Boardwalk Empire, Ep. 4.09, “Marriage and Hunting” makes most of Van Alden’s epic return

Boardwalk Empire S04E09 promo pic, Marriage and Hunting

Boardwalk Empire S04E09 promo pic, Marriage and Hunting
Boardwalk Empire
, Season 4, Episode 9, “Marriage and Hunting”
Written by David Matthews and Jennifer Ames and Steve Turner
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: Narcisse is displeased, Nucky is foggy, and Van Alden is back

Much of season four of Boardwalk Empire has felt disjointed. The series has a surplus of talent, with far more characters than it seems to know what to do with, and rather than cut down the cast, they’ve jumped back and forth between these characters (taking the same approach as they did in season three), often  shelving characters and arcs for weeks at a time. What this inevitably leads to are peaks and valleys throughout the season, as the episodes featuring viewers’ favorite characters engage significantly more than those centered on less interesting characters (William, anyone?). This week, Boardwalk Empire focuses on Mueller/Van Alden and, given this reviewer’s enjoyment of that character and performer all season, it’s little surprise that “Marriage and Hunting” is one of the clear standouts of this season.

Michael Shannon is electric. It’s been fun watching Mueller this season, but even this new viewer knows of Van Alden and has been waiting for him to return and when he does this week, it’s incredibly effective. Shannon has been on point all season, bringing the comedy with his continual underplaying of scenes, particularly with the larger-than-life Capone, while never letting the audience forget just how much control it’s taking for Mueller to not do what he does this week, straight-out kill the men tormenting him. He’s decisive, he’s efficient, and he’s looking to reassert himself. With the resurfacing of Van Alden, things are about to get very interesting in Chicago and this critic for one can’t wait.

Elsewhere, Richard Harrow appears to finally be back in the fold. Jack Huston is always a welcome presence and his detour to Wisconsin at the beginning of the season was interesting, but did we have to take this long to get him to this point? His affection for Julia is clear (and by all accounts, was throughout the second half of season three)- why are we only getting to their marriage of convenience (for her, at least) now, nine episodes into this season? Much like Michael Shannon, Huston is a performer whose character has seemingly been kept kicking around on the series mostly because the writers and producers know how great of an actor he is and they don’t want to lose him. If that’s the case, why not give him more to do? If he’s one of your strengths, use him. Otherwise drop him from the narrative and focus on the other characters, only bringing him back when he needs to be there. It’s looking like Harrow will have a significant part to play in the endgame of the season- it’ll be nice to see Huston finally get more to do.

The other significant element of “Marriage and Hunting” is the powder keg that is the Chalky-Narcisse conflict, which is finally coming to a head. Nucky is brought in this week, adding a nice dimension, but it seems rather odd that he’s so reticent to confront Narcisse. If he’s a threat to Nucky, this should have been demonstrated earlier. It seems rather obvious that Nucky doesn’t understand how deep their animosity runs, and there’s a nice bit of social commentary in this- would Nucky be reacting the same way to a conflict between his white business partner a new white associate he’d forced upon him? Probably not. That being said, his lack of commitment to Chalky is rather disappointing. Narcisse mentions this week that Chalky’s standing in the community has fallen. Has this been happening all season? The only part of Chalky’s operation we’ve seen is Purnsley’s defection to Team Narcisse. Are we to infer that his actions, selling heroin and killing the deacon, were done in Chalky’s name, smearing him? This is another element of the season hurt by the continually picked up and discarded narratives.

Having the Chalky-Narcisse confrontation come down to Daughter may make sense for those characters, and Chalky’s feelings for her do seem genuine, but unfortunately we still know almost nothing about this character. She’s defined entirely by the two men currently claiming ownership of her, in more and less subtle ways, and given how few women are featured in this series, and this season in particular, that’s a problem. Sally, on the other hand, is constantly showing us who she is in her interactions with Nucky. Patricia Arquette remains a standout of the season and Nucky instantly becomes more interesting and engaging every time he talks with her.

The other female lead this season seems interested in is Gillian. The writers have been doing their best to rehab the character, but with Piggly-Wiggly’s mysterious phone call, it seems clear she’s headed for yet another disappointment, presumably a relapse, and possibly much worse. It’s hard to watch such a weak and defeated character be so constantly knocked around. Yes, she was pretty much the Devil in previous seasons, but after a while, continually punishing anyone, no matter how evil, gets old. Hopefully the writers have something far more interesting planned for her final three episodes. Otherwise much of her time this season is going to feel rather wasted.

We’re in the final stretch for Boardwalk Empire and several of the arcs feel like they’re finally coming together. It remains to be seen just how all these disparate threads will pull together, if they even will. The writers have their work cut out for them- it should be fun to see what they come up with.

What did you think of this episode? Were you as glad as I to see Van Alden return? How brutal was the makeup for Margot Bingham! Which storyline are you most interested in? Post your thoughts below.

Kate Kulzick

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