TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Resignation’

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

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The Low Down: Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) returns to Boardwalk Empire and he is now fully employed by Dean O’Bannon, who dispatches him to work with The Capones (Stephen Graham, Domenick Lombardozzi, Morgan Spector). Speaking of The Capones, their rise to power in Chicago takes another step forward as they beat up everyone at a political rally. Also in the Midwest, Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) seems to have lost his taste for killing now that he is home at his sister’s, but is someone on his tail? The fallout from Dunn Purnsley’s (Erik LaRay Harvey) murderous act reaches new heights as Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) enters the picture and demands justice since the booking agent Dunn killed was his employee. Eddie (Anthony Laciura) is feeling the physical effects of his wounds from last season and then finally demands Nucky (Steve Buscemi) show him the proper respect or he will resign.

The Body Count: One person killed via strangulation.

Our Favorite New Jersey Reference: Chalky tells Narcisse to look for the missing booking agent in Newark.

Favorite Performance: Michael Kenneth Williams was fantastic. Maybe I’m biased because I just binge-watched The Wire (which he was the best part of), but tonight was his night. The sequence when he’s walking backstage and then on the floor at The Onyx Club, is great. You can see he’s just so happy to be a legitimate business man. It’s a big pay-off for his character who’s been struggling to be taken seriously in the white dominated world of Atlantic City. The camera work here is also top notch (did the show get a new DP?). Later on the anger that he spews at Narcisse is some of his best acting in the series (outside of his confrontation of the Klansman earlier in the series). –BB

Michael K. Williams has been consistently dynamic as Chalky White, particularly when portraying the character’s insecurities over the disparity between his position of power within the criminal / political realms of Atlantic City and his lower station within the community as a black man in a racially segregated society. Shrewd and clever despite his lack of education and rough edges, Chalky’s upward mobility and the rising respectability of his family is a point of great pride and it hurts to watch him suffer indignities like having to reluctantly play the role of happy negro to the insufferable Onyx Club patron or being effectively put in his place by Nucky as a means of maintaining that respectability. Williams so effectively conveys White’s wounded pride and his just-beneath-the-surface resentment and rage that his work in this week’s episode is easily some of his most compelling to date. –KRF

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The Supporting Scene Stealer: Jeffrey Wright’s super slick Dr. Valentin Narcisse is onscreen for a mere matter of minutes but he’s so captivating. Someone of Wright’s acting caliber doesn’t come along just for a few lines so you know he’s going to be (more than likely) this season’s bad guy and I cannot wait. While Bobby Cannavale’s Gyp Rossetti was more of a fast-talking wildman, Wright’s Narcisse is calculating, clever and smoother than silk. His little scene with Nucky and Chalky was fantastic and I’m really hoping there’s more of this. –BB

What an amazing introduction to Jeffrey Wright’s intriguing Valentine Narcisse. Confident, charismatic, and cool as can be, the stately Narcisse immediately stands in contrast to Chalky, making it clear to Mr. White that he is his own man and doesn’t have a Nucky to answer to. His devastating remark that Chalky is merely a servant acting a king is the absolute most painful critique he could levy at the man and is indicative of an impressive ability to read other people and get to the heart of what they’re all about. Whereas race is frequently a problem for Chalky and something he has to work or around, as was the case with the demeaning head-rubbing, reduce himself to in order to get ahead, Narcisse acknowledges no limitations due to his blackness, rightly seeing himself as an equal to Nucky and conducting himself as such. This is a proud man and one whom, despite his initially pragmatic approach to Mrs. Pastor’s rape allegation, you just knew was not going to abide her suggestion that Purnsley be lynched. –KRF

The Best Part of The Episode: The aforementioned meeting between Narcisse, Chalky and Nucky was hands down the best part of the episode. Chalky’s firey damnations, Narcisse’s velvet-tongued insults and Nucky’s steely reserve, oh man, chills up my spine. –BB

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The meeting between Narcisse, Chalky, and Nucky not only helped introduce the character of the urbane and intelligent Narcisse, but also served as a dynamic power play between he and Chalky and it was painful to watch Nucky inadvertently, yet condescendingly prove Narcisse’s assumption that Nucky and Chalky are something less than friends. Given the racial subtext that both Narcisse and Chalky are clearly aware of, watching Mrs. Pastor recount the details of her “rape” was particularly squirm-inducing, as well. –KRF

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: Harrow’s dying family dog. I’m one of those guys who isn’t bothered by onscreen deaths of humans, but animals, it bothers me. –BB

I’m also going with Harrow’s inability to kill his dog, but for different reasons. We’ve been shown repeatedly throughout the series’ history that behind his mask of a stone-cold killing machine, Harrow is an inherently decent, often noble man so the fact that he’d want to permanently retire the mercenary side of himself is totally believable and I bought it when he showed mercy towards the intended target of his hit. But the fact that Harrow would suddenly be rendered too soft-hearted to humanely put down a suffering dog strained credulity a bit and felt more like the writers trying to hammer the point home that Richard is a changed man. –KRF

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The Little Thing We Loved: J. Edgar Hoover! The Killing’s Eric Ladin debuts as the famous FBI agent of them all and it looks like he’s gunning for Nucky Thompson. Ladin was a tremendously underrated part of a tremendously underrated series. His revelation that he was Thompson made me laugh out loud as it was an out-of-leffield surprise. I’m pretty intrigued to see how he and his undercover agents will play into the world of Nucky Thompson. –BB

I literally laughed out loud at long-suffering butler Eddie’s response to Mayor Bader’s feigned ignorance to Nucky’s proper role in a new land deal. Part passive-aggressive sarcasm, part emphatic declaration of loyalty, his claim that “Mr. Thompson is part of everything. He’s in the sky and sea. He is in the dreams of children at night. He is all that there is, forever,” was hilarious, as was the bewildered and embarrassed look on Nucky’s face in response. –KRF

Final Thoughts: Now that’s a good episode. The premiere was a solid, table-setting episode, but this one, so much better. The re-introduction of Van Alden and the introduction of Narcisse and Hoover, just took this season of Boardwalk Empire into a whole other acting stratosphere. Narcisse and Hoover’s inclusion into this season really throws a lot of intrigue into a season that had already piqued my interest. Now last season the introduction of numerous side characters really mucked up the works, but somehow I feel there’s more of a sense of control, story-wise than last year. Season 4 has me stoked. –BB

After a bit of a slow start last week, “Resignation” kept me riveted throughout. The show clearly has a fantastic new addition in Jeffrey Wright’s magnetic Narcisse and the interplay between he and Chalky provided the episode’s strongest material. The introduction of J. Edgar Hoover and the reveal that Knox is working undercover also sets the stage for more interesting things to come as the government continues to be a thorn in Nucky’s side. It was also good to see the season four debut of former agent Van Alden, currently delivering flowers and kicking ass in Cicero. I was less impressed with the Richard Harrow storyline this week, but the season’s still young and I have no doubt the writers have more interesting material in store for everyone’s favorite half-faced assassin. –KRF

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