Quietly one of the best dramas on television, “Boardwalk Empire” takes a simmering novelistic approach to its storytelling. It is a show that is best appreciated for the entirety of its season, rather than for its individual chapters. Brilliantly acted, and meticulously plotted, “Boardwalk Empire” can be an incredibly slow burn that, at times, may drag while the audience waits for the pieces to come together. With a sprawling cast spread out geographically, and numerous plotline tentacles flowing away from the series’ main character, Nucky Thompson, as well as both new and returning characters, it can occasionally be difficult to follow along with “Boardwalk Empire” without reference materials handy.
This season, to help our readers better comprehend and follow along with the sprawling and slow-building nature of “Boardwalk Empire,” we have decided to offer something akin to a Cliffsnotes version of each episode to help fill in the gaps. It should not be a substitute for actually watching each episode, but hopefully, it will help you to better appreciate HBO’s best drama.
The events of season four pickup eight months following the massacre in Gillian Darmody’s home and the death of Gyp Rosetti at the end of season three.
Richard Harrow’s arc continues themes established last season regarding both the sadness he felt because he is estranged from his sister, and the loss of Jimmy’s son, Tommy, who Richard treated at times like his own. After taking out Gyp Rosetti’s men and setting Tommy up with Julia Sagorsky at the end of last season, Harrow continues his killing spree this season, though it’s difficult to say to what end yet. He kills two gangsters in Warsaw on their way to Columbus, Ohio, and then murders a middle manager at life insurance agency. At the end of the episode, Richard “comes home” to his sister.
Meanwhile, back in Atlantic City, Chalky White is setting up the Onyx Club, the club which will be Nucky Thompson’s new center of operations. Chalky immediately gets mixed up with a booking agent, Dickey Pastor, whose wife seduces Chalky’s right hand, Dunn Purnsley, in some sort of weird, screwed-up, racist and perverted sex game, whereby Dicky ends up holding a gun to Dunn’s head while he f*cks his wife and Dicky masturbates. Dunn doesn’t take too kindly to the treatment and kills Dickey with a broken bottle, although Dickey’s wife escapes. Chalky recruits Nucky and his brother, Eli, to help them dispose of the body.
In the wake of Gyp Rosetti’s death, Nucky’s relationship with his other bootlegger associates — Arnold Rothstein, Joe Masseria, Lucky Luciano Meyer Lansky, etc. — remains chilly. Nucky reaffirms his intent to keep only his territory, and nothing more. Nucky reaches a tenuous gentlemen’s agreement to keep the peace.
Gillian Darmody is fighting Julia Sagorsky for custody of Tommy. She’s also become a drug abuser. She’s a real estate agent who apparently packages property deals with sexual favors. Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston), a wealthy out-of-state businessman in town to open a Piggly Wiggly, seems to have become smitten with Gillian. Gillian perhaps sees in Phillips a guy that can keep the Artemis Club running.
Prohibition Agent Stan Sawicki is now teaching Agent Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty) the ropes on his kickback scheme. However, Knox works directly for J. Edgar Hoover. We learn that things are not quite what they seem when baby-faced Knox gets Sawicki shot, then Knox kills a bootlegger and casually enjoys his liquor while Sawicki expires on the ground in below him.
In Chicago, Al Capone continues to run women for Johnny Torrio, though he — with the help of his brothers, Frank and Ralph Capone — clearly has a notion to make a bigger name for himself. He wants more credit, and he’s not above harassing a newspaper reporter to ensure that he gets Capone’s name spelled correctly when he’s writing about Capone’s illegal shenanigans.
An aspiring actress, associate of vaudevillian Eddie Cantor, and friend of Nucky’s ex-gilfriend, Billie Kent, takes a shine to Nucky, but when Nucky realizes that she’s using him to further her own actressing career, Nucky has her dismissed.
Eli’s son, Willie, is home for college. Eli and his wife are intent on keeping Willie clean, though Willie seems more interested in working with Nucky in the family business. Nucky is cautious.
Nucky is eyeing plans to extend his businesses into Tampa, Florida.
Notable episode absences: Margaret Schroeder and Nelson Van Alden.
Who to Watch Out For: Agent Knox, and Dickey Pastor’s missing wife.
Problem areas: It’s hard to see how the subplot concerning Eli’s son, Willie, will ever become particularly interesting.
Biggest Open Question: What is motivating Richard Harrow?