TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Erlkonig’

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

Editorial Note: We discuss a major plot point in this review, so if you haven’t seen this episode yet, please don’t read any further.


The Low Down: Eddie (Anthony Laciura) is being held captive by the FBI lead by the duplicitous Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty). Knox and his partner employ some mind games on Nucky’s right hand man in order to turn him into an informant. Gillian (Gretchen Mol) is an absolute heroin-addled mess. Her habit is more than likely going to lose her custody case for Tommy Darmody. Van Aldern/Mueller (Michael Shannon) aids the Capones in their rise to power in Cicero by leading a brute squad to make sure local factory workers vote for their candidate. Nucky (Steve Buscemi) heads to Philadelphia to help get his nephew Willie (Ben Rosenfield) out of murder charges after his party prank cost a classmate his life.

The Body Count: Frank Capone goes mowed down by a group of cops. Eddie Kessler plunges to his death.

Favorite Performance: Gretchen Mol has always been a solid cast member of Boardwalk Empire, but tonight, as we saw her character crash into the hell of heroin addiction, she really shined. The journey Gillian has taken has been one of the most tumultuous in the show’s run — from showgirl to grandmother to puppet master to madame to junkie. Mol was perfect tonight in her performance; constantly trying to convey that Gillian was fine despite being severely dope sick. Her scene where she was trying to speak with her grandson was particularly moving.

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Brian Geraghty as Agent Knox. What I love about Knox is that he’s a more composed version of Van Alden (for now) from a few seasons ago. Despite all of Van Alden’s self-righteous preaching, Knox is actually more a zealot then Van Alden ever was. However, Knox’s lord and savior is J. Edgar Hoover. Geraghty exudes such a ruthless, calculating aura that despite his cornfed looks, he instills fear in other characters and he makes audience members extremely uncomfortable. Tonight’s interrogation of Eddie, which included the retelling of a famed German poem, was particularly chilling.

The Best Part of The Episode: In an episode chock full of memorable scenes, none grabs you more than the final moments in Eddie Kessler’s life. First off, I couldn’t believe he actually took his own life. My wife looked at me when Eddie started folding Nucky’s socks and said, “He’s not going to kill himself, is he?” I told her there was no way that they’d off a character that’s been around since Day 1 this early on. Well, they totally did. The quiet moments of Eddie’s final minutes were heartwrenching but at the same time you actually see Eddie’s true character. When it comes down to it — he’s a coward and an untrustworthy man. He betrayed his family in Germany and now he’s betrayed Nucky, his only friend in the world. And instead of facing his punishment, he runs away. Regardless of this “reading,” Eddie’s death is probably one of the most unexpected and sad character endings in the show’s run.

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: Did we really need to see Gillian grab the junk of that aging judge?

The Little Thing We Loved: Van Alden/Mueller doing a bump of coke at the behest of Al Capone. Michael Shannon’s always had these perfect “crazy eyes.” Tonight, when the white powder hit his brain — the look on his face was priceless. Those famed peepers of his looked like they were about to explode. A definite laugh out loud moment.

Final Thoughts: “Erlkoning” was another strong installment of Boardwalk Empire’s 4th season. In many ways the episode was a tale of death and rebirth. Frank Capone is gunned down in front of his brother and Al Capone is officially born. Yes, he’s been a part of things since Season 1, but when he tells Van Alden that everything that crawls will die, you can see that the manic, coke-fueled Al we’ve come to love has transformed into the Al Capone we’ve all read about. We also saw the death of innocence as Willie Thompson becomes a part of the family business — he’s now indebted to Nucky who got him off the hook for killing his classmate. We then see as he embraces his classmate Doris the look of cold nothingness, the same look we’ve seen Nucky flash throughout the series. Yet, at the end of the day, all that will be remembered about this episode was the end of one of the show’s longest running characters. In many ways, Boardwalk Empire turned the page on a lot of characters, however next week’s return to Florida and Patricia Arquette has me feeling the show might take a step backwards.

photos credit: hbo

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  1. Eddie’s suicide was telegraphed as soon Knox started speaking German and his brave front crumbled. Once Nucky “promoted” him, he was doomed. The brilliance of this entire sequence is that those who are about to take their own lives will put everything in order, no matter how small. For example, this replicated Ken Burns’ description of Edwin Howard Armstrong’s suicide in Empire of the Air. As was stated in that documentary, and I’m paraphrasing, he wrote a note to his wife “regretting the way their lives had turned”, put on his winter overcoat, pulled the air conditioner from their window, and jumped 13 floors to his death.
    Yes, we had to see Gillian make an untoward and unwanted pass at the judge. It was a key moment to see how far she had fallen and how desperate she was. The highlight of this show wasn’t Gretchen Mol, but the performance of the boy playing her grandson. He was pitch perfect and stole that scene.
    You just saw the intimation that Willie Thompson is Nucky’s heir apparent like Jimmy Darmody was supposed to be.
    This was the first episode that didn’t seemed stilted and slow. The previous ones missed the core connection that typified the earlier seasons. It has tended to suddenly jump from scene to scene, mini-story to mini-story, with no rhyme or reason. This is one flowed and showed us why we watch Boardwalk in the first place.

    • I think we’re finally seeing the show, like you said, get back on track. Season 3 floundered a lot outside of the final few episodes where everything got resolved. The show spent way too much time trying to find itself and focused way too much time on storylines that went nowhere. I’ve said it before, they should’ve ended Season 2 by killing Jimmy’s wife and then made Season 3 about Jimmy’s demise. Would’ve worked much better than the successive deaths of Angela Darmody, The Commodore and then Jimmy. The show was reeling from that and I think now they’re finally getting back on track.

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