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‘Boardwalk Empire’ Review: “Acres of Diamonds”

Boardwalk Empire Acres of Diamonds
HBO

In this week’s new episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ everyone’s just trying to expand their business, whatever that business entails: for Nucky, that means a trip down to Florida to possibly broker a new deal with an old friend. Meanwhile, we get to know Dr. Narcisse a little better, and his business isn’t limited to entertainment. 

Dr. Narcisse is a businessman — we saw it last week when he negotiated a cut of the Onyx Club using Mrs. Pastor as a pawn, and then had her killed when she was of no use to him anymore. But the murder was also plainly motivated by his belief in keeping his race pure and eliminating a particular threat, and this week we see Narcisse preaching his intellectual and religious doctrine to a room full of well-dressed black men. While he certainly believes and practices what he’s preaching and appears to want to inspire others to rise to his stature, it’s yet another calculated and inspired business move — and we get more of it when Narcisse sits down with Arnold Rothstein for his next act: getting in on the growing heroin trade. It’s of particular note in a historical context, given that heroin addiction was a major problem in the black community, particularly in Harlem throughout the 1920s and 30s. Dr. Narcisse envisions a better world for his brothers and sisters, but here he is setting up the catalyst that will bring them poverty and despair.

Meanwhile, Nucky is down in Florida visiting an old friend who has promised a business expansion of sorts by bringing the bootlegging trade down to the great retirement state. But Nucky is clever, and when he overhears a salesman selling chunks of worthless swampland to naive customers, he digs a little deeper — turns out, the land over which Nucky’s booze shipments will be transported is about to be heavily developed into a community, and that’s going to draw a little too much attention for Nuck, who’s been more careful than normal this season after everything that happened with Gyp Rosetti last year.

But Nucky’s old pal is in deep with the Florida bootlegging king, and his life could very well rest on whether Nucky feels like being safe or living a little dangerously. There’s a moment of blunt imagery in the final scene, as Nucky’s friend — who has murdered his crime boss in a desperate attempt to save his own hide — slumps down against the wall, having just learned that Nucky will accept the deal. Overhead, a moth circles around a blood-stained lightbulb, and the message is clear: these men are drawn to danger, violence, and crime like moths to a flame — but it always ends the same, with blood and death and despair. ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has never been particularly obtuse when it comes to metaphor, and while this one is incredibly obvious, the sequence is framed beautifully.

And perhaps Nucky’s new lady friend (Patricia Arquette) helped sway him a bit — he’s not used to women who act against what’s expected of them, which is why he’s so drawn to them. It calls to mind the first time Nucky met Margaret, a fussy, demanding woman who wouldn’t let her voice get lost among the crowd. He may not have agreed with her ideals, but he respected her, and out of respect comes love. Here he meets someone similar: a woman involved in a man’s business, but one who sweetens him up by remembering that he needs a gift for his son’s birthday and it’s that small token of kindness (and a woman’s touch) that pushes Nucky to close the deal.

Back in New Jersey, it’s still not entirely clear what Gillian is up to with Roy Phillips — she’s helping him pick out a place to live, attending a business dinner and pretending to be his wife so he’s perceived as the wholesome man he needs to be. But to what end? Gillian heads off to the bathroom to keep herself doped up, trying to forget Jimmy, trying to forget her grandson Tommy, and eventually she may be able to forget herself entirely and become the new Mrs. Phillips with a respectable life. Is there more to Phillips than meets the eye, or does ‘Boardwalk Empire’ just inspire such consistent suspicion?

Speaking of which, Richard Harrow is back out on his own following a run-in at his sister’s farm with the man who sent him on his assassination spree — Emma saves Richard from a shot to the head, but sends him packing immediately after, to keep her and her unborn child safe. And so now Richard, who finally made it back home and just wanted to give up all the death and destruction, is pushed back out into a world where his only value is what he can do for others — and all he can do for others is kill.

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