Boardwalk Empire: "William Wilson," or Remus Must Still Call Himself Remus by Donald McCarthy

Well, well, well. Talk about opening scenes that grab your attention. It doesn’t get more arresting than seeing Al Capone walk up to a cop and shoot him at point blank range. While the rest of the episode doesn’t continue to play at quite so heightened a level, the scene hangs over all the proceedings, reminding us that we have a number of characters who are unhinged and ol’ Al is just one of them.

But let’s take a moment to talk about the opening scene in context of the larger show. Often, I find that Boardwalk Empire’s beginnings tend to be oddly paced, almost lethargic. Outside of the season premieres, the show rarely starts its episodes off with a bang, either literally or figuratively. This is not necessarily bad, but it does sometimes hurt the pacing when the previous episode ends in an explosive fashion. Here we have the opposite. Last week’s episode was mostly bloodless. Tonight, Terence Winter seems intent on reminding us that it won’t stay that way.

The battle between the police, Al Capone, and Dead O’Bannion (a hell of a name) is already heading to its conclusion by the end of the episode since Johnny Torrio gives Capone the a-okay to whack O’Bannion. Should O’Bannion die then I imagine we’ll get Van Alden coming completely into the Capone fray. The scenes with the Capones and Van Alden have been a hoot so more of them will be gold for the show.

 I do hope we don’t have to wait until the end of the season for a resolution as it’s pretty clear that O’Bannion isn’t coming out on top considering that Capone will be sitting pretty for years to come. Boardwalk Empire sometimes waits a little too late into the season for events to reach their climax, but I’m hoping next week or the week after we see this come to fruition.

            The battle in Chicago is the only obvious violent plot on the horizon as we start to head towards the end of this season. We have five out of twelve episodes left to go this season and so far we don’t have a direct external threat facing Nucky other than the FBI. Short of this show deciding to throw history out the window, I can’t see Nucky having J. Edgar Hoover killed. This means one of two developments could happen: 1) Something stalls the investigation. A little bit underwhelming of an ending, I think. 2) Nucky really does feel the pressure at the end of this season and he has to recalibrate. That’s much more interesting, isn’t it?

            Previous seasons have remained mostly novelistic, giving closure to almost all the plots by the end of the season. Season one did end with us knowing the threat for season two, but neither season two nor season three did the same. I’m wondering if we might eschew some of that this year and have a number of stories roll over into season five. Doctor Narcisse is a prime example. Are we going to lose him at the end of this year? I hope not because there’s a lot to him and he brings the racial politics of Atlantic City to the forefront, an idea the show has not played around with as much as I’d like in years past.

            Besides, the idea of each season of cable shows being its own novel, mostly wrapping up by the end, is a little old hat now and I wouldn’t mind that being stirred up. Nothing says each season of a drama has to have a “big bad” story every season that’s resolved by the end. Personally, I think Nucky not having one specific adversary, but instead small, needling ones that threaten to come out all at once is much more interesting as we have to see him hastily multitask.

            One such threat may well be Margaret, his ex-wife. I knew she’d be back in the fold, after all, Kelly MacDonald’s name is still in the opening credits, but I didn’t think it’d be through a connection with Arnold Rothstein. After an awkward encounter, he keeps her identity secret and she his but their phone conversation makes me think he’s going to be knocking on her door sometime soon, asking for a little more. Will it be about Nucky? Perhaps. He’ll certainly be mad if he thinks Margaret is responsible for the con he may or may not have just gotten himself involved with. I can’t see Rothstein taking kindly to that.

Of the Atlantic City plots that might end in violence, it seems to me most likely that it’ll be Chalky White meeting a bullet. He’s gotten in way too deep with Doctor Narcisse and Daughter (whose backstory is chilling but also a little over the top- is Narcisse really THAT charming that she’d stay with him?); I’m not seeing an easy way out for him unless he goes to Nucky and even then who knows if Nucky will help him.

On the FBI side we see the return of Remus (I will never fail to love him addressing himself in the third person), Esther Randolph, a character the show needs to go to more often as it needs more strong women characters, Andrew Mellon, and Gaston Means who is working with Agent Knox. It’s interesting how Boardwalk Empire has crafted a number of very quirky side characters that fit in despite almost no one in the main cast falling at all into the “quirky” column. It adds color to the show and makes sure it doesn’t get too bogged down in dreariness.

I want to hold my tongue on the Willie plot for the time being. I have a suspicion as to where it’s going but we’ll talk more about it in the coming weeks.

Tonight we were a little all over the place, very similar to midseason episodes of Game of Thrones, but that’s fine when we have characters as great as the ones on Boardwalk Empire.


Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.