'Boardwalk Empire': A Vague Feeling of Unease Is Creeping Up on Nucky

Steve Buscemi and Stephen Root in Boardwalk Empire William Wilson

[This is a review of Boardwalk Empire Season 4, Episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]


Most of the characters that make up the world of Boardwalk Empire are, in one way or another, essentially monsters in disguise. There's a pervasive sense that, given the right circumstances (or amount of money), there's no one they wouldn't burn in one way or another. For most of us, constantly wondering whose life you're going to have to ruin next (or who is plotting to do it to you) would be an unpleasant way to go through life, but for the Nucky Thompsons and Al Capones of the world, it's just another day at the office.

After two thematically heavy episodes, 'William Wilson' is a return to what is essentially the show's game board, to set up where season 4 will be heading, and establishing the sorts of conflicts we'll likely be seeing on the road to its finale. And with all shuffling  going on, there comes an unnamable dread that a few key characters seem capable of sensing long before they can actually see it for what it really is. It's kind of a fun way to illustrate the trouble looming on the horizon, while keeping the audience in the dark as to what will be any particular character's response.

In the past, Nucky's been taken by surprise by people he's more or less put his complete faith in. Those experiences with Jimmy, Eli and, to a certain extent, the Commodore, have turned Nucky from a guy prone to bouts of misanthropy, to someone with zero patience for humankind at all. But those experiences have also adjusted his radar, as it were, with regard to those around him – and especially those in his employ. So when Eli comes to him with a concern about young Agent Knox (a.k.a. Agent Tolliver), Nucky, though doubtful, follows up on him. As of right now, the information on Knox remains incomplete and incorrect, but considering he's leveraging his power as an agent against a duplicitous man like Gaston Bullock Means, it stands to reason Knox's true intentions won't stay hidden for too long.

Brian Geraghty and Eric Ladin in Boardwalk Empire William Wilson

But 'William Wilson' also has a great deal of discussion on the topic of doppelgangers and supermen, ideas that are hammered home during the final moments of Willie's time at Temple, as well as in areas of the story like the aforementioned Agent Knox. These ideas are underlined when Doris mentions the Leopold and Lobe murder case, and their efforts to commit the perfect crime, while Willie's professor emphasizes the notion of killing of one's own conscience (that is: a doppelganger) – a potent reminder of Willie's wild semester at school that led to the inadvertent murder of a classmate and his best friend being hung out to dry for the crime.

The series has made a concerted effort to connect the many threads running through the storyline this season with a better sense of thematic cohesion, and for the most part, 'William Wilson' manages to succeed on that account. There're are hints aplenty of characters using one another as a simple means to an end, and while the light is finally shone on Dr. Narcisse, Agent Knox and the like, it all amounts to an inexplicable sense of unease being created in the audience that's not unlike what Nucky's feeling in the pit of his stomach right now.


Boardwalk Empire continues next Sunday with 'The Old Ship of Zion' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:


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