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Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 4.07, “William Wilson” continues season’s recurring strengths, weaknesses

Boardwalk Empire promo pic S04E07

Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Episode 7, “William Wilson”
Written by David Matthews and Terence Winter
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
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: Knox gets a name, Daughter gets a backstory, and Gillian gets clean

It’s Edgar Allen Poe’s turn in the spotlight, as this week’s Boardwalk Empire episode takes its name from the title of one of his short stories. Detailing a man’s obsession with and eventual murder of his doppelganger, or perhaps himself, the short story provides plenty of parallels to where our characters find themselves at this juncture, with the two clearest pairs being Chalky/Dr. Narcisse and Eli/Nucky. Narcisse seems to fill the role of the doppelganger, following Chalky around and whispering his crimes, but given the reveal of Narcisse’s history with Daughter’s mother, perhaps he’s the one with a debauched past behind him. Eli and Nucky also seem to fit this description, with Nucky the calm, measured voice in the shadows and Eli acting the angry drunk. We’ll see how these roles shift over the coming weeks, if they do at all, but for now, while the performances of all involved remain engaging, these arcs have yet to come together in a meaningful or exciting way.

Instead, the highlight this week is Stephen Graham as Al Capone. He’s been a consistent source of entertainment this season, but the death of Frank last week unsurprisingly pushes the character into high gear, fueling Al’s already problematic violent streak. Whereas previous scenes this season with Capone relied on Michael Shannon’s steadying presence, this week Capone has no one holding him back, making the character’s seeming restraint, and Graham’s portrayal of it, all the more compelling. Shannon will undoubtedly be back soon, but it’s nice to see the Chicago scenes succeeding without him.

Similarly isolated this week are Gillian’s scenes. Should her sobriety last, the writers will have to come up with another way to incorporate her. The Purnsley angle seemed promising, but the notion of a more together, less psychotic Gillian is even more intriguing. We’ll see how long it lasts. Another unexpected turn is that of Margaret, perhaps being drawn into Rothstein’s schemes. It’s certainly a different way to go and taking this approach, rather than contriving a tidy reunion with Nucky, is an interesting to keep Kelly Macdonald involved. As for Agent Knox, make that Jim Tolliver, his growing frustration with Hoover will probably lead to more down the line, but for this week, the highlight of his scenes is the reveal of Gaston Means’ precarious position, one that promises more Stephen Root in the coming weeks, which is always a good thing. The addition of Julianne Nicholson is also a nice touch- it’ll be fun to see a woman thrown into that boy’s club.

All in all, Boardwalk Empire continues to have the same strengths and weaknesses seven weeks into the season that it did at week two or three- the performances are nuanced and engaging, the cinematography and period elements look gorgeous, but the overabundance of characters and storylines divides the show significantly, forcing the writers to pick up and then set down arcs each week, destroying any attempt to build momentum. Presumably everything will come to a head in the final episodes, but we’re still weeks away from that point. “Erlkönig” gave us both table-setting (plot) and payoff (character) and succeeded dramatically because of it. If we won’t see these various plot strands come together until the end of the season, it would be nice to get a closer examination of at least a couple of these myriad characters while we wait.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Yes, Daughter can sing and yes, she has a complicated relationship with Narcisse, but does anyone else feel like we don’t know her at all? How long will Gillian stay on the wagon for her new Piggly-Wiggly? Think Rothstein’s real estate plans will conflict with Nucky’s? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick


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