WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Given the tumultuous blood bath that ended the third season of BOARDWALK EMPIRE, there was little chance that the season four opener would be able to top it, and thankfully it didn’t try to. Instead, we get a firm resolution to the turf war that rocked all of last season and some new and unexpected wheels get set into motion. While this may sound rather dull, don’t fret, there is still plenty of violence, sex, and the great performances you’ve come to expect from the show.
Not wanting to give away the whole show, I’m going to try and stick to the broad strokes and not reveal too many direct spoilers. After reclaiming control of Atlantic City, Nucky is playing it safe. He’s making peace, focusing on business, and even being more cautious around the ladies. Eli is firmly back as Nucky’s right hand, and he’s trying to mold his son to walk a higher road, with questionable success. On the other hand, Al Capone has been emboldened by his recent success and is looking to flex a little more muscle and make a name for himself in Chicago, and he‘s brought his brothers along for the ride. The real drama of the episode mostly involves new and under used characters. There is a new law officer in Atlantic City, Federal Agent Warren Knox, whose introduction is certain to shake things up a bit. Chalky White’s right hand man, Dunn Purnsley, makes a brash decision that lands him, and potentially all of the Atlantic City underworld, in a bad mess. Most surprising, and least exciting in terms of actual events in the episode, is the appearance of Ron Livingston (OFFICE SPACE) as Roy Phillips, a business man who it appears will be involved with Gillian Darmody and whatever role she will play in this new season. Richard Harrow also shows up doing what he does best, killing people.
While there are many new developments in the season opener, none of them are particularly surprising. No one major dies and none of the deaths that occur have any immediate sense of doom or impending retaliation surrounding them, the romantic encounters don’t set up any major new relationships, and none of the main characters make any major plays. The entire episode feels like the deep breath before the plunge, and while it may not seem particularly satisfying given the long wait, I have a feeling it is a very necessary breath for what’s about to come. One of the most interesting things about the opener is who isn’t in it. Both Margaret Schroeder and Nelson Van Alden are absent, which was quite unexpected, particularly on the part of Van Alden, given the massive parts they’ve played in the previous three seasons.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE has consistently had amazing performances, and this tradition continues in the fourth season. Steve Buscemi (FARGO) is perfect as Nucky Thompson, giving the audience the calm, in control character that they have come to love. Shea Whigham (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) continues to grow as Eli Thompson, he does a nice job giving us a humbler, more in control version of Eli. I think Stephen Graham (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY), who plays Al Capone, will be the actor to watch this year. With the new attitude of Capone we get to see a far more assertive character, and so far Graham is taking to it like a fish to water. Jack Huston (OUTLANDER) returns as Richard Harrow and delivers his usual outstanding performance. Eric LaRay Harvey (PROUD) plays Dunn Purnsley and does a rather nice job with the role. Given how impressive his portrayal of Dunn continues to be, its surprising he doesn’t get more work. Michael K. Williams (THE ROAD) continues to be a fantastic character actor as Chalky White, easily bringing out the characters struggle to move up in the world while still being seen as a lower class citizen. Lastly I want to touch on Brian Geraghty (FLIGHT), who makes his first appearance on the show as Agent Warren Knox. He delivers an impressive first performance that will almost certainly intrigue viewers.
There is plenty to enjoy in the fourth season opener of BOARDWALK EMPIRE. There are new characters, interesting story developments, and all the hallmarks fans have come to love the show for. If you’re a returning fan, tuck in and enjoy, however, if you are looking to approach Boardwalk Empire for the first time, this is definitely not the place to start.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10