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!
Previous episode reviews:
Episode 7: “Home”
“You may think you’re king, but you’re not worth a goddamn.”
Nick Nunziata: This is definitely not the episode you want a new viewer
to join the show on. This is a nice intimate little story that reveals a
little more about Nucky’s family life but not a good selling point for
the show unless you’re knee deep in it. Unless you’re a sucker for
half-faced snipers that is, then you’ll be in Heaven.
This is an episode about little character moments. For Nucky. For the
Commodore. For Chalky. For Margaret. A lot of nice little moments and
then some amazing stuff with Jimmy Darmody to balance it out. He’s now
my favorite character and the one given the most shading and Michael
Pitt has seriously stepped up his game in the past three episodes,
feeling more like a man than a boy and giving the show much-needed
aggression. That said, I felt a little let down when the end credits
came up, almost like I’d watched half an episode.
Elisabeth Rappe: This was definitely a “lightweight” episode of Empire. As Nick said, we
had some great character moments. Everyone was shaded in a little more,
and I’m certain many little things we saw and heard will pay off
throughout the season. But as a narrative whole it felt as if it was
lacking. If there’s a downside to Empire, it’s that it often feels like
it’s holding back the big guns for later, which is great for a movie,
but kind of dangerous for television. (Visions of Rome and Deadwood
dance in my head.)
To connect with one of my criticisms last week
about Margaret and Nucky — something a lot of readers didn’t agree
with — was echoed a little in this one. Margaret had another chat with
Henry’s girlfriend, and while she indicated she was nervous about this
new role, she was pretty chipper. “I AM fond of him.” Empire was
doing great with a slow simmer of their attraction, and while I loved
the late-night encounter, I feel like the show is TELLING us now instead
of SHOWING us. That’s what makes the Margaret “Oh, ok, you can just set
me up as your mistress” turn a little startling. We were getting so
much out of just little glances and stolen lingerie that this new leap
feels a little forced. “Home” helped, but it also served to tell us
what we already knew: Nucky is attracted to Margaret because she’s got a
depth to her beyond sex. She’s someone he can tell his troubles to,
though she very nearly fumbled that. The specter of Lucy’s fate was
hanging over this in more ways than one.
And speaking of ladies
— now we know what Angela was up to and I almost feel disappointed for
guessing it. If there was a character reveal that may have rang false,
it was this one, probably because we just haven’t seen that much of
Angela. It’s hard to reconcile the shy girl Jimmy was buying presents
for, and trying to be intimate with during naptime with this relaxed,
tipsy lesbian. I guess the seductive photo was a clue that she came out
of her shell for someone at the photography studio, but it just didn’t
play well for me. It was pretty sexy though, and interesting that the
most touching display we’ve seen yet is between two women, and not
between Nucky and Margaret!
I’ll happily be in the minority and
say I didn’t care for Jimmy’s chapter, and I still don’t like Jimmy. I
appreciated this episode for its sheer gruesomeness and sadness with the
WWI veteran, but the payoff felt like Jimmy passing the buck again. Oh,
I’ve made this deeply disturbed friend, now I’ll use him to avenge
Pearl instead of doing it myself. He makes speeches. That’s it. Everyone
else pulls the trigger for him, and it’s maddening, especially for a
And when are the D’Alessios going to do
something already? Enough with the plotting! This subplot is in danger
of becoming grating instead of a lurking menace, though if the previews
and Luciano’s appearance are any indication, we’ll finally get a payoff.
Joshua Miller: I actually liked this episode quite a bit, for all the
little moments. That said, it was all over the place and certainly
disappointing in parts. A lot of wonderful little set-ups, followed by
bland pay-offs. While extremely diverting, I enjoyed Jimmy’s struggles
with his leg and his uneasy feelings about being a mentally disturbed
veteran. Jack Huston’s performance as the half-faced sniper was
fantastically subtle and creepy. But I’m completely with you Rappe about
the lame pay-off for the final confrontation scene with Jimmy and
Pearl’s attacker. It reeked of staginess for the sake of being stagey
and “cool.” It was so much more interesting that Jimmy was going to let
the guy go, after his speech about how being left alive can be the real
punishment. I also found the Jekyll & Hyde score distracting when it
started over the scene of Huston putting away his gun, as it just made
me think of Phantom of the Opera (cause of Huston’s half-mask). Was that
I also loved the set up of Nucky’s relationship with the family
house. The scene with Nucky and Eli in the kitchen was the kind of
nuanced execution I expect from the show – Eli nostalgically fondling
some old ribbon of his, while Nucky bitches about the unused toaster.
Then things quickly spiraled into hamfisted territory – like Nucky
seeing a childhood memento burning in a barrel as he’s told “Oh, that’s
just stuff your father said to burn.” Come on, Boardwalk Empire. You
can do better than that.
I’m also with you Rappe on Margaret. Misfire after misfire here. The
only parts that work for me in these New Spunky Margaret scenes are the
quiet moments when she realizes how awful her life actually is. Like
when he new mistress cohort says to Margaret’s daughter, “Look at those
curls. Why you’ll have no trouble getting a man at all.” You can
practically read Margret’s crushing moment of clarity there, of her
daughter’s potentially sad future of needing to rely on the whims and
fancies of men for her security in life.
It was great to see Chalky again, although this was another instance
of a lame pay-off, when he confronts Nucky about what he presumed was a
test of his loyalty. That was it? That seemed like it should come
halfway into an episode, followed by at least one or two more scene. It
does indeed feel like the show is holding back. As it was, Nucky merely
existed in this episode to introduce another real-world cameo, Meyer
Angela the lesbian bored me to tears. If that’s all she’s going to get up to, they might as well not show her at all.
Elisabeth Rappe: I was going to call the Phantom of the Opera moment out as well, Joshua — I do
think that was deliberate and that it was really, really tacky to boot.
Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart, but I thought the forgotten, disturbed
veteran angle was one of the best things they’ve delivered in the Jimmy
chapter. The Huston character was just one of those sad reminders of
how a lot of guys have came home (and continue to come home) as mangled
people who can’t fit back into society, especially in an pre-politically
correct era of freak shows and the like. To camp it up with that
soundtrack cue really undercut what I thought was the message. Empire is
basically saying “Yeah, this guy IS a monster!” instead of taking the
high road. I suppose there’s some hamfisted analogy of how war makes
men inhuman, as evidenced by Jimmy’s “Killing’s all I’m good for!”
speeches, but to actually sell that message with a disfigured character
is pushing it into territory I don’t approve of.
Nick Nunziata: The Phantom moment is as heavy handed as the show has ever
been but the character is a terrific addition (if they keep him and
I really hope they do as all shows could benefit from a disfigured
sharpshooter) but it was probably intended to bring levity to a
rather maudlin episode.
I agree about the lesbian stuff. Angela’s not a very interesting
character as it stands and it would have packed a bigger punch had
she been shacking up with the photographer but this feels very
abrupt and inconsistent. The sad truth is that the two most
interesting female characters are Lucy and Gillian and it appears
Lucy’s days are numbered considering how she was handled here.
Gillian’s a wild card and since it appears the Lucky Luciano romance
may be less resonant that initially planned, she too could be kept
in the periphery.
I like that the Commodore us getting antsy. I like that Jimmy is
becoming at least a co-lead of the show. There’s a lot to like, and
the way he handled the man who ruined his whore was actually fresh
which for a gangster show is saying something.
The lack of Rothstein and Capone hurt but the D’Allessio gang is a
Van Alden? I’m just about done with him.
Joshua Miller: Speaking of the D’Allessio gang, I’m amazed a how long
Doyle (and his goofy hyena giggle) has stuck around as a character.
After the pilot I would’ve guessed he’d be dead or otherwise worked off
the show by now. I too am digging this new crew (always fun to see Max
Casella weaseling his way around), and hopefully this casino job they’re
planning will have some fireworks. I continue to have kind of an
involuntary eye-roll every time they introduce a historical figure on
the show (especially after we’ve already formed a small opinion on the
character – that’s a little cheesy), but considering the real-life
connection between Meyer Lanksy and Lucky Luciano, I also assumed he’d
show up one of these seasons.
I’m kind of hoping Van Alden dies. As the Sopranos proved, a show
about criminals doesn’t necessarily need a strong police/government
antagonist – other criminals more than suffice to supply needed tension.
Though it now seems like Van Alden may turn out to be the catalyst to
finally link up our Atlantic City and Chicago storylines. I really have
no guesses for how our fractured narratives are going to dramatically
slam back together, but I really really hope they do. Part of my is
nervous they won’t though, that the season will end with Jimmy still in
Chicago. My big fear is that this season will have the structure of a
latter Sopranos season, where the show huffs and puffs and postures like
something big and explosive is going to happen, but ultimately 50% of
our storylines never tie together or go away where, or they limp into
the following season to again ultimately go no where. Given the pedigree
of the writing staff I don’t think this a pure paranoia either.
Normally one can count on a show not being comfortable enough in its
first season to dick around, but Boardwalk got itself renewed while the
pilot was airing, so I think these guys feel pretty safe. That’s just me
being glass half empty though. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some
big fireworks in the next handful of episodes.
More Commodore is always welcome.
Elisabeth Rappe: I don’t think Lucy and Gillian are the most interesting female
characters — I still love Margaret and I think she will have surprises
in store for us, especially with Van Alden sniffing around. At least
she’s a character who thinks about her situation in appreciable
ways. I don’t think Lucy will be more than a gun moll or a snitch if
anything. Gillian is still a big mystery but I wouldn’t rule out
something awful happening to her as a result of Jimmy’s mischief.
also wouldn’t *entirely* rule out Angela, although the previews
suggested she might just tidily disappear so that Jimmy’s plot can
advance without the hassle of a wife and child. I’ll be sad about that
because I love their little kid!
Overall, I don’t have a TON of
complaints with the show. It’s been batting pretty damn strong,
although Joshua’s Sopranos prophecies worry me. Different writing team,
but True Blood did the same thing this season, and it’s a frustrating
trend around tv in general to keep delaying the payoffs. I’m patient, I
appreciate a slow burn, but I don’t want to be left dangling with a show
that doesn’t punch me.
Joshua Miller: Lucy the snitch. I wonder if Van Alden will get his hooks into her, and spite will turn her against Nucky.
Nick Nunziata: The great thing is that we’re going to be wrong a lot more times than right and it’s obvious that this show has already set its hook pretty deep in us. See you next Sunday.