Boardwalk Empire: New York Sour – A Lonely Return for Nucky Thompson

The premiere of season 4 of what was no doubt supposed to be HBO’s signature series to follow The Sopranos, aired this past Sunday (September 8th, competing with the unstoppably awesome 5th episode of Breaking Bad) with a strong episode with which the show re-established the presence of some of the best written characters in the television universe, using some of the best actors in a television series one could expect. Yet, the show again seems to be missing… something.

It’s going to take some time to figure out what exactly is missing from a show in which everything seems perfectly set up for a masterpiece. The production is top-notch. The aforementioned actors are brilliant. I personally find the storylines interesting. In the end it may turn out that there really isn’t anything wrong with the show. It could be that this series relies too much on each season as a whole to be able to fairly judge each episode on it’s own (after re-watching all three of the previous seasons in about the span of three weeks before this premiere I found myself enjoying the series more the second time around).

Boardwalk Empire
Guess who?

This episode opens with a scene involving one of the best original characters in the show (that is, a non-historical figure) in Richard Harrow. Hell-bent on finding something or someone, it appears Mr. Harrow will play a bigger part in the series this year.

Another big part of this season will quite obviously be the expansion of the role of African Americans as Chalky White (played by Michael Kenneth Williams of The Wire fame) has taken over running the club that was destroyed by a season 3 explosion. Chalky gets a taste of the type of trouble audiences saw Steve Buscemi’s Nucky have to deal with in the previous seasons, when his right-hand man Dunn (Erik LaRay Harvey) gets into a fairly disturbing situation involving the wife of a talent agent who brings acts to Chalky’s new “Onyx Club.”

Boardwalk Empire

Chalky looks to be someone who will play an important figure in the Boardwalk realm, but he will be aided by the de facto main character, Nucky Thompson (again, played by the extremely talented Buscemi), who is also busy trying to obtain a peace between himself and the New York bosses, and also attempting to obtain a new actress with whom he can be “entertained.” Nucky will be experiencing his ever-compounding regrets once again throughout this season based on the events of this opening season, and since there is no appearance from Margaret Schroeder (Kelly McDonald should be back in episode 2, hopefully), he may be experiencing those regrets in a very lonely fashion.

There is an intimacy in this episode of the series that did make it feel different from previous efforts. There are so many characters in this show and most episodes try to fit every single one of them into the hour that many of the events can get lost in the shuffle. This episode seems to have taken a page from Game of Thrones by leaving out some of the more recognizable characters (Michael Shannon & the aforementioned McDonald do not appear in this episode), allowing the show to seem more focused and less rushed than many of the previous attempts. In a way, this really helps in the character development (there have been many criticisms of Nucky Thompson being an uninteresting character; something I personally disagree with but…).

Boardwalk Empire

In the case of Nucky, we really see him in a lot of darkness and isolated (even though him staying at the Albatross Hotel may have been a bit too heavy-handed). Even in a familiar Nucky Thompson situation we see him act differently as he kicks woman out of his residence for saying something with which he seems upset. The audience may get a Nucky Thompson who is alone and as merciless as ever in the upcoming episodes.

For those waiting for the violence of the previous seasons, this episode certainly does not want for blood. It also has plenty of the gratuitous nudity that many of the HBO shows take to. The supporting characters will be coming soon (Ron Livingston does make his first appearance as an employee for Piggly Wiggly and it looks like he’ll be a big part of the now heroin addicted Gillian Dormady).

Boardwalk Empire
Gretchen Mol’s Gillian Dormady looks to gain custody of her grandson.

However, this writer feels the premiere this 4th season is a very good sign of things to come, as the structure felt much tighter and made for a much more focused experience.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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I'm Kevin Licht, a graduate from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor emphasis in Film Studies. When I'm not working I watch and write

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  1. Happy to see this awesome show back! I speak German natively which makes it a little bit amusing to see Mrs Schroeder (we all adore Kelly) which is Schröder and a genuine German name (like our former chancelor) being called Schroder with an “o” all the time. Even by Nucky’s supposedly German chauffeur.

  2. I hope we don’t see any new romantic relationships for Nucky. That Billie storyline sucked and I was happy she died. I don’t want another one.
    I’m assuming the new black guy who was the boss of the cuckold dude and his wife is going to show up next episode and become Nucky’s new enemy. I’m also assuming Purnsley will bite the bullet this season and maybe even Chalky.

  3. clive l

    Man!!! Boardwalk is bringing it this Season. Premiere episode was outstanding!!! I was trying to eat my barbecue chicken and mash potatoes and almost choked on my meal tonight when Percy stabbed Dickens (I think thats his name) in the neck with the broken bottle.

  4. Patria Fleitas

    So far I loved it. Great start to the season with many characters setups being put in motion. I got to see all the characters I love in this episode, I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress throughout the season.

  5. “Yet, the show again seems to be missing… something.”

    Rule of thumb: if it seems like something’s missing, in general, it is because it is. And generally something fundamental.

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