TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘All In’

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

bwalkheader

The Low Down: J. Edgar Hoover dispatches Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty) to find the weakest link in Nucky’s outfit and exploit it in order to take down the entire operation. Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey) officially joins forces with Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) who we find out is part of Marcus Garvey’s movement…as well as a criminal and heroin dealer. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) tries to recruit Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) into becoming his financial partner in his new rum running scheme out of Florida. However Rothstein demands Nucky play him poker because “you don’t know a man till you play cards with him.” Meanwhile in Chicago George Mueller/Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) reluctantly starts to get really chummy with Al Capone (Stephen Graham) as they rise to power in Cicero. At Temple, young Willie Thompson (Ben Rosenfield) plots revenge on his classmates who embarrassed him, but does he take the prank too far? Eddie Kessler (Anthony Laciura) is enjoying his new role as a “gangster” and ends up enjoying a rowdy night of drinking with Ralph “Bottles” Capone (Domenick Lombardozzi).

942748_645279525503130_1293980433_n

The Body Count: One poisoning.

Favorite Performance: Michael Stuhlbarg as Arnold Rothstein. Stuhlbarg has been a part of the series since day one, but tonight might have been the best performance he’s given in his four seasons in Atlantic City. Throughout his run as Rothstein, Stuhlbarg has played the famed New York gambler as a very cerebral and smooth operator, a man always one step ahead of the game. Yet tonight we saw him come undone. We saw that gambling isn’t just the way he makes money, but it’s an obsession. He must win and he doesn’t care the cost. When he takes a $200,000 marker from Nucky and then promptly looses it, Stuhlbarg’s subtle facial expression are brilliant and speak volumes. With each slight grimace you can tell Rothstein’s entire existence is shattering on the inside. Then we cut to him later in the night and he’s an absolute mess demanding fresh decks, playing whomever is left standing in order to win. It takes the suggestion of Meyer (Anatol Yusef) to get him to stop. In this moment we see not only that the student is now better than the teacher but that Rothstein has fallen from grace. –BB

As Al Capone, Stephen Graham’s performance here recalls Joe Pesci’s show-stealing turn in Goodfellas – and that’s not a bad thing. Capone is rough around the edges, a little unhinged, and a lot of fun to be around and this week’s coke-fueled escapades with his smooth-talking brother and a hilariously awkward Van Alden were the highlight of the episode for me. –KRF

1234971_632616163436133_1188952005_n

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Shea Whigham as Eli Thompson. There was something about Eli this episode that I really enjoyed. He seems like he’s more put together this season and he’s not the blustery, fist first/think second kinda guy he’s been noted to be. His scene with his son Willie was a true, tender moment for Eli yet stuff gruff and to the point. Shea Whigham is a man that people seem to forget on the show, but he’s been a constant – always delivering a solid performance. Tonight he got to show off a bit more of the acting chops, something he hopefully can do more of this season.

As Meyer Lansky, Anatol Yusef imbues the character with such dynamic personality, scheming intelligence, and audacious ambition that you find yourself drawn to him even when he’s taking a backseat role to another character, as is the case when he’s quietly advising restraint to an increasingly desperate Arnold Rothstein. The scene where he boldly proposes his own partnership with Nucky in the Florida deal and chooses just the right story to sum up his own tough and tenacious character for the dubious Nucky was some of the best work Yusef has down on the show so far. –KRF

The Best Part of The Episode: The card game between Rothstein and Nucky was excellent. Buscemi was perfect in the scene and as we mentioned earlier Stuhlbarg did an amazing job of showing the cracks in Rothstein’s foundation. –BB

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: The repeated use of the “N” word by Dr. Narcisse. I get that this is the parlance of the time, but it doesn’t mean I have to dig it. –BB

So far, I’m not really invested in the ongoing wacky collegiate adventures of Willy Thompson, who this week learns he’s probably not cut out to be a chemistry major. The accidental poisoning of his frenemy couldn’t have been more telegraphed (oh, look – those bottles have the skull and crossbones symbol on them! I wonder what will happen?!) and I have a feeling that this whole storyline is going to follow a similarly predictable path, with Willy leaving school in favor of the family business with likely disastrous results. I hope the show proves me wrong and does something more interesting with the character, but as for now, yawn. –KRF

The Little Thing We Loved: The Eddie/Bottles storyline was great. After all the unquestioning subservience that Eddie has provided Nucky, it was great to see him be able to cut loose. He had a terrific chemistry with Bottles, something I hope gets revisited in the series. –BB

It was good to see promoted manservant Eddie actually having fun, as he and the other Capone hit it off and hit the town, enjoying a steak dinner and carousing a local German bar for beers and a little bragging to his friends about his new job. Unfortunately, Eddie’s all-nighter ends with a visit from the FBI, but as the show has added a lot more depth to the character since the end of last season, I’m actually looking forward to seeing how that plot development plays out in the weeks to come. –KRF

1236602_637698066261276_1006185069_n

Final Thoughts: Now this is how you bounce back. After a rather disappointing last episode, Boardwalk Empire came back swinging with an excellent fourth episode. Yes, there are still numerous story lines involved here, but they are all executed with a clear vision. In fact each story in this episode plays out like a mini-episode in of itself, each containing a beginning, middle and end that moves the overall storyline forward and evolves the characters in a intriguing way.

Personally, any time The Capones can get more screen time, I’m for it. Stephen Graham has been one of the best parts of this series and to finally get to see him flex his muscle on the show and not just show up as hired muscle towards the end of the series, is awesome. Speaking of The Capones, I loved the whole Eddie/Bottles bromance. It was fun, it pulled the curtain back on both character’s lives and the consequences of their night out are going to have a huge impact on the series. The card game between Rothstein and Nucky was great, but what I loved about it was that this finally gave Meyer Lansky the opportunity he’s been dying for to finally step from out the shadows and has thrust himself into a major part of the show. –BB

Traditionally, Boardwalk Empire is a show that builds up steam slowly. While all three seasons so far have tied up in satisfying ways, it takes a while for the big picture to come together and the early episodes can seem meandering as a result. “All In” had some great moments – Arnold Rothstein’s squirm-inducing gambling meltdown and the breezier, fun stories of Van Alden and Eddie’s nights out with the various Capone brothers- but spent a lot of time on the relatively uninteresting Willy Thompson and not enough on the intriguing Valentine Narcisse (further roping in Purnsley) or Chalky, who’s assuredly still bristling at Nucky’s continued way of treating him like an employee rather than an equal partner. –KRF

photos credit: hbo

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.