TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, “William Wilson”

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs


The Low Down: We start in Chicago… Al Capone (Stephen Graham) begins his bloody trail of revenge by executing a cop in broad day light. However, Johnny Torio (Greg Antonacci) objects and tells him to stand down. Torio’s relationship with Dean O’Bannon (Arron Shiver) gets more and more tense. Torio buys a brewery from O’Bannon and both get promptly arrested on a Prohibition raid.

Now to New York City…We discover Margaret Thompson (Kelly MacDonald) is now working for a crooked investment firm. Margaret is her boss’ accomplice as she plays the foolish women who talked her “husband” out of investing in a “lucrative” firm called Anaconda, despite her boss’ advice. This usually convinces the potential “client” to invest in Anaconda. This gimmick runs its course when Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), under an assumed name, comes in to invest. They entrust each other to withhold the other’s identity. Luciano (Vincent Piazza) is asked by Joe Maseria (Ivo Nandi) to re-enter the Tampa deal and get heroin put on board with Nucky’s rum.

To the Nation’s Capital…Knox/Tolliver (Brian Geraghty) has sprung George Reemus (Glenn Fleshler) from jail to become a witness in his case against Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Ladin) is still on the fence about the entire operation despite insistence from Knox and the returning Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson). Hoover is eventually sworn in in front of a returning Andrew Mellon (James Cromwell) and then takes credit for coming up with the idea of taking down Nucky’s empire.

Finally to Atlantic City…Eli (Shea Whigham) and Nucky are highly suspicious of Agent Knox. Nucky finds out his “in” at the Treasury Department is gone, then he goes to his old friend Gaston Means (Stephen Root) to find out more information. Things get turned upside down in Eli’s world when Willie (Ben Rosenfield) quits college after giving into the guilt of his part in the death of his classmate. Eli looses his mind and the two fight. Chalk White continues his affair with Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham). In order to keep her in AC he must make a deal with Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), allowing him to open up an office in the city. Narcisse then introduces himself as a civic savior to the African-American community. Roy (Ron Livingston) helps Gillian (Gretchen Mol) overcome heroin addiction…for now.

The Body Count: One cop…shot to the head.

Favorite Performance: Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Narcisse. Wright’s always fantastic every second he’s onscreen but his scene at the end of the episode with Daughter Maitland was insane. The reveal that he’s the man who murdered Maitland’s prostitute mother proved that he just isn’t a heroin dealer and black rights activist — but he’s a cult of personality suffering from a messianic complex. His quiet, deliberate line delivery just revealed how bat shit crazy he really is. I cannot wait to see this aspect of his character get revealed. –BB

After being largely absent for the last here episodes, Jeffrey Wright’s dangerously captivating Dr. Valentine Narcisse made a welcome return this week. While speaking to the congregation at Deacon Cuffy’s church, Narcisse was both smooth salesman and pandering politican, pulling the crowd under his spell with a compelling and lyrically delivered speech, all while subtly turning them against Chalky by declaring him a good, yet misguided man who’s plagued with a damning apathy. Later, as the origin and true nature of his relationship with Daughter Maitland is revealed, Wright turns controlling and sinister, revealing yet another dark facet to the intriguing doctor. –KRF

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Brian Geraghty as Knox/Tolliver. As my BE review partner Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs said last week, he’s been the brightest part of the season. Today we saw a new shade of his character — the bitter and jealous side. Geraghty has a great sour puss and exudes such a self brat-type of energy without coming off as childish. Kinda interested to see how his jealousy and resentment of Hoover will play into the rest of the season. –BB


Shea Wigham delivered a strong performance this week As someone who prides himself on being the king of his castle, Eli’s rage at his son’s challenge to his authority was both frightening and relatable. Later, through his drunken goading of Nucky, throwing his dead wife and son in his face, Wigham ably conveyed Eli’s continuing insecurity and resentment over Nucky’s role as boss, especially when it begins to impede into his home life. –KRF

The Best Part of The Episode: The end scene between Narcisse and Daughter Maitland. The reveal that Narcisse murdered her mother, just moments after she emotionally retold the story to Chalky, was haunting and spine tingling. I mean this dude is a monster. The scars he received from her mother, almost cross-like in shape, really enforce his messianic complex. It also shows the depths of his commitment to his belief. What that belief is…himself as a messiah, is still unclear to me. I also thought Margot Bingham was great in the scene. Her teary-eyed subservience is really interesting. Does she worship Narcisse or is she under his spell. He killed her mother, does she hold that against him or is this Stockholm Syndrome? Will she betray him or will she betray Chalky? I’m intrigued. –BB

Narcisse’s slickly eloquent speech before the congregation was a showcase of the character’s charm and was genius in how it subtly sprang yet another trap for Chalky, by beginning to turn his community against him. –KRF

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: Willie’s final days at college were painful to watch. I get it he’s Jimmy 2.0 in the world of the show, but in reality he’s not. Willie’s whole moody douche bag act came off more like a petulant bitch act. –BB

Despite Gretchen Mol’s consistently strong work on the show, I’ve grown tired of the ongoing, fucked up saga of Gillian Darmondy, who’s basically just a hybrid of Cercei Lannister and Courtney Love. Given her track record, it’s unlikely this budding relationship with Roy represents the beginning of a healthy partnership but will more likely just lead to the next trashy installment of her never-ending melodrama. –KRF

The Little Thing We Loved: Hoover finally gets George Reemus to start referring himself in the third person. Finally!

Final Thoughts: This episode would’ve been awesome a few weeks ago. I think “William Wilson” introduced too many new story lines. With that being said I do enjoy how we have five, distinct parts of the country with five distinct storylines — Tampa, DC, Chicago, NYC and AC. I think the Capone/Torio/O’Bannon storyline is probably one of the best of the 4th season. I loved when Torio’s line “Oh yeah there is one thing you can do for me…KILL THAT IRISH FUCK!” I can’t wait for unbridled Capone violence. The tales of Willie Thompson, Gillian and Roy and Margaret Schroeder really are doing nothing for the show and these extra plots are keeping characters like Nucky and Van Alden off our screen, which is a shame. –BB

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.