Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Season Four - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
AFTER the explosive third season of Boardwalk Empire succeeded in delivering the show’s most memorable villain to date in Bobby Cannavale, the ensuing fourth season was always going to have it’s work cut out in topping it.
Wisely, it doesn’t even try, opting instead for a slow-burn approach that bordered on the elegaic come the season’s stunning end.
Hence, if season three was a head rush of hedonistic and violent excess, then season four was the comedown where the sins of the past really took their effect.
For Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson this meant a time to take stock and potentially quit while ahead… all the time looking for further financial opportunities beyond Atlantic City to allow him to do so.
But it was the supporting members of this terrific ensemble who really went on journeys this time around, especially the trio of Michael Kenneth Williams’ Chalky White, Jack Huston’s Richard Harrow and Shea Whigham’s Eli Thompson.
The former, in particular, endured a rough ride after rising to new heights but embroiling himself in a psychological war with Negro preacher Valentin Narcisse (a sublimely malevolent Jeffrey Wright) and a damaging extra-marital affair with sultry soul singer Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham).
Season four gave Chalky much more of the spotlight and Williams duly rebelled in it, turning in a complex portrayal of a man as much at war with himself as those around him. His fight scene with a former ally turned Valentin recruit was a stunning moment that combined sheer brutal rage with desperate survival instincts. You felt every blow.
Memorable, too, was Nucky’s long-suffering brother Eli, still bitterly living in his brother’s shadow and tipped over the edge by Nucky’s interference into the affairs of his eldest son and by the unwanted attentions of a government agent (Brian Geraghty) determined to bring Nucky and company to their knees. Another big fight scene involving Whigham Geraghty succeeded in delivering a breathtakingly brutal series high that was shot through with emotional intensity and far-reaching consequence.
Perhaps most memorable of the lot, however, was Huston’s Harrow, a man with half a face, who seemed to have got his life in order only to be dragged back into his violent past. Harrow’s journey throughout this season leant the show it’s biggest heart, which made it’s poignant conclusion all the more heartbreaking.
As if that weren’t enough, Anthony Laciura’‘s long-suffering butler Eddie Kessler also had a story arc to savour as he was finally entrusted with a key role in Nucky’s business, while Michael Shannon’s former Agent Van Alden continued on what has become the show’s most consistently surprising – and often comically amusing – journey by firmly becoming entrenched in Al Capone’s rising criminal empire. Shannon, like Stephen Graham as Capone, were mesmerising presences despite lesser screen-time.
Perhaps the most significant achievement of season four, however, was to really tap into the damaged hearts and minds of the whole ensemble, culminating in a final couple of episodes that were utterly gripping, supremely eloquent and gut-wrenchingly powerful in the extreme.
Where most of the surviving characters go from this point remains to be seen but on this form the fifth and final season of Boardwalk Empire looks well placed to cement it’s place in the channels of TV greats.
UK Blu-ray and DVD Release: August 18, 2014