The final season of the criminally underrated HBO original series Boardwalk Empire premiered last night. In preparation for the show’s final hurrah, I’ve taken it upon myself to binge rewatch the entire series on blu-ray.
This is my final season review of the show before I tackle episode reviews for the series’ swan song. You can find all of my Boardwalk Empire related posts by clicking this link.
Season 4 of Boardwalk Empire may be my favorite season of the series to date. This season, Nucky takes a backseat to some of the series’ supporting players. Notably Michael K. Williams‘ Chalky White and Jack Huston‘s Richard Harrow take charge. While this choice may call into question the stability of the series as a whole and confidence of the writing staff itself, it still reaches an overall satisfying conclusion.
Jeffrey Wright delivers a powerful performance as Narcisse. He becomes a worthy adversary for Chalky White, who has risen to a more public position of prominence with the opening of The Onyx Club on the boardwalk. Narcisse views Chalky as a puppet of the white people who hold the power.
The inclusion of race to the focal point of the show’s plot lends certain gravity to the story of season 4. Race has played a role throughout the series, but more often than not it’s been utilized for ancillary plotlines and for supporting the atmosphere of the show’s period portrayal of the 1920s. Dr. Narcisse becomes an important and diabolical component to the main plot of season 4 as it weaves throughout the series’ most important and established players.
Ron Livingston plays Roy Phillips, a man who Gretchen Mol‘s Gillian Darmody meets early in the season. The pair share an emotional connection that runs throughout the season as Gillian deals with heroin addiction and a court battle to get custody of Tommy from the Sagorskys after Harrow delivered him to them at the end of season 3.
Roy and Gillian’s storyline feels largely disconnected from the main plot of the season but it reaches a gripping end that helps tie the season together as a whole. Livingston’s a charismatic actor who brings Roy to life with a drawl that some may find slightly distracting but I didn’t find an issue with.
Brian Geraghty comes into the show as Prohibition agent Warren Knox, a newcomer to the Thompson brothers’ operation who entangles himself into Eli’s personal life in a way that showcases a certain maniacal and unpredictable nature to the character. Though I’m a fan of Geraghty from his work in The Hurt Locker and Jarhead, at times I felt as though he was a bit out of his element in this role. It doesn’t help that Bobby Cannavale already gave the series a maniacal and unpredictable character that earned Boardwalk Empire it’s only Emmy win to date for acting.
There are plenty of other new characters introduced in this season. Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) is a talented singer at The Onyx Club who becomes an important part of Chalky’s story and his feud with Dr. Narcisse. Domenick Lombardozzi (of The Wire fame) and Morgan Spector join the cast as Al Capone’s brothers as the show chronicles a pivotal point in Capone’s ascent.
Eric Ladin joins the cast in the role of J. Edgar Hoover. I was floored when the show introduced the character and Ladin portrays the enigmatic father of the FBI very well. Each line of dialogue Ladin performs is handled with a formality that carries the weight of authority behind it. Through Ladin’s performance, I’m given even more confidence that this series could have had a much long lifespan than 5 seasons.
Elsewhere, the writers gave Jack Huston’s Richard Harrow an emotional arc that saw the troubled soldier finally feel the emotional connection he’s sought for so long since the war. His story in season 4 saw the man finally eschew his violent past. Harrow’s arc provides an emotional core to this season that reaches a highly satisfying conclusion in the finale.
As for Steve Buscemi‘s Nucky, his storyline finds him seeking a big payout from a deal in Tampa. It’s the least interesting storyline of the season and brings into question the intentions of the writers of the show. As much as it pains me to say, this season presented a problem with the show’s writing. The viewer gets the impression that the writers were at a loss when it comes to its main character.
As such, Nucky is given a dull storyline that shows him becoming tired of the gangster lifestyle. He begins looking for an exit and finds the possibility of that with the deal in Tampa. My issue with this character development is that the character of Nucky doesn’t follow a strong trajectory.
He begins the series as “half a gangster” and sees his full gangster destiny come to fruition in season 2. Following that, in season 3, the writers give Nucky a mix of strong violent actions and some reluctance. Season 4 sees Nucky as a man completely disconnected from the ins and outs of the gangster aspects of his organization. In a move that is slightly incongruous with his development thus far, Nucky becomes a man prematurely searching for a way out of the gangster life.
Despite a misstep in the show’s main character’s arc, the season reaches a conclusion that reconciles several storylines into one very satisfying final episode. As a standalone season of Boardwalk Empire, season 4 is their best yet. With only 8 episodes left in the series, the show has set itself up to go out very strong.
If podcasts are your thing, check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast‘s special bonus episode devoted to Boardwalk Empire season 4.