When “Boardwalk Empire” premiered four years ago, I didn’t think it would last. Its first season was uneven, unfocused, and, I’m sad to say, kind of boring at times. But with determination, an impressively expansive cast, and some great plot turns in season two, HBO had another winner on their hands. “Boardwalk Empire” has only gotten better in the last two years. but somewhere along the line something went wrong this time.
Season 4 takes place in 1924. Nucky Thompson is keeping a low profile as a silent partner at the Onyx Club, now run by Chalky White. Gillian Darmody, mother of the late Jimmy, is fighting in court to see her grandson returned to her, while Richard Harrow tries to find a way to give himself a decent family life. In Chicago, former Agent Van Alden is adjusting to his new role as a low level mob thug witnessing Al Capone’s rise to power. Add to this Dr. Valentin Narcisse arriving in Atlantic City, looking to do business with Nucky, and things get complicated, and bloody, really fast.
“A thing mixed is a thing weakened.”
On the surface, it looks like a good set up. We’ve got a new Big Bad in town, government agents closing in all around, and some room for great character development. The show suffers in the first half of the season, however, from a lack of focus (much like season 1). The synopsis above is only a part of the story. We’ve also got the Jewish gangsters in New York, Nucky’s new prospects in Florida, Will’s (Eli’s son) school troubles, and Margaret’s entirely pointless new job on Wall Street. The season is all over the place. Multiple MAJOR characters fail to show up in numerous episodes, giving their stories a very disjointed feeling when I can’t even remember what was happening when I last saw them three weeks back.
“Boardwalk Empire” obviously needs to trim down on its cast, and it actually looks like they might after this year. We had a few surprising (and heartbreaking) deaths and a few other obvious write-outs. Gillian may finally be gone, which is great because she stopped being relevant when Jimmy checked out. Unfortunately, this means we have to say goodbye to a couple favourites, and that is never easy on a show with such great characters.
“Only kings understand each other.”
The second half of the season really picks up, and I have to say that episodes 8 through 10 are definitely the best and most exciting. Unfortunately, the final two weeks come down far too quickly and by the finale, the show completely fizzles out. There’s no conclusion to half the plot threads, and the ones that do get wrapped up are so unsatisfying that you keep expecting another episode to make it all better. But it never comes. Truthfully, in the Chicago side of the story, NOTHING HAPPENS. Nothing at all. Van Alden kills a couple more people (not new ground for him) and Al Capone decides he wants to move up in the world (which he’s been doing since the series premiere).
The season did have a few shining stars, fortunately. Richard (Jack Huston), Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams), and Eli (Shea Wigham) are all fantastic this season, and I’d be extremely disappointed to not see at least one of them up at the awards circuit next year. Chalky in particular is finally given some real meat in his plot, and there’s a lot of great scenes between him and Nucky, and Narcisse that are among the best of the season, and the finale sets up for a great arc next season. It’s a long time coming for a great character.
“I used to believe in God; now I believe in nothing at all.”
Overall, this season isn’t as bad as the first, but it makes a lot of the same mistakes, right down to the anti-climactic finale. Next year, with a more slimmer cast, a stronger focus from the get-go, and some great character driven stories built off of this year’s developments, “Boardwalk Empire” could be in for its best season yet. Unfortunately, we need to wait a year to find out.
My Rating: 7/10