There are some terrible people on TV. News and reality shows have more than their fair share. So too the high-quality, long-format dramas which continue to gather widespread followings. From Game of Thrones to Breaking Bad, House of Cards to True Detective, plenty of us are binging on the terrible behaviour of terrible people.
Why we do this, can be explained by Boardwalk Empire Season 4. Another elegant and confronting study of the corruption of individuals and society, Boardwalk Empire keeps revealing the impact of dire choices. Without recommending to everyone this violent, nasty and lewd saga about gangsters in Prohibition-era USA, what it provides are many blunt lessons in the uncontrollable consequences of actions.
If you’ve not seen any Boardwalk Empire, season 4 isn’t a good place to start. The labyrinth of relationships, schemes, deceit and illegal activity is vast, spanning a continent and a forest of central characters. Also, the latest Boardwalk expedition doesn’t really go anywhere, despite being chockers with double-cross and tangled webs. Fans of the show might be disappointed by how the latest round of ‘negotiations’ – led by big boss Nucky (Steve Buscemi) – becomes a merry-go-round, rather than a rollercoaster.
For all its visual beauty, scintillating dialogue and procession of twists, season 4 lacks the progressive punch of its predecessors. Still, it remains a potent examination of what can happen when people embrace the worst aspects of humanity. Demonstrating this is Afro-American ‘leader’ Dr Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), a new addition to the complex crime syndicates. A civil-rights ambassador who deals dope, Narcisse liberally quotes from the Bible and seems to see himself as a self-righteous prophet. One who also kills, cheats, manipulates and abuses.
Like almost every other character in Boardwalk Empire, Dr Narcisse craves power. Yearns to rule. The volatility and destructiveness caused by this, continues to surprise all those lusting after it. But greed and selfish desires habitually forge extreme situations which rapidly escalate. As events spiral out of control and into devastation, Boardwalk Empire churns and churns and churns with the booming refrain of one of the Bible’s most jarring, astonishing books.
‘Absolute futility. Everything is futile.’ This summary of existence is repeated throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, as it weighs up the pursuits of people. How living life for power or wealth or pleasure or work or knowledge adds up to a whole lot of ‘absolute futility’. Absolute futility, when people place such things, in the rightful place of God. Dedicating their hearts and minds to having and holding more, more, more. More of things which can increase selfishness, ruthlessness, and lack of love.
Such self-centred behaviour does not always lead to where Boardwalk Empire Season 4 goes to. But the warning Ecclesiastes provides about living life for anything else but God, is vividly played out by Boardwalk Empire‘s terrible trajectory.
Distributor: Warner Bros/HBO
Release Date: Out now