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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season (2013)

HBO Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/19/2014

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/30/2014

I've never been to HBO headquarters (and I'm not even sure that there is such a place, but just play along with me), but I have the feeling that there is a sign which reads, "Bigger is Better!". The network seemingly loves to take their hour-long dramas and add more and more each season to the points that the shows are bloated. Shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones began with a group of characters and more and more are added each season until one needs a score-card in order to keep up. (And the fact that the home video releases include guides to the characters only supports this idea.) Boardwalk Empire is part of this group as well, and the show's fourth season illuminates the pros and cons of this approach.

The ending of Season Three of Boardwalk Empire saw Atlantic City mob boss Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi) involved in a war. Gyp Rosetti's (Bobby Cannavale) reign of terror came to an end, but not before Babette's was blown up, leaving Nucky without a headquarters and a place to live. Meanwhile, a group of thugs who were holed up at Gillian's were gunned down by Richard Harrow (Jack Huston). When the dust settled, Nucky was back in charge, but not without some casualties and some alliances severed.

As Season 4 opens, we see that Nucky has things under control again. With Nucky's help, Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) has re-built Babette's as The Onyx Club. Nucky is living alone in a hotel called "Albatross" (Nice.) The bootleg business is back on track. Nucky's nephew, Willie (Ben Rosenfield), is a freshman at Temple University, where he runs into some trouble -- The kind of trouble that only Nucky can help with. Nucky considers investing in land near Tampa, Florida which would aid in bootlegging. On a trip there, he meets a formidable ally in Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette). Chalky's new entertainment venture is threatened when Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) comes to town to supply The Onxy Club with an act, and then decides to stay in Atlantic City. Now that her brothel is closed, Gillian (Gretchen Mol) looks to sell her mansion, which is how she meets Roy (Ron Livingston), a perspective buyer who may be her ticket to a happier life. A new federal agent, Knox (Brian Geraghty), is assigned to Atlantic City, and he may be more dangerous than the mobsters. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Al Capone (Stephen Graham) continues to expand his empire.

As previously noted, Boardwalk Empire falls in line with the HBO shows by getting bigger and bigger. The problem with this show in particular is that 90% of the cast are white guys wearing hats, therefore, it can get somewhat confusing. Not only do a lot of the characters look alike, but most of them are doing the same sort of things -- opening crates of booze and shooting people. It's a blessing that this Blu-ray Disc set included a Season 3 recap or else I would have been totally lost.

Having said that, Boardwalk Empire seems to have regained some of its focus in Season 4. Every character must have their ups and down, but this show shines when Nucky is in charge. The scrutiny moves away from Nucky's predicaments and looks at some other characters. The rivalry between Chalky and Dr. Narcisse dominates much of the season, which is interesting as history often shies away from the history between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. The situation with Willie is interesting as it shows how Nucky's lifestyle can have an influence on others even when they don't want it. It's also nice to see the show shift away from the usual Atlantic City/New York/Chicago landscape with Nucky's trips to Florida.

My issue with Boardwalk Empire, aside from the scope, is the pacing. The episodes are in this 12-episode season all run nearly an hour, and that creates an issue for the show's creators. Granted, they have a lot of characters and storylines to cover, but they don't want to give away the farm all at once. Therefore, the plot-lines often advance at a snail's pace. Most of them pay off in the end, but the show can be very trying at times, especially when it's not clear how small pieces are going to tie into the bigger picture. However, the season finale of Season 4 is worth the wait, as many things come together and a few key characters die (including one fan favorite). The point is, if you have any interest in Boardwalk Empire stick with Season 4 as the sometimes slack pacing pays off in some plot twists which will have you excited for Season 5.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season features way too many musical numbers on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of HBO Home Entertainment. The four-Disc set contains all 12 episodes from the show's Fourth Season. The episodes have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and no defects from the source materials. This is a dark show, but the image is never overly dark and the few flashes of color look fine. The level of detail is good and the picture is rarely soft. The depth is about what one would expect from a TV show on Blu-ray Disc. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an impressive track which offers nice stereo and surround effects. There was one scene with such detailed surround sound that I thought someone was in my house. The stereo effects so good separation and abound during the nightclub scenes. The music sounds good and we get subwoofer effects from gunshots and explosions.

The Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray Disc set contains several extras. Each episode can be viewed with "Boardwalk Chronicle", a set of pop-up icons which detail the characters, location, and facts about each scene. This is indispensable at times, given the density of the show. Disc 1 offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "New York Sour" from Executive Producer/Writer Howard Korder, Executive Producer/Director Tim Van Patten, and Steve Buscemi. This Disc also has "Season 3: Revisited" (14 minutes) in which Winter provides an in-depth look at the important events from last season. Disc 2 has an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "All In" from Creator/Executive Producer/Writer Terence Winter, Writer David Matthews, Director Ed Bianchi, and Michael Sthulbarg. We also get a COMMENTARY on "Erlkonig" with Korder, Van Patten, Anthony Lacuira, Brian Geraghty, and Gretchen Mol. "PaleyFest" Made in NY Boardwalk Empire Panel" (26 minutes) features a Q&A with Winter, Korder and some cast members following a screening of "Erlkonig", from October 2013. Disc 3 brings us an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "The Old Ship of Zion" with Korder, Erik LaRay Harvey, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Margot Bingham. Disc 4 delivers an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "Havre De Grace" with Korder, Director Allen Coulter, Wililams and Bingham. Next, there's a COMMENTARY on "Farewell Daddy Blues" from Winter, Van Patten, and Buscemi. "The Only Club: A Step Back in Time" (9 minutes) examines the design and creation of the set of Chalky's nightclub and contains comments from the artists involved. Jack Huston takes us inside the mind of his popular character in "Becoming Harrow" (8 minutes). "New Characters" (6 minutes) profiles the fresh faces from Season 4. "Scouting the Boardwalk" (23 minutes) is a series of 12 vignettes (one for each episode) which examines how the Location Manager finds the interesting places used for shooting the series.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long