Is it possible to have the best intentions when your wealthy has come from breaking every law imaginable? Will there be consequences or will everyone literally get away with murder? That's part of the premise behind the fourth season premiere of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," which followed a diverse group of criminals trying to stay above the fray. The show is off to a slow start, but it will likely make up for it by the time the season ends.
"Boardwalk Empire" followed a much wiser Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) who preferred to conduct his business in the shadows in an effort to protect himself from any potential danger. He grew closer to his brother Eli (Shea Whigham) and his family in an effort to stay grounded. Nucky also leaned heavily on his devoted assistant Eddie Kessler (Anthony Laciura) who even took a near fatal bullet wound last season for his boss. He made peace with his former business associates Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef). Even though he noticed that there was some tension between the three that wasn't there before. Nucky had bigger things to worry about when he partnered up with local businessman Albert "Chalky" White (Michael Kenneth Williams) informed him that his partner Dunn (Eric LaRay Harvey) committed a crime to cover up a mistake that could come back to haunt everyone. The arrival of a mysterious businessman named Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston) could mean good things for secret drug addict Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) or a nightmare for everyone else involved, especially with a corrupt agent (Brian Geraghty) lurking around. Will Nucky be able to stay alive as he waited for the next sign of danger?
In terms of questions, the show's season premiere seemed to ask more than it answered as to why each character ended up the way they did. There was some glimpses as to what transpired between some supporting characters, such as Mol's Gillian who put on a brave facade as she covered up her growing drug addict within a matter of months. The show will definitely need to explore what happened to Nucky's estranged wife Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) because her presence was sorely missed in the premiere. Hopefully, Macdonald's return will help to give Buscemi's story more of a connection to the show, because he felt like a supporting player in the episode rather than the main attraction. The premiere's biggest bright spot came in the latter half of the show when Harvey's Dunn committed a shocking and bloody murder. It helped to appropriately shake viewers up and the scene indicated that there will be more bodies to come as the season progressed. Harvey's presence allowed for some moments of levity to come out of those brutal scenes, especially when the crime was covered up. Whigham and Williams were allowed to crack mild jokes as Harvey's Dunn worked hard to fix his mistake with some slightly humorous results. It was also nice to see Williams playing a larger role in the show this season than he did in previous seasons, because he managed to make each scene much more interesting even when nothing was truly happening. Another surprise was Geraghty's presence as the new government agent who was shockingly capable of surviving in Atlantic City without even trying. He was able to be the sheep and the wolf at the same time without viewers being the wiser. It was chilling to see him switch personas without even blinking an eye.
As for breakout performances, Buscemi and Laciura led the pack as their characters continued to test their professional relationship after everything that happened last season. Buscemi's Nucky offered a scene of quiet authority that wasn't there before, even though he seemed rather disconnected from the action for the time being. He made his character seem contrite as he owned up to his mistakes in an effort to make peace with Stuhlbarg's Rothstein and a few other cohorts. Despite their characters being at odds with one another, Buscemi and Stuhlbarg seemed to have genuine rapport with each other that gave viewers something to look forward to whenever they shared scenes together. The focus of the premiere was mainly on Nucky's relationships with his family and his assistant Eddie, which allowed Buscemi to play a more calmer role than he had before. Laciura's Eddie was often an overlooked character in previous seasons, until the character made the ultimate sacrifice for his boss by taking a bullet for him. Laciura embodied Eddie with the right amount of innocence and grit that made him fascinating to watch. What made the character work was that Laciura's Eddie seemed to connect with Buscemi's Nucky in a way that few ever have. Both have seen each other at their worst and still manage to accept each other no matter what happens. Buscemi and Laciura's most memorable scene from the premiere was a brief one, but it explained so much about their relationship. Laciura's Eddie wanted to help his boss even when he was still recovering from his injuries, which Buscemi's Nucky appreciated without saying very much. Let's hope that the show will continue to explore Nucky and Eddie's friendship as the season progressed, because they will likely need each other sooner rather than later.
"Boardwalk Empire" premiered September 8th and airs Sundays at 9:00 PM on HBO.
Verdict: The show's premiere managed to set up a complex group of players with big dreams that will either end with brights lights or a blood battle. The only problem that the episode was much too quiet for a season premiere and also foreshadowed what was to come instead of showing viewers a little more.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)