Boardwalk Empire Watch: Season 4, Episode 4 - All In

"So? Criminals have friends like everyone else..."

As fantastic as Boardwalk Empire is, it's hard to want to watch and discuss the HBO period drama when the last episode of Breaking Bad is on AMC at the exact same time. The events in (and around) Atlantic City are almost always compelling, with 1924 being another great year for the series so far, but it's hard to concentrate on a measly fourth installment with the other seminal series about peddlers of illegal substances airing its highly anticipated series finale. It's like watching a regular season hockey game during the middle of the Super Bowl. Even though Boardwalk is going "All In" (no, not the New Girl premiere), there's just no way to compete. But who cares what everyone else is talking about? Let's discuss the recently renewed bootlegging series and how this week picked up right where "Acres of Diamonds" left off with Dunn turning to the Doctor, Willy trying to fit in at school, Mueller van Alden spending time with the Capones in Cicero, Eddie stretching his wings and Nucky looking to expand his business into Florida.

"Our people flourish when they are able to be the angels of their better natures."

Race continues to be one of the primary concerns on this season of Boardwalk Empire and it was no coincidence that a few words from the closing lines of Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1861) made their way into Dr. Narcisse's dialogue in "All In." I'm not sure what to make of that since the Doctor is so contemptuous of all 'Nordics' but then again, Lincoln isn't exactly the average white man. Dunn is pretty quick to turn his back on Chalky and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up paying the ultimate price for the betrayal. Of course, Mr. White has been doing everything in his power to drive his right hand man into his new nemesis' camp, treating Dunn like garbage ever since he, well, was sexually assaulted. Chalky is also busy (not-)flirting with Daughter Maitland, their chemistry palpable even all the way across the main room at the Onyx. It's also pretty rad that the show now contains a musical performance almost every week and Margot Bingham can sing. Dunn travels to Harlem to show his industriousness but Dr. Narcisse isn't too pleased with the unexpected meeting in Marcus Garvey's office and lectures his new student. He does that quite a bit and I'm starting to question how much of it he actually believes. Is he concerned with uplifting the race or just money and power?

"Couldn't happen to a sweller feller."

One Season 4 thread that I'm not so fond of is Willy's ongoing struggles at private school, mostly because you could see tonight's surprise coming from a mile away. Or at least I could and was really dreading being right. The school offers a great location for the period setting and ample opportunities to explore that generation's experience during prohibition, however, it was inevitable that the drama would be pushed to some ridiculous extreme. It just happens to be the Thompson kid who accidentally poisons his collegiate rival? It doesn't play for me, similar to the daughter's storyline in the second season of Homeland. Don't terrorism and criminality offer enough opportunities for drama? I don't get it except to illustrate that Eli pushed him into retaliating because, well, 'he's a Thompson.' Even so, it was a harmless prank gone wrong, it would have made more sense to have him accidentally kill the other kid in a fight if it was to showcase his 'broad shoulders' for his father. Willy and Nerdstrom have enough booze left over from the last score to host another shindig, except this time they prepare a special bottle for Bucky filled with homemade milk of magnesia. Oops. The shot of him dead was pretty impressive though. I wonder who that girl will choose now? Nerdstrom!

"There is a time for levity. I do have a sense of humor. He pays me well but he doesn't treat me with respect."

"All In" opened with a short sequence that I would call Fat Jake versus the stairs and he ends up having a mild heart attack in the middle of making a pick up for the Capones. Across Chicago, the Capones' rival Dean O'Banion is busy mistreating his own fat employee before he gets word of the fall and dispatches George Mueller to bring flowers by the hospital for Jake, even though Nelson van Alden would rather avoid the Italian mobsters. That doesn't mean anything to O'Banion who not only still sends him but does so with some seriously crappy flowers. The episode does a great job of showing how different the Chicago mob bosses are with their employees, O'Banion treating his like servants while the Capones are like an extended family. There's real love for Jake. That doesn't mean they aren't a bunch of psychos, laughing while they toss a guy out a window (so was I, that three-shot was hilarious) or grinning while gunning a guy down with a tommy gun. Still, the latter was done out of some kind of fondness that Al has for Mueller (like he had for Jimmy) and I fully expect to see their relationship continue to grow. They make a great odd-couple. Tall and short. Stoic and emotional. Crazy and, uh, crazy.

"Oh for Christ... You got a package for Mr. Brown?"

I have to be honest, when Knox said he was going to go after Thompson's weakest link, I didn't expect it to be Eddie. I mean, Eddie would never rat on Nuck. I'm also really impressed with Brian Geraghty's B.I. Agent and he might be my favorite on-screen off-season addition. He seems like the most capable threat in some time. Before Knox sprung into action at the end of "All In," Eddie had an eventful episode that proved J. Edgar Hoover's opening claim to be true, even criminals have friends and can make new ones! I enjoyed watching the recently promoted manservant refuse to play chauffeur and then pal around with Ralph Capone but it wasn't exactly the most thrilling thread of the week. Maybe Bottle and Edward could have a sitcom spinoff just like the Jim and Edgar one I suggested after "Resignation." I also miss Eddie being at Nucky's (insulting) side. And so does Nucky. Tom just doesn't provide the same level of companionship and the AC boss is a lonely man. Nucky Thompson may be a lonely man, but he still knows how to do business and he also has a talent for cards.

"Then you figured me wrong again. Nice getting to know you, Arnold."

I feel like this is his redemption season with the writers trying to give the audience reasons to empathize with (and eventually return to rooting for) his character. It was hard after Jimmy and then with all the issue with Margaret. Now, he's trying to return to the man he was before we even met him. Well, he was trying to be just the happy businessman, however, the Tampa deal has him sticking his neck back out, first by inviting Arnold Rothstein to be a partner on the deal. Who else has that kind of money? Before we get to that exciting development, it's also worth noting that Nuck plans to leave Atlantic City for Eli and head up the Tampa operation himself. Without any family left, there's no reason to remain in town. I also felt an ominous vibe in the scene where Eli agrees to run the errand in Florida, perhaps the younger Thompson brother will the one of the main characters who doesn't see the new season? I'm probably just getting paranoid. Rothstein insists that Nuck joins him for poker before agreeing to partner up and, in a nice turn, the game ends up prompting the latter to look elsewhere. But not far. Meyer Lansky is willing to be the kind of man Mr. Thompson is looking for in a partner. I wonder is Lucky Luciano is also along for the ride? And was that Yiddish Lanksy was speaking as he beat that rude man to death?

"I relish the action."

Boardwalk Empire returns with Episode 5, "Erlkönig," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Created by Terence Winter, the series stars Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Vincent Piazza, Anatol Yusef and Michael Stuhlbarg.