A Boardwalk Empire Community
HBO (ended 2014)
For a business man like Nucky Thompson, trust is a very valuable thing, particularly when it comes to conducting said business. Who to place it with? Who to not? This fourth season of Boardwalk Empire accumulated to “White Horse Pike” for our anti-hero, in which he realised that while he have may been doing good in the business of making money, in terms of who he’s given his trust, he has failed spectacularly. The list only seems to be as long as a single person, Sally Wheet, the woman overseeing his alcohol shipment off from Tampa. She informs Nucky that all of his business partners, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Vincenzo Petrucelli are piggybacking heroine in on his shipments without his knowledge, for Joe Masseria. Ironically, Nucky gets Eli to go and intercept the travelling cargo personally to confirm Sally’s claims, and when the heroine is discovered they use Meyer to organise a meeting with Masseria at The Onyx Club. But surprising Nucky, Masseria shows up with a partner, Narcisse, and Nucky finally becomes aware of a scheme that’s been going on behind his back for some time, and it hurt. It was refreshing to watch Nucky, a character who’s been full of indecision this season, even with his initial acquisition in the Tampa deal, really lose his temper in this episode. The brashness to ask Narcisse ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ in their first meeting when he came looking for Chalkie, the contempt he held for Lansky as Eli pointed a gun at his head, and his surprise and confusion which quickly turned to bitterness upon realising at The Onyx Club that Narcisse had bested him in a spectacular fashion were all exhilarating scenes to watch unfold. Nucky had no choice but to agree to buy into the heroine scheme, whether he wanted to or not. Not only that, but he also had to give Narcisse Chalkie in exchange.

And perhaps this is where Nucky was at his biggest fault, trusting Chalkie. Nucky explicitly told him that he shouldn’t start a war with Narcisse time and time again, yet Chalkie’s inability to control himself lead to him and several of his men barraging the Universal Negro Improvement Association with bullets in a failed attempt to kill him, which obviously Narcisse would not stand by and let happen again. By putting his trust in Chalkie Nucky’s now in a war it doesn’t look like he can win. It turned out Narcisse not only had Nucky over a barrel on the business front, but the political front too. He cleverly used Mayor Edward Bader, who’s desperate to ensure the black vote for the upcoming election, in his attempts to acquire Chalkie. Narcisse painted him as a destructive man that needed to be stopped at the pairs press conference, confirming that Bader would get the police to take down Chalkie for him. Having gotten Bader into power himself, Nucky called in a favour to get Chalkie out of Atlantic City, but as soon as Nucky put the phone down, we knew it meant bad news for Chalkie, even if Nucky didn’t. Chalkie managed to shoot himself out of a pickle for a second time in this episode, thanks to the help of Daughter, but it may not have done him, or Nucky any good, with what they’re doing to have to deal with in the future.

The worst part about all this for Nucky though is that his biggest failure, and certainly his biggest betrayal, is yet to come: that of his own brother, Eli. Eli being the federal bureau of investigation’s informant on Nucky was confirmed this week, as we watched James Tolliver (aka Agent Knox) play good cop and bad cop trying to get Eli to talk. One second he was telling Eli stories of why he wanted to be a man of the law, the next he was entering Eli’s home under the guise of an insurance seller and threatening Willie’s freedom all the while. Tolliver is a fascinating character who I’ve enjoyed very much this season, but Eli most definitely stole the show from him. Watching the pain he felt as Nucky again and again utilised Knox in his plans to investigate the heroine, all the while knowing he was collecting informant on Nucky, was heartbreaking. The only reprieve is that Tolliver’s superior, J. Edgar Hoover, it still not overly supportive of Tolliver despite his excellent work. I think in the long run it’ll be Tolliver’s resentment for Hoover that will cause a major mistake on the part of the bureau, and allow Nucky to escape justice just a little while longer as the series continues, but at least for now Nucky still has the illusion of his family buy his side. Willie finally proved himself to be useful to Nucky, and that he can even be an interesting character with the right plot, when he came to inform Nucky of Mayor Bader’s business with Narcisse. Eli was perplexed at Willie’s presence there, but Nucky informed him he was doing his job, and Willie asked Eli: isn’t this what we do? It was an enlightening moment for Eli, and an even more fitting way to end the episode. Eli had betrayed Nucky to ensure his son’s freedom and future, yet here was his son, an active participant in Nucky’s business. Eli could have come to the sad realisation that everything he had done had been for nothing, or that he was glad that he had done what he had done, since Nucky has so severely intertwined their family with the criminal underworld, and that this act against Nucky may be the only way to end it. Either way, Eli came across resigned as Nucky loaded a pistol and the trio prepared themselves for whatever may come next.

In Chicago, Al Capone attempted to prepare a much brighter future for Johnny Torrio’s operation, although Torrio himself seemed none too happy about it. Capone introduced him to Van Alden, who’s unable to get rid of his alias as George, informing him that Ralphy would be moving up and that Van Alden would take over his collections, so that Capone could be more hands on with the distribution. Torrio seemed to take this the wrong way, thinking that Capone was trying to put him out to pasture, leaving things uneasy between them. Later on, after Torrio had left the building, Capone receives a phone call telling him goodbye, upon which Van Alden spots shooters from a building across the road. He saves Capone from a sky of bullets that hit the building, and once the dust settles all Capone has to say is that Torrio was lucky not to have still been there at the time of the shooting. A not too subtle way of indicating who the perpetrator behind the shooting was? Or perhaps it was the same person behind the shoot up of O’Banion’s flower shop, since a disgruntled customer as Capone alluded too seems very unlikely.

In New York, Margaret once again comes into contact with Arnold Rothstein, who’s still posing as an investor with Anaconda real estate. He interrupts her while she’s investigating a new place to live, her current one in Brooklyn being unsuitable for her and her children, and he tells her that if she ever needed an apartment he could accommodate her for one in exchange for inside knowledge of her bosses investments dealings with Anaconda. While I was initially excited for the potential this storyline had, it’s development in this episode didn’t do Margaret, an already much hated character, any favours and it was rather predictable. As soon as Rothstein offered her the deal, we knew she would take it, it would just be a matter of what persuaded her to do so. Scenes like the one in which her boss gloats of the success he’s making of off chumps on who think they can make money by doing nothing, and the one in which she lies in a cramped bed with her daughter in her current apartment listening to her neighbours above fight, were painful to watch you knew their desirable effect, and therefore it instantly felt forced. Rothstein posed a very important question to her as they drank tea and agreed upon the terms of the deal, why would she take this offer from him and not Nucky? Her response? That’s she’s earnt it. For a woman who was so disgusted by herself and by what her relationship with Nucky became that she left Atlantic City for New York to start her life a new, this is not a respectable decision. She’s become a hypocrite, if she weren’t already one, but what makes it more annoying is that she’s eternally self-righteous about it all. If only she could admit what she’s doing is wrong, instead of trying to convince herself otherwise, I think I would sympathise with her better. All that being said though, her and Rothstein make for an entertaining pairing, and I can’t wait to see their relationship develop (into a romantic one or otherwise).

With Nucky’s back against the wall every which way, and Narcisse proving himself to be Boardwalk Empire’s most cunning villain to date, I can’t wait for the next two episodes.
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