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!

—–


Episode 5: “Nights in Ballygran”


“I have no patience for games Margaret, nor any interest in them.”


RENN BROWN: With Boardwalk Empire on television, why would you be anywhere else on Sunday night?

Catching
the fourth episode a day late, I was unable to gush about the show’s
sudden shift into high-gear last week, but episode five has brought
enough juice of its own to rave about. While I maintain a few minor
gripes, I’m completely in love with this show at this point- I’m already
dreading the season finale, and we’re not even halfway through! Nucky
has become a true powerhouse lead, and those around him grow more
interesting and complex with every passing scene. This episode in
particular has finally lit the match on the relationships, rivalries,
and outright rancor that we’ve been waiting for- Margaret loudly and
aggressively declared herself to a finally responsive Nucky, while Eli
has shown his ass as the bitter sibling in one drunken swing, and Agent
Van Alden has found the first chink in the bootlegging outfit’s armor
and used it to declare very public war.


Shannon
and now Whigham are scene-stealers, but Buscemi is losing no
opportunity to remind us why he was chosen to lead this show. Nucky
tells Margaret he’s got “no patience for games, nor any interest in
them,” and though he’s got some interest in adding some conflict to a
life that is “complicated enough,” he is constantly demanding that those
around him get to the point, get to the “by the way,” or get to the
“fucking number.” Buscemi plays this impatience for bullshit perfectly.


That
said, I’d still really like the show to get to the fucking point with
Rothstein. I can’t help but think that Winter & co. have a serious
trick up their sleeves having set him up so thoroughly and so
consistently teased us with single scenes, but damn I’m getting more
impatient than Nucky with a Democrat in the room.


So much good stuff to talk about, but let’s get this conversation rolling…

JOSHUA MILLER: First off, let’s get the bad out of the way…

Thus
far my fears regarding Jimmy’s Misadventures in Chicago are coming to
fruition all too soon. What a monotonous and predictable slog that
subplot was. The only dramatic surprise was that Jimmy’s face-challenged
lady committed suicide with a gun and not the Laudanum, as I’d been
guessing the entire episode. Pearl getting disfigured at the end of
“Anastasia” was significantly more dramatic and tragic than her simply
getting killed, because of the context of the episode (ie, her dreams of
giving up hooking to be a movie star). But considering that absolutely
no plot was furthered in the Jimmy storyline aside from Pearl now being
dead, she might as well have been murdered. Then we wouldn’t have wasted
an entire episode working up to her being dead all the same. This is
the sort of thing that is fine (if not expected) on network TV, where
the creators have 22-24 episodes to pad out. But with HBO’s limited
installments, any sense of time-killing is aggravating. And that’s what
Jimmy’s subplot felt like to me – killing time. The ramifications to
Jimmy are all the same. Murder. Suicide. He still sees it as his fault.
It’s not worse this way or anything.


Anyway,
aside from that bit of tedium… fuck yeah! I think all of us who got
our love on with episode four were worried it might prove an anomaly,
but episode five would seem to indicate the quality may be here to stay.
The Margaret vs Nucky power play was fantastic to watch. Just
delicious. Like an armrest-gripping football game, at first I was a
little worried with how team Margaret was playing. I called out
immediately that the Jimmy subplot wasn’t going to go anywhere, and I
was concerned the same might be the case with Margaret’s subplot. Would
the episode just be a zillion scenes of her losing faith in Nucky and
everyone else? But when we see her passively gloating over the
destruction of Nucky’s St. Patrick’s Day party, it all gloriously paid
off like a down-to-the-wire and game winning field goal. The fact that
Nucky fucking shows up at her fucking door and, well, they fuck? That’s
returning the opposing team’s bungled on-side kick for a touchdown after
you already had the game in the fucking bag with that field goal. Pure
icing. This huge forward movement to the Nucky/Margaret story more than
made up for the treading of water in Chicago.


Speaking
of Jimmy. Rappe, how goes your hate? Better? Worse? The Same? Are we to
take it that Jimmy’s babymama WAS in fact having an affair with that
photographer? Clearly there is more info to be had, but that was the
implication I walked away with.


I
loved seeing Shea Whigham finally come front and center. That drunken,
failed punch he throws at Nucky really summed things up for the
character. I’m still kind of waiting on the Van Alden stuff to fully
click (for me). It is getting very close. Van Alden’s violence isn’t
sitting right with me. But I did love his awkward smirk while he watches
the beer spilled onto the streets at the end; the closest this man can
feel to joy. One thing I missed in the episode? I was a little sad we
didn’t get any more of Lucky and Jimmy’s Mom. I want to see where that
is heading.


ELISABETH RAPPE: I was counting down to
Sunday this week.  What would happen to Margaret?  I
had visions of her being fired over the stolen lingerie at the very
least. At worst, the teaser suggested she was going to go tattling to
Van Alden, and possibly put herself into danger. I did NOT expect a
lusty embrace with Nucky. Goddamn!  

What
was kind of funny about this episode’s pacing is that it felt like it
should be watched as one 2 hour episode with “Anastasia.” It seemed to
just not even take a breath between the two.  (Considering this
is the kind of episode I expect as a season finale, not as a midseason
bang, I’m really anxious to see how this is all going to wrap
up.  It’s going to be hard to top this as cliffhangers
go.)   This rush worked well for the Margaret / Nucky
chemistry, but very poorly for the Jimmy and Pearl story. As Joshua
pointed out, that really felt pointless by the end.  
You could see that broadcast from the final shot last week — not her
*method* of suicide, perhaps, but at the very least you knew she’d end
up with a short and drugged-up life. Again, I expected we’d see Jimmy
and Capone out for revenge. This is Chicago!  Aren’t they going
to pull a gun to Sheridan’s knife?  So mopey and pointless.

To answer your question, Joshua — I’m still not fond of Jimmy, though I will say I felt a real stirring of pity this week.
The
story he told Pearl about “the best day” made me realize he is very
much a lost little boy. His descent into Chinatown underlined it. He
wants someone to take care of him, make him picnics, and watch
fireworks. Pearl picked up on this right away; his wife mistakenly
believes him to be a lot more capable.   After our
debate about his aimlessness and immaturity, I wondered if the writers
are using him not as a wildcard, but as a symbol of the war veterans.
WWI was really a precursor to Vietnam in many, many ways and it had a
similar effect on young men. An entire generation was lost, as many of
them came back with severe mental problems. One of my pet curiosities is
WWI poets, and I’d recommend anyone curious about the early 1900s dig
into the work of Robert Graves or Siegfried
Sasson.    Jimmy kind of reminds me of
Graves, who had similar issues with settling down into normalcy and
fatherhood.  I’m seeing Jimmy as someone who is really
emotionally stunted, and part of this forgotten generation who just
fumbled through the rest of the 20th century.   I
certainly hope Jimmy has *some* kind of payoff, but if this is the
historical route they’re taking, I could forgive the
screw-ups.    Color me surprised he was as
patient and caring of Pearl as he was, though. It’s a lot more time than
he gave Angela.

And
speaking of Angela, I am *very* confused. She seems so horrified by all
things Gillian that I can’t believe she’s having an affair with the
photographer — or his wife. Remember her love scene with Jimmy? She
seemed so shy and innocent that I can’t pin her as a free-loving
bohemian. “Empire” has thrown enough wrenches when it comes to love and
sex that I won’t be surprised if she’s nothing more than a model for
them. Maybe that’s all she was, and she’s going to explore more. Again,
there’s a lot of historical material to tap into for her if they want.
The 1920s were a pretty crazy time. It was like the 1960s — a lot of
experimentation went on.  Gillian’s coy hints in that direction
could lead to something quite shocking, and I can’t wait.

I
can’t praise the Margaret storyline enough. My only complaint might be
that she went dark awfully fast, but I think there are plenty of
surprises in store for our girl, so I’m going to hold off. I can’t
believe our little sweetheart went from making Irish soda bread to
throwing down one hell of a gauntlet. Last week was all about the women
who use their sexuality to gain a foothold; this week one woman used her
brains and Nucky noticed. I never thought I’d ever be in the least bit
attracted to Steve Buscemi, or root for Nucky to get the best kind of
girl, but his “I don’t play games” line — wow. Just wow. 
That’s the textbook definition of charisma. 

But
oh, Van Alden is going to be so angry. I’m convinced those gleaming
eyes and square-jawed pleasure at those smashing beer barrels had
something to do with Margaret. Oh, I know he too threw down a gauntlet
(St. Patrick’s Day! Yes, Agent Van Alden, we see your balls of steel)
but I can’t help but think he chose *this* target because she inspires
an equal spark in his eye. I like to think he was picturing her watching
him. What’s he doing to do when he finds out Nucky has her?

And
I’m calling it now — Eli Thompson is going to be trouble. Big, big
trouble. Nucky is insulting him at his peril, and I think he may prove
to be far more of a wild card than Jimmy.

NICK
NUNZIATA: I thought this was a decent episode with some nice progress
that was totally ruined by the ending. Magaret and Nucky showed they
could be interesting sparring partners and the currency they used their
respective stances (Nucky shirking on the bread and she putting a monkey
wrench in the green beer business) was fantastic. To have them come
together this soon was a mistake. I liked seeing them test each other
and themselves a little.


Shea
Wigham rocked this episode and it was about time. The guy is good, but
you know that his story is going to get messy and complicated and it
looks like the seeds have been planted for him to really play a role in
Nucky’s future, and not in the helpful subservient way he has been.


Jimmy
was surprisingly tender this episode, and the end result of that
weakness should lend itself to some violence next week, because where
did that get him? Call me cold but I was thrilled to see the whore
subplot come to a messy and quick end. I have
Deadwood for my Laudanum/Whore needs.

Van
Alden still bores me to tears, and I don’t see what can be done to make
that character a worthy foil to Nucky unless he gets weirder and
weirder with his personal tastes and tangential activities.


I
personally love the Rothstein stuff, and though the conversation about
fixing the World Series seemed more about educating the less informed
members of the audience, I don’t mind the slow burn with the character.
He’s not the ‘big bad’ anyhow.


But I’m loving this show and like Renn am already dreading the finale.

RENN
BROWN: I’m with Nick on the Jimmy sub-plot, I believe they spent an
entire episode methodically and delicately fucking this guy up even
worse emotionally, and I have no doubt he’ll react by setting off
something more deep than a misdemeanor (to quote a poet).


I
must confess that I’m absolutely baffled with my boss’s boredom with
Van Alden, though I also hope he becomes a progressively weirder
character. Agent Nelson could be the show’s best avenue for exploring
the surreal and completely left-turn type of shit that often sets HBOs
shows apart (the dreams in the
Sopranos
come to mind). Even now though, he brings a vaguely creepy fury to
every scene he’s in, and his Steven Wright cadence is the perfect mix of
authority and discomfort. His scenes were very close to being my
favorite in this episode, especially his treatment of the dinner raid,
and the looks he exchanged with Nucky.


I
was shocked to see the Margaret/Nucky relationship hit that point so
quickly, but Nucky’s fortuitous utterance of “my life is complicated
enough” after spurning her soda bread tells me that his impulsive visit
is only going to heighten rivalry and tension. Margaret could only tempt
and observe from the sidelines so long, now she’s a part of things
where real friction can develop.


Elisabeth
nails some interesting points with generational interpretation of Jimmy
and the prediction of strange things to come from Angela and Gillian is
also spot on. This show is creating opportunities for itself to explore
unconventional territory, and I can’t wait for Jimmy in particular to
come back and be forced to tread in it.


JOSHUA
MILLER: I see what Nick is saying about Van Alden. Shannon’s
performance is all that’s keeping me clinging to the character
currently. I’m more baffled by Nick’s displeasure over the leap forward
with Nucky and Margaret. While I’m all for milking a good thing, I don’t
think there was a lot more to be done (with such excellence) with the
Nucky vs Margaret phase of their relationship. The cat was out of the
bag. Nucky could fire her, ignore her, or do what he did. Firing her
wouldn’t get us anywhere, and ignoring her would have been spinning the
show’s wheels. Aside from Jimmy’s expedient rise to Complete Fuck-Up in
the pilot, I think the show has been taking a slow-burn approach to
pretty much every subplot (I’m mostly in agreement with Renn about
Rothstein, in this area), so I’m happy the show made a bold move with
the Margaret storyline. Onwards and upwards!


I
disagree that an entire episode was needed to piss off Jimmy as much as
he’ll likely be pissed off now. If shit hits the fan in the Windy City
next week, I’ll gladly look back at Jimmy’s episode 5 story as a quiet
calm before the storm. But if episode 6 is all about him chasing the
dragon, I’m gonna be pissed. I also agree with everything Rappe was
saying about Jimmy. That was the one good thing to come out of the
subplot – a bit of character clarification.


And
I also have to agree with the sentiment that this is becoming a Sunday
must-watch. To be honest, for the first few episodes after the pilot it
felt a bit like a chore making sure I watched the show in time for our
tag team. Now I’m chomping at the bit, “When is Sunday going to get
here?!”


ELISABETH RAPPE: One thing we do have to keep in mind is that more time has gone by in Boardwalk Empire
than outside of it. It started off at New Year’s, and is now St.
Patrick’s, so everyone has been doing their dance for awhile.
While  I agree with Nick that Nucky and Margaret could have
been milked for another episode or two, I’m confident that the writers
took a leap because they have even bigger rugs to yank out from under
us.  I really thought that knock on the door was from someone
posing immediate danger to Margaret, not Nucky finally giving in to any
emotional or physical need for her.   And it was
Margaret who set the stage for it. Again, I think that is just the most
satisfying part of this episode. She wanted him.  
Again, I would have liked to have seen another episode or two to show
her growing into this knowledge and gaining confidence, but a lot of
that came through in MacDonald’s performance.  She took that
lingerie, stuck her jaw out, and resolved she wasn’t going to be Anna
Anderson any more, dammit!

After
“Anastasia”, I thought Nucky would watch her only to eventually use her
as political currency. I really thought the series would eventually
marry them off with a picket fence as a way for Nucky to legitimize
himself. And that could still happen.  But if Margaret becomes a
Lucy, that can’t really happen.  I’ve got no clue where this
is going, and that’s what I’m loving about this show. I moaned a lot
about it being its first two episodes being too stereotypical, and it
has finally paid off to something I can’t guess.

“Empire”
has proved to be pretty slow burn when it comes to the majority of the
players.  If they’ve advanced one story this much, I think we
can expect more out of Van Alden, Rothstein, and the D’Alessios now, and
we should be scared. Nucky really has something *we* care about, and
I’m afraid he’ll lose it to one of these goons.

I
also think “Empire” has stopped to take some time and piece together a
bigger historical picture. I blabbed a lot about that, but I appreciated
the careful drop of Rothstein and the World Series, and Eli bringing up
the Irish Troubles. I think we’re all history nuts here, so much of
this was just a topping. But for those who aren’t into the subject, I
appreciate a flashy show taking some gentle time to say “Hey, this is
about Prohibition but here’s what ELSE was happening. Here’s the
KKK.  The League of Nations is being talked about. And see, the
same guys that were bootlegging were helping to fund the
IRA.”  Not a lot of entertainment takes the time to show the
little ties of the period they are portraying. They just put some
flappers in as set dressing, and call it good. As a tv show, Empire
has more luxury than a movie, but they don’t HAVE to go into an IRA
tirade.  I’m convinced they do it because they care, though it
probably really means we’ll be meeting some ex-IRA members.

Sunday is definitely THE night of TV, though.  I haven’t even had time to go through a True Blood withdrawal, and I certainly won’t be missing Mad Men thanks to another show that’s pushing all the dramatic and historical buttons.

NICK
NUNZIATA: I think the widow is definitely the key to Nucky’s happiness
and/or downfall, and with his brother being in charge of putting her
husband to sea that’s important chip he’ll be holding onto for later in
the series. I appreciate the historical aspects, though the more
seamless they are the better. This show is at its best when it has a
balance. We didn’t see Capone or Luciano or the nutty family of cons out
to horn in on the action. When viewed in large chunks I have no doubt
this series is going to sing.


The
teaser for next week’s episode looked loaded with big moves, so I’m
perfectly content to endure this little transitional slice of Atlantic
City.



The MESSAGE BOARD ain’t buildin’ no bookcase.