Boardwalk Empire: William Wilson – Choosing a Path


Since Boardwalk Empire has so many moving pieces I’ve decided to try something a little new this week to keep things a little bit more organized and allow myself to go more into depth for certain parts of the show. I’ll be splitting up the characters into their own subcategories from now on and hopefully this will allow for a deeper look (if that’s even possible; still not sure how deep this show actually is) into the Boardwalk experience. So, without further ado…

Boardwalk Empire


Nucky’s involvement in the show this week mostly pertained to Willie, Eli’s son, dropping out of school and continuing his slow turn towards the criminal path. While it may seem like Nucky is trying to provide guidance to his nephew, the emphasis on Eddie’s tragic absence lends to the idea that Nucky is going to continue to search for a competent person who he can control. With the loss of Jimmy, Margaret, and now Eddie, it’s becoming more evident that Nucky is trying to fill a void by pretending to be Willie’s mentor. In reality this move appears to put Nucky at risk of losing the only true family he has as the tension between him and Eli that was present in season 2 is starting to return.

The behavior of Nucky throughout this 4th season has been behavior of loneliness and selfishness. He hides in the dark as he attempts to wheel and deal his way to more riches, failing to achieve anything of real value. It was suggested at the end of season 3 that this may be how Nucky prefers his life to be, alone, without anyone around to betray him, yet he continues to make feeble attempts to bring people into his life (Willie, Sally Wheet, that one girl). This season he’s dropping those people much more quickly.

The relationships Nucky is trying to begin also appear to be clouding his head as well as he is unable to identify the threat presented by Agent Knox. For once it now seems as Eli is the brother with the clear head with his disappointment in his son for quitting school and his feeling about something being wrong with Knox.


Perhaps the most evident failed relationship with Nucky; Margaret’s role was expanded this week as she has found a steady job working for some sort of investment firm on Wall Street. I’ve always personally found the Margaret character interesting, yet misused. This is a character that really should have been a moral compass for the show; maybe slowly turning towards the dark side, however this was never quite evident and the transformation never took place on screen.

Now it appears she has become a little more accepting of shady ways, even though she has veiled herself with a sort of naïve ignorance.

She’s always been a character that appears to be trying to take the high road with everything but ends up using criminal aspects to her advantage. And while it seems to her as she has taken an honest job (honest meaning she convinces people to buy into an investment that probably won’t work out very well by lying), in actuality she has chosen a life of crime herself. This life she has chosen is turned upside down when she runs into the familiar face of Arnold Rothstein. Both parties agreed to keep what they were doing secret, as Rothstein himself was not using his real name during a business proposal.

It is obvious this will not be the first encounter between Margaret and A.R. and it may be a sign that Margaret is going to get sucked right back into the world of which she so desperately wanted to leave (or not so much). It may be interesting to see Peggy in a world where she is no longer attached to Nucky and hopefully the audience will be given a female character that is actually allowed to grow (there is some potential in another character, but we’ll get to that later).

Al Capone

After the death of his brother, Al is hell-bent on revenge in the form of killing just about everyone he can. An early scene involves Capone walking right up to a police officer in broad daylight and shooting him in the head. Al is relentless as he tries to convince Johnny Torrio that Dean O’Banion was behind the assassination of Frank.

Boardwalk Empire

Al eventually gets his wish as O’Banion gives Torrio a bad deal, presumably setting up a raid on a property of which Dean had just sold to Torrio. One could imagine the crime boss was not too happy about this and after an entire show of telling Al there was business to be done with the Irishman, he finally gave Capone the go ahead to kill O’Banion.

The death of O’Banion has been coming for a while, and it’s been set up to be one of the big deaths of this season. I imagine it will be fairly gruesome and I would imagine since Van Alden started out by working for O’Banion, the former detective will play a major role in the murder.

Stephen Graham remains one of my favorite performers on the show as he is slowly but surely showing signs of becoming the major crime boss of Chicago. His anger mixed with an off-kilter lovability pops out of the screen.

Lucky Luciano

While Lucky was only in a very small section of this episode I figure since this is the guy who ends up creating the 5 families of New York he may be an important figure to follow as he learns the ropes. He doesn’t see the value in Nucky’s Florida deal but is instructed to go back and become a partner. This may seem like a small development, but Lucky may be the on of the most powerful characters on this show by the time everyone is ready to call it quits.

Gillian Dormady

If Margaret can’t become the female character this show desperately needs, I believe the onus belongs to Gillian. Based on the past happenings with her character in the show, however, all signs point to Gillian regressing to a dimwitted child again. This is a character who never wanted to grow up and now she’s being presented with a perfect opportunity to do so.

The encounter with Dunn Purnsley on a previous episode, though, suggests the relationship with Ron Livingston’s Roy Philips is doomed. Roy has one of the longer scenes he has appeared in so far throughout the season as he attempts to nurse Gillian back to health as she tries to quite heroin cold turkey. He also reveals to Gillian that the day he first saw her was the day he entered into his divorce proceedings (RUN ROY! RUN!).

Chalky White

The Chalky and Dr. Narcisse scenes pretty much go hand in hand in this episode as both of them involve Daughter Maitland is involved in both. With Chalky, it is a sex scene followed by a conversation in which Chalky questions what Dr. Narcisse is like, presumably to gather information about a person he views as competition, even though they are technically working together (Narcisse & Chalky had a conversation earlier in the episode and agreed to extend the stay of Maitland).

Maitland has nothing but good things to say about Narcisse as she gets up out of bed and gets dressed. Chalky, remaining naked and vulnerable in the bed continues to ask questions. There is a sense of insecurity with the Chalky character and he is starting to develop a false sense of trust in Daughter Maitland.

Valentin Narcisse

The final scene of the show was another rather intimate scene involving Daughter Maitland. This time the intimacy was rooted in conversation instead of sex. Daughter was much more comfortable with Narcisse and there was a revealing moment when Narcisse’s shirt was unbuttoned and scars appeared all over his chest. Jeffrey Wright exudes a cold and calculated demeanor throughout his performance here and is perhaps the character who has the strongest position in the show.

Boardwalk Empire

Just a couple more thoughts before I get out of here:

* Agent Knox has a moment of frustration in this episode as J. Edgar Hoover takes credit for unveiling organized crime. I can’t say this was an upsetting moment for the audience.

* The aforementioned Dunn Purnsley killed a Deacon in this episode, further establishing his new alliance with Dr. Narcisse.

I do feel this is a show still worth following if only for the production value alone. There are some very strong characters and the writing remains top-notch.

That’s it for this week.

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. Viktor Jacobs

    Nice review. I tell you, I really took a liking to Dunn’s character after the beatdown he took in jail when he swallowed his pride and went to work for Chalky. The way he organized the strike at the hotel and got the workers to hold their ground when the white mob tried to break up the picket lines was a thing of beauty.

    He was the perfect muscle for Chalky while Nucky was on the run and had to hide out at Chalky’s place.

    However, because he put his manhood ahead of common sense (gettin’ with a white woman back in them days was a no-no), the incident with Dickie Pastor caused Chalky to have to give 10% of the Onyx to Dr. Narcisse. Thus, Chalky started giving Dunn a hard time.

    Dr. Narcisse, being cunning and calculating as he is, takes advantage of this and uses Dunn’s emotions against him, getting Mr. Purnsley to sell the heroin without Chalky’s knowlege.

    I still was hoping that eventually Dunn would get back into Chalky’s good graces, but killing Deacon Cuffy was the point of no return–in Pastor Cuffy’s church, no less. I do not see Dunn making it out of season 4 alive. He is being played by Dr. Narcisse and doesn’t even know it. My theory is that, if Chalky doesn’t kill him, Dr. Narcisse will get rid of him once he is of no longer use to him.

    • Yeah Dunn will definitely be killed by the end of the season, imo. My prediction is it will be in the hands of Chalky. Dunn will probably say something about how he never liked Chalky before he gets it.

  2. The show hasn’t really done a good job of conveying the essence of the real Dean O’Banion. They got the prankster part down, but they’ve kind of glossed over how violent and confrontational he was. It wasn’t really that he was too “stupid” to think there wouldn’t be retaliation. It was that he welcomed retaliation. Torrio and after him Capone, just wanted to make money. Time and time again they offered the North Side Gang peace deals that were more than fair. But every deal agreed to, the North Side would turn around and break within days. O’Banion was just a violent utterly reckless dude with a really primitive outlook when it came to business. An all out war held more appeal to him than peaceful, mutually beneficial cooperation.

  3. I was really hoping Chalky and Dunn were planning some elaborate sting to double-cross Narcisse. Not the case unfortunately. Poor ol’ Chalky does indeed look like he’s heading for a big double stab in the back from Daughter and his old friend Mr Purnsley.

    I can however say I was right about Eli and Knox. Eli wasn’t setting Knox up as so many of you were swearing by. And my guess is, to keep the suspense going, the writers might even save his exposure till later in the season.

    It begs the question, why do we so easily get suckered like that? I guess it’s because we love our heroes too much to believe they might be so gullible. Or maybe were just too demanding of our writers?

    Perhaps as well, the writers don’t want to make it too complicated so early on in the season with plot-twists etc because it might put off any new viewers who are not as familiar with the characters as we are? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that it is ever so slightly annoying when we the audience are baited in, like we were with the Eli/Knox scenes last week, only to be told ‘what you see is what you get’. I for one will be more cautious from now on not to jump to any conclusions in the future.

  4. Gayle Y

    Narcisse is a fantastic character. Devious and possibly the smartest person introduced on the show (along with Rothstein). And of course Jeffrey Wright is awesome as always, but that’s a given pretty much.

    Hope they don’t do the usual 1 season arc and kill him off. Gyp was great and Cannavale deserved all the accolades he got, but he was more or less just a blunt instrument, only so far you can take a character like that. But Narcisse is an entirely different animal. Would love to see him stick around for at least another season.

    And, fantastic recap.

    • Kevin Licht

      Thank you. I do think Wright’s character has a chance to stick around for a while, but you never know about what may happen with certain actors. There were rumors about Michael Pitt’s (Jimmy Dormady) end not being all about writing.

  5. I can bet that Capone is going to get rid of O’Banion with Van Aldens help since he can easily get close to him without rising any suspicions.

  6. Hector Byrd

    I have a sinking feeling that B.E. is setting us up for a scene in which J. Edgar takes a long hot shower with one of his male employees. Or one in which he wakes up in bed and then sits up, revealing a man on the other side of the bed. Hoover may have been gay, but it was irrelevant. I tend to think he was simply asexual. The desire for power drove him, to the exclusion of other desires.

  7. I’m under the impression that the link between Capone & Nucky (there’s one every season) will be the war with O’Bannion and him requestin help with it. Nucky doesn’t really have an army so it may be regarding booze shipments.

  8. I like the family ties on shows like this. So many of my favorite shows include offspring, so there must be reason the writers add them in. It appeals to me. The actor and story line here shows an early start into the rackets that most of the principle characters are already involved in.

  9. “[W]hile it seems to her as she [Margaret] has taken an honest job (honest meaning she convinces people to buy into an investment that probably won’t work out very well by lying), in actuality she has chosen a life of crime herself.”

    This does offer an implicit negative critique of the market as it was in the 1920s.

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