Boardwalk Empire S4 E5 “Erlkonig” Review

An established TV characters death has the ability to leave you not only speechless but also heartbroken. Of course, an important characters death in other storytelling mediums can have leave an equally emotional reaction, but TV is special in that there is a certain repetition of seeing a character for many hours over perhaps many years. I’m sure we’ve all have been heartbroken by a TV characters death (especially if you’re a fan of Joss Whedon shows), and the lasting effect of that decision not only can dramatically alter the shows character dynamics but also leave a lasting emotional impact on the viewer. Boardwalk Empire’s “Erlkonig” had a major character death, and while it did hit me in the moment and gave me as sense of shock, I didn’t hurt like I should have. In fact, I actually felt quite relieved that we would not have to follow this character’s story and we could focus on more interesting plot developments. So what’s changed? Have I become a heartless monster? Or does this characters death reveal an intrinsic problem with the show?
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I was being unnecessarily aloof as to who died in “Erlkonig,” but if you’re reading this review you know that Eddie Kessler bought the dust. The always reliable and perpetually overlooked assistant/butler to Nucky Thompson committed suicide after being psychologically tormented by Agent Knox (Seriously, Erlkonig is a creepy piece of folklore). As Kessler, Anthony Laciura delivered an incredible performance in “Erlkonig.” His death didn’t give me the gut punch I felt it should have, but I can’t fault his skills as an actor because they were on full display in this episode. No, like most of the shows problems, the fault lies on the writers and their inability to create compelling characters and give them emotionally sustaining storylines. Here’s a character that’s been on the show for four seasons and has only ever been interesting in a few key episodes (This one and “Two Imposters” come to mind). I understand that Kessler is considered a minor character and doesn’t get too much screen time, but I could come up with countless examples of minor characters whose deaths mattered tremendously on other TV shows.
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I will give the show the benefit of the doubt (something I seem to be saying way too often) and see how Kessler’s death affects those around him. (Non-specific West Wing Spoiler) I’m reminded of another assistant-like character in Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” whose death at the end of season 2 not only shocked me, but really mattered because it meant something to the characters in the show. It brought out new depths in each person who I had assumed I understood completely and it culminated in one of my favorite scenes of all time as a character angrily questions God for taking this certain characters life. Now, I’m not saying that Boardwalk Empire can’t do this, but I’m almost positive it won’t. Most of the characters at this point are very loosely related and the only person I could see being affected by Kessler’s death would be Nucky. This could be a way for them to bring in Margaret Schroeder (With Nucky needing to be consoled), but if that is the way they go about this I hope Nucky goes to her instead of vice versa. All of this is to say that while this was a great episode for Kessler, I feel it also showed the true weight this show actually has which is to say not much at all.
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Boardwalk Empire has made me care about the meticulous machinations in how gangsters rise and fall, but whenever it tries to build a character that’s not in involved in the crime world it fails. So maybe you say Kessler was a side character and his death didn’t carry that much weight, so what of it? Well, truly ask yourself this question: if anyone of the characters died in the next episode would you feel emotionally devastated? Even though I’m interested in many of them, when I really dig deep about it the answer would be no. This isn’t to say that I’m not care to see how this season plays out, but it does make me question how much more this show has left in it. If Kessler’s death becomes a turning point in Nucky’s journey and it actually leads him to having a moment of catharsis than I’ll be extremely happy. Not because a characters death needs to change another character, but because character change relates to character growth which is something we haven’t seen on Boardwalk Empire in a long time.

Erlkonig = C+

Novel Notices

– I know Willie will become important but man do I not care about his storyline. I will never understand why this show brings in Willie when it has so many other characters that are begging for more screen time.

– Van Alden’s scenes with with the two Capone brothers were entertaining as Tim Van Patten’s direction during the voting fight was appropriately clumsy and chaotic.

– I’m glad that when Gillian went to buy drugs she didn’t have to meet a whole new character and instead dealt with Purnsley. This is how you make a TV show writers, by not needlessly creating more characters than you need to.

– The lack of Chalky and Dr. Narcisse was very apparent and I mean that in a bad way.

– I know I didn’t really comment on most of the episode in the review, but I felt like Kessler’s death was more interesting and related to my ambivalence with the show as a whole.

– I would love to hear your thoughts on Kessler’s death and more specifically your thoughts on if you genuinely care about any of these characters.

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