BOARDWALK EMPIRE 4.01 ‘New York Sour’

Nucky makes nice with the New York mob while Al Capone gives a spelling lesson in Chicago.

Hilary Rothingby Hilary Rothing

Episode Title: "New York Sour"

Writer: Howard Korder

Director: Tim Van Patten 

Previously on "Boardwalk Empire:"

Episode 3.12 'Margate Sands' 

The title of the "Boardwalk Empire" fourth season premiere, “New York Sour” is a good way to describe how Nucky (Steve Buscemi) left things with his counterparts across the Hudson at the end of last season. And judging by the start of this season, the situation is not going to get any sweeter.

While Nucky manages to make what feels like a very tentative peace with Masseria, Rothstein and their men (Meyer and Lucky have gone their separate ways and there’s definitely some tension between the two), he may find trouble uptown, thanks to Chalky’s man, Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey).

In an attempt to bring acts to the Onyx Club (formerly Babette’s), Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) meets with booking agent, Dickie Pastor and his wife. Aside from wrangling talent, the couple also has a taste for racist role-play in the bedroom, which Dunn finds himself at the center of after Dickie’s wife makes a pass at him. 

Not surprisingly, Dunn takes offense at having a gun put to his head and racist remarks lobbed at him, even it’s all in good fun as Dickie’s wife tries to put it. Dickie ends up nearly decapitated after Dunn repeatedly beats him with a broken bottle, but his wife manages to escape out the window. 

The fallout from Dickie’s murder isn’t just the loss of a couple of top-notch tap dancers. Like most businessmen Chalky and Nucky deal with, Dickie was connected – in this case, to Cotton Club proprietor, Owney Madden. And with Dunn unable to track down Dickie’s wife, Nucky may find he’s made peace with one enemy only to make another. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve been privy to a character’s weird sexual proclivities. Of course, after witnessing Gillian take the phrase “overbearing mother” to a whole other level, nothing’s shocking. And though Dunn’s encounter with Dickie and his wife does serve a purpose to the plot, it otherwise feels like a disturbing sex scene, just for the sake of one. 

Indeed, old habits die hard in this season opener. Nucky’s taken a shine to another one of Eddie Cantor’s young actresses. The idea of watching Nucky get into another empty relationship with a woman half his age is groan-worthy, but luckily we won’t have to. The girl makes her motives plain when she makes a comment about Nucky helping Billie make it on Broadway. And with that, Nucky excuses himself from the bedroom and has Eddie (Anthony Laciura) unceremoniously escort the woman out. 

After three seasons, Nucky’s love life is still the least interesting aspect of his life. Unfortunately, the premiere doesn’t drop in on his estranged wife, who is presumably living in much more modest digs in Brooklyn. Like Gillian, Margaret’s character is marooned without a connection to one of “Boardwalk’s” leading men. But hopefully, she finds a more substantial way to attach herself to the plot than Gillian has.

As for the troubled madam, Gillian (Gretchen Mol) tries to sell her home, though southern businessman, Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston) senses she’s not ready to leave. While touring Gillian’s home, Phillips asks her to be his “companion” during his stay in AC. How Gillian parlays this new relationship should be interesting.

Out in Chicago, we get a somewhat comical subplot involving Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and the misspelling of his name in a local news story about Johnny Torrio. Torrio (Greg Antonacci) is concerned about the bad press, but Capone thinks little of it until he realizes the reporter’s error. Capone has come a long way since his early days with Torrio, when he was more concerned with getting a laugh than getting the job done, and he wants to be recognized as a major player in the Chicago mob scene, even if it is by the local paper. He pays a visit to the young reporter who wrote the story and scares him into never making the same mistake again. It’s a humorous little aside, but it might also foreshadow what’s on Capone’s mind this season. 

Though the premiere is sadly Van Alden-less, we do check in with Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), who kills a couple of mobsters outside a bar in Indiana and then the owner of a title insurance company in his office. Harrow’s journey ends at his sister, Emma’s rural home where he surprises her by announcing he’s come “home.” And speaking of Van Alden, rookie fed, Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty) proves he's not as dumb as he acts when he sets Agent Sawicki (Joseph Aniska) up for a bootlegger's booby trap. Knox just might have Nucky wishing Van Alden was back on the beat.

“New York Sour” doesn’t break the mold, dropping in a number of “Boardwalk”-specific tropes we’ve seen in season’s past. And it doesn’t give us much hope for getting to know Nucky any better, or care about his character any more than we already do. It’s also disappointing that the characters viewers better respond to – Van Alden, Richard and Margaret – are lost in the mix. At the very least, we spend some time with Richard though his agenda is unknown. Otherwise, it’s business as usual back in AC, which isn’t a bad thing… but it could be a lot better.