Recap: Boardwalk Empire, “Acres of Diamonds”

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Boardwalk Empire is a show that likes to take its time. So as the show ventures away from Jersey, it slowly constructs world’s elsewhere. Richard visits his sister in the midwest, where his mythology grows. Nucky heads south to Tampa and considers a new deal. Van Alden spends time in Chicago. Margaret is in Brooklyn—get out of Brooklyn already, Margaret! All of this world building, however, has not paid off in any significant seasonal arc just yet, and it hurts “Acres of Diamonds,” a slow, talky, and unengaging episode.

Each season a new threat emerges to challenge Atlantic Cty. Last year’s Gyp Rosetti offered an unpredictable disruptor for Nucky’s operation. Before that, Jimmy Darmondy attacked Nucky where it hurts, his family.

Back in the club with Chalky White, he deals with Dr. Narcisse, who brings a beautiful and talented new singer that will pack ’em in. And while his offering to Chalky complicates Narcisse, as does the doctor’s substantial heroine purchase from Arnold Rothstein, the character has a monster of the week vibe. Wright’s operatic line readings feel out of touch with the subdued dialog of the show. As does this gem, perhaps the worst dialogue ever on Boardwalk:

Chalky: White folks seem to like her.

Narcisse: That matters…

*Chalky exits*

Narcisse: …to you.

As if we weren’t aware of the resentment Narcisse has for Chalky’s relationship with the wealthy whites of Atlantic City. As if we weren’t able to tell from Narcisse’s actions, like murdering the woman who helped him get the Onyx Club last week, that he was not to be trusted. As if we weren’t already acutely aware of his dubious intentions, Boardwalk flashes the “bad guy” sign. There’s a ton of handholding in this episode, which, strangely enough considering the shows continuously great production and sound design, results in some laughable dubbed-in, off-screen dialog.

Ultimately, the show spends so much time hoping we understand the relationships of all these characters that they never get around to doing anything, especially Nucky, who is reduced to the background as people around him move the story. Nucky heads to Florida to learn about a deal, decides he doesn’t want it, talks to a waitress, and changes his mind.  Continuing to put things on pause, Nucky stalls the plot dead as he considers his options.

The first two episodes of season four intended to slow things down and send people home to reconsider their place in the world. As they say early in “Acres,” a man must know his business. In one scene, director Allen Coulter dramatizes this theme by having Willy Thompson and his classmates listen to a phonograph of Russell Conwell’s speech “Acres of Diamonds.” A great metaphor for this episode could not be made. Lots of people are trying to figure out what their business is in this episode. Unfortunately, it’s more fun to watch them take care of business than it is to watch them talk about it.

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