Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 4.06, “The North Star” sets up season’s second half

Boardwalk Empire S04E06, "The North Star" promo pic

Boardwalk Empire S04E06, "The North Star" promo pic

Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Episode 6, “The North Star”
Written by Eric Overmyer and Howard Korder
Directed by Allen Coulter
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 grieves for Eddie, Richard takes his sister’s advice, and Sally bets on the wrong alligator

So far this season, being a new viewer of Boardwalk Empire has not been a hindrance. While there are undoubtedly depths to character motivations and emotional shadings that have gone unremarked upon over the past five weeks, on the whole the storylines have been fairly clear. This changes with “The North Star”, with a solid chunk of the episode dedicated to characters those of us who jumped in at season four barely know. This is the risk of jumping in mid-series, one this critic believes is worth taking, but which becomes difficult to deal with none the less.

Certain areas of the episode are far more clear and, frankly, expected. We see Nucky’s return to Tampa, the start of his business venture there, and the consummation of his flirtation with Sally. These scenes are entertaining if only for Buscemi’s performance as an Atlantic City man out of place at alligator fights and unaccustomed to drinking bad hooch. One can’t imagine a paramour more fully removed from Kelly Macdonald’s Margaret, who finally returns this week, than Sally, who all but inducts Nucky into fight club when he starts fretting over Eddie and how he’s reacting to his death. Patricia Arquette is once again a breath of fresh air and a hell of a lot of fun and Sally’s approach to helping Nucky snap back to life after Eddie’s death certainly seems more effective than Margaret’s genuine, but reserved condolences. Her new role as Nucky’s overseer in Tampa however has seemed like a foregone conclusion from her first scene, denied from joining in on Nucky’s predecessors’ business-related toast, so while the scenes are entertaining, they feel somewhat rote.

The other clearly foreshadowed coupling this week is Chalky and Daughter. While again, these scenes are well written and acted, and the return of Chalky’s family this episode is particularly appropriate, there’s nothing here that wasn’t spelled out when Daughter first arrived. It may be satisfying to some to see plans so clearly laid out start to come to fruition, but for this viewer, these moments lack any real punch. We still have little if any idea of who Daughter is (despite plenty of evidence that Margot Bingham is one hell of a singer); all we know is that she’s a pawn for Dr. Narcisse in his schemes against Chalky, and this strips her scenes of any significant emotional resonance.

There’s also plenty for Paul and Richard, and later Julie, to do, but again, not being familiar with the previous seasons, these scenes hold less sway, though they are almost certainly meaningful to longer-term viewers. At the very least, they’re beautifully lit, shot, and performed, with the scenes of Tommy stargazing particularly memorable (a feat, considering the appropriate lack of textual context given). The most engaging storyline this week is Agent Knox’s. Brian Geraghty finally gets to play Knox undercover again, as he did in the premiere, and it’s as intriguing as ever. Hopefully there’s plenty more to come. Eli’s relationship with Willie may be another through-line more engaging to series-long fans, but even without that thread to hold on to, Eli’s scenes with Knox are interesting and satisfying. They’re also the sole surprise this week, a trait not to be undervalued.

Considering this episode was clearly not written to be overly beginner-friendly, nor frankly should it have been, it’s not surprising that it pales in comparison for this viewer with last week’s emotional “Erlkönig”. “The North Star” may be a completely different episode to those who’ve been watching for years, but that is an experience this critic cannot speak to. That being said, with the season now officially halfway over, the gears will undoubtedly start churning a bit more, moving the many disparate storylines forward and hopefully bringing new and interesting developments for our protagonists. The previous five episodes have all been very newbie-friendly. Hopefully the next several will be as well.

What did you think of this episode? How about that ridiculously beautiful shot of Pennsylvania Station? Were you glad to see Nucky and Sally and Chalky and Daughter hit it off? How long do you think Knox can keep his cool? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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