Boardwalk Empire Review: “Marriage And Hunting” (Season 4, Episode 9)

Boardwalk Empire: Roy Phillips

She has good reason to be hesitant, too, as there is something not quite right about Phillips. Later in the episode we witness him on the phone with some unknown person. “It won’t be much longer,” he tells the person on the other end, but when Gillian enters the room he cuts the conversation short, clearly not wanting her to overhear it. What’s he hiding? What are his ulterior motives? At this point, it seems supremely unlikely that his relationship with Gillian isn’t some sort of long con.

Things are looking up for Gillian in her custody dispute over little Tommy Darmody, though. The judge in the case seems inclined to return Tommy to Gillian as his blood relative. That leads to the sweetest part of the episode: Richard Harrow getting hitched in an effort to keep Tommy from getting taken away. The scene between Richard and Julia as they wait at the city clerk’s office to get their marriage license is as close to heartwarming as Boardwalk Empire gets, and the sign hanging on the wall, which reads “Marriage & Hunting Licenses,” gives the episode its title.

Of course, the escalating feud between Chalky White and Dr. Narcisse was not fully resolved last week, and thankfully it was not forgotten about with this week’s episode. Chalky receives a phone call at home about Daughter Maitland, and in a neat trick of lighting he is bathed in red as he takes that call. The red lighting is no accident. This is Chalky at his angriest. Unfortunately for Chalky, Nucky is too pragmatic to help him put an end to Narcisse once and for all.

This leads to one of the most skin-crawlingly uncomfortable scenes in the series so far, as Narcisse confronts Nucky in the midst of an extremely racist variety show being put on for all the white patrons of the Onyx Club. It’s here that Narcisse is once again almost a sympathetic character, as he stubbornly refuses to cave in to the accepted rules of racial segregation and instead speaks to Nucky as an equal. It’s here that everything Narcisse has said about Chalky’s relationship to Nucky is proven true. Nucky could never see Chalky as his equal, nor could he see any other black man as his equal. He is perfectly willing to business with them when it suits his needs, but to sit next to them at a table in public? That’s too much.

How much of Dr. Narcisse’s monstrousness is in reaction to his treatment as a second class citizen due to his skin color? How much of it is an embrace of the same pseudo-Nietzschean morality that Van Alden has now embraced? There’s no question that he’s a bad guy, but there is still the question of what made him that way, and that is an important question to consider. Like most of the characters in Boardwalk Empire, Narcisse is a complex, three-dimensional person. To not look at all three dimensions would be a mistake.

What are your thoughts on this week’s episode? Let us know in the comments section below.