Boardwalk Empire 4×01 ‘New York Sour’: An Acquired Taste

Source: HBO

In my anticipation for the latest season of Boardwalk Empire, I couldn’t help but think about how there have been plenty of compelling characters and enticing scenarios that for whatever reason disappeared or flat out died; both figuratively and literally. If I’m being perfectly honest, a track record like that only serves to tamp down my expectations for this season. Sure the events of last season, including the incredible season finale, made me eager for more, but given its history, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see that promise squandered yet again.

So it was that I found myself quite pleased to reconvene with the further adventures of proto-Robocop, Richard Harrow. I suppose it makes sense that he’d abandon the scene of his epic, Call-of-Duty style rampage, but the fact that he was on the road hunting unknown people was a bit disorienting. His cold execution of the self-described ‘middle man’ only furthered this feeling. Whatever mission Harrow is on, I’m sure we’ll be clued into later, but him paying his possibly equally murderous mother a visit did nothing to enlighten me on what he is up to.

Speaking of that rampage, I found the Gillian Darmody scenes to be the most interesting of the episode, and best of the entire series for the character. Last season, she was not very sympathetic because for the poor way she treated Harrow and even worse treatment of her grandson. With the looming specter of her incestuous past with Jimmy, and the fact that she was a madame, she just gave off a slimy and creepy vibe. Upon seeing her in court however, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy as she tried to grasp onto the only thing in life she had left. Obviously  Julia was right to shut that all the way down, as Tommy is waaaay better off with the Sagorsky family; but I did feel bad for Gillian. Seeing that she has been reduced to using heroin (and cocaine?)and working  as a prostitute-slash-Realtor to survive, I remembered that she hasn’t exactly had the best life. She carries herself with dignity, is obviously intelligent, and of course still beautiful, but that exterior belies a damaged person that was essentially made to be a sex slave at the age of 13. Gillian has been flailing all this time, just trying to find some peace and happiness, so I hope it finally comes in the form of the Winn Dixie Man.

Elsewhere on the peace front, the New York mobsters come and have a sit down with Nucky. I was kind of bummed to see that Lucky and Meyer didn’t appear to be friendly anymore, but that look Meyer gave Lucky could either mean that it’s a front or that something could go down between them. I loved the Rothstein/Nucky tension and have since the first season, but am I to understand that the entire Andrew Melon distillery plot line was resolved between seasons? ‘You tried to put me in federal court’ is all the exposition we get on that? That sort of storytelling is what holds the show back in my opinion. It’s intriguing to see a smart character like Arnold Rothstein try to evade being prosecuted, another smart character like Nucky try to trap him, and Ester Randolph build a case. That’s exciting and compelling television. Instead, the mobsters head back up north and we’re left with emo-Nucky. I hope I’m wrong on this, but I doubt I am.

In fact, I found it incredibly ironic that Nucky is staying at a place called The Albatross, considering he hangs over the show like one. Based on the composition, I’m sure this was meant to mean that the boardwalk itself is an albatross to Nucky, but as we weaved through the various scenes I found myself wishing the show was called ‘Bootleggers’ or something. I care infinitely more about every single plot line except for Nucky’s, and if he wasn’t the central protagonist I feel like the show would begin to be mentioned with the Mad Men and Breaking Bads of the world.  I like the idea of Al Capone making a name for himself with complete disregard for the law and his brother’s sage advice (also one of his brothers is played by Herc from The Wire, so Yay!) a lot better. Whatever Harrow is doing, how Gillian turns out, the New York stuff, etc.- all of it is more interesting than whatever Nucky is feeling, especially the Chalky stuff.

Having an actor like Michael K. Williams, fresh off playing one of the most fascinating and beloved characters of all time, be on your show and have a relatively small role should be a crime. Chalky White has easily had some of the most exciting and awesome scenes in the show this side of Richard Harrow. His KKK member interrogation? Amazing. The old-timey boxing match with Al Capone? Classic. I am so excited to delve into the Jazz Age portion of this particular history, and I have to say that being able to do so through the eyes of Chalky White and the incoming Dr. Narcisse played by Jeffrey Wright is tantalizing. I never expected how the writers would choose to kick this story off, but I loved it.

When it comes to depicting racial/sexual tensions, I believe most people are familiar with the trope of the black man having consensual sex with a white woman, only for him to be accused of rape when they are discovered. I rolled my eyes in frustration at seeing this unjust scenario unfold yet again with Dunn and Alma, but when it was revealed that it was all part of a freakier sex game between Dickie and her I found myself glued to the screen. The ignorant and hurtful debasement Dickie lobbed at Dunn definitely warranted his violent murder, but Dunn’s sheepish regret and Chalky and Eli’s ribbing while they made him bury the body made this the highlight of the episode for me.

 

is a self-described TV junkie, extolling it’s virtues to all who will listen. If for some reason he is not watching TV, he can be found seeing live music, in line at a food truck, or riding his trusty bicycle around Los Angeles.

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