Recap: Boardwalk Empire: "Erlkönig," or Fly High, Eddie by Donald McCarthy

 At the start of the episode I figured Eddie would become an unwilling snitch, a la Adriana in The Sopranos. Once Knox slammed him in the stomach, causing him to vomit in a brutal scene, I was positive. Eddie was loyal, sure, but, like I talked about last week, his bond with Nucky is different than the one between Rothstein and Lansky (who don’t appear this week, along with Richard, Chalky, Dr. Narcisse, and the long absent Margaret); Eddie isn’t a mob man at heart and the relationship between him and Nucky is a complicated one.

I did not, however, expect him to commit suicide. When Knox said he’d see him again soon I took that as the show telling us this would be an ongoing plot, lasting at least the season. Yet the way director Tim Van Patten, a fabulous director, shot Eddie once he left the interrogation, I knew something was off. There was a tragic air about Eddie all of a sudden. As he organized Nucky’s socks and dressed himself it suddenly became clear what was happening and I waited for the gunshot.

Instead he jumped out the window.

Eddie was no innocent but he stayed out of most of the nastier business and took a bullet for Nucky last season in the excellent “Two Imposters.” It would’ve been a more heroic ending for him had he died then. Alas, he had to go out this way, in shame and self-loathing. It’s great storytelling but it hurts.

Before he dies, Eddie does write a letter and my first thought was that he’s warning Nucky. Yours? I figure that’ll play into Nucky’s overall plot this season since his storyline has so far been quieter, revolving only around a land deal. The fact that the information Knox has links Nucky to the Capones makes me think the two groups will be intersecting fairly soon. I’ve seen a number of critics complain that the storylines are too disparate and the last two weeks I’ve felt the same way, to be honest. However, now that Knox is making connections between different factions I’m starting to think that creator Terence Winter has an interesting long term plan, one that will bring all the players together. Will it happen this season? No clue. Boardwalk Empire was renewed this week for a fifth season and there was no word that it would be the last so I’m assuming Winter and the writers feel they have much more to say but it is possible they’re looking at an endgame already. Time will tell.

For now, the Capones have their hands full as it is. Or, in the case of Frank Capone, completely filled. I did not know that Frank Capone died as he did and I was in for a shock when he was shot by someone other than Van Alden. A quick bit of research shows this is how he died (minus Van Alden being there, of course) and Boardwalk Empire nails the scene. Frank’s death is reminiscent of a classic moment from Miller’s Crossing and I wondered if it was intentional on the part of Van Patten. Speaking of Van Patten, let’s give the man a round of applause for his work this episode. The clash between the union workers and the mob was exceptional work but so too were the scenes between Eddie and Knox. Both characters were filmed slightly askew in close ups, creating a feeling of dread because something feels so off. It’s a technique the BBC drama Luther used during its interrogation scenes but since Boardwalk Empire usually frames it characters right in the middle of the screen, it feels odd and the effect shadows the whole episode, leading up to Frank’s death and Eddie’s suicide. Great work by Van Patten that helps to make interesting an uneven episode.

Al Capone, one of my favorite characters in previous seasons, has so far been ill-served this season as he’s been a little too over the top despite Stephen Graham’s best efforts to ground him. Graham has always done excellent work but the writing has tainted the character a little. For instance, the scenes where he sniffs cocaine in this episode are over the top and what you’d expect in a more generic gangster film. However, Capone’s grief at the death of Frank felt real and brought him to life in a way that didn’t feel cartoonish as it recently had. With Van Alden now deeper in Capone’s world, the plot in Cicero is no doubt going to get pretty intense as both he and Capone look like they’ll be taking on the police department in a scorched earth fashion.

On a quieter note, we had Gillian once again attempting to get her grandson back. She fails, unsurprisingly, but for the first time we see some real self-awareness as she tells Roy that she’s done awful deeds in the past (such as: having sex with her son, murdering a man who looked like her son etc.). Her heroin addiction is taking a much bigger toll on her and she’s now offering more sexual favors to get her way (it doesn’t work). Has she hit rock bottom? Or is there more to come? I think this depends on whether or not Roy is as decent as he first appears. There’s an element of dread to the one scene he does appear in but is that because of him or Gillian’s declining situation? Still unknown at this point.

Still unknown describes most of this week’s plots which is not necessarily a demerit but it doesn’t work in favor of Willie Thompson’s plotline. In the past I’ve said Boardwalk Empire always pays off plots that at first seem a little irrelevant. Now that we’ve gotten some degree of payoff with Nucky having to help Willie out I’m less inclined to look kindly on this story as it didn’t add up to much other than a Don Draper-like speech that Nucky gives. It’d land more if he hadn’t admitted much the same to Patricia Arquette only two episodes ago. The Willie plot is going to need to payoff more if it’s to be worth the time we’ve spent with it.


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.