Boardwalk Empire 4×04 ‘All In’: Upping the Ante

Source: HBO

Another way that Boardwalk Empire can be frustrating is that even when you get a solid episode such as this one, it seems like the creators go out of their way to bang you over the head with its given theme. That definitely happened in a few places and had me echoing (some of) the sentiments of the impatient gambler at Nucky and Arnold’s table: ‘Just play your cards already!’

With that said, the poker game was awesome. That was exactly the kind of intellectual and philosophical tussle that characters like Nucky and Rothstein are made to participate in, and what I’ve been clamoring for since the first episode of this season. What really made this interesting is that the power dynamics have shifted considerably since their first meeting. Back then, Rothstein was the cautious one, skeptical of Nucky’s grand bootlegging promises. Clearly a lot has happened since then, some of which has had these two at odds, but here they are again sitting down across from one another with a deal in the balance. The difference here is that Nucky knows he is the same as he’s always been, in fact he’s even more of himself because of his desire to regain his old mojo. His cards are on the table and he is all in. It’s Rothstein who is fraying at the edges, who should be the one to be viewed with skepticism, and indeed his “all in” has him in the hole. If Nucky were more charismatic, I might have taken more enjoyment from seeing him beat Rothstein at his own game, but the turnabout was excellent nonetheless. Michael Stuhlbarg was his usual, excellent self here; expertly showing us someone who’s lost it but refuses to acknowledge it. Fantastic sequence all around.

Source: HBO

Source: HBO

I would be remiss if I left out Meyer Lansky, who further endeared himself to me by showing immense loyalty to Rothstein, but also the right amount of resourcefulness and ambition in seizing the now-vacant opportunity Nucky had available. Obviously he and Lucky are still working together and I think they may be trying to stay off their bigger New York bosses radar. I’m speculating of course, but given how they got double-crossed last year, I wouldn’t expect to see them make the same mistake again. Meyer’s initial inability to give his own story was a great touch character-wise, but the best moment for me was him finally shutting up the loudmouth, anti-semite from the card game with a good hard hebrew “prayer”

Over in Chicago/Cicero Van Alden gets pushed into working with the Capones again by the writ- I mean, coincidence, but I actually don’t have a problem with this, because seeing Capone’s rise to power from the ground level is totally worth some groan inducing plot points. What I like is the subtle way we’re shown that Al’s methods are brutal and he kind of needs the smoothness of his brother. Van Alden is mostly comic relief at this point, but his assessment of O’Banion was spot on. He is the absolute worst possible boss anyone could have. He’s like David Brent with a shotgun. Seriously, a prank that can blind someone is only funny to sociopaths. I can’t wait to see him taken down by the Capone Bros, mostly because I like saying the Capone Bros.

Source: HBO

Source: HBO

Speaking of brothers, Dunn gives Chalky the old “sick mom” excuse to slip up to New York and Chalky’s too busy using the mystery method on the singer to notice anything is up. For anyone who didn’t get what Dr. Narcisse was about before, they go ahead and state his affiliation with Marcus Garvey’s movement, but he definitely doesn’t want his criminal enterprises intermingling with his society for negro improvement. Dunn proves to be a quick study and figures out how to ingratiate himself to the good doctor. Again, Narcisse’s weird contradictions come into play. He’s so militant about black self-improvement but obviously makes his money by selling heroin in the black community. I mean, nobody likes a junkie hanging on the front stoop, but was it really necessary to beat him down like that? Dr. Narcisse is definitely evil, and I hope Chalky wakes up to what is happening on his watch.

Source: HBO

Source: HBO

One thing I definitely don’t want to watch anymore is anything that has to do with Kessler. He’s just too over the top of a character to warrant his own story line. After seeing that Knox aims to use him as the weak link, I can just see some scene where Kessler acts even weirder than usual, before blubbering an apology to Nucky. It grates on my nerves that he would have such influence on Nucky’s future, since Margaret was better at helping Nucky out of jams anyway. All he really did was take a bullet, and I’m really wishing that it had proven fatal. Sorry, not sorry.

Finally there’s Willy. Willy, Willy, Willy. So, apparently Willy Thompson went to the Dean O’Banion school of pranks because he made an unending laxative that ended up killing his bully. What I don’t understand is why he had to make the laxative himself. Granted his family business is bootlegging, but if he can get liquor I’m pretty sure he can go to a pharmacy and buy milk of magnesium from OVER THE COUNTER! I don’t know where this is going, but I suppose Willy is all in on the being a gangster now that he’s got his first kill out of the way.

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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