Boardwalk Empire

has a pedigree that manages to stand out, even on a network known for
assembling the best talent and biggest budgets for its banner shows.
Optioned by Mark Wahlberg and brought to HBO, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Altantic City
by Nelson Johnson is providing the backbone source material for the
show, which stars Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the
Treasurer-turned-gangster of Atlantic City. The big roller behind the
camera is of course Martin Scorsese, who was hooked early as an
Executive Producer and directed the pilot episode. Terrence Winter,
rockstar writer and The Sopranos
veteran, has adapted the dense historical text of the source novel into
a focused look at the Vegas-before-Vegas world of Atlantic City in the
1920s. This Prohibition-era playground is a perfect setting to tell the
story of what happened when America went dry.

Here at CHUD
we’re going to be giving you our reaction to each episode in tag-team
style recaps each Monday after a new episode. You can expect a shifting,
rotating batch of contributors every week, each unloading hot batches
of insight. Boardwalk Empire airs at 9:00 pm EST, Sundays on HBO. Check it out
and follow along with the CHUD staff!

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EPISODE 4: Anastasia


ELISABETH RAPPE: I think this was my favorite episode since the pilot —
and I’m telling myself it wasn’t because of the dripping beads, velvet,
and chiffon….but that definitely helped.  I really, really love the
costumes in this show. I’m desperately hoping we get a wave of
dropped-waist dresses in stores … and three piece suits for the guys. 
They make even Capone look sexy.


In all seriousness, I did love
that this episode was not only Nucky-centric (I’m curious if the
episodes will play as one for Nucky, one for Van Alden, and so on), but
about the second class citizens of the 1920s.  Be you Greek (or any
ethnicity without a mafia of your own), African American, or female,
life sucks. The flash, the clothes, the riches, the criminal empires are
great to look at and dream about, but the reality for most of us would
be painful and disappointing.


Unless, of course, you’re a
well-connected man like Chalky. His taking on the Klan leader was
possibly one of the finest and most politically correct beatdowns I’ve
had the pleasure of enjoying since
Inglourious Basterds.  A spoilsport
could argue it was too PC, but come on. When have we ever gotten to see
an African-American exact a little revenge, and be something other than a
victim of the Klan in a mainstream piece of entertainment?


But
the episode really belonged to the women. (And yes, you can mock me for
being a soft spot for a female oriented episode.)  I’ve been critical of
Margaret’s character so far, but I certainly don’t dislike her, and I
really loved what they did with her here.  The expression on her face
when she walked into Nucky’s party was just wonderful (good job, Ms.
MacDonald), and the chemistry between her and Nucky was so palatable.
For a moment she was swept up in a world of romance and royalty, and she
was so caught up in the glamor that she could even excuse the presence
of the demon liquor.    It doesn’t last long, however. The carriage
turns back into a pumpkin (or rather, a cake bearing the nearly naked
Lucy) and Margaret realizes she’s no princess, but simply Anna Anderson.


I
also complained about the blatant Madonna/whore complex being shoved at
the audience, but they softened it to a more depressing and complicated
theme here. Margaret is a good girl — smart, clean, well-read — and
she can’t get ahead. The women who embrace and use their sexuality have
it all. To Margaret and Angela, it’s humiliating to watch Lucy and
Gillian strutting around with lovely things.   But what she didn’t see
was the conversation that took place between Nucky and his politicians
about the capacities of womankind.   She also has no idea how insecure
their place is, as evidenced by what happened to Jimmy’s new girlfriend,
Pearl.   We’ve had three episodes where the prostitutes were making out
really well, but now comes the ugly reality of bedding the
bootleggers.  You don’t stay prettier than Lillian Gish, and no one is
going to take care of you after that.  This may not be the Victorian
era, but it’s still a terrifying and uncertain world where women don’t
have a lot of options.


Oh, and now might be a good time for me to
say how much I hate Jimmy Darmody. He’s slowly emerging as the bad
penny of the series, and I suspect every woman in his life is going to
pay for his reckless and empty behavior.


Had you told me going
into this show that I would actually *like* Nucky Thompson, I would have
been so skeptical. But man, he’s a guy who simultaneously has it all,
and yet *can’t* get what he wants as easily as the guys in Chicago or
New York.  He plays it relatively clean. He’s horrified by violence,
even if it’s well-deserved.  He embraces the tartish Lucy, but longs for
Margaret and the life she represents.   He radiated unhappiness and
tension in this episode, and as much as he threatens, bribes, and
storms, I wonder if he wouldn’t trade it all to marry Margaret and have
her bake him a birthday cake … or if the lure of a piece of the pie is
really just too strong for him.  I can’t pin him down, and I love
that.  He’s not your average gangster at all.


There was a lot of
fine, haunting, and delicate character work set up here — Gillian and
Lucky, Margaret stealing the lingerie, Jimmy in gangland, Nucky and his
sorrowful birthday, the machinations of the creepy D’Alessios, and the
problem of what to do with a Klan leader’s ring.


JOSHUA MILLER: Well, I didn’t really care about the costumes (though
they are nice), but I have to agree that this was my favorite episode
since the pilot. Eps 2 & 3 were both enjoyable, but they lacked the
kind of spark I want from this series. Episode four has finally shown
that maybe we’re on an upward swing after all (fingers crossed). And I
certainly can’t hold it against you, Rappe, for thinking this episode
belonged to the women. Because I agree. With an episode called
“Anastasia,” I think one should expect there to be some thematic
importance for boring ol’ Margaret. And this was the first episode in
which I didn’t find Margaret boring. Her standing up to the politicians
felt a little corny to me, but I understood why it was there. The love
triangle between Margaret, Lucy, and Nucky is rapidly becoming a source
of some of the best dramatic tension on the show. Margaret embracing
crime has been in the mail since the pilot, and now that we’ve finally
gotten there, I hope Margaret continues to broaden as a character.


Rappe, I’d like to hear more about your hatred of Jimmy, actually.
Maybe it’s cause I’m a dude, but I still find him a tragic character.
What is it that draws out your fury? Personally, I’m worried about the
fact that Jimmy’s been separated from Atlantic City. Now the show
suddenly has a
Malcolm in the Middle structure, which is a structure I
never thought worked well. It worked just fine in this episode, but
eventually it will feel like Jimmy is starring in his own unrelated
show. I had the same problem with the “Johnny Cakes” subplot on
The
Sopranos
. Unless Jimmy comes back soon, or there at least is more
cross-over in the storylines, this will spell bad things for
Boardwalk
Empire
, I can tell you that now.


Rappe has already hit most of the points worth making here. The
Tarantino-esque Chalky speech. Nucky FINALLY feeling like a true lead;
it was the card he sends the Senator at the end of the episode that I
think officially laid out Nucky for us – he simply wants and expects
everything. I will add on that I am happy to continue to see Al Capone.
While his subplot continues to be the most generically mob-movie portion
of the series, when it’s good (like this episode) it is still very
good. Waking Jimmy up with a bullet was a great way to open the episode,
while also letting us know everything we need to about the nature of
their relationship: Al likes Jimmy, but Al is a fucking psycho and will
hurt Jimmy through his reckless behavior. Or, as it turned out, hurt
Jimmy’s hooker girlfriend through his reckless behavior. Stephen Graham
is continuing to find fun nuance in his Capone performance too. I love
the way he slaps that tailor in the face, just a little too hard, when
he wants the man to know he did a good job. “My wife is gonna shit!” he
says about his new suit, like a high schooler. If things keep moving in
this direction, Capone may very well become one of my favorite
characters on the show.



And after last week, I think it was good that we had a break from
Nelson Van Alden this week. I had to sit out for last week’s recap, but I
agree with whoever it was that said Van Alden’s rage was brought to the
forefront maybe a little early. We always knew it was there, and the
slow burn could’ve been milked for more tension a bit longer. A break
from the character will do us both well.


JEREMY BUTLER: I
agree with everything that’s been said so far and especially the
overall praise for the episode.  This is the sort of damn good
television that this series needs to be consistently.  If you really
think about it, nothing major in terms of narration happened –
everything was development and setup – but it was…hell, it wasn’t even
a simmer, it was a full-on boil.  We spent a lot of time with a a lot
of characters last night and all of it was juggled with grace and
skill.  I didn’t even miss the characters we didn’t see.  I like that
Margaret is getting the opportunity to round out as a character, instead
of being held up as the Good Girl in Nucky’s world of bad.  It feels
more honest for her to have these little moments of insecurity and
vulnerability and I think when it’s all said and done her arc may end up
being as important as (or not more than) Nucky’s.


I also really like what Graham is doing with his Al Capone, but
Joshua already said it all.  That slap on the tailor’s face was a
perfect little bit of spice to an already flavorful character.  What I
love is that he’s so one-note but that note is pitch-perfect.  And the
fact that we’re only getting the D’Alessio’s in tiny little bursts is
GREAT.  Those guys are already some of the most interesting characters
in the show and their limited screentime just makes you want more.  That
more looks like it promises to be spectacular. 


And Joshua?  Don’t worry – we’ll see Jimmy back in Atlantic City
soon.  Luciano’s not gonna be able to get it up and he’s gonna kill (or
at least very badly hurt) Gillian out of embarrassment and frustration. 
I’m callin’ it now.

ELISABETH RAPPE: Jimmy
is so damn selfish! I initially found him tragic – returning war
veteran, desperate, wants more – but he messed up. Badly. And instead of
accepting any kind of responsibility or at least showing some kind of
maturity…he sulks and takes it out on his wife. Nucky gave him that
wad of money for his wife last week — and Jimmy proved what kind of guy
he was by keeping it. Now we know what he’s been spending it on.
Pearl! 

He’s tragic in the sense that he
literally doesn’t know what he got into – I know the whores and suits
are all to impress his new gang of friends in Chicago. But given what he
did, and the speech he gave to Nucky about being half a gangster…he
KNOWS the world he’s in. I don’t think he knows how dirty and violent it
really is, though, and it’d going to cost him every woman he has in his
life. and maybe a few men, too.

I hate him
because he’s so damn stupid and selfish. Nucky showed him how expendable
he was. It was an embarrassing lesson, but he KNOWS what this world is.
He could have left Atlantic City, found honest work, supported his
family, and counted himself lucky to get out. But he’s playing this
pathetic “poor me, the war, killing is all I know” card while
simultaneously holding his brains over Capone and Nucky. He has this
idea that he’s the smartest man in the room — which belies the poor me
act — and he thinks he can run circles around these wiseguys. And then
they burst his eardrum for a laugh.

So yeah, he’s tragic … But he’s also unbelievably stupid, shallow and selfish and for that I hate him.

NICK NUNZIATA: A lot has been said here which is on the money. This
episode has so much value I find it hard not to totally recommend
the series now that it’s hitting its stride. From the opening moment
where Al Capone showcases to Jimmy just how different things are in
Chicago to the final moments as Atlantic City rubs its tarnish on
yet another citizen the thing just crackles with life. Just about
every major character, except for the underwhelming Michael Shannon
one, are represented very well here. It was indeed good to see Nucky
not only getting some stuff to do, but also show how he turns on a
dime from being self-centered (practicing his speech) to
Machiavellian (working the politicians) to actually losing his
control and showing actual emotion when he spots Margaret at the
party. This is really rich stuff and there’s not an aspect that
falls hollow and while Chalky’s speech is the high point of the
episode credit must go to Gretchen Mol for doing an awful lot with
very little and for the episode’s balance of very subtle and very
overt strokes. I love having Jimmy in Chicago because the absolutely
concussive force that is Al Capone allows for the Atlantic City
material to be more graceful. This show is the best so far,
including the pilot.


JOSHUA MILLER: Nick brings up a good point about Chicago providing a nice dichotomy
with Atlantic City. But having gone down this road with so many shows in
the past, I still can’t help but worry about longterm effects of
Jimmyland in Chicago. So I hope you’re right Butler about this being
fairly short term. I also think you’re dead on with the impotency call.
We already got the set up for it and we already know Lucky isn’t exactly
subtle about his feelings on the limp wiener.



Rappe, there is no denying that Jimmy is an idiot. And your points
are reasoned, yet I still don’t know about the hate. I guess I empathize
with Jimmy. I never bungled any heists or murders (my heists and
murders all went off without a hitch!), but I certainly spent an
embarrassing percentage of my twenties being shamefully immature and
doing stupid things. And I didn’t even have the excuse of being
emotionally scarred by the war or having a disturbingly skanky mother.
Just youth, verve, and stupidity. I don’t think Jimmy knows what he
wants. He’s grasping at straws and making horrible decisions because of
it. Not giving money to his family was shitty, I agree. But it’s also
not like he chose to abandon his family. He clearly has no connection
with his babymama, but was trying to do the “right” thing. He’s just a
fuck up. And I think it’s too early to hate him for it. If he’s still
fucking up so thoroughly by the end of season, then I’ll totally have
your back.


JEREMY BUTLER: I
gotta stand with Joshua on the Great Jimmy Debate.  He’s a dumbass, for
sure, but he’s a punk kid – they’re dumbasses by default.  He has the
added catalyst of being a well-educated dumbass which makes him a smug,
self-assured dumbass.  Granted, all of that sounds annoying on paper but
I think it’s a testament to Pitt that he’s playing it so coolly.  He’s
certainly in way over his head, he just doesn’t realize it yet.  His
entire world has already started to crumble and when it comes crashing
down around him and he finally realizes that it’s all due to the choices
that he made we’re gonna see just who he is and what he deserves from
us.


Also – to go back to Elisabeth’s comment about costumes – I dug the fuck out of Nucky’s purple suit.

ELISABETH RAPPE: Hate may be too strong of a word — I think it’s that I really like
Angela, and I love his little boy, and I’m disturbed that he blew them
off so easily. Maybe I’m a bit of a Margaret and getting too romantic
about men of the 1920s. Here I am saying wow, life really sucked back
then if you were [x], but then expecting that Jimmy will do the right
thing. That’s what old fashioned men did for their families!


I’m a schmuck. ;) 

I
do think he is a lost soul — not helped by the war — and determined
to rebel. I just think he should be a LITTLE more mature than he is. I
would have more sympathy if he tried to get a real job, failed, and had
to go back into crime.

This may also just be
because I’ve known a few Jimmys and been burned. But that’s boiling it
down to gender and I don’t want to do that!


JOSHUA MILLER: My empathy for Jimmy boils down to gender, so I’d say you’re pretty justified.

NICK NUNZIATA: I am not a fan of Jimmy either, but I think that’s
the point. I didn’t like Christopher Moltisanti that much either and
he’s pretty much a fair parallel in that he’s driven, has ambition,
is volatile, and is destined to fail in a very big way if under the
wrong kind of influence or no influence at all. Additionally,
Michael Pitt is not the kind of actor whose work makes you happy.
He’s got a darkness about him that is only made that much more
powerful by his body of work (I mean,
Funny Games alone is enough to
create a thick viscous film of dread over the guy), so he doesn’t
have that capacity for warmth that Nucky has and the show will have
to find golden light in the small corners to keep things from
becoming too maudlin.




But I get what Jimmy is meant to do in the show now, and before I
felt his was just this wild card character to play when things
needed to get messy or when Nucky needed something to make his life
tougher. Jimmy is obviously not going to stay in Chicago but he’s
going to bring bits of Chicago back with him and the possibilities
are quite extensive with that in mind.




Boardwalk Empire has reached full stride now and there are so many
fun places this can go, we can forgive a major or character or two
that doesn’t sit right with us. Like the characters, we need to keep
our head on a swivel too. I don’t have religion, but I have a Sunday
ritual again and it feels kinda therapeutic.