Boardwalk Empire: Season 4 created by Terence Winter (Home Box Office, Leverage Management, Closest to the Hole Productions)
Starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams, Shea Whigham, Stephen Graham, Michael Shannon, Jack Huston, Jeffrey Wright, Gretchen Mol, Brian Geraghty, Margot Binham, and Ben Rosenfield.
*Spoiler Alert for Previous Seasons in Effect*
“A” “B” “C” “H”
I’ve never seen so many stories at once in serialized television. The standard sitcom includes “A,” “B,” and “C” stories. And most often, three stories can be too much. But this season of Boardwalk Empire finds a way to execute not only “A”, “B,” and “C” stories, but also the show finds a way to an “H” story. Despite the complexity, Boardwalk Empire still creates riveting television.
Season 4 finds Boardwalk Empire in its broadest form. While the primary narrative—just barely principal, really—resides around the feud between Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Harlem-based Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) as the position themselves to control the North side of Atlantic City, the writing team expands the scope of the story.
The viewer sees the powerful rise of Al Capone (Stephen Graham) as well as Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller’s (Michael Shannon) process of becoming adopted by the Chicago Outfit.
We observe pressure from the FBI through a baby-faced agent, Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty), as he attempts to bring a schism between brothers, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham) with the hope of exposing criminality throughout the Eastern Seaboard.
Staying within the family, Nucky takes Eli’s eldest son, Willie (Ben Rosenfield) under his wing. Hoping to gain a foothold in the operation, Willie is becoming James Darmody 2.0.
Nucky begins liquor operations out of Tampa as he seeks to increase profit and more likely a relationship with a woman, even if it causes tensions with his New York partners.
In New York, Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) has begun a professional relationship with Nucky’s estranged wife, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald).
Meanwhile, Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) continues to fight for her future as she engages in a difficult custody battle over her grandson. Her inner demons and the sins of her past emerge at the worst of times.
And finally, Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) seeks redemption for his murderous ways. Ever the wanderer, he traverses the country in search of rescue. Perhaps it is found in the love of the woman he courts, Julia (Wrenn Schmidt).
If you couldn’t tell, Season 4 is a complicated season. It works in the sense that Boardwalk’s actors and writers are more than capable of executing the script. In fact, the one thing that continues to impress me about this series is the ability to cast the hell out of every single role. From Buscemi all the way down to the extra with one line, each character flourishes and fulfills the 1920s aesthetic. The settings, the costumes, the inflections on a word—it all fits like a complicated puzzle piece.
Personally, this season underwhelmed me. The stories—from “A” to “H”—intrigue. But the amount makes any one story pretty shallow. The main story with Chalky is excellent and Michael Kenneth Williams gives an award-worthy performance. But I want more. It’s probably a testament to Boardwalk Empire that I’m still into these narratives despite the complications. And, the fact that I want to keep watching means they’re doing something right. But Season 4 doesn’t seem to live up to the finest moments of previous seasons.
Verdict: 3 out of 5