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 6: “Family Limitations”
“Maybe your cunny isn’t quite the draw you think it is.”
RENN BROWN: Boardwalk is quickly proving to be a show that’s not afraid to dig deep into a storyline quickly, or pay off big when they go for the slow burn. For those that thought the Chicago storylines was spinning its wheels, there’s no doubt it gained serious traction this episode with strong character work for Jimmy and Capone as well as flat-out, mob-style problem solving. Jimmy has bounced back from an entire episode of caring for Pearl to become a true-blue gangster, and the previous episode’s investment of time into the character is paying off in the furious looks and righteously vengeful posture Pitt struck here.
The show continues to thrust Margaret front and center, mining her rivalry with Lucy to prove that the women were capable of exchanging the nastiest of venom just as well as the men, even if they choose subtler, more personal modes of attack than a double-barrel shotgun. But while Ms. Schroeder’s verbal victory against Lucy may be sweet, she’s experiencing the cold nights sitting by a quiet telephone amongst the harem all too quickly. There is evidently a ton of story to be told here, as the show has wasted no time or hung over one moment for very long. The show is aiming to satisfy on a variety of levels as various plotlines and thematic underpinnings move at different paces, some speeding along while others simmer. It’s a great formula for a show that plans on sticking around for awhile.
JOSHUA MILLER: You stole the line I wanted to quote, Renn!
This was the first episode where I really enjoyed the Chicago storyline. I thought Jimmy’s slow realization that Capone’s son was def was wonderfully staged, and I loved the tragic, yet vaguely threatening, little look Capone and Jimmy share after Capone sees Jimmy snapping by the boy’s ear. In fact, this episode really showcased for me how Boardwalk Empire excels in its little moments and minor details – Margaret being startled by the ringing of a telephone (a screenwriting 101 moment of show-don’t-telling us that she has never been able to afford a phone before), or the prostitute who tries to get Jimmy to join the party slowly pulling the strap of her lingerie over her shoulder after Jimmy rebuffs her advance. Nuance!
Back to Chicago: I am loving Capone. He just keeps evolving as a character. As I believe Rappe said previously, it is interesting knowing that this Capone is going to become THE Capone someday. The real-life backstory adds a novel context to the character, who would otherwise seem like a complete blockhead who is destined to wind up in a ditch in a future episode (likely shot by Jimmy). The fact that we all know this can’t happen, strangely adds a sense of uncertainty to the proceedings. That said, and as exciting as I found the events of the Chicago storyline here, I still feel this sense of separation from the Atlantic City portions of the series – the heart. All the myriad other storylines eventually lead back to Nucky, much like he wants the new highway to do. The Chicago storyline functions separately. Yes, I’m sure it will all come crashing together eventually, but until then I will feel detached in Chicago, no matter how exciting it gets.
It was strange to see how quickly Margaret jumped into the life of being Nucky’s mistress. There were definitely some amazing character moments in the Margaret storyline – I loved the shit out of the scene with the Temperance leader, culminating in the creepy “Family Limitation” booklet (was she squirting floor cleaner up her “cunnie” as a make-shift morning-after pill later on?), and Margaret asking Nucky’s assistant if Nucky was nice to him; “He is a very good man.” – but for some reason New Margaret (as I’ll call her) felt awkward to me. The long awaited Margaret/Lucy showdown in the dressing room was fun, featuring the instantly quotable aforementioned line, but something did not quite sit right with me about New Margaret’s demeanor. It felt a little forced. But ultimately New Margaret proved short lived, so it doesn’t really matter. We all saw Nucky canceling on Margaret coming, but that final punch to the gut when it is spelled out for her in no ambiguity that she is a “concubine”… that was great. You know, in an awful way.
I had felt myself slowly coming to terms with Van Alden, maybe growing to like the character, but this episode threw all that way. What should be a subplot of slowly boiling tension and looming danger for our “heroes” instead feels completely perfunctory, and worse, uninteresting and kinda stupid. It is a shame to see Shannon going to waste, as he’s the perfect actor for the kind of character Van Alden is supposed to be, but I am simply not enjoying what they give him to do or where the character is going. Flagellation while staring at Margaret’s immigration photo? Come on.
Also, it was great to see the New York storyline finally making inroads. I loved the casual and mannered hostility in the scene between Nucky and Lucky.
ELISABETH RAPPE: After the events of “Anastasia” and “Nights in Ballygran”, things had to take a breather, but I was a little let down by this episode. I almost would have preferred Nucky and Margaret being confined to her moving houses rather than jumping that far into mistressdom. Last week, I was cheering on their sudden hallway clutch, but this week felt a little out of tune with the Margaret we’ve come to know. But perhaps once all is said and wrapped up, this will read like a more natural arc with “Anastasia.” Margaret is STILL a romantic, and despite numerous encounters with Lucy and her frank conversation with Mrs. McGarry, she still believed she and Nucky were something special. If her immigration papers were accurate, she’s been down this road before, which makes it all the more sweet and sad. The modern audience will watch her and think “How the hell can she be this dumb?” (and even I had that moment) but don’t we all know men and women who just keep trying out the same pattern, hoping this time it will take? Margaret isn’t Gillian. Gillian grabs the moment while the peaches are in season, and has given up on the little picket fence, but Margaret is still hoping. Having these two stories play out next to each other was a good contrast. (But what of Angela? I want that answer!)
And yes, Joshua, that IS what she was doing. Good times before the pill. I complained about the medical practices being so gleefully detailed in “The Ivory Tower”, but I actually have appreciated the little details like this. Maybe a little tit-for-tat since we had to watch Lucky Luciano get his more tender anatomy stabbed up.
Actually, I’d like to take the time to mention I’d enjoy a little more balance on the sex front. I’m fine with breasts, but come on. Start stripping some of the men already. Eli Thompson is my first pick. He’s gotten under my skin in a very peculiar way. Must be the uniform.
Like Renn and Joshua, I feel like the Chicago segment was probably the strongest part of this episode. “Empire” does give the Capone story a really eerie quality. There was a little moment early on where Torrio brushed him aside in favor of talking to Jimmy — “Are you smart?” — that had quite the resonance. As Joshua said, in any other mafia show that would signal the rise of Jimmy, and the fall of Capone. But we know that can’t be, and is a lot of fun seeing how Capone will win out in this. I know a lot of people complained that his intro moment was a little cartoonish (I wasn’t one of them), but I think the show has really made an effort to steer clear of that, and show us a Capone we don’t know. The scenes of his home life were oddly touching, and would ostensibly serve to tie him and Jimmy together. But Jimmy has such a knack for screwing stuff up that I fully expect he’ll slap away that friendly hand, and at the most fatal time too.
I have to echo Joshua about Van Alden. We knew he was a bit mad, but he’s veered into a cartoon villain now. My hope when he showed up on Margaret’s porch was that he was going to be an equal temptation for her — that despite his wild Puritanical leanings, he’d be the sort of “good guy” who might appeal to her Temperance Society nature. I feel like we still needed to root for him on some level. It’s easy to do the charismatic gangster, but to have an equally charismatic cop would have torn us up a little as viewers. But this? Ugh. Too much. With all the emphasis on Nucky’s Catholicism (something I fully expect to come up again), it’s just too silly to have a self-punishing Nelson too. I tend to blow very hot and cold on these characters, but I think I’ve joined Nick in the could-care-less camp with Van Alden now.
NICK NUNZIATA: Yeah, Van Alden is a silly gentleman. And now he doesn’t have Steven Wright voice, which hurts most of my feelings.
The big coup of this episode was taking a character I was indifferent about and making him great. Jimmy (and Michael Pitt) won me over big time here, and not because of his terrific moments of cunning and ultraviolence but in the scene at his hotel room when Al Capone stops by to ‘apologize’. Actually the scene at the party leading up to that moment as well. There’s finally a little nuance to the character and he’s finally doing more acting with his eyes than his hair. Jimmy’s become a nice counter to Nucky, and watching how he’s able to get under a legend in the making like Al Capone’s skin one can only wonder what he’s going to bring to Atlantic City with him. A chip on his shoulder or Mt. Kilimanjaro on his shoulder.
It was also a good show for the ladies, whether it be the tete a tete between ladies at the clothing store or the surprisingly effective moments with Lucky Luciano and Ms. Darmody. Better yet, seeing Lucky get put in his place by Nucky and his boys.
I was a little surprised not to see any tension between the Thompson boys, as the last episode seemed to be diving them. Here it’s as if nothing happened (though the brothers I’ve known have had a similar amnesia) and I’ve become somewhat of a glutton for animosity on this show. Overall I dug it and I think Tim Van Patton’s one of the stronger directorial voices on the show so it fits nicely into the mix.
RENN BROWN: I feel like they were trying to continue some of that sibling tension In the argument over the importance of Lucky, but it wasn’t the same animosity driven stuff of the previous episode. More alcohol apparently needs to flow to get more of that dynamic. In that same regard I am eager to get back to the nitty gritty operational aspects of the illicit alcohol system, especially since that will likely involve more Chalky. We’ve seen surprisingly little, and while the jaded distiller subplot has led the way for delights like the opening robbery, I’d love more glimpses of the rum-running and manufacture side of things.
The development of Nucky seems to have settled into slow, piece-by-piece chunks where we get a bit from him here and bit mentioned by someone else there (Lucy’s little moment of insight for example). I like this approach, but I’m eager for more as Nucky is still a relative cipher for being the lead of the show. I’m not surprised, with all of the characters being juggled and the show’s lack of therapy sessions or a similar mechanism to dig deep in large chunks. Haven’t been a ton of pillowtalk monologues like several other characters (including Lucky, who Ms Rappe apparently didn’t notice swinging around town and balancing the nudity scales inch by inch by inch by inch by…). We’ve still got a lot to learn about our Boardwalk Emperor.
JOSHUA MILLER: Having had a day to continue ruminating on this episode between my first blurb and now, I have found that the Margaret portion of the episode left a weak imprint on my mind. As Rappe was getting at, it seems like we skipped a beat. I too dug the way the previous episode surprised us by upping the ante on the Nucky/Margaret relationship, but it seems like we never got to see how that hand played out (to continue my pointless poker metaphor). Personally, I would have liked to see the scene where Nucky suggested this lifestyle upgrade to Margaret – what her immediate reaction was. Then it felt like we were hurrying through the paces of Margaret’s new life. I’m hoping this means the writers have something good they were excited to get to.
I for one liked that nothing was said about the Thompson Bros’ dust-up from the previous episode. As Nick notes, brothers can be like that. And knowing what I know about brothers like that, the fact that they’re both acting like nothing ever happened just means the pressure will continue to build up in Eli and burst out once more in a future episode of drunkenness or high emotion. With worse results, if I know anything about Boardwalk Empire.
And I am juuuust fine with the lack of male nudity. Keep it not coming!
ELISABETH RAPPE: To borrow Joshua’s card metaphor, I didn’t expect this show to play its cards so close to the chest. I feel like it’s loaded with as many puzzles as LOST’s first season. So many characters (Chalky, the D’Alessios, Rothstein, Gillian, Angela) are just gigantic question marks which is pretty amazing now that we’re practically mid season. This is a show about bootlegging, but I have NO idea what anyone is actually doing or getting out of this business (beyond the obvious money, but Nucky’s anxieties suggest it hasn’t become a powerhouse industry yet) and I really love that. I thought the point of this show would be Van Alden versus Nucky, not who the hell Nucky Thompson is as a person.
Something else that bugged me about the Margaret episode was the way all the doubts and scandal were expressed through her awful turncoat neighbor. Margaret IS recently widowed, and while her marriage was a lousy one, I’m surprised that she just jumped right into Nucky’s bed. She wasn’t exactly starving. She did have a respectable job, and there was no indication that she was in danger of losing the house. (In fact, I have to give props to the writers for not making Nucky the kind of guy who would secretly arrange a foreclosure so she HAD to come live with him.) So it seems surprising that she would toss caution to the winds a mere six months after meeting Nucky. Hell, she knows deep down that he killed her husband! This isn’t a story angle you can really reverse on, so I hope its frantic propulsion will be rewarding and not eye-rolling.
And one naked Steve Buscemi does not equal ALL of the boobs. Not by a mile. Equality now!
RENN BROWN: I thought I was already being blatant but Buscemi’s elbow-censored ass was nothing compared to Lucky Luciano’s free-swinging man cock.
And is six months really that quick of a window in which to make an emotional, genital-fueled romantic decision?
ELISABETH RAPPE: I must have blinked and missed Lucky’s ever-present friend. But come on! I’m talking about pecs and ass more than penis flashes, especially considering all the beautiful boobage that’s lounging for a good 10 minutes at a time.
Six months is kind of quick, especially in age of sterner morality, and considering marriage and children are involved. Margaret isn’t Gillian, after all, and our introduction to her was as a frowning temperance campaigner. I don’t see her as the kind of woman to take anything very lightly. It’s one thing to make some soda bread for Nucky, it’s another to be playing the kiss-the-button game, you know?
JEREMY G. BUTLER: I just wanna pop in and say that I really, REALLY hate that I missed this episode as this looks like a discussion I’d adore taking part in. Carry on!
NICK NUNZIATA: Speaking of swinging dicks, I have to say that I really liked the lighting in this episode.
RENN BROWN: Nick makes an excellent point. It’s worth nothing that the show continues to be stunning. I’ve expected nothing less than the best looking show on television, and Boardwalk frequently maintains that standard.
I remain shocked that I have to, but I’ll continue to go to bat for Van Alden. He’s every bit the sick son of a bitch I was hoping for, and I fully expect that to manifest in increasingly bizarre and fun ways. A tussle between him and Nucky for Margaret would have been as unbelievable as it would have been stale, from where I sit. There’s no chance that creepy bastard could have competed with the powerful, rich, and charismatic Thompson, at least not without Margaret being a very different character than she is, evidently. The self-flagellation thing makes sense as a Van Alden hobby and, despite silly ass movies loading some baggage onto it with their melodramatic portrayals, it’s a thing that happens among those types. The show can’t coast on that kind of known-quantity crazy though- I expect the unexpected with him, and the show will need to deliver.
JOSHUA MILLER: I will agree that a Van Alden/Nucky/Margaret triangle wouldn’t have been very interesting, or plausible, given what a creepily unpleasant weirdo Van Alden is – not to mention it seems clear that Margaret is into bad boys (based on the two men we’ve seen in her life). I have enough respect for the talent involved in Boardwalk to be optimistic that eventually Van Alden will bring the fireworks, as far as the plot is concerned, but thus far he remains a major misfire as a character for me. I wasn’t that bothered by the known quantity baggage of the flagellation scene – after all, this whole show is wading waist deep through very familiar mob movie/TV territory already, and I’m mostly fine with that – so much as I am just not digging the religious bent they’ve given Van Alden. I get WHY the show is doing it, but I find it both unnecessary for the greater story and frankly uninteresting.
I really don’t remember seeing Lucky’s dick. Maybe after watching Starz’s Spartacus I’ve simply become immune to male nudity.
NICK NUNZIATA: I don’t care what kind of nudity they want to show
just so long as it’s not the focal point. At times it’s seemed as if
in lieu of violence they substituted sex. The show is better than
relying on either crutch, though the violence often helps define
where a crime show fits in. I’m not sure if Boardwalk Empire is
going to be one of the really key stories but it feels analogous to
Once Upon a Time in America thus far.
When the show is clicking it moves rather well from scene to scene
and doesn’t dwell too long. This isn’t a show where you can camp out
with a character for a long stretch, and once the writers really
find out who the real main characters are and balance them just a
tad better a very good show will be great.