When “Boardwalk Empire” returns for Season Four Sunday night on HBO, it will seem a lot more crowded.
And that’s saying a lot for this sprawling Prohibition Era drama series in which the action plays out in a geographic triangle representing a significant chunk of the United States. The triangle’s three points: New York, Chicago and, of course, Atlantic City.
This season, you can add Florida to the mix — and a bunch of new characters too, some taken from the pages of history, and some made up for the sake of this show’s ever-evolving storyline.
Over the next few weeks, keep an eye out for these real-life figures:
Two of Al Capone’s brothers: Ralph (nickname: Bottles) and Frank — played by Dominick Lombardozzi and Morgan Spector, respectively. The two Brooklynites (like their brother) both arrive in Chicago at the request of their brother, who has risen through the ranks to become Johnny Torrio’s No. 2 man in Torrio’s organized-crime empire.
J. Edgar Hoover: The 29 year-old, newly appointed director of the nascent Bureau of Investigation (predecessor to the FBI) makes his first appearance in Episode Two. For the bootleggers and related criminals in “Boardwalk Empire,” Hoover’s emergence will represent the federal government’s recognition that crime has been allowed to run a little too rampant since the 18th Amendment outlawed alcohol in 1920. Actor Eric Ladin plays Hoover.
Owney Madden: The owner of Harlem’s Cotton Club also turns up in the second episode of the season. In real life, Madden was a nightclub owner, boxing promoter and, in his earlier days in England, a gang member and suspected killer. In the five episodes of “Boardwalk Empire” that HBO provided to us for preview, Madden shows up but barely makes a mark. We suspect he will make a mark before the season concludes.
And watch for these new fictional characters:
Dr. Valentin Narcisse: This new character played by Jeffrey Wright makes his presence known in the second episode of the season, and soon clashes with Chalky White (Michael K. Williams). They’re in the same business — Narcisse controls all the vice activities in Manhattan’s black neighborhoods, while Chalky is his Atlantic City counterpart. But Narcisse has a tendency to put on airs, including spouting a black-liberation philosophy that was coming into vogue in the 1920s. As such, he’s at odds with Chalky, who’s all business and no philosophy. The two seem to be equally ruthless, however. We don’t know how this clash will play out, but our money’s on Chalky.
Roy Phillips: Ron Livingston plays this somewhat shadowy salesman/businessman who turns up in Atlantic City supposedly to advance the interests of the store chain he works for. But he soon connects with former madam and current drug addict and prostitute Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) and the two form an alliance.
Sally Wheet: Played by Patricia Arquette, Sally’s a woman of the world who runs a Florida speakeasy, where Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) makes her acquaintance on a business trip to the Sunshine State. She appears in only one episode of the five HBO provided for preview, so we’re not yet sure whether these two will strike up a relationship. One thing we do know: Nucky’s wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald) is nowhere to be seen in any of the first five episodes, though we have it on good authority that she’s still in the show and will be seen this season.
What else happens this season?
We wouldn’t want to spoil the fun by revealing anything, but we will say this: The action picks up about nine months after last season ended with the massacre of New York mobsters by the lone World War I vet Richard Harrow (Jack Huston). As the new season starts, it’s April 1924, and the Roaring Twenties are in full swing.
The new season of “Boardwalk Empire” starts Sunday, Sept. 8, at 9/8c on HBO.