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Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 4.04, “All In”: Plot kicks up a notch as characters make fateful choices

Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 4.04, “All In”: Plot kicks up a notch as characters make fateful choices

Boardwalk Empire promo pic, S04E04, "All In"

Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Episode 4, “All In”
Written by David Matthews
Directed by Ed Bianchi
Airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO

Kate is new to Boardwalk Empire this season and her reviews will approach the acclaimed series from the newbie’s perspective.

This week, on Boardwalk Empire: Nucky plays poker, Willie fails chemistry, and Mueller has a late night

Four episodes in, the gears of the larger season arcs finally look like they’re starting to turn. This week we see significant movement for each of the characters featured, both strategically and psychologically, and the repercussions will likely be felt throughout the remainder of the season. The most drastic is Willie’s poisoning of his classmate. This storyline was clearly headed one place- to the horrible, bloody corpse of Willie’s bully. Note to potential teenaged Heisenbergs out there- chemistry is not something you approximate. We’ll see where this goes, if Willie can keep his involvement secret for long, but it seems he may not be long for Temple. Ben Rosenfield has done a lot with Willie’s limited screen time, and he absolutely sells the horror of his final scene, but given how many characters the series is juggling at this point, Willie’s misadventures, however unfortunately deadly, are far from the show’s most engaging.

Michael Shannon, on the other hand, is an absolute delight whenever he pops up. His physicality alone brings much-needed humor to this at times overly-dour series. Van Alden/Mueller is so wholly out of place amongst the Capone crew that even watching him sit in a car with Al is downright hilarious. His increasingly perilous situation, stuck between the two gangs, would be more cause for alarm if Shannon didn’t somehow feel off-limits. There’s little sense that he’s in any mortal danger (if the show were going to write Shannon off, they would’ve done it already), allowing the comedy (and tragedy) of Mueller’s predicament, a sane man forced into business with psychopaths, to shine through in unexpected ways.

Boardwalk Empire promo pic, S04E04, "All In"

The other standout remains Jeffrey Wright. Dr. Narcisse is still an interesting figure, but few of his scenes have held the dramatic power of his first interactions with Chalky and Nucky. More is undoubtedly coming for him, but as mentioned last week, Wright is most compelling in this role going up against equals, rather than manipulating pawns towards an eventual (presumably) season-ending showdown. Narcisse remains somewhat of a mystery, fortunately, but some of his scenes are becoming repetitive, watering down his effectiveness. Hopefully his next big play will come sooner than later.

We spend our first significant time of the season this week with Michael Stuhlbarg’s Arnold Rothstein and Anatol Yusef’s Meyer Lansky. We’ve seen poker scenes like this time and again, but the performances from Stuhlbarg and Steve Buscemi as Nucky keep the moment meaningful and interesting. The variety of personality between the various underworld leaders of Boardwalk Empire is impressive- it would seem Rothstein is the buttoned up psycho of the group, as compared to Nucky’s pragmatism and Narcisse’s calculating stillness. Tampa still isn’t particularly exciting as a season-long arc (though it’ll be nice to see Patricia Arquette again), but bringing Lansky into the equation could spice things up and a power struggle between Lansky and Rothstein will certainly lead to some fireworks.

Brian Geraghty is back as Agent Knox, but he’s far more engaging interacting with his marks, as in previous episodes, than his peers at the Bureau. Eddie’s mishap this week, letting slip more than he should, is actively disheartening. He’s not an innocent by any stretch, but he’s one of the more likeable in Nucky’s crew and it’s a shame to see him caught up in Knox’s operation. A final player worthy of note is Margot Bingham, who’s been an appreciated addition to the soundtrack, if not much more so far. It’ll be nice to see her get more to do in coming weeks, but for now, her vocal stylings are a definite highlight of the Onyx Club scenes.

Overall, “All In” is interesting and character-driven, like the rest of the season before it. Next week brings us to the halfway point in the season and, though it’s been a slow burn so far, there’s undoubtedly much more to come.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Was I the only one laughing at the image of Michael Shannon with those daisies? Which storyline most intrigues you so far? How long before Kelly Macdonald shows back up? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

Kate Kulzick