Boardwalk Empire’s fourth season finally addresses racism in the 1920s in a meaningful way as this season’s formidable foe puts Nucky and Chalky in his crosshairs.
The body count climbs some more at only two episodes into Boardwalk Empire season four. Spoilers ahead!
“Resignation” has to be one of the best episodes of Boardwalk Empire in all four seasons. Though some storylines were a bit weak, the arrival of Dr. Valentin Narcisse, expertly played by Jeffrey Wright, and more Chalky White screen time really took the series to the next level for me.
One of the aforementioned weak storylines was former Agent Nelson Van Alden’s (Michael Shannon). He’s out in Chicago bumbling his way around as he tries to navigate family life and life as a fugitive–I guess the Feds must have forgotten about him for the time being?–and a hired tough fronting as a florist for the hard to like Dean O’Banion (Arron Shiver). Dean tells Van Alden to help the Capones with their “election efforts” in Cicero, so long as they stay in the sticks and leave Chicago to him. One minute it seems Van Alden is O’Banion’s man and the next minute, he’s bonding with Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and his brothers over cracked skulls at the election meeting they violently halted. What happened to the shrewd and slightly maniacal Van Alden? I feel like he’s going to snap this season. The question is when and who will be the one to feel his wrath? Still, I like him and his wife, and their bizarre home life is one of the purest, most normal things on a show filled with broken people reveling in abnormal circumstances.
History nerd note: O’Banion shouldn’t have been so dismissive. Cicero was a huge turning point for Capone.
Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and Eddie (Anthony Laciura) have reached a serious turning point in their relationship and I’m firmly with Eddie on this one. Of all the characters that have come and gone on Boardwalk Empire, Eddie hasn’t quite gotten much of his due for all that he’s done for Nucky. He decides to fix that after snapping on Nucky several times. Eddie’s grown tired of being a factotum. He wants to do more, and his injury sustained while serving Nucky should have garnered him more than serving and waiting on another grown man. Really, I am glad Eddie stood up to Nucky. To Nuck’s credit, he didn’t have Eddie killed. It shows how much he ultimately cares for Eddie. We’ll see though. Eddie has to stay behind with all of Nucky’s scratch in his name while Nucky heads down to Florida on business. I worry for Nucky. Those Florida cats are something else…
Speaking of business, Nucky’s bootlegging enterprise once again comes under the watchful eye of the authorities. This time J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Ladin) is on the case and we discover that the shady Agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) has been working for Hoover as an undercover the entire time. Knox feigns offense at criminals and their lying ways, yet he doesn’t seem to have told anyone exactly how his former partner, the late Agent Sawicki, met his untimely and painful death. Or do they know and not care because Sawicki was corrupt? I am not sure what Knox’s angle is, but I don’t think it will end well for him.
Harrow (Jack Huston) continues to bond with his twin sister Emma who has seen her share of tragedy and hard knocks since Harrow left. Harrow attempts to continue his murderous duties for Carl Billings, the man who hired him to kill his two other associates, but things seem to have taken an emotional turn for Richard now that he’s back home with his sister. He’s already killed one associate, Werner in Michigan, but when it came time to off the last guy, a man named Liebling, Harrow couldn’t pull the trigger. Harrow is so tired of killing at this point; he couldn’t even put the family dog down. I’ve said it before, I want Richard Harrow to win. He’s been used and thrown away by so many people. I know it’s good for him to be home with his sister. However, I think his sister has the ability to go to dark places too, so I’m not sure if Harrow will end up living happily ever after. Still, I feel for them both, but Harrow deserves so much better than what he’s gotten in life. I am glad he’s getting more depth this season.
Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) seems to be on top of the world as his new club opens with some of the sexiest, most talented black entertainers in Atlantic City. He’s slowly impressing his daughter’s future in-laws, clearly people with a certain pedigree who aren’t too fond of his, and he’s finally moving on up. Unfortunately, Alma Pastor (Jo Armeniox) is still on the run and Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey) can’t find her. Not a good thing since she’s a witness–a white female one at that–to the murder of her lecherous husband Dickie by Dunn. Chalky is still unhappy with Dunn after his serious misstep in sleeping with Alma, the reason this whole drama started in the first place and won’t find peace until she’s found and eliminated. As long as she lives, her false accusation will mean the end for them all.
Alma eventually turns up at Chalky’s club, but she’s brought weaponry in the form of Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), an incredibly intelligent, refined, and articulate businessman and gentleman from Trinidad. We know that Dr. (and don’t you forget it, he studied too hard for you to drop the title, something he is quick to remind Nucky of) Narcisse has affiliations with gangster Owney Madden and apparently employed Dickie as a talent agent. What we don’t know is whether or not he’s an actual “villain” in the traditional sense, or even a “gangster”.
Dr. Narcisse gets a lot done in a very short amount of time. He manages to get in on 10% of Chalky’s profits from his club and he eliminates a serious problem in Alma, who is utterly incorrigible with those fake tears. Dr. Narcisse doesn’t seem to hate Chalky. I think he really pities Chalky for being so simple and for lacking education, something that Narcisse clearly wields like a highly sharpened and well-forged sword against blacks and whites alike. He seems to be over the racism and white paternalism of the day and his contempt is thinly veiled to those who get it. If you don’t get it, he’s insulting you. He insults people without them really even knowing; you won’t notice you’ve been “cut” until you see the figurative “blood”.
Alma thinks she’s gotten over on Dunn by lying about her raunchy tryst with him and calling it rape, knowing she’ll be believed without question or doubt. She thought Dr. Narcisse would come to her rescue, but in one of the most satisfying death scenes on Boardwalk Empire ever, Dr. Narcisse has her choked out with the very same rope she suggested be used to lynch Dunn for “raping” her.
Who is Dr. Narcisse really a danger to? I think it will depend on what your own personal views and values are. I’ll explain more later… What I do know is that I was given a whole shot of pure epic whenever Wright was on camera. I can’t wait to see more of him.
I’ll talk a bit more about race, racism and “Resignation” in another post tomorrow, so stay tuned for that. As a history geek, there’s so much awesome in episode two that it needs a breakdown.
That’s it for this week! What did you think of “Resignation” and how are you feeling about season 4 so far?