Boardwalk Empire 4×05 ‘Erlkönig’: The Elf King is real

Source: HBO

One of the ways that a television show can endear itself to me is when a series of events have built up an emotional desire within me for certain things to happen, and then there is a payoff handled as elegantly as what happened with Eddy. I know it makes me kind of terrible, but Eddy was so incredibly annoying all season long that I hated whenever he was on screen. Once we found out his awful back story and then he snitched? I definitely wanted him gone forever.

More on Eddy later. I really want to talk about how beautiful this episode was from a cinematic standpoint. Nearly every shot had a precise and artful composition, such that all of the subtext came across without the need for the heavy-handed dialogue the show is known for. In fact, I was watching with a friend who had never seen an episode and he was able to pick up on what was going on in each scene. I loved the way Tim Van Patten used angles and elevation to convey power and weakness as well as the way he used light and darkness to symbolize hope and despair. All of that created an atmosphere that established what the stakes were for the characters in play, allowing them to be fully fleshed out characters and not just pieces in service to the plot.

Source: HBO

Source: HBO

In fact, this episode starts in darkness. Young Willy is calling out from the darkness to his Uncle Nucky. One of the things I liked about their exchange is that although Willy thinks he knows how things are done with his family, he really has no idea. The other thing I liked is that he begins that conversation as Eli’s son- he tried to do things as Eli would have done, and avoid involving Nucky. As we learned in seasons 2 & 3, that never works out for Eli so of course it shouldn’t work for Willy. What is brilliant is that he leaves that conversation and ultimately the episode as Nucky’s nephew, and the distinction is very clear. There is a way Nucky does things, and we’ve learned that they are coldly efficient, and always effective. Of course, to escape that darkness, Willy had to give up his humanity by selling his friend out. That’s a steep price to pay, but what Nucky and nearly every criminal and corrupt official we’ve encountered on the show (and in real life?) has taught us is that crime can pay just as well. Indeed, as painful as the process was, Willy finds himself innocent of any wrongdoing, rid of his nemesis, and alone with his sweetheart by episodes end. All notions of morality teach us/him that he doesn’t deserve this and yet there it is. That’s the point this show wants the audience to get- most of the time bad guys win.

Let’s move on to a bad girl in Gillian. I don’t care how you feel about her, that had to be painful to watch. Stalking Roy, praying over your last bit of heroin, nodding off in the judge’s office- in which you slice open your hand, then proposition said judge, get kicked out, go to the black side of town alone (in 1924) into a shop full of men (in 1924) and offer up your body in exchange for drugs. That’s already a full day, but add in a botched kidnapping that has you dragged out of an elementary school with only an Abba Zabba to show for your trouble? That’s a pretty low bottom. I know Roy showed up, and he seems like he’s going to help her, but Gillian is right. He has no idea how much of a walking train wreck she is and unless he moonlights as a therapist, she will definitely find her way back to the needle and likely Dunn’s bed.

Source: HBO

Source: HBO

Not much movement with Dunn this week, but Chalky is really caught up with that singer if he doesn’t notice that Dunn is obviously balling as hard as he is now. Also, when we first met Dunn it was established that Chalky knew about everybody on his side of town. Is there no one who would have Chalky’s back and warn him that his number two is doing business behind his back? I feel like they’re setting us up for an Avon/Stringer confrontation, but I don’t want Chalky or Dunn to go.

I wasn’t surprised to see Frank go however. He was too wise and stable of a leader to exist in crazy Al Capone’s world. What did surprise me is how quickly Al went Tony Montana and started snapping on his beloved second in command. I don’t really know what Van Alden thought he could gain from killing Al, but I guess his guilt for being the reason Frank got killed is what will ultimately move him into the Capone camp for good. The tone of that plot line shifted dramatically from the comic relief it was the past few weeks and it was jarring, but I am intrigued instead of being concerned it was going into silly territory.

I always wondered why Eddy was so devoted to Nucky and we finally found out why. What stung isn’t that he was a runaway criminal, or a weak subservient person. What stung is that he let Agent Knox find that information out and break him. Agent Knox is perfect because even though he’s technically a good guy, he’s absolutely a villain. I hate him. I hate his “midwestern values”. I thought it was perfect that the fascist, aryan FBI agent would have an affinity for German culture. I hate him so much that when I saw the actor during an episode of my 1st viewing of the Sopranos, I wanted Christopher to kill him even though he was innocent in that context. That is a great villain.  Lastly, I was immensely disappointed that Eddy broke more than anything. All his loyalty was ultimately just lip service, and yes, I was rooting for him to end his life. Initially I thought he was just going back to work as if nothing happened, but then out he went into the Elf King’s clutches. Poor child.

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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