In these days where many viewers expect television shows to have overarching themes and stories it appears that Boardwalk Empire has taken the opposite approach. The first two seasons detailed the rise of Jimmy Darmody accumulating in a sort of crossing the line for Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson in the second season finale. The third season dealt with the consequences of that event, sure, but along with it came new antagonists and opportunities that had very little to do with the previous seasons. No one is suggesting that the Jimmy Darmody story should have been dragged out for ten seasons, but it is strange that Boardwalk Empire’s writers and producers seem to be actively working against viewers modern expectations for long running storylines.
Currently, what ties the seasons together is that Nucky Thompson controls the boardwalk in Atlantic City whilst involved in a power struggle with the other mob bosses in Chicago and New York. Other than being connected to those mobs the season three villain, Gyp Rosetti, was completely unheard of before that season began and it seems that season four is set to follow that same trend of introducing a new nemesis for Nucky to work against. The need to change is understandable; trying to remain the status quo too much can be detrimental to story and character development. Just ask True Blood. And Rosetti was too quirky and too volatile to really work as a long lasting character.
However, changing things too much will damage the show’s reputation. Viewers will begin to expect major characters to die and will be more reserved in connecting with the people on screen. What is the point in caring about said character, if you don’t expect them to be around for very long? That was certainly the case with Gyp Rosetti. Yeah, he beat a man with a tire iron and indulged in decadent sex games, but those character character traits were shallow. It couldn’t really compare to Jimmy’s incestuous backstory or Margret’s visit to her family. Those are the kind of plots that develop characters but Gyp Rossetti never really got anything like that so it was hard to care what happened to him or expect him to around for long.
One episode into Boardwalk Empire’s forth season and it is difficult to know exactly who is going to be playing the big bad this time around. Warren Knox, Agent Sawicki’s new partner, seems like the most likely case after he manipulated his partner into being shot by a loudmouth distiller by withholding the information that said distiller had rigged a shotgun to the handle. Knox then killed the distiller and drank some of the alcohol while knelling over his dying partner’s body. The obfuscating naivety act is interesting but it is still a character trait, like Rosetti’s sex antics, as opposed to actual character development. Still, it’s a decent starting off point and maybe they will develop Knox better than they handled Rosetti. At the moment it is very difficult to tell if he is just ambitious or if he wants to actually be involved in bootlegging alcohol. The former would cause Nucky more trouble; an ambitious revenue agent will likely go after bigger Marlin when he tires of catching Minnow.
Perhaps the writers will once again shun expectation and Knox will end up being an ally. There are other possible candidates for Nucky’s opposition. Roy Phillips, played by Ron Livingston, appeared to save Gillian Darmody from having to further prostitute herself to make ends meet and cited his business in town being that he was expanding the Piggly Wiggly brand. If his only role in this season is to provide a new love interest for Gillian then I will be disappointed. While there are so few legitimate businesses men in this show that one might be a nice change of pace, I don’t believe that will be the case. Most likely, he will provide stable lodgings for Gillian, long enough for her to get her grandson back, and then his sinister side will come out.
It is also possible that the main threat to Nucky’s business and livelihood hasn’t appeared onscreen yet. Jeremy Wright will play Dr. Valentin Narcisse, a philanthropist who hails from Harlem and although he hasn’t appeared yet his appearance was set up through Dunn Purnsley’s dealing with talent agent, Dickie. And by dealing I mean being coerced into screwing Dickie’s girlfriend, being blackmailed into continuing then stabbing him with a broken bottle. The girlfriend escaped but Dickie was buried whilst Dunn got all the grief from Chalky and Nucky. In the absence of a talent agent, it seems that Dr. Valentin Narcisse may step in. There was already tension between Chalky and Nucky last season and it would be interesting if Narcisse aggravated that old wound.
Nucky also smoothed over relations with the other criminal families, at least those in New York. The truce is unlikely to last though we know from history that Joe Masseria is still around in 1928, the same year that Arnold Rothstein was murdered. This episode was set in February 1924, so the show is still four years removed from eliminating them. There are only so many times Boardwalk Empire can pit the gangsters against each other and just have them make up afterwards without any major causalities, unless Martin Scorsese wants to go the Quinten Tarantino route and kill them off like Adolf Hitler in Inglourious Basterds. Interestingly, 1924 is the year that Jonny Torrio hands over operations to Al Capone, a little fact that gives Stephen Graham’s small part in this episode some more credence.
Though a small part is better than no part at all, such as what we got of Margret and Nelson Van Alden in this episode. Richard Harrow did make a few appearances, mostly showing up mysteriously to shoot people in the head before arriving at his sister’s house. I’m still not sure what’s going on there but evidently some plot is being developed over this season for Harrow. I like Richard Harrow and hopefully this storyline develops the character because I would hate for him to be so disconnected from the rest of the show that he became irrelevant.
On the whole, New York Sour was an enjoyable and interesting opener. Nothing from season three was really built upon but the consequences were dealt with, paving the way for new situations and characters in this fourth season. Boardwalk Empire is still better than ninety percent of programmes on television but only time will tell if this season will be as good as the third or as great as the two initial seasons.