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'Boardwalk Empire' Season 4 Premiere Recap: Bizarre Sex & Mob Murder Return In 'New York Sour'

"Boardwalk Empire" is back, and the Season 4 premiere pretty much delivered everything we've come to expect from a "Boardwalk" episode.
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Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven't seen the "Boardwalk Empire" Season 4 premiere, titled, "New York Sour."

"Boardwalk Empire" is back, and the Season 4 premiere pretty much delivered everything we've come to expect from a "Boardwalk" episode. A bizarre, unsettling sex scene that ended in a gruesome murder? Check. Nucky Thompson making a back-room deal to make peace with the gangsters of New York? Check. Richard Harrow killing a bunch of people? Check. (Does it matter that we're not entirely sure why?) So let's go over the biggest developments, as I try really hard not to misspell Capone.

It took Richard Harrow 11 episodes to kill anyone last season, before he went on a rampage and took out all of Gyp Rosetti's men like a Roaring Twenties Rambo. This episode, though, wasted no time getting that brutal business out of the way. Harrow murdered three people on his voyage back home, although it wasn't really clear why. (Was he protecting his sister's farm from those Midwestern goons? Taking care of business for Nucky? Leave your thoughts on this in the comments.) Things got weird when he shot his third victim through the face before putting him out of his misery, a twisted re-enactment of his own war injury. The moment served as a reminder that while Harrow may be our half-faced antihero, he is still working through some serious issues.

boardwalk empire season 4

Nucky Thompson had a sit-down to make peace with all the New York gangsters he was at war with last season. He paid off Joe Masseria for killing his 15 men who were on loan to Gyp Rosetti, and smoothed things over with Arnold Rothstein by hooking him up with a card game. Nucky never wants trouble, but in his business, it always seems to find him, and he can't resist getting involved in everybody else's problems.


The New York crew seems to have fractured along ethnic lines. Lucky Luciano is working with his Italian countryman Masseria now, having formally defected from the Lanksy-Rothstein gang. You can tell that underneath all the "Hello, Charlie," and "Hello, AR," they just want to be buddies. But just when the coast was clear for Nucky to go see a Broadway show, he got himself pulled into a murder cleanup.


Which brings us to the weirdest "Boardwalk" sex/murder scene since Gillian Darmody seduced a drifter who looked like her dead son, had sex with him and then overdosed him on heroin. That was what, half a season ago? It had been far too long.

The whole insane latest incident started when a white talent agent's girlfriend drew Chalky White's right-hand-man Dunn Purnsley a cartoon of them having sex on a napkin. Dunn thought they were sneaking around, but it turned out to be a ruse to have the talent agent jerk off while watching a large black man have sex with his girlfriend, at gunpoint. Someone could write a college thesis on the disturbing density of psychosexual and racial power dynamics at play in this scene, but I'll just say this: Don't mess with Dunn Purnsley.

So Dunn did what he had to do, smashing the guy's head with a liquor bottle to get himself out of danger. And then he went the extra murderous mile, repeatedly stabbing the guy in the throat with the broken bottle, because it's "Boardwalk Empire."

boardwalk empire season 4 premiere

Naturally, Nucky and Chalky had to clean up the mess. And Chalky was none too pleased that his second-in-command was stirring up such trouble with his legitimate business. They buried the body, but the girlfriend got away. And since this talent agent was a New York guy with connections to the black community there (beyond his sick fetish), it seems like his disappearance could attract the attention of Dr. Valentin Narcisse, Jeffrey Wright's new character, who we've learned from preview clips controls Harlem.

While we're talking about Chalky White, he got his nightclub, and it's also doubling as Nucky's new base of operations. He seems set up to be a more central character this season, and more Michael K. Williams is always a good thing.


Over in Chicago, Al Capone is quite literally making a name for himself. He set up shop in Cicero, brought his brothers in to help him with his bootlegging and prostitution operation, and delivered a correction notice to the local newspaper when they misspelled his name. Nice restraint on not roughing up the reporter, young Capone.

Capone is still working under Johnny Torrio, but this season seems primed to be about his rise to power. Which will be great, because Stephen Graham plays Capone with such a mischievous charm that he's become one of my favorite characters on the show.

(Historical spoiler alert: anyone interested in knowing a key development in Capone's crew this season should read about what happened to Frank Capone in 1924, the year this season is set in.)


In other news, Gilligan Darmody went to court to try to get Jimmy's son back from the Sagorksys, but the judge seemed to sense that a whorehouse that was the scene of a mass shooting wasn't the best place to raise a child. Either that, or he was offended by Dominic Chianese's mutton chops. Gillian is trying to sell her mansion and offered her services to Ron Livingston's new character, who claims to be a Piggly Wiggly executive. But I have a feeling that he's probably not in the grocery business.


What did you think of this "Boardwalk Empire" premiere? Leave your thoughts and theories in the comments.

"Boardwalk Empire" airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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