TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Marriage and Hunting’

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

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Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The Low Down: Tonight’s episode has us in Chicago and Atlantic City. In Chicago, George Mueller/Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) has decided he’s had enough of Dean O’Bannon’s (Arron Shiver) and agrees to kill him, for a price, for The Capones (Stephen Graham, Domenick Lombardozzi). Before he can commit the murder he’s jumped by his former co-workers at the iron company including the man whose face he burnt. Mueller than reveals himself, his true identity that is, to O’Bannion.

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In Atlantic City Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) has discovered that Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) has betrayed him and she pays a physical price. Meanwhile Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) approaches Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) to back him in a war against Narcisse. Simultaneously, Chalky is trying to maintain his cover as a family man and attend to the impending marriage of his daughter. Richard Harrow, now returned to AC, marries Julia Sagorsky (Wrenn Schmidt) to help her gain permanent custody of Tommy Darmody. Meanwhile Gilliam Darmody (Gretchen Mol) almost comes clean about her past to Roy (Ron Livingston), but it seems Roy is also hiding something as well.

The Body Count: Four — all gunned down in Chicago.

Favorite Performance: Michael Shannon was amazing tonight. His character has not been this good since he was spiraling out of control in Season 2. The show has really put the restraints on Shannon for almost two seasons but tonight they finally unleashed Shannon. Tonight, we saw the timid “George Mueller” die and the new Nelson Van Alden born. Tonight, Van Alden didn’t back down from anyone, he wasn’t afraid to gun someone down or get in someone’s face. It was a performance that we knew was coming and the build to this moment, which at times was frustrating, really helped make it that much sweeter. –BB

After a several week-long absence, “Marriage and Hunting” saw the welcome return of Michael Shannon, finally throwing off the nervous, fumbling demeanor of George Mueller and unleashing some great vintage, unhinged Van Alden. Although still capable of flashing muscle when called upon to do so, the formerly powerful federal agent had been beaten down by the circumstances that brought him to Cicero and reduced to taking orders and abuse from the likes of O’Banion, the Capones, and even his aggressive common-law wife (I love the slightly insane Sigrid – a perfect match if ever there was one). As such, it was great to see him return to confident, somewhat psychotic form last night, standing up to Capone (his icy, double-edged delivery of the line, “Ask Frank,” was outstanding), taming shrewish Sigrid by making it rain, and intimidating O’Banion with the revelation of his true identity and frighteningly cold declaration, “I used to believe in God, but now I don’t believe in anything at all.” When a rival gang takes out O’Banion, allowing Van Alden to reap the spoils without having to do any of the dirty work, it’s the culmination of a recent swing of good luck that puts some swagger back into his step. –KRF

 

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Jack Huston as Richard Harrow. This character has been a bit absent from Season 4, but tonight he really shined in the limited role he had. Tonight it was all about Harrow’s sweet and genuine side. His facial expression when Julia “proposed” to him was so earnest and sincere. For those who’ve followed the series since he came aboard, you’re probably stoked for him as nothing good has really happened to him … ever. His joke about the “hunting license,” to ease Julia’s nerves, was a really nice, sweet moment. –BB

This was the second consecutive stellar performance from Michael K. Williams, as Chalky deals with the fallout following Narcisse’s attempt on his life. Chalky’s indignation at Nucky’s hesitance about striking against Narcisse is totally justifiable, as is his rage at discovering Narcisse sitting up front with Nucky at the segregated Onyx Club, a privilege which even he, the club’s owner, is denied. What has most rankled Chalky about Narcisse is the way in which the proud, independent doctor moves as an equal amongst their white counterparts and repeatedly casts Chalky as little more than Nucky’s puppet and aims to point out the inherently servile nature of their relationship, something Nucky has unwittingly played into by repeatedly scolding and dictating to Chalky in the presence of Narcisse. Also, while Nucky is quick to chastise Chalky for his preoccupation with Daughter (ironically claiming to never have been distracted by some “piece of ass with a sugary voice,” a description which easily could have been ripped from his own diary entries about last season paramour, Billie Kent), William’s performance creates a real, emotional connection between the two self-described lost souls, as in their relationship he achieves an equal footing devoid in his relationship with his condescending, upper-class wife and children, as well. –KRF

The Best Part of The Episode: Van Alden’s admission to O’Bannion was AWESOME. The intensity, swagger and bile that Van Alden exuded during this monologue was awesome. This character hasn’t been able to sink its chops into much in nearly two years and tonight he was given the opportunity to chew the scenery. What really sealed the scene was Van Alden’s near collapse post-monolouge. It showed that Van Alden still has his nerves and anxieties about him. It was almost comical, but it still drove the point home of how much this character needed to shed the disguise of George Mueller. –BB

The alleyway execution of his vengeful former coworker (that iron-shaped scar was a fantastic visual gag) and cohorts was a great, action-hero worthy moment for Shannon’s Van Alden, particularly the coolly and hilariously delivered line, “I am relaxed,” before killing all three men. –KRF

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: I’m not in love with the whole Gillian/Roy storyline. Yes, I’m a bit intrigued by what secret Roy might have, but with only three episodes left, it might be a case of too little too late. –BB

Nucky has really been sidelined this season and his budding infatuation with Floridian tough girl, Sally Wheet feels a little like a retread of last season’s Billie Kent affair, especially when he calls her late at night to mindlessly chat about the weather and dream about dropping everything and taking a trip down to see her. –KRF

The Little Thing We Loved: Arnold Rothstein’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) solution to his money problems — sell Mickey Doyle’s (Paul Sparks) life insurance to Nucky. Mickey’s such an likeable character that’s it’s almost hilarious that his death is the solution to everyone’s problems. –BB

Jillian revealing her sordid past with Roy, but stopping short of confessing the true nature of her relationship with Jimmy. She knows it’s an irredeemable sin, and as such, a secret she’s doomed to forever live alone with, which is a certain kind of hell indeed. –KRF

Final Thoughts: In classic Boardwalk Empire fashion the series is clicking on all cylinders in the home stretch. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Florida, Chicago, Atlantic City and FBI story lines all come together and I think, given the track record of the show, they’ll do an excellent job of doing it. Boardwalk Empire knows how to finish a season, which is something a lot of shows fail to do these days. I love the fact the Chalky storyline is still at the forefront of the series and that my favorite character is getting time to shine. The Van Alden plot was the best use of this character in eons and it was great to see Michael Shannon not act sheepishly for once. I’m stoked to see where this season will take us and with three weeks left I have a feeling things are going to get really violent in a hurry. –BB

With only a few episodes left in the season, the momentum has certainly picked up and you can start to see the various plotlines coming to a head (other than the Nucky/Sally Wheet storyline, which I’m still unsold on). While the main focus of the episode was on Van Alden’s ascendance and Chalky’s troubles, “Marriage and Hunting” covered a lot of ground, as we saw that Arnold Rothstein’s busted out (something that might not bode well for Margaret’s shiesty stockbroker boss or Mickey Doyle, whose lucrative life insurance policy is now in the hands of Nucky), Roy clearly has some ulterior motives in his wooing of Gillian, and, most troubling for Nucky, Eli seems to be on board with the FBI’s plan to snare the elder Thompson. This week also had a great, pretty sweet moment for Richard Harrow, who accepts Julia’s marriage proposal in order to better their chances of gaining custody of Tommy and, in what has felt like an inevitable move since Jimmy’s death, finally goes to work for Nucky. In the earlier parts of the season, the show has sometimes felt bloated and unfocused, but as expected, the massive cast and disparate plot threads are finally starting to come together and I’m hoping the remaining three episodes keep up this pace. –KRF

photos credit: hbo

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