret Schroeder/Thompson, who is nowhere to be seen in the season premiere.

Also gone is the rickety tightrope separating the political and criminal ambitions of Nucky Thompson’s life, and with it the more compelling push-pull dynamic of balancing legitimacy with criminality. It could be argued that at the end of season 2, which culminated in the death of Nucky’s would-be counterpart and proxy for his deceased child, James Darmody, the show gambled away its most compelling element and, perhaps, character dynamic.

Since then, it has filled the void with many of the aforementioned real-life characters – three of whom were featured prominently in season 3 – and one incredibly colorful, borderline cartoonish new character by the name of Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), as a way to rock the proverbial boat on which Nucky’s precious cargo rides. Of course, what worked once may well work again, so the compelling addition to this season is that of highly-regarded actor of stage and screen Jeffrey Wright, as Dr. Valentin Narcisse (who will be making his first appearance in the second episode).

Although Narcisse doesn’t appear in ‘New York Sour,’ the threads leading to his introduction are there and they lie within the club that’s now owned and operated by Michael K. Williams’ Chalky White – which looks to be one of the main focal points of the season’s narrative. In fact, much of the action in the premiere is centered in and around the club, as Dunn Purnsley (Eric LaRay Harvey) winds up brutally stabbing a talent scout named Dickie, after being caught sleeping with his wife. The elevated presence of Chalky and Purnsely (as well as the promise of the Harlem-based Narcisse) suggests much of the season’s period-specific gaze will be centered on race and the role of black culture in the 1920s and how primarily white audiences viewed it. So far, this has led to a few awkward situations – one stemming from comments by Nucky’s showgirl date, and the other involving Dunn Purnsley, a man named Dickie and a broken bottle of booze.

Gretchen Mol and Dominic Chianese in Boardwalk Empire New York Sour Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Premiere Review

By and large, ‘New York Sour’ serves as an interesting, if not thrilling set up for Boardwalk Empire season 4. Like season’s past, there are more than a handful of plot threads being strung up in the first hour, which will hopefully converge on the central storyline more quickly and concisely than they have before. There’s the intriguing Agent Knox who goes out of his way to have Agent Sawicki killed by a booby-trapped garage door, and then there’s Ron Livingston’s Piggly Wiggly executive who has conveniently made the acquaintance of Gretchen Mol’s down-on-her-luck Gillian Darmody. And bringing up echoes of the past is Nucky’s nephew Willie, who has gotten a taste of his uncle’s business and finds it more compelling than matriculating at Temple.

Early on, Nucky appears to make peace with New York – meaning Arnold Rothstein and Joe Massaria – insisting he has all the power and territory he could possibly want. He wants to convince them he’s happy with his lot and being holed-up in the Albatross Hotel, and that he’s not looking to stir up or respond to any more trouble. Rothstein says trouble comes from a man’s inability to sit quietly in a room by himself, while Nucky assures him that’s not the case.

Of course, trouble will come looking for Nucky Thompson, as it always does and that keeps things promising. Boardwalk Empire may not necessarily have designs on precisely where it is going as a series, but that doesn’t mean that a slow ride to some vague destination can’t be entertaining and very, very nice to look at.


Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with ‘Resignation’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:

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  1. Who were all the people Richard Harrow was killing ?

    • i was wondering the same thing.

    • I understand that the people being killed, were in possession of the deeds to the house of Richard’s sister.

      He was securing the house, before returning to it, at the end of the episode.

  2. I say Nuky is killed in a season or two and the show shifts focus to Capone and Chicago. Gangsters, corrupt politicians and bootlegging is ALL CHICAGO. Not NY.

    • No offense, but Al Capone and the actor playing him (excellent as he is) doesn’t have the charm or wit for an audience to truly follow him and route for. He’s sympathetic and funny at times, but there’s an underlining despicable nature in Capone that makes it hard for an audience to immerse themselves into.

      • Thats your opinion. you really should bone up on your gangster history BTW Al Capone was very charismatic and was idolized by people in Chicago at that time. I actually enjoy following his character in boardwalk.

      • I agree. I think that the big guy who plays his brother (Domenick Lombardozzi) would actually be closer to the real Al Capone in size and Mannerisms from what I’ve read about him. I’ve always thought Stephen Graham was both too short and too high octane for Capone. Actually they could have had him as another no nonsence law man that made things tough for Nucky…He’d make a good Elliot Ness, but I don’t know if the series will make it long enough for that. I just read they didn’t get very big numbers opening night.

        • Does anybody know why they didnt just kill that doctor who just came in insisting for apiece of the club and got it!! He left with 10 percent and didnt even seem to pose a threat of retaliation if someone were to simply just put a bullet in his head

      • I agree. I would rather watch more stories on Capone and Harrow rather than Nucky. We shall see though. So far this season is off to a good start

      • Al Capone is a menace, not to be rooted for.

        He’s no Robin Hood and, I think that the journalist was lucky not to get stabbed with his own pencil, such is Capone’s menace.

        Did you not see him about to take a shoe to his brother’s head? Not a nice guy.

      • Please read my comment below you seem to posses a good understanding of the series

    • Nucky wont be killed because in real life Nucky Thompson lived way up to his 80s he died in an upscale retirement home in the 1960s.

      • The story of Nucky in the book is quite a bit different than in the series. In the book he was a political animal who ran things that way and basically retired from it after getting busted and doing a bit of time for it. They basically created a different reality for Nucky so they’re not in tune with the history as is.

      • Nucky although lived a long time in real life is way different in the series than in real life. In real life, he was a smooth, hot shot political monster. People feared him more for his political connections and overall presence(large fat man) than anything else. In the series he is out of politics, is skinny, and is more focused on the booze than politics. They changed it soo much that it’s like a Harrow type of character now although still enjoyable

    • Nucky Thompson is based on the real-life person, Enoch L. Johnson. Johnson died in 1968, so I think that you are way off beam.

    • Dude if you did your research you would know Thompson lived till 1968 he outlived Capone.

  3. Am I just getting old or is this series rather confusing? Who were the people that Richard Harrow was killing? Were they survivors of Gyp Rosetti’s crew? Who did Harrow meet at the end? An long lost relative? Have we seen this relative before? Were we introduced to the Treasury agents before and supposed to know right off the bat who they were?

    This show has so many characters that it could do with a bit of simplicity every now and then. If fact it has so many characters that we’re supposed to know, that two of the major ones – Margaret Schroeder and former agent Van Alden – aren’t even in the premiere.

    • Time will tell, but from the kind of guys and they way he killed them I’m thinking he might be a hired gun for big Al (The first was IN so that would make sense for Chicago based…Not sure about the second, but apparently he retrieved something so that too seemed like a pro hit). In his condition he has few options, and after what he did in the brothel I’m guessing any of the big players would be willing to give him work

      • It could just be that I’m getting senile in my old age.