Review: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ – ‘Erlkonig’

A quick review of tonight’s “Boardwalk Empire” coming up just as soon as I require protection against Apaches…

“Erlkonig” presents us with four characters being held prisoner in one way or another without any of them being formally arrested or charged. Willie Thompson winds up in the closest thing to traditional confinement when he’s brought in for questioning about the poisoning of his classmate, and Eddie gets taken to the 1920s equivalent of a black site(*) to endure a lengthy interrogation by Agent Knox. But Van Alden is more or less a prisoner of the Capone brothers, forced to do whatever insane thing Al wants him to because Al is not to be crossed, and Gillian is certainly a prisoner to her addiction.

(*) How beautiful was that shot by Timothy Van Patten of the newspaper fluttering away from the window, letting in a sliver of light right before Eddie gives up Ralph Capone’s name? 

Of these, the more compelling by far involved Eddie and Van Alden. While I remain confident based on past experience that there will be a point to all the time spent on Willie, thus far I wouldn’t hesitate to trade any of that time for more of anyone in the main ensemble. That he’s corrupted enough by Nucky to set up his friend Clayton as the fall guy for Henry’s death is at least potentially intriguing, depending on what’s done with it. And with Gillian, I’m also waiting to see what the long game is – especially involving Roy – though I liked Gretchen Mol’s performance a lot, and Gillian’s visit to Dunn Purnsley’s barbershop throne room featured the intersection of two parts of the show that don’t generally interact.

But boy were the Capone/Van Alden and Knox/Eddie scenes terrific. The riot outside the Western Electric plant was an impressively ugly piece of action choreography (a Van Patten specialty), and the dynamic between crazy Al, cool Frank and terrified Nelson was strong throughout. While I know all about Al Capone, I knew little about Frank, and watching the episode I began wondering why he wasn’t the brother who wound up becoming a legend. Then we found out why, in an event that’s pretty true to how the real Frank Capone died (minus the bit about Van Alden trying to murder Al and Frank drawing his gun as a result). Great work from Michael Shannon, Stephen Graham, Morgan Spector and (after Ralph got back from Jersey) Domenick Lombardozzi.

And I’m amazed at how much the show was able to do with Eddie in only a handful of episodes. Prior to last season’s “Two Imposters,” he was at best comic relief, but in that episode, he not only got shot saving Nucky’s life, but Nucky realized in the process how little he (and therefore we) knew about his manservant. This season has filled in the gaps admirably, to the point where I’m sad about Eddie’s apparent suicide, even as I understand exactly why he did it. He destroyed every relationship he had back in Germany, and Agent Knox wasn’t going to stop until he had destroyed Eddie’s life here in America, so why not jump off a balcony before he was forced to give up information of real value? It thins out a cast that already feels lean in spots (hence the focus on people like Eddie and Willie), but Margaret has to come back into the picture sooner or later, and it’s been a week or two since we’ve had some quality time with Richard, Chalky, Dr. Narcisse and some others. If this was Eddie’s farewell, then I’m glad Anthony Laciura got two great showcase episodes before he took flight.

What did everybody else think?