Recap: Boardwalk Empire, “New York Sour”


With a mix of new and old, Boardwalk Empire returns with a slower, quieter, but ultimately satisfying return. Picking up where last season left off, Nucky reigns over Atlantic City and goes about establishing a tenuous peace between him and the mob bosses of New York. The bloodshed of last season is not forgotten, though, in this emotionally cold episode. The visuals are darker, the performances are more subdued, yet the violence is just as explosive.

While season three forced Nucky to go full gangster, season four shows how little control he and the other characters have over the world around them. The cold open makes a perfect case for this, with Richard Harrow massacring two confident insurance salesman headed to Ohio through blinding snowstorm. His intentions are still unclear matching the dimly lit interiors and snow exteriors of the scene. Their being insurance salesman is no coincidence, this is a season about trying to see and prepare for the future and failing at it.

The natural lighting and snow obscure the visuals setting a tone of dread.

The natural lighting and snow obscure the characters and setting.

Meanwhile, back in Jersey, Nucky and Chalky set up Chalky’s new nightclub, which Chalky’s pay for services rendered in season three. It’s there that Nucky meets with the bosses and makes peace. Though, playing the odds, Arnold Rothstein still anticipates a conflict. Judging by how quiet, both in soundtrack and the scene’s muted color scheme, he’s probably not far off. Across town, Gillian Darmody fights for custody of her grandson and resorts to prostitution to make ends meet. For a character that seemed to have such a grasp of her position in the seedy Atlantic City underbelly, she has completely lost control, giving into heroin addiction and failure.

With all our characters, we see a lack of control stemming from external relationships and their place in society. Chalky more than any has the most immediate problem. Dunn, Chalky’s right-hand man, attacks a prominent booking agent, when the agent forces Dunn into a perverted game with the agent’s wife. The agent, the agent’s wife, and Dunn express the aggressive roles of racial dominance in America fifty years after the Civil War. Chalky, like Gillian, represents a new power, one that men seek to control, and the outcome heightens the drama.

Dunn drags the body of the agent at sunrise.

Dunn drags the body of the agent at sunrise.

Like the desolate inn at the opening of the episode, much of “New York Sour” backs its characters into atmospheric corners. All the interiors are lit by key sources. The sun, which shines grey tones, or some well-placed candles—it’s also worth noting that this episode is absolutely gorgeous—hide the episode in shadow. “New York Sour” eases us into what appears to be a more tense season. It might not be the all out war of season three, but it definitely appears compelling.

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