Sadé Green reviews the second episode of Boardwalk Empire season 4….
The beauty of the slow and brooding Boardwalk Empire is that it doesn’t rely on ridiculous story lines that fizzle out in one of two episodes. Every main arc is carefully constructed and well thought out and in ‘Resignation’, the foundations for some very exciting story lines have been set. With the introduction of the mesmerising Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Valentin Narcisse, this weeks episode focused largely on character development – or at least that times are changing for some of our favourites.
‘Resignation’ thankfully begins with the magnificent Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller (Michael Shannon). Missing our re-acquaintance with the ex-prohibition agent in episode 1, this is a welcome return. Van Alden is delivering flowers (or punches, depending on what was ordered) for Dean O’Banion (Arron Shiver), the florist/gangster that we met in Season 3. O’Banion recognises Van Alden has got brains as well as brawn and sends him to work with Al Capone’s gang; this almost leads to a dangerous altercation between Van Alden and the explosive Capone (Stephen Graham). Luckily, Van Alden’s brains and wit get him out of the situation and as he gets to work as part of the gang that are hoping sway an election, we get to see Shannon work his Van Alden magic. Being part of a violent gang is as far removed from the Agent Van Alden that we used to know, but Shannon pulls off Van Alden’s subtle comic awkwardness with great finesse. His hushing of the gang as things get loud and bloody is quite frankly, one of the funniest moments of television in a very long time. As Van Alden is struggling with money issues at home, his further involvement in illegal activities is greatly anticipated. Let’s hope that with Capone’s furious temper, Van Alden’s position in his gang doesn’t come to a violent end.
In the meantime, Dr Valentin Narcisse arrives at the Onyx Club and wants to settle the score with Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) for the murder of the talent agent and the supposed rape of Alma, the talent agents wife. The introduction of Narcisse is sure to mix things up. Chalky is in his element as the King of his Onyx Castle, handing out money to his band members with no regard, but Narcisse soon pulls the rug from under Chalky’s feet, and forces all of the entertainment to stop working. As Chalky, Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and Narcisse hold peace talks, Nucky hands Narcisse 10% of the club for his sufferings. The quiet, smooth tones of Narcisse is in direct contrast to Chalky’s gravelly uttering’s and somehow, Narcisse manages to exercise his power over both Chalky and Nucky, by not really doing much at all. Narcisse takes great pleasure in pointing out Chalky’s unimportance – ‘A servant pretending to be a King’ – but also doesn’t hesitate to point out their ‘Libyan roots’ – they are one and the same, but with a wealth of education behind him, the good Dr. is detestably superior. What Jeffrey Wright brings to the mix, supposedly as this seasons ‘bad guy’, is a complete juxtaposition of last seasons Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) and his fantastic over dramatic tendencies. His dulcet tones and calm manner (so calm, he may as well be lying down) make you feel on edge, particularly at the end of the episode as he seeks his revenge on Alma for lying about being raped by a black man just to get what she wanted. As long as Narcisse is rubbing Chalky up the wrong way, there is sure to be fireworks.
For Ol’ No Face, sorry I mean Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), times have really changed. In this episode, we get to see some long-awaited development of Harrow and it is a welcome change. His poor sister Emma (Katherine Waterston) has had an extremely tough time over the last year and warns Richard that although she is glad to see him, if he leaves this time, he isn’t to return. As Richard battles his identity as a contract killer, he lets a mark survive because of a child’s book he finds in his office. Later on, he can’t even bare to shoot the dying family dog dead and instead leaves his sister to deal with it. This was a refreshing scene and a glimpse into the hardships that Richard has had to endure since his time fighting in WW1. As one of the first glimmers of real emotion from Richard Harrow, Huston handled the scene well and the utterance of “I don’t want anymore of it” show that Richard is ready to get rid of his violent past.
Lastly, as well as helping Chalky out of a difficult situation, Nucky is faced with his own problems. His faithful assistant Eddie (Anthony Laciura) is struggling with his injuries and demands that he either be treated with more respect or he will resign. A perturbed Nucky obviously chooses the former and gives Eddie a small promotion and Nucky’s suspicion of Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty) is completely justified as we find out who his real boss is.
‘Resignation’ was an excellent episode of Boardwalk Empire. Now our re-acquaintances are done and dusted with both old and new characters, the story-arc spark has well and truly been ignited with promises of what is to come. Back to doing what the BE writers do best, this episode successfully focused on character development and driven by the changes that everyone is enduring, Richard Harrow, Nelson Van Alden and Chalky White look sure to have much larger roles this season (although Van Alden’s might purely be for comic relief, we can only hope that this isn’t the case). Chalky’s relationship with Dr Narcisse is sure to be explosive and all considered, there is definitely going to be some promising drama during Season 4.