Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Episode 4

By: D.G. McCabe

Arnold Rothstein always wins.  In the first season, he famously states that he never takes a bet that he knows he won’t win.  He always has the right cards. Until he doesn’t.

The centerpiece of last night’s episode was a poker game in the basement of the Onyx Club where Rothstein and Nucky square off.  The “new Nucky” is on full display here, outplaying Rothstein, the man who can’t lose.  In the world of Boardwalk Empire, no one stays on top for long, but Rothstein’s apparent decline is especially compelling since he’s the man who always says, and seemingly always does, the smart thing.

This, of course, leaves an opening for Meyer Lansky to start building his notorious rum-running business.  The real-life Lansky is largely credited for turning organized crime into big business, and either died a millionaire or a pauper depending on who’s story you believe.  Nucky doesn’t know it yet, but he just backed the right horse in a major way.

Still, while the walls aren’t closing in on him like last season, danger is coming from unexpected locations.  Eddie’s been taken in by a psychotic G-man, Chaulky pissed off the wrong Harlem gangster (although Narcisse wasn’t used very much this episode), and his nephew just whacked someone by giving them an overdose of laxative.

What’s different this season, however, is that the danger largely comes from outside forces beyond Nucky’s control.  Most of the drama of the previous three seasons was largely of Nucky’s own creation.  He underestimated Rothstein in season one while taking Jimmy and Eli for granted.  The latter sewing he reaped in season two.  And of course, last season Nucky was on love leave, and it seemed that all he made were self-destructive mistakes.

Still, Nucky is used to being in control.  We’ll see next week, and this season, what happens when Nucky’s problems come from forces beyond that control.

(c) D. G. McCabe