The year is 1924. Former Atlantic City treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) has been put through the wringer by all sorts of villains even shadier than himself. Two seasons ago, he had an internal conspiracy threatening to do him in, and last season saw the spurned psychopath Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) plant his happy ass (and a wall of armed muscle) in Tabor Heights as vengeance against Nuckyís exclusive deal with Arnold "A.R." Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). Of course, this eventually led to his complete takeover of Atlantic City, until the enigmatic, deeply scarred Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) singlehandedly destroyed Rosettiís entire operation in one fantastically bloody attack. Nuckyís back in control, and heís looking to expand his business. This brings him all the way down to the Deep South for a real estate racket that ultimately promises an influx of product, namely rum from the Caribbean, and therefore, more money and power. It also brings with it the introduction of the fiery Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette), a speakeasy owner in Tampa who wants in.
As far as this series goes, Nucky has been in the spotlight for a grand majority of it. The Complete Fourth Season gives him a much-needed break and wisely focuses on its excellent supporting cast. If this season belongs to any particular character, itís Albert "Chalky" White (Michael Kenneth Williams). Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism is really starting to take hold, and Marcus Garvey is all the rage, figuratively and literally. A man of considerable power and intelligence, Chalkyís relationship with Nucky and his business savvy has made him the de facto face of the Black community in Atlantic City, and he faces a serious threat this season in the form of the loquacious and sophisticated Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright). After a confrontation between Chalkyís psychotic second Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey) with a talent promoter ends in bloodshed, Dr. Narcisse, being the employer of the aforementioned impresario, finds a way to leverage himself into partial ownership of the budding Onyx Club, Chalkyís home base and reward for saving Nucky's life last season. What begins with bad blood soon becomes toxic, as Chalky finds himself involved with Narcisseís mysterious blues singer Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham). Chalkyís story this season is something along the lines of a Shakespearean tragedy. You just know that it wonít end well, and when it finally does end, itís a truly devastating blow.
If you thought youíd never be able to sympathize with the Lady Macbeth-esque Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol), you might be surprised this season. She hasnít led the most charmed of lives; from her ravaging at the hands of Commodore Louis Kaestner to her twisted, incestuous relationship with the fruit of said union, to her Machiavellian plots to gain custody of her oblivious grandson, she has had it bad. On top of that, her attempt to clear Gyp and his goons out of the Artemis Club last season backfired catastrophically, with Gyp forcing the heroin ampule meant for him into Gillianís veins. So on top of all of this, sheís dealing with heroin addiction. But a ray of light mysteriously shines into her life, in the form of Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston), an executive working for Piggly Wiggly. He seems to be exactly what Gillian needs in her life: a stable, protective, caring gentleman. But old habits die hard, and her attempts to cling to the life she once had threaten her newest (and possibly last) chance at true happiness.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Seasonís greatest misstep is in a sideplot involving Nuckyís nephew William (Ben Rosenfield). Heís an entitled, unlikeable young man currently enrolled at Temple University; itís essentially an unspoken truth that most of the hopes of the Thompson family are riding on his shoulders. But Williamís too cool for school; heís a rebel and he wants to follow in the footsteps of Uncle Nuck! Heís got his aptitudes (or so he thinks), but when a juvenile prank goes horribly awry, it attracts the attention of the wrong sort.
By "the wrong sort," I mean the budding Bureau of Investigation. Enter Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty), a rookie Prohibition Agent who appears to be in the employ of the corrupt Agents working for Nuckyís organization. Looks can be deceiving, and beneath the seemingly oblivious, hapless faÁade is the ruthless Jim Tolliver, who reports to none other than J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Ladin). Tolliver is on the warpath for any piece of leverage that can possibly flip the weakest link in Nuckyís outfit of miscreants. Heís as whip-smart as he is unscrupulous, and even before the end of the first half of this season, youíll see his story as a study of that classic question: "Do the ends justify the means?"
I suppose it was inevitable that a man like Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) would eventually find himself in cahoots with the major players in Chicago. Last season saw him end up in the employ of notorious Irish American mobster/florist Dean OíBanion; anyone who knows their history knows exactly where Van Aldenís arc ends up. Heís always working a thankless job for thankless people, but heís got a big red berserk button somewhere in that conflicted brain of his. So between being browbeaten in his do-it-yourself shotgun shed by his Norwegian wife Sigrid (Christiane Seidel) and in OíBanionís flower shop, who better to run into than Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and his brothers Frank (Morgan Spector) and Ralph (Domenick Lombardozzi)? Van Aldenís role in this season seems to set the table for his role in the next -- and final Ė season, but I like to think of him as Forrest Gump: heís always in the right place at the right time to either witness or have a direct hand in a couple of true life moments. And between the silver tongued Frank, jovial businessman Ralph, and the coke-fueled Alphonse himself, these gentlemen are very fun to watch.
Many of these plot threads end up colliding into each other: some violently, others not so much. But make no mistake: Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season might be the bloodiest season yet in terms of body count. While last seasonís massacre at the Artemis Club might win out for sheer spectacle, this seasonís finale is equal parts haunting and upsetting. And when you compound that with how many major characters have shuffled off their mortal coils, it just makes the impact that much heavier.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season comes loaded with about the same length and breadth of special features that we've come to expect from all HBO home releases. And like in many of their other releases, the right balance is struck so that there's something in there for everyone. Whether you're a fan of the character development and acting, the set design, the writing, or the history, fans are liable to be satisfied by at least some of it.
For the superfans who love to immerse themselves in their television, the Boardwalk Chronicle is the tool that will let them do just that. It's something of an enrichment tool that gives greater depth and insight into featured characters, locations, and events. Some of the murders that happen on screen indeed occurred in real life, and it's interesting to be able to put the pieces together and almost relive them.
Scouting the Boardwalk picks a single location for each of the dozen episodes in The Complete Fourth Season and goes in depth with the scouting process involved with selecting special locations to film specific scenes. Even if you don't have an eye for set design, it's easy to get lost in this nearly half-hour feature.
Season 3: Revisited is exactly what you'd expect and hope for with a series that involves so many characters, so many plot threads, so many locations, and so many historical events. Terence Winter walks through all the major events that defined the series' tumultuous third season.
The Onyx Club: A Step Back in Time is a detailed look into the creation of The Complete Fourth Season's newest and biggest set, Chalky White's Onyx Club, quite literally freshly risen from the ashes of Babette's. From the set decorators to input from the production designer to Terence Winter and Tim van Patten, you get a sense of where they were coming from and where they wanted to take this new place. Good thing; a good bit of The Complete Fourth Season takes place in the Onyx Club.
PaleyFest: Made in NY Boardwalk Empire Panel is a short discussion of an unnamed episode. This is probably the weakest of the special features, and definitely the most disappointing. First off, the panel and audience are told to refrain from discussing the episode in detail; I'm assuming this was an advance viewing. Additionally, the discussion amounts to little more than brown nosing on everyone's part -- particularly the audience's; not a single worthwhile question was asked throughout the brief Q and A.
Becoming Harrow is perhaps my favorite of the special features. Whenever a beloved character is killed off, it's almost customary to have a feature like this to both mourn and celebrate the character. Jack Huston's incredible performance as the lonely, kind, half-faced veteran-turned-assassin comes to an end in Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season, and it's a traumatic, heartbreaking departure made all the more poignant by this feature.
New Characters provides an in-depth look at the spread of new faces that show up this season. Seven fascinating supporting characters (and their portrayers) are given a proper introduction and a bit of insight into how they tick. Most of these faces are grizzled veterans at the top of their craft, and while some of them constitute full-blown reunions (I will forever identify Domenick Lombardozzi as Herc from The Wire), I can't really think of a single sore thumb in the entire cast.
Six of the episodes feature audio commentaries from the likes of showrunner Terence Winter and stars Steve Buscemi, Michael K. Williams, Gretchen Mol, and others. Again, the episodes are chosen and assigned wisely depending on the role played in the episode's creation.
Four down, one to go. For its final season, Boardwalk Empire will lurch seven years into the future. Now all we have to do is sit and wonder just how they're going to wrap this series up. A simple trip to Wikipedia will tell you the ultimate fate of most of the major players, but I can't help but feel an impending sense of doom. The good kind, mind you. If the series is destined to end on a consistent note, it will undoubtedly be remembered fondly. And after watching Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season, I have no reason to believe that it will end any way but thusly.