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Boardwalk Empire

HBO

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/100

Season 4

# Episode Overview Score Viewer score Podcast

Another year, another season of Boardwalk Empire. That is a corruption of a Homer Simpson quote ("Another day, another box of stolen pens."). And while it's a bit mean to imply Boardwalk is just a humdrum repetitive activity, my opinion of the show hasn't changed since Season One.

It's a beautiful show to look at. It's very well acted. I still love hearing Rothstein talk. I now enjoy hearing Narcisse talk. I still like watching Steve Bucemi and Michael K Williams. I still think Stephen Graham makes a great Al Capone.  

The story is always interesting. Powerful people struggling with one another usually is. And some situations do elicit tension like poor Richard passing from the stage or Nucky pointing a gun at his own brother.

But in fifty years people will still be talking about Breaking Bad and how you "have to see it!" No one will talk about Boardwalk Empire. They may mention it in passing because it covers historical events but no one will say you "have to see it!"

Because I don't care. I don't care about anyone on the show. Terence Winter cares about gangsters and their lives. But he never worked out why anyone else should. We never saw why Nucky had to be a criminal. We've never seen him try not to be one. Ultimately he deserves to go to jail or be killed based on the amount of suffering he has directly or indirectly been responsible for. Yet the show only works if we care about him. Without that it's just an endless parade of backstabbing and wondering why none of these criminals just hire a team of hit men and be done with it.

How many people were murdered this season? A dozen? More? O'Banion was blown away. Torrio nearly joined him. Van Alden killed half a dozen and no one noticed. Capone's brother was blitzed with bullets for no apparent reason. By the police no less! Chalky beat Purnsley to death. Eli beat Tolliver to death. Richard killed some people. Capone killed a few. Purnsley beat that guy to death in the season premiere. William poisoned a guy to death. Does any of it matter?

The police never find bodies unless they are dug up for them. No one important is ever arrested. In fact the police are either corrupt or insane. There is no good in the world of Boardwalk Empire. It presents a world where there is nothing but ambitious people murdering one another. And yet if it's that easy why don't they do it more often. The presence of law and order is implied but never witnessed.

And in a world with no morality we are asked to care about people like Gillian or Narcisse. Grasping sociopaths who may be beautifully brought to life but have no call on our emotions. Why should we care about their suffering when all they do is cause harm to others?

It still angers me to watch a show with so many resources waste its potential. No morals. No consequences. No emotion. And yet I'll still be watching next year. Another day, another TV show I wish was better that I just can't look away from.