Boardwalk Empire Season 4: New York Sour

By Cian Gaffney on Sep 9, 2013 to Boardwalk Empire

boardwalk13_02__1378660486_109.78.48.177

All of man’s troubles come from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself.

The wise words of Arnold Rothstein act as a motif of sorts for Boardwalk Empire, and echo through New York Sour in particular.

After segueing back into the lavish world of 1920s Atlantic City via the familiar sound of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, we rejoined Boardwalk Empire for the premiere of its fourth season, and boy, did it deliver. Seeing these characters again is like revisiting old friends, and the eight month time jump between seasons provides an opportunity to catch up with them, before following them forward. As season premieres go, New York Sour followed a familiar formula, in reestablishing the characters and plotlines (as well as resolving some outstanding issues from season 3) before moving forward. Unlike many premieres, it was actually quite gripping in its own right, and a stellar beginning to what we hope will be another great season.

The first we see of Nucky is in a peace-brokering meeting in his isolated, not-so-luxurious residence, the Albatross Hotel. Aside from the ridiculous notion that it took eight months for such a meeting to occur, this was a great scene. While short, it pitted some of our favorite, and most powerful characters on level ground. It’s refreshing to see Nucky and Eli so close after the explosive events of last season, closer now than they were during the first season of the show. This bond is evident throughout the episode, and I hope their mutual trust continues. A noticeably more composed Luciano speaks with an even voice to Masseria, no longer a mere subordinate. The apparent respect in their relationship directly contrasts with that between Capone and Torrio. In addition, Lanksy seems almost a miniature version of Rothstein. Despite not having much to say, his presence is felt. I am no expert on the subject, but I do understand that Arnold Rothstein characteristically wore a bow tie in real life. This is the way he has been portrayed so far in the show. Why then, in New York Sour, is he sporting a traditional tie? This is a minor nitpick, but it was noticeable, and it’s difficult to imagine that such a mistake could be made in a show with such excellent costuming. Rothstein aside, the most striking aspect about this meeting is that the different factions are now divided strictly by ethnicity.

The Onyx Club seems to be fully functional, with Chalky obviously taking his new position very seriously. I thought it mildly amusing that Eddie Cantor be present (and a tad more morose) after the chilling audition he went through last season at the hands of Chalky and Dunn. His new protégé predictably turned out to be a teased love-interest for Nucky, yet the twist involved showed us how Nucky has changed as a character. After naively making her ambitions known, Nucky wastes no time in having Eddie escort her out. Margaret’s departure and Billie’s death have obviously had a profound effect on Nucky, and it will be interesting to see how this characteristic develops. As an aside, it’s great to see Nucky finally respect and appreciate Eddie. All in all, Nucky now seems to be much more grounded in his outlooks and practices.

Speaking of practices, Dunn was involved in one of the more disgustingly amusing scenes of the episode as he was coaxed into a sinister sex fantasy by talent manager Dickie and his wife. Erik LaRay Harvey is superb here, and I’m sure his exasperated delivery of “Pulling up my pants!” had more than a few heads rolling. Infuriated by Dickie’s obnoxious racism, Dunn takes a bottle to his head in one of the most visceral attacks since Jimmy and Richard’s scalping of Mr. Parkhurst. This leads into another scene in which Chalky hilariously stretches Dunn to the limits of his patience as he disposes of Dickie’s body. I am a fan of this new focus on Mr. Purnsley, and Erik LaRay Harvey has added some much needed nuance to the character. Here’s to some more development of Purnsley down the line.

boardwalk13_01__1378660365_109.78.48.177Factotum. Capone showed shallow shades of Gyp Rosetti’s inferiority complex this week as he was misrepresented by the press and given a schooling by his brothers. Frank and Ralph Capone are respectively played by Morgan Spector and Domenick Lombardozzi. Lombardozzi will be instantly recognizable to HBO veterans as Herc from The Wire, and it’s nice to see him retain some of that innocent charm in his portrayal of Ralph. Al is obviously struggling to remain subordinate to Torrio, and it doesn’t help matters that the latter is given the limelight at the expense of “Caponey”. Despite his brothers’ advice that the focus on Torrio keeps him in the clear, Capone craves notoriety. Capone’s rise to power is one storyline in particular I look forward to. Considering what historically happened to Frank Capone in 1924, this arc has the potential to get very interesting.

This week we got no van Alden, but we did get a (final) dose of Stan Sawicki. The shotgun trap served as a literal embodiment of Chekhov’s gun, and with it we bid adieu to the corrupt and grossly dislikeable agent. His departure paved the way for Brian Geraghty’s disturbingly creepy Agent Knox to enter the fold. His characterization during this episode was actually quite sinister, as the naive young buck becomes the cold, shrewd professional. How he will interact with the other players is up in the air right now, but it certainly won’t be a mutually positive relationship.

Speaking of relationships, we were shown the epitome of two polar opposite family situations during New York Sour. On the one hand we have Eli, who, despite his immoral day to day doings, has always been a loyal husband and a supportive, loving father. He obviously cares dearly for his family, especially his eldest son Willie, who is now played by Ben Rosenfield. At first, it was very unclear as to whether Willie had been recast or another of Eli’s sons had suddenly sprouted. The recasting is slightly disappointing if only because Willie was focused on a lot in the latter half of last season, but now has to be reestablished. Nevertheless, Rosenfield has set a good impression, and it will be interesting to see if he stays on the noble path Eli and Nucky wish for him. On the other hand there’s Gillian. Gillian has always been a disturbing character to say the least, but after the death of Jimmy her life has been plummeting downhill at breakneck speed. Inadvertently thanks to Gyp, she is now a heroin addict, and her addiction spills over into the fact that she is still prostituting herself for much needed money. It is here that we get our first glimpse of Ron Livingston’s Roy Phillips, an executive of Piggly Wiggly. Livingston is an old hat at HBO shows by now, having appeared in Band of BrothersGame Change and Sex and the City, and his character’s implications are intriguing, at the least. I do wonder when we will see the resolution of Tommy’s custody, and whether the Sagorsky family will play back into Harrow’s story. It seems inevitable.

boardwalk13_04__1378660694_109.78.48.177Another relationship which has finally come full circle (almost), is Richard Harrow’s return to his sister Emma. Harrow stalked through the episode at different intervals, and while every scene involving Jack Huston is immediately great, I did think the purpose of his murder spree was quite confusing. Was he mopping up loose ends before visiting Emma? Will the significance of his murder of the president of the Old Mission have repercussions down the line? Wisconsin was mentioned, but how will this tie in with the larger narrative? Patience is the key, as with all episodes of Boardwalk Empire. This show is a slow burner, and can only be fully appreciated when watched in full as a novelistic season, of which each episode comprises a chapter. Hopefully the next chapter will be equally as gripping, if more forward-moving, and we can have our due dose of van Alden, newcomer Dr. Narcisse, and more Rothstein and Luciano.

Join us then for Resignation.  Here’s a preview:

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  • VL Vanderveer

    Question: where is Margaret? She wasn’t in this episode (I think it was her first absence in the series) and she’s not in the preview for this coming Sunday. Where is she?!?!? I love Margaret! I want her back with Nucky and happy, so where is she? Isn’t she back this season, or did Kelly Macdonald leave the show and I missed the announcement?

    • She’s definitely back as she has featured in some teasers and trailers. I don’t mind her not featuring much though (if that’s indeed the case), as last season her shenanigans had nothing to do with the main plot and felt random. Hopefully she’ll be used more appropriately this season!

  • SQUIGGY

    Well Richard’s sister lives in Wisconsin and answers the door with a gun, so I’m guessing he might be talking care of outstanding “family business”.

    And how is not wearing a bowtie a “mistake”? lol. Is it written in official documentation somewhere that the man wore a bowtie EVER SINGLE DAY of his life? One day he can’t wear something else?

    • VL Vanderveer

      Rothstein’s trademark look was a bow tie. If AR was in such an important with Nucky, Eli, Lucky, Masseria, and Meyer, he would have worn a bow tie. I’ve only seen one photo of Rothstein not in a bow tie, yet people have taken that image for different caricatures. So, yes, it may not be a mistake, but his trademark was a bow tie.

    • J. Ross

      The “family business” plot lines seems to be right from the Episode 2 preview. I hope they use this family business solely to highlight a strong motivation for Richard to get back into the BWE “game” though. This show has such a strong core story that branching such an interesting character off into peripheral content would be a huge failure on the part of the show runners.

      I’m ok with Richard getting painted with a more malevolent/evil brush (although, I wish he wouldn’t), but it would love to see him get a good crack at some sort of redemption. Even if it means sacrificing himself. Seems like bringing his sister in will help set-up that scenario well.

  • Nahojism

    Brian Geraghty’s character has the potential to become as interesting as Richard. Geraghty has always been very good at playing blue eyed. I hope his character will continue to show naiveness to everyone around him, but in reality being very cunning behind the facade.

  • J. Ross

    Cian, excellent recap. I was looking forward to reading this as soon as I got to the office. You did not disappoint.

    I’d like to agree that this show felt as if it hit the premier episode in stride. Being back in the world of Boardwalk Empire felt very comfortable. The creators obviously did not feel the need to over embellish the content just because this was the first episode of the season. They were very loyal to the tone and the characters while providing some seriously cringe worth moments bookended by those instances of heartstrings being tugged.

    I usually find it hard to sympathize with gentlemen philanderers who are too dense to realize that out of all the problems created in their lives loyalty to a women is one most easily corrected. Having said that I was giving pause as Nucky looked over maps on the Albatross Hotel’s balcony. It instantly made me think of Margaret and caused me to anticipate seeing her involved in the story again.

    My only slight disappointment in the episode was its emphasis on Dunn. I am very much looking forward to the raise of power by Chalky White. The examination of African American culture within this series has infinite potential and will most certainly be engaging. However, I personally felt that using sexual exploitation of a black man was low hanging fruit for exploring the intricacies of racism during that era. Almost to the point of me recanting my original paragraph that gimmicks were not used to engage an audience. It was provocative and engaging; a very “HBO” type of content, but I feel that of all the ways explore issues highlighting a continued exploitation and divide between the races this one was the weakest of them. I understand that it made it personal instead of focusing on a “people”. It showed that racism effects the core of every single person not just a group. This show did a fantastic job with Chalky telling the story of his father to convey that. The sexual representation did not illicit the same response. It actually seemed like it was assigning some culpability to Dunn by having him give into demands before … well, dude, got what was coming. Really interested in hearing more from people about this. Maybe even having my mind changed.

    One last thing, and I have to be quick, I also question the casting of Ron Livingston opposite Gillian. I have no idea what is in store for his character, but Ron Livingston is a terrific ensemble actor because he is able to absorb and support those actors around himself. Casting him next to Gillian has created an interesting context for the way in which I initially viewed him. There is no doubt that this was considered in his casting, but was interesting to me that my gut response to him was negative. Gillian was just gushing with expectation as she spoke with him and it felt so incredibly vile. Like sour milk was washing over Ron Livingston’s Piggly Wiggly guac. Excited, but … yuck. That women is freaky. I am terrified that BWE will try to have me feel sorry for her by manipulating me with Ron Livingston’s baby-face moneymaker.

    Out.

    • Yeah, I thought GIllian was going to be boring but really curious about what Livingston is going to become. Sort of hoping Gillian dies this season though because her being Jimmy’s crazy mom is getting old 2 seasons after his death. Like.. what’s the point, really? We’ve got like 10 other gangsters to worry about who actually mean something, right? And no one really feels for Gillian, I don’t think. Maybe we’ll find out something interesting.

      • Definitely, despite being well acted, she has outstayed her welcome. Unless she has some massive game-changing secret that still has significance…there’s really no point in her character.

    • Thanks! Yep, the whole twist around Knox was totally unexpected and unpredictable. I’m really intrigued as to where it leads…Hoover has been cast for this season, so the whole Federal angle could become interesting again.

  • VL Vanderveer

    Cian, you are the best. You open with a Rothstein quote and picture, then you mention the bow-tie issue. You are my favorite person right now, no sarcasm.

    • I wouldn’t have known about the bow tie issue without reading your article! But he did look really weird in that scene, didn’t he? Strange what a simple piece of clothing can do to an appearance.

      • VL Vanderveer

        He just…. He ALWAYS wore bow ties! So, without it, it’s like, “Oh, hey, there’s Michael Stuhlbarg.” With the tie, “Oh, look, Arnold Rothstein!” Small detail, BIG difference. You were spot on about Meyer being a mini-Rothstein. He absolutely was, and even earned the nickname the Mob’s Accountant. Like AR, he always knew how much money was there, where it went, where it needed to go, etc. That was a very powerful scene. Loved it! Plus the whole “14-1 odds you’d kill me” comment was pretty funny. AR was always hedging bets!

        • J. Ross

          A.R. to Meyer: “mini-me come help me”

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SzE08aInn4

          • VL Vanderveer

            Okay, J. Ross: YOU might just be my favorite over Cian now! I can see this happening with AR and Meyer! Too funny.

  • Tamara Winfrey

    Gillian is messed up, but I do feel for her & her current situation. She was trying to protect Tommy from Gyp & Company when Gyp injected her with the heroin she was going to use on him. She always struck me as someone informed and smart enough not to fall into that sort of thing herself, and now she’s had it thrust upon her. I think the best she’ll ever get will be as a functional addict if she can manage to marry a stable man. It will be interesting to see how far she sinks her claws into Ron Livingston’s character. I didn’t understand why Richard shot that guy. Richard doesn’t just kill for fun and I want to know who the victim was to him. I would love to see if his sister is as good a sharpshooter as Richard! My only other observation would be that I didn’t know that Piggly-Wiggly expanded that far north– I think of that chain as a more southern store. Looking forward to the next episode!

    • I definitely agree about Richard, it was very unclear what he was doing. Yeah, Gillian is sympathetic sometimes, but other times she’s revolting. Just goes to show how amazing Gretchen Mol is. Looking forward to your review, it looks like your episode will be action packed!

      • J. Ross

        I assumed that Richard was acting at Nucky’s behest still. Isn’t his clearing the landscape for future ventures? We’ll learn later who all he is pissing off? Maybe this has Mellon’s hands tied to it as Nucky move’s forward.

        • Glad to hear everyone was confused about Richard’s killing spree. I figured he was taking care of Nucky/family/personal business after the fallout.

          • Oh, actually just watched the “inside the episode” video above. Check it out.. looks like he’s “punishing himself” by becoming a killer. Pretty sure these are the scraps of Gyp Rosetti’s ring of men.

      • VL Vanderveer

        Gillian is, for me, the most annoying character on the show. I was pretty much hoping the heroin overdose would kill her. But no, she’s back……. I do think her addiction and fight for Tommy will be interesting. Is it awful that I hope Richard is the one to kill her if the custody case goes wrong? And I want Richard and Julia back together. He deserves happiness! But what is Richard doing? Shooting his way back home?

        • It would be really poetic if Richard does end up killing her. It’s the kind of thing that’s completely unpredictable though; everyone’s thinking it, so does that mean it will or won’t happen?!

    • Nahojism

      It seems to me Richard is searching for the “root of evil”. I’m very curious of how this will unfold. I’m on tenterhooks while watching all the scenes with him. I don’t want him to be killed because he’s such an interesting character.










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