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!

Previous Episodes:
PilotThe Ivory TowerBroadway Limited
AnastasiaNights in BallygranFamily Limitations
Hold Me In ParadiseBelle Femme
—–


Episode 9: “Belle Femme”


“Normally
I’d make I’d make a deal with such a man, cut him in as a partner. But I
find Nucky Thompson to be greedy and unreasonable.”


Renn
Brown: And we’re off… Something about this episode really
felt like the first of the rest of series, for as long as it may run. A
lot of that feeling comes from the fact that we’re getting a lot of
sudden pay-off from everything the show’s built since the pilot, as well
as some definitive moments that demonstrate how these characters are
going to be different than we’d ever expected. Jimmy’s return to A.C. is
chief among these pay-offs, and to see him meeting with Nucky as an
equal to plan the first of his actions was a treat, especially his
condescension and that odd feeling that Nucky needed him more than he
needed Nucky. All of that led to the excellent reversal that was Jimmy’s
arrest, and Nucky’s clear demonstration that he still runs the show,
and Jimmy needs him to operate.


All
of our ladies are starting to show us who they really are, or we’re
finding out what their struggles are going to be. Margaret is no
Carmela-light, passively basking in equal parts luxury and guilt, but
rather she’s latched on to Nucky’s credo that selfishness is not worth
holding against anyone, and tossed her chips into the game of
self-interest. Fuck elegant delights for her child, she’s going for a
$480 dress (which equates to about fifty-two hundred bucks these days,
by the way). I’ve also enjoyed the show’s tendency to let Margaret learn
how to handle her situation with a pattern of her first messing up
these advancements with Nucky, before readjusting and nailing exactly
how to play her station in his life. It’s a much more natural way of
easing her into that world, while playing true to her abused,
survivalist background.


She’s
not the only one though- Jimmy’s return is going to complicate more
than a single little threesome, and whether Angela continues her
“bohemian” lifestyle in secret or abandons it (or abandons Atlantic
City, as the preview suggested she might), the Darmody home life is sure
to be complicated and sexually frustrating for everyone! We’ve added a
new young woman into the mix as well, with illusions of romance with a
rising presidential candidate, while a (m)old character finally gets the
oedipal pay-off the show’s hinted at. Jimmy and Gillian made a great
little team and pretty much had Lucky bare-donged to do as they pleased,
until Van Alden’s genuinely surprising sneak attack. I was half-worried
a
Departed finale was going to break out in the bottom of that stairwell for a moment.

The
show is dialing up the politics and the mob doings for Nucky as an
election and a New York heavy push in on him. Switching out mayoral
candidates, ordering murder… all in a day’s work. Bsucemi’s
getting the meaty moments that let him stretch those character acting
muscles- he’s owning this show.


Time to get some other voices a’going.

Joshua Miller: “…you’re a murderer, Nuck.”

Oh baby. As The A-Team‘s Hannibal would say, I love it when a plan comes together. This was my favorite episode of Boardwalk
yet. Everything hit its mark this week, even perennial disappointment
Van Alden. From the early moments of a frustrated Eli in bed – “How do
you rest your spleen?”  – to goofy Eddie Kessler’s big moment
at the end when he saves Nucky’s life, this episode sung like an angel.
We’ve all been waiting patiently (some of us not so much) for Rothstein
to become truly relevant, and it is finally happening. Forcing his new
goon squad to sign life insurance policies really sums up the creepy
intelligence that the character has always displayed. And we didn’t even
need to wait another episode for the fireworks to come.

I
think Jimmy’s demand that Nucky “say it,” may have been the most subtly
compelling moment of the entire season thus far. I don’t know about you
guys, but I felt very much as though I were Nucky in that scene. I knew
Nucky was a mobster. He had Margaret’s husband murdered after all. He
has lots of people murdered. Yet it was nonetheless jarring to have
Jimmy want the man to out-and-out say the words. Nucky can’t hide behind
his businessman front anymore. Goddamn. What a great scene.

This episode also had possibly my favorite moment between Nucky and Margaret, which was this exchange…

Margaret: I didn’t want you to know how selfish I was.
Nucky: I never hold that against anyone.

Even
Angela’s stupid storyline couldn’t sink this episode. My eyes were
poised for a good old fashioned rollin’ when that threesome scene
started. Everyone in Paris is doing it? Ugh. But the show quickly turned
into that skid when the menage
was interrupted by Jimmy’s return. I’ve suddenly grown to find Angela
interesting now that she’s forced to deal with Jimmy’s awkward attempts
to slip seamlessly back into the role of a family man. Something which
is clearly going to go disastrously wrong very quickly.

And speaking of Jimmy’s storyline – Gillian! What a badass. Playing the long con on Lucky.

And doubly speaking of Jimmy’s storyline – who the fuck is Jimmy’s dad?!?! They really dropped that tease bomb on us.

Elisabeth
Rappe: Like you guys, I found myself (metaphorically) clapping my hands
with glee as the bullets started flying, and things started getting
real.   You can really see them pulling all the
strings together (especially as HBO is like “Let me dump some revealing
promos on you!”) and it’s pretty beautiful and compelling stuff.


I
think the only major misstep so far has been Angela’s
character.  I think I may have said “Oh, maybe she’s involved
in a 3 way, it’s the 1920s!” when we first met the photographer, and I
applaud them for bringing up the Paris bohemians.  But I think I
would have preferred this story to be something that developed
*because* of Jimmy’s absence.  It’s really hard to reconcile
the shy violet that we were introduced to (and who blushed at Gillian’s
“peaches”) with someone sampling the forbidden fruit of the
era.  I wouldn’t have so much of a problem if they hadn’t
presented her as a near virgin who seemed bewildered and horrified by
all of Gillian’s “Go out and get some!” suggestions. It’s just
inconsistent. If it had been done a little better, I would love it, as
it’s made for a slice of the ’20s most people don’t really see. People
know about the champagne parties and Daisy Buchanan, but I don’t think
the greater, non Gertrude Stein reading public realizes how many artists
were throwing caution and bed linen to the winds.


And
speaking of dirty sheets — I guess Norman Bates was right when he said
a boy’s best friend is his mother!  I’m appalled and impressed
all at once.  How does that conversation go down, anyway?
“Maaaaaaa, can you sleep with Luciano for me, and find out all his
secrets?”  “Sure, dear!”  I can’t help but knock Jimmy
(as always) for this, though.  He gets his MOM to do his dirty
work! Other mobsters just beat people or paid people off for info, but
not Jimmy.  What a sleaze. Nevertheless, I’m sort of impressed
with Gillian. She showed some major grit as a gun moll
(mommy?).  If only organized crime was equal opportunity! Who
knows what else she could do?


Same
with Margaret, really. It’s hard to reconcile this Margaret with the
promos from upcoming episodes. She’s hit a point of complacency with
Nucky’s empire that a retreat is going to feel really corny and messy,
but we’ll worry about that when it happens, I
suppose.   She’s so much smarter than the other
mistresses — her look of skepticism and disgust as Harding’s Baby Mama
prattled on and on was a joy to behold — and yet still so touchingly
innocent. Oh Margaret, you think you can just *talk* to Nucky about
things!  No, you have to bat your eyes and make it about
underwear. Seeing her discover her “power” was pretty adorable. I can’t
help but sympathize with her — Nucky sparked to her brains and
political acumen, but he’s only going to let her exercise that to a
point.  This episode brought up an even darker undercurrent to
their offbeat fairy tale. Did Nucky value her brains and spirit for what
they would be over the breakfast conversation, or did he merely think
“THIS is a girl I can use for the ballot box!”?


I’m
almost feeling sorry for Van Alden at this point.  He isn’t
seeing the forest for the trees — or the whole of the snake he’s trying
to chop up.  He missed a major clue in his own department, and
I’d like to think this is because he has no idea how normal people
behave.  It could be that I’ve just seen too many movies of
mob-bought cops, but I feel like that was pretty damn obvious to anyone
BUT Van Alden.  He’s too busy petting that picture of Margaret,
I think.  His confrontation with Jimmy suggests that she has
become a major obsession and blind spot, and the snake will slither
right by as he grabs and rages at air.


Joshua Miller: You did indeed call that threeway. Well played.

Nick Nunziata: But the three-way wasn’t allowed to happen! Damn Jimmy and his bad timing.

I
agree on most counts. This was a very good episode though I was a
little surprised that Jimmy didn’t make protecting his mother the first
order of business upon getting locked up. She’s got to have a massive
target on her head after what she pulled on Lucky and the issue wasn’t
broached.


This
was a great episode for Buscemi, and it’s made even more effective by
its subtlety. There wasn’t anything big or bombastic about Nucky’s ways
here, but so much happened. The show did a great job of balancing
subplots and I don’t mind the Angela subplot because once Jimmy arrived
it set the stage of a nice array of possibilities. Think about it: her
big art dream’s in the shitter and her sexy side mission just had the
brakes slammed. Things are getting more dire for her outlook and you
have to wonder if
Boardwalk Empire is going to be a show where every leading character takes the fall because of how they mistreated their ladies.

One
of the things I love about this show is that I’ll instinctively know
when there’s about ten minutes left in the episode and it seems they
always find a way to really get their hooks in. The attempt on Nucky was
absolutely perfect timing for the show and for the season. Perfect. And
I love that the comedic and put-upon servant saved Nucky’s life and did
it well. I like the character and kept waiting for a scene for him to
shine.


Smiles all around.

Renn
Brown: To shift gears a little bit and do something we haven’t done in
these reviews before (unless Jimmy shows back up before we can get
started, of course)… I wonder what everyone’s reaction would be to
this chart
EW put up, covering all the attributes of Boardwalk that tie it to other HBO series. Any thoughts from this group of brilliant minds?

[click to enlarge]


Elisabeth
Rappe: It IS every HBO show — but I don’t know if it’s fair to pin it
on a network. It’s pretty much every story, ever.  Even ancient
or medieval authors have run with a lot of these themes (civilization
has been decadent and falling since we upgraded to fancier huts), it’s
just that some of the structures have changed.  Instead of the
Greeks, Roman senators or the medieval church as the big organized
villains, we have ethnic criminal organizations.  Who is
Margaret but a modern flapper version of Cressida?  
HBO just has a thing for old-fashioned themes, and probably more than
they truly know. I doubt it ever goes further than “By the creators of
the
Sopranos — and there will be boobage.”

Joshua
Miller: I like the gag behind the chart far more than its actual
execution. Aside from how far they’re stretching to include every HBO
series – I mean, John From Cincinnati‘s connection is the fucking beach? – looking at the chart frankly makes Boardwalk
feel more original than I’d previously thought it was; if that’s the
best people getting paid to make charts at EW could come up with. As
Rappe has previously pointed out, there isn’t gratuitous male nudity,
and I don’t even get the “immaculately constructed boredom” gibe.

Elisabeth:
Haha yeah, I was privately calling bullshit on the male nudity too, but
I know those who saw Lucky’s maimed manhood might still beg to differ.
;) 
Rome
is the only one that was completely 50/50 in the full frontal
department, and the only one where it was historically accurate AND
organic to the stories.  I’m probably showing my “sometimes I
don’t have HBO” side here, but not even
True Blood has topped James Purefoy’s “Yeah, check it! It’s my penis!” moment.

So yeah, eat your words, Entertainment Weekly!

Nick Nunziata: Apparently Spartacus has more dick than Hawaii.

Joshua Miller: Oh yeah, Spartacus was a real dickfest. But Lucy Lawless was naked for like 45% of her collective screen time. So it was okay.

Elisabeth Rappe: Spartacus is ridiculously full of sausage, yes. I couldn’t take the dialogue, shot-by-shot mimicking of 300 or  the “plot” anymore, so  I fast-forwarded only to the naked scenes, and I actually got bored.

It
was basically the Fall of the Roman Empire (and calculated boredom) in a
nutshell. “I am bored with the orgies. What else can you do to
entertain me, slave?” The answer was that they painted Spartacus
gold.  I was like Helen Mirren in
Caligula. “OH! I am intrigued! Let me pause and watch THAT.”

Joshua Miller: So what show were we talking about again? Is this The Walking Dead thread?

Elisabeth Rappe: I don’t know, but I hope Andrew Lincoln has to hastily strip down at some point for fear of zombie goo.

Renn
Brown: That went off the rails quite a bit, but leave it to EW to drag
the conversation to a place of dicks and other assorted nakedness.


Going
back to something that really struck me this episode was Van Alden- I
enjoyed his outburst and confrontation with agent Sebso, I loved his
desperate but subsurface pleasure at arresting Jimmy, his swelling chest
but measured response to administrative praise, and I can not wait to
see his bubble burst when he hears the news about Billy. This indicates
to me that I’ve really thrown in with the bad guys on this one, but how
wouldn’t I with Buscemi firing on all cylinders?


Poor
Lucy really is out of the picture though, isn’t she? I have no doubt
she’ll be back in a big way after that theater epiphany, but she’s been a
plot non-entity since her less than graceful performance in the lobby.
Margaret showed her fangs something fierce in that scene, in a way we
hadn’t seen before and had not appeared again till the Isabella
Rosselli-esque shopkeeper started offering remuneration for children
instead of ambitious ladies.


Joshua
Miller: Erik Weiner, who plays Agent Sebso, bought my old condo at a
clutch moment when I really needed to move and fast. So thanks be to
Erik Weiner. His nickname is “Dragon.” He writes for Robot Chicken. Really nice guy. I’m happy he was finally given something relevant to do. Skol, sir.

As
much, and as vocally, as I didn’t like taking time away from Atlantic
City to be in Chicago, I miss Al Capone a little. Stephen Graham was a
dangerous delight. I loved this episode unequivocally, but I do hope we
aren’t completely finished with Capone for the season. And Renn brings
up another noteworthy absence – Lucy is indeed out of the picture. And
hey, I’ll say it – I miss her boobs. That’s right. I went there. *wipes
tear* I’m only human.

Nick Nunziata: I don’t miss Lucy at all. In fact I think she served her purpose to a ‘T’.

Renn Brown: Weiner is a lucky guy, to get that first classically cold-blooded, quiet hit alongside a picturesque location.

The
lack of Capone is perhaps the sign that the show still has pitfalls it
has to avoid, especially now that it’s accelerating so much of the
central plot-lines. Doubtless Al will show back up in due time in a way
that makes sense, but there’s still a ton of characters for
Boardwalk
to juggle and keep us invested in. Al, Chalky, Lucy… without being
hitched to main characters, there’s always the danger they’ll lose
steam. The show has demonstrated a deftness at weaving characters in and
out though, and on these kinds of series there’s a long tradition of
characters coming in and out of focus in such a way that actually
mirrors real life- rather uncomfortably sometimes.


We’re three episodes out though, and everyone’s got to get their due! Bring on NY vs AC…

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