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Boardwalk Empire - The Complete Fourth Season

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 19, 2014
Boardwalk Empire - The Complete Fourth Season

HBO's Roaring Twenties drama is poised for a sendoff with its imminent fifth and final season. Before Season Five premieres on September 7, though, you might find it worth your while to refresh yourself or play catch-up with the Blu-ray release of "Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season."

"Boardwalk Empire" had a less than stellar third season, which tended to feel like a pale do-over of "The Sopranos" in a period setting. Season Four re-establishes the series as its own animal, and a meticulously produced, ruthlessly written animal at that. Several new characters come into play, including Jeffrey Wright's sophisticated con man, Brother Narcisse; his protege, singer Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham); Ron Livingston's shady businessman, Roy Phillips, who romances Nucky's nemesis Gillian (Gretchen Mol), the heroin-addicted former madame; and Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty), an intensely committed, sociopathic undercover federal agent who's determined to take on gangsters and corrupt Prohibition agents alike.

Jersey City gangster Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) remains the anchor of the series, but the focus widens in Season Four to take in doings in Tampa Bay, Florida, as well as criminal activity in Chicago, New York, and Jersey City. (The Tampa Bay setting allows the introduction of another new character, Sally Wheet [Patricia Arquette], the tough and independent woman who catches Nucky's eye... and gives him a good right hook when he needs one.) The series continues to use real-life gangland figures like Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and his charismatic brother Frank (Morgan Spector), and reference historic events, but it's fictional and semi-fictional characters and happenings that drive the story forward, as gangland skirmishes continue and Narcisse attempts to horn in on the action.

The Blu-ray set's special features offer riches by the trove: An interactive in-episode feature called Boardwalk Chronicle allows the viewer to call up info on the characters and locales of different scenes, while pop-up text fills in factual tidbits that bring extra depth and punch to the dialogue and action. (These pop-ups can be distracting, but the background they provide makes it worth putting up with.)

Among the in-episode features is "Scouting the Boardwalk," a series of short segments detailing some of the locations that the series uses. (Or, you can access all of these spots separately -- which is recommended, since they are videos that interrupt the flow of the episode if accessed while a viewing is in progress.)

Featurettes include "The Onyx Club: A Step Back in Time," which details the design, construction, and dramatic impact of a massive, intricate, and richly detailed new set -- Chalky White's (Michael Kenneth Williams) black-owned, boardwalk-located night spot, a showcase for black performers, jazz music, and dance, catering to a white audience. (The real life cultural ramifications of this are discussed, and they are fascinating.)

Also included: "Paleyfest," a panel discussion with several of the show's regulars; "Becoming Harrow," a feature focusing on the mask-wearing killer Robert Harrow and the British actor, Jack Huston, who plays him; a Season Three recap; and half a dozen audio commentaries.

Missing from the features lineup, however, are the "Inside the Episode" segments, in which writers and producers offer insights into each installment. It's a disappointment, but also a puzzle: How could such home-release ready gems, pure and pleasing Blu-ray fodder if anything is, not have been included?

That's a nit to pick some other time, though. "Boardwalk Empire" shares much of its DNA, not to mention directors and directors, creator Terence Winter among them, with its big brother, the aforementioned "The Sopranos," and an unstinting excellence in its production values. Even when the plotting gets shaky, this show is a delight to immerse oneself into, and the shocking twists this season offers (comeuppance for some, brutal exits for others, dramatic reversal of fortune, and burgeoning new opportunities for those daring and lawless enough to take them) make for edge-of-the-seat viewing.

"Boardwalk Empire - The Complete Fourth Season"
Blu-ray
$79.98
store.hbo.com/detail.php?p=500117&icid=mybuys&green=EEE22809-0E42-55E8-01A6-9A201EAE2DB5

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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