Early on in 'Erlkönig,' a statement is made regarding the desires of people everywhere, and the general consensus is that "people don’t know what they want." At least that's the impetus for most characters on Boardwalk Empire to do the kinds of thing that they do – i.e., supply people with everything they didn't even know they wanted.
That's certainly been the reasoning behind the actions of the Capone brothers as they seek to secure their place in Cicero, and control the voting of the working class there. And it's also been the direction of Chalky White's temperamental associate Dunn Purnsely, who has fallen under the spell of Dr. Narcisse, and considering that man is given to speaking with such measured elegance by Jeffrey Wright, it's hard to find blame in Purnsley. But with every action there is a reaction, and placing volatile people like Al Capone in the middle of potential riot situation is tantamount to putting a flame to gas, and the result is the brutal death of his brother Frank (Morgan Spector).
Ultimately, it's not so much that people don't know what they want, as people are going to make a thousand choices everyday, so, for those inclined, the challenge is to push those seemingly aimless few into make the choice that will be most beneficial to them. And in it own excruciatingly bleak way Boardwalk Empire demonstrates the repercussions of those choices made with and without the guiding hand of individuals who think they know better. It's felt in the depressingly gauzy and unfocused world of Gillian Darmody, who had deluded herself by not only believing Tommy will one day come home with her, but that Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston) will actually be the key to her salvation. And who knows, Roy claims to know a thing or two about "weakness" and "sin," so the only question is: will he drive Gillian away from, or closer to those things he knows?
But the heaviest part of 'Elrkönig' refers to the poem from which the episode derives its name, about a father who fails to protect his son from an attack by a supernatural being. In that regard, the episode seems to suggest that the ramifications of choices made years ago can still have a devastating impact, even though few know such a choice had ever been made. As it is, after spending a day being pressed into giving information on Nucky, Eddie Kessler finds himself choosing suicide over causing further harm to his employer, and creating further scandal for the now grown sons he left behind in Germany.
Like Nucky's nephew Willie, Eddie wanted something more, and what they both found was a world full of people telling them what they should think and do. Nucky's guiding and influential hand pulls the young Thompson from the fire, but at a cost of his only friend. At the same time, giving Eddie what he wanted wound up being the most disastrous course of action Nucky could have taken. Aside from the obvious issues with Knox, the question now is: who's going to match up Nucky's socks?
Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with 'The North Star' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: