One of HBO's breakthrough series, Boardwalk Empire chronicles the life and times of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Golden Globe winner Steve Buscemi), Atlantic City's undisputed czar at a time when Prohibition proved to be a major catalyst in the rise of organized crime in America. Season 4 picks up eight months after the end of Season 3, in February 1924 - the year jazz "really came into being," with fictional dancers/singers as well as the ubiquitous Charleston dance. Having barely survived an overthrow by Gyp Rossetti in Season 3, Nucky Thompson is laying low at the end of the Boardwalk as the season begins. Eventually he'll butt heads with Mayor Bader, battle with his brother Eli about the fate of Eli's college-aged son Willie, and set his sights on the lucrative drug and real-estate opportunities in Florida. Most of the drama in this season's twelve episodes will take place in Atlantic City, and musical showpieces will be set in the Onyx Club (modeled after the Cotton Club), to be run by Chalky White. Action will also take place in Florida and Chicago.
HBO's lineup is so stellar that some of its best shows are no longer part of the proverbial water cooler conversation simply because something else on the premium network has stolen the headlines. As people are busy discussing 'Game of Thrones' to death, it's far too easy to forget 'Boardwalk Empire' is still one of HBO's best shows. Compared to 'Game of Thrones,' 'Boardwalk Empire's ratings are miniscule. Yet, HBO has stuck with it, giving us season after season of some of the most cinematic television out there.
The show is coming up to its fifth and final season. By all accounts it would seem that it will be ending on the show's terms. Kudos to HBO for keeping 'Boardwalk Empire' around so it builds to a conclusion that series creator Terence Winter should be proud of.
The fourth season is a fantastic lead in to the final season. There's so much going on, so many storylines coming to a head, and so many characters ready to evolve, change, and grow. 'Boardwalk Empire' is all about its characters. The plotlines come and go, but watching how the main stable of characters confront major changes in their lives is something this show does better than most others.
The third season ended in a freakin' bloodbath. Madman Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) moved into Atlantic City by force. Rosetti is probably the most vicious opposition Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) has faced so far. Armed with a battalion of hired thugs given to him by mob boss Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi) Rossetti was able to wrestle control of Atlantic City from Thompson. Though, somehow the most physically unimposing mob man of them all, Nucky Thompson, is able to weather the storm and regain control of his turf during the season's finale. Perhaps the greatest part of the third season was the slow burn build up to Richard Harrow's (Jack Huston) badass John McClane style assault levied against Rosetti and his men. An even that perfectly coincided with Nucky's attempts to seize control of the city he once ruled completely.
Season four begins slowly. Nucky is still trying to rebuild his empire, but finds himself estranged from his wife Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) ; Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) is addicted to heroin, and has lost her son; Harrow finds himself reuniting with his sister, trying to deal with his blood-spattered past; Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and Charlie Luciano (Vincent Piazza) are still trying to climb out from under Arnold Rothstein's (Michael Stuhlbarg) humongous shadow; Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) is the owner of the brand-new boardwalk Onyx nightclub, but he soon finds running a business this big comes with a whole slew of drawbacks; Al Capone (Stephen Graham) continues his climb to become the most feared Chicago mob boss ever; and conceivably the most interesting storyline is the complete one-eighty Nelson Van Alda -- now George Mueller (Michael Shannon) -- has undergone, going from strict God-fearing prohibition agent to mobster lackey splitting duties between Capone and Dean O'Banion (Arron Shiver).
As anyone who watches 'Boardwalk Empire' knows, that's not even half of the storylines. The show is so packed with crisscrossing stories, intersecting character arcs, and evolving circumstances that it can be just as dense as anything 'Game of Thrones' has to offer.
The fourth season is anything but dull. It's a powder keg waiting to go off. Throw in the introduction of J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Ladin), and one of 'Boardwalk Empire's most conniving villainous forces in Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffery Wright), and you have a season that measures up to any of its predecessors. It's safe to say that 'Boardwalk Empire' is still as great as when it first introduced us to Nucky Thompson, and that it'll continue that quality until the curtain finally falls after the fifth season's finale.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This four-disc set differs from past releases because it doesn't come with a DVD copy. This in turn creates a slightly smaller case that will look different next to the first three seasons in your collection. There is an UltraViolet Digital Copy included though.
Each disc is 50GBs. Like past seasons, the disc are housed in a nicely designed foldout case giving each disc its own hub. The flaps inside contain the episode list with brief descriptions of each episode along with writing and directing credits. HBO has labeled this a Region A release.
HBO's 1080p presentations of 'Boardwalk Empire' have been nothing short of astounding, and the fourth season is no exception. It follows right in line with the superb video quality that has come before it. With all the 1920s period detail put into every episode, it's imperative that the video quality matches the effort that went into making the show look as authentic as possible.
The clarity is astonishing. Fine detail is some of the best TV on Blu-ray has to offer. Clothing texture is immaculate. Facial features are as lifelike as they come whenever the camera gets up close and personal. It doesn't matter if it's long-range, mid-range, or close-up, each shot harbors an extensive amount of detail. Lines are clear and concise. Dark areas are deep and ink-like. Much of the show is bathed in darkness and shadows, and there's never a moment where crushing is even a consideration.
Color is bold and dynamic. 'Boardwalk Empire' is one of the most beautifully colorful shows out there. Red is a prominent color seeing how much blood is spilt from episode to episode. The gooey crimson liquid really stands out. Contrast is spot-on. As far as artifacting goes, there isn't any. There's nothing concerning the visuals that deserve the least bit of criticism. They're as stellar as they've always been.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix doesn't stray from its pedigree either. 'Boardwalk Empire' has always approached its numerous gun fights with realism in mind. These aren't thundering action movie shootouts. These are intricately designed gun battles with realistic sounding rat-a-tat-tat-tats. The mix treats gunfire very well, but never sacrifices dialogue, its soundtrack, or anything else to the roar of Tommy guns.
Dialogue is superbly defined and perfectly prioritized to offer maximum clarity. Even when mumbling characters like Chalky appear, it's still easy to understand what they're saying. The show's decidedly '20s soundtrack weaves its way through the sound field with ease, providing a wonderful "like you're there" feel for the period.
The rear channels pipe in all sorts of crystal-clear ambient sound. From busy clubs, to raucous gator fights in Florida, to harrowing gun fights, the rear channels are constantly providing fantastic surround sound. Like the video, I have absolutely no complaints about the audio.
'Boardwalk Empire' continues to be one of the best shows on television -- even though everyone is probably talking about something different. The quality and consistency displayed by Terence Winter and his crew has been quite astounding. The fourth season is just as good, if not better, than anything that's come before. With perfect video and audio, this set is definitely highly recommended.