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 8: “Hold Me In Paradise”
“It’s not the money. We’re under siege”
Renn Brown: Following a fantastic episode that was equal parts character building and plot moving-and-shaking, we have another episode that lays the groundwork for huge events. Despite removing Nucky from his familiar environment of the Atlantic strip, we see him at his most cunning and politically proficient, involving himself deeply in the presidential nomination. Anyone who made it past 1st grade in an American school, or ever looked over one of those rulers with the presidential portraits printed on the side should know that this will turn out very well for Nucky.
While Nucky is rocking and rolling in Chicago, events back home are no less lively, even as Eli grows frustrated with an empty waiting room when he’s in charge during Nucky’s absence. Van Alden makes a big decision about supporting his currently-barren wife, as we discover he’s been holding back the cash Jimmy routinely sends to Angela (whose financial situation grows increasingly grim). Rothstein girds his loins for the investigation into the World Series he fixed, while silently moving in on Atlantic City via Lucky and a casino robbery that is declarative of nothing short of war. It’s a war that Nucky may not be prepared for, and his worries lead to an offer that should see Jimmy back in his place at Nucky’s side, ready to bring the mob mentality back to the Boardwalk.
Boardwalk Empire continues to mix large-scale stage-setting, low-key character moments, and in-the-present plot developments in an extremely satisfying way. I’ve loved the last few episodes and find myself unabashedly giddy every Sunday night.
Does the rest of the CHUD mob agree though?
Joshua Miller: Oh, baby. This episode sizzled. I can’t tell you how happy I am that my doomsaying last week about the Chicago storyline (ie, it potentially getting drug out all season and even into the next) turned out to be wrong. When its all said and done I may still have some negative words to say about our time spent in Chicago, but everything about the way Jimmy is coming back – and what he’s coming back TO – went off like gangbusters. First off, I really thought they might have killed Eli. That was a well earned scare, and while I’m extremely glad he didn’t die, it would have been an fittingly dramatic way to send him out. When Nucky leaves Atlantic City, shit goes to shit. (Aside: I kind of want Eli’s bizarre “I got shot” groan as my new ringtone.) And the reveal about Jimmy’s letters and the money he had been sending all-along was also a well earned twist (Rappe, how goes your Jimmy impressions?). They did a lot with a little Jimmy in this episode: in particular the moment when he realizes Nucky is maybe right about the Italians never truly accepting him (as he stands there, unable to understand the words being said in the Italian card game), and of course that final phone call with his mother – “Maybe it is time you come home.” I think this episode really presented how Jimmy isn’t Boardwalk‘s Christopher Moltisanti. While both are the young protege of our lead, and Jimmy showed early signs of being a stupid fuck-up, unlike Christopher, Jimmy has a skill set. Christopher was always struggling to find his purpose, or even just something he was good at. Nucky knows Jimmy is good at something: war.
Boardwalk finally delivered a surprise with Van Alden too! We all called that he was going to take that money for his wife’s surgery the moment the surgery was mentioned. “Of course,” I thought with a subtle eye-roll, Van Alden gets sucked into the system too. Zzzz. I hope he whips himself some more. But wait! While him giving the money to Angela and telling his wife “God says tough shit about your broken tubes” doesn’t exactly retroactively solve a single problem I’ve had with the character all season, it at least was a fun bit of slight of hand. We also now officially know Val Alden is the consummate foe for Nucky. He can’t be bought off. In this episode Van Alden was really getting set up as a true nemesis, as he too has been given issues over not having children.
It’s hard to go wrong with dropping Christopher McDonald into anything, especially when he is the catalyst to see Nucky wheel-and-deal like a champ. Its great that we’re already closing off some threads in the season, like Nucky’s relationship with Senator Douche. Tension went through the roof in this ep – the walls are closing in and it doesn’t feel good (which, of course feels great!). I continue to not really understand what the show wants me to take away from the Margaret storyline, but I guess she’s just Nucky’s “legit” lady now. Margaret’s palm to the face scene with Lucy rather definitively let us know that there is no precarious love triangle with Margaret/Lucy/Nucky anymore. Lucy is out; cut off. And Margaret has no sympathies about it. This time when her fellow concubine friend made her standard comment about “it’s being a mistress awesome?!” Margaret didn’t even flinch. She’s accepted and is diggin’ it. Yet now she’s read the ledger. Will it be too much for her?
PS – I want the fly red suit Nucky wore in Chicago.
Elisabeth Rapper: I have to concur with Renn & Joshua, a great episode all around. Empire has been stingy with the violence thus far, but now it came in with a bang, and to a character we actually are attached to. Say what you will about Eli (and I know my affection for him is a little sick) but at the very least, you’re used to having him around. I’m not surprised he survived — this guy has more trouble up his sleeve — but he’s going to be out of action for awhile and I can’t wait to see what happens when he comes back with his blood up. For that matter, I can’t wait to see what Nucky does in response. Do we have any predictions as to who in Nucky’s empire might have sold him out? Were all the usual bagmen tipped off, or was it a sheer coincidence that Eli blundered into a bullet?
I’m fascinated with the fertility theme that’s been running under Empire since episode one. Nucky has a rather adorable obsession with women and babies. Yes, he zeroed in on Harding’s girl for her political value, but there’s always an undercurrent of longing whenever he spots a pretty mommy. It’s what helped drive him to Margaret, and I suspect this girl *could* end up being a rival for her if she’s not particularly careful. She’s in Atlantic City now, and I don’t think she’s going to leave any time soon.
Not content with just giving Nucky a fatherly twist, Empire now gave us his dark and twisted twin in Van Alden. Van Alden is drawn to motherly types too — see: Margaret and a well-used belt — but whereas Nucky would spare no expense, Van Alden looks to the Almighty. While I wasn’t a fan of his Opus Dei bent, I find his take on religion equally terrifying and hilarious. He has a drawerful of money and a cure for infertility in his hand, and he could have interpreted the signs in his favor. But no. Look to the Bible, wife, while I reward another mother for her good bounty by returning her rightful belongings to her. This is going to spin into something even creepier, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
And speaking of “the various shades of motherhood”, I also found myself having a healthy respect for Gillian in this episode. She did whatever she had to in order to give Jimmy a good life, even if that meant shacking up and dancing naked, and her pursued lips of grandmotherly disapproval were a beautiful thing. I respect Angela’s aspirations but it’s a tough world out there, and a girl has to take care of herself. Gillian and Margaret figured that out long ago, and I suspect poor Angela is due for a rude awakening.
Then again, who knew Margaret was due for one? I thought “Nights in Ballygran” had basically outlined to her what Nucky was, and she didn’t care, being “a practical woman and all.” Envelopes of money, a dead husband, barrels of beer, drinking parties — you’re telling me the well-read parlor maid DIDN’T add two plus two? It’s awfully cheap of the writers to pull her back from the precipice of crime, especially after the delicious Lucy smackdown.
Josh, I still don’t like Jimmy but I can at least respect where he might be going. His petulance was well-deserved — Nucky did treat him like shit — but the half-faced gunman in the corner also makes me wonder how much he’ll pass the buck. I can’t help it! I don’t trust him not to be a lazy ass, relying on someone else to dress him up, so he can screw something up. He had this chance once before with Nucky, and he blew it. Can he be smart this time? I don’t know.
Nick Nunziata: I agree about Van Alden. It was good to spend some quiet time with him and his barren broad. Little grace notes always work better than thundering bursts and though I agree that the character hasn’t even come close to being a worthy co-lead or adversary they’re doing a good job of making his eccentricities and tactics interesting. He needs to pick a voice and stick with it. I’d prefer this episode’s voice. Stephen Wright is so 1987.
There was a lot to like here. A lot of choice development for Nucky, and it’s funny that Eli’s main value is as a catalyst. While I don’t like the Margaret subplot much at all (I think I’m going to really hate her later in the series if she becomes as dangerous as I think she’ll be), she’s an incredible x-factor right now. Especially when Nucky entrusts her with pretty much everything, which if this were a two hour movie would have sent us screaming into Act Three’s main conflict.
Gretchen Mol is getting a lot of mileage with very little and I hope they don’t downplay the sexual tension with her and Jimmy ever.
Also, I sort of love the goofy cop crony of Eli’s. “Get me a cup of coffee!” was Eli’s big masterstroke and the dude complied like a champ.
Renn Brown: Jimmy’s prodigal return to Atlantic City is going to be a so much fun to watch. We’ve gone 8 episodes watching him become his own violently efficient man, and Nucky’s proposition was timed perfectly. Rappe’s fear that Jimmy is going to be anything but a dirty-handed direct enforcer is strange, as the show has gone out of its way to establish him as a quick-thinker who isn’t afraid to put a gun in someone’s mouth and punctuate his one-liner with spattered brains. His recruitment of the half-faced man with the voice of dry concrete seems to me less a way to avoid getting personal, as a way to bring more precision to the violence of his already crafty plans. I assume from this point we’ll go from having a split narrative between Atlanta City and Chicago, to something of a much larger picture full of incestuous politics and mob rivalries. I’m curious to see how Chicago takes Jimmy’s departure, and if the friendship can remain on friendly terms.
Margaret is an interesting character to watch, as it still seems she’s progressing towards her place in the series. Both her and Jimmy have reached turning points, and while we can be fairly certain that Jimmy will come take his 5%/10% split to do the wet-work of Atlantic City’s illicit emperor, Margaret’s choices are less clear. She’s gotten the taste of the life, gotten a real measure of who Nucky is, and is now faced with the gears behind the life she’s started to live. Naturally she knew he was a involved in the booze world, but to faced with the fact that he stands at the very top is another thing, and by seeing those numbers and doing anything other than run to Van Alden makes her complicit. I expect much more than another guilt-plagued Carmela figure from Margaret and look forward to seeing what kind of force she becomes in Nucky’s life.
I’m surprised by how much pleasure I take from the political conniving in the show, and like Josh it was a joy to see Christopher MacDonald pop up as a campaign manager that I hope sticks around. It’s a treat to see Nucky at the top of his game, switching allegiances in the most beneficial way possible, always seeming to be in the right. It’s no coincidence that this skill of Nucky’s was played up at the exact time that violence and brass-balls ruled the day in Atlantic City. Even while Nucky games the system at the highest points of power in the free world, he’s going to have to learn to clean up the backyard.
It’s a shame we only have four hours of this great show left for the year…
Joshua Miller: Oddly enough I feel like Jimmy’s recruitment of Ol’ Half-face was an act of compassion. By allowing Half-face to snipe for him, he was giving the poor bastard purpose again. Both he and Jimmy are effectively lost in regular civilization; violence gives them focus and direction. So I’m expecting (hoping) for some deadly fireworks once Jimmy returns to Atlantic City and brings Half-face with him.
I imagine things must inherently go south for Jimmy, re: his relationship with Chicago. If not for hurt feelings over his departure, I have to assume the coming Irish vs Italians war that is brewing is going to put them on opposite sides of the field.
Elisabethe Rappe: I’m being schizophrenic when it comes to Jimmy — wanting him to take initiative and deriding him when he does. Jimmy IS a soldier. He follows orders. I shouldn’t fault him for waiting to take orders from Torrio when it came to Sheridan’s gang. He’s fine if he’s on a good leash.
Even then, though, he ALMOST fucked that attack by slipping the knife out of his boot. I don’t think he can be trusted. If Nucky can keep him following orders, Jimmy will be lethal. But I fear he’s going to start getting caught up in how smart and awesome he is, and pull a stunt like he did in the pilot. Sure, he makes speeches and punctuates them with violence — but find me a moment where he was effective doing that on his own. He is only badass if he has Capone or Half Face with him, and even then he flirts with disaster merely by being Jimmy.
I have to be the devils advocate and counter the Jimmy love. It helped that he hadn’t completely ditched his family obligations but it’s going to take a major moment of cool for me to like him. I still see him as a petulant screw up.
Joshua Miller: I do think you’re right in predicting Jimmy will fuck something up again. We can’t forget that the show’s writers chose to have Jimmy majorly fuck things up in the pilot (so majorly that it set off an entire season’s worthy of subplots). That says plenty about their intentions for the character.
Nick Nunziata: One thing I’m wondering is if the schizophrenic array of potential adversaries for Nucky are going to eventually be pared down a little. Chalky is starting to get irritated, Van Alden’s out there on top of Luciano and Rothstein, and assorted other folks and then there’s this wildcard D’Allessio bunch. I don’t like the idea of those characters existing just to serve as a catalyst. Eventually they have to be outed, and when they do I think people who haven’t felt this is as connected a mob epic as some of the greats will be rewarded.
As it stands I’m loving the show and I look forward to Sunday nights like I haven’t since Journey implored us to ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.