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Boardwalk Empire 4×05 “Erlkoenig” Recap

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The title “Erlkoenig” is derived from the work of German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – and a portion of the poem itself is recited by Agent Knox during his interrogation of Eddie Kessler.

It is the dark tale of a father riding through the woods and trying to comfort his young son, who is being lured by a mythical being, the Elf King. The poem ends with the child dying in his father’s arms. Knox uses it to mock Kessler’s past: theft from a former employer, an extramarital affair, and subsequent estrangement from his wife and two sons – the sons who, ashamed of their father’s deeds, changed their surname.

In the end, Eddie dissolves into tears as he confesses that the man he handed money at the train station was Ralph Capone, and that he did so under the instruction of Nucky Thompson.

When Eddie returns to the Albatross Hotel, he is reprimanded by Nucky and instructed to let Nucky know the next time he’s going to be gone for an entire day. Nucky then alludes to the Eddie of old and reveals that in Eddie’s absence, he even has trouble matching his own socks.

We’ve known that prior to Knox’s ministrations, Eddie’s loyalty to Nucky knew no bounds: “I tend only to you. That is all I do. That is my life.” But Knox has insinuated that Eddie is not the loyal, honest man we have come to know. And the resulting guilt – of embezzling money back in Germany, abandoning his family, and now betraying Nucky – is too much for Eddie to bear.

And in a show of heartbreaking affection (and perhaps remorse), Eddie’s final act is carefully pairing Nucky’s socks – just before leaping out the hotel window to his death.

Battling her own loss and guilt, Gillian Darmody has grown increasingly desperate, even to the point of piteous. Her efforts to regain custody of Tommy are thwarted yet again after she inappropriately propositions the judge who is in charge of the case – and he angrily rejects her.

After a visit to Dunn Purnsley to obtain her next fix, she shows up at Tommy’s school. She attempts to lure Tommy with a candy bar and her delusional ramblings about a new life with Roy Phillips. However, it appears her worse fears have been confirmed: her grandson has at best, forgotten her, and at worst, is terrified of her.

Accompanied by two teachers, Julia Sagorsky appears, retrieves Tommy, and has Gillian dragged from the premises. As Gillian lies in bed, Roy appears in her room and drops her heroin kit onto the bed. Just when we start to believe things cannot get any worse for poor Gillian, Roy explains that he too has known weakness and sin.

Of her drug habit, he gently inquires, “Does it help you?” Gillian replies, “Not anymore.”

History and fiction entwine in Chicago, as Van Alden/Mueller, at home feeding his son, is again enlisted by Frank and Al Capone to assist with their own Election Day “campaign.” Mueller is simultaneously taunted by a cocaine-addled Al (who practically forces the coke up Mueller’s nose) and coaxed by the more charming, diplomatic Frank.

When Al is beaten during the riot at Western Electric, Mueller raises the pistol behind Al’s back. Frank reaches for his own pistol to defend his brother, but is brutally gunned down Godfather-style by what appear to be police officers.

Mueller approaches Al at the mortuary, where Al weeps over Frank’s bullet-ridden body. Mueller confirms that the perpetrators of Frank’s massacre were Chicago detectives, who’d received word both of the riot and the fact that the Cicero police were corrupted by the gangsters. Al vows to avenge his brother’s death with the words, “every fucking thing that crawls is gonna pay.” And in that moment, we believe we see a faint sign of grief – and perhaps even empathy – on Mueller’s stoic face.

“Whatever occurred — it’s over, and every now and then you’ll think about the terrible thing that happened to a boy whose face you can’t quite remember. I promise, you can live with it.” Nucky’s words seem to allude to his former protege, Jimmy Darmody, but they are in fact directed at his nephew Willie.

With a sense of both fatherly affection and unshakable calm, Nucky has not only coached his nephew in the fine art of mendacity, but also used his political clout in Philadelphia to convince the police to drop manslaughter charges against Willie in the poisoning death of his classmate Henry.

Back at Willie’s dorm room, Nucky also instructs Willie to channel the rage he feels when people try to belittle him – perhaps the first inkling of Willie’s induction into the family liquor business. Inevitably, as the parents of the deceased boy were seeking to pin the blame on someone, Willie’s overwrought roommate Clayton is arrested and (presumably) charged with Willie’s crime.

Willie, Gillian, Eddie, and Mueller are backed into inescapable corners, whether by happenstance or their own short-sightedness. And when loyalties are called into question, some will do – and some will die.

Written by: The Harrowin’ Addict