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 10: “The Emerald City”

“I came to save you– not from prosecution, but from the fires of hell that will surely await you, should you fail to repent.”

Renn Brown: Another great episode of Boardwalk as the show continues its high-gear grind towards the finale. Two characters we’ve been begging for more of -Chalky and Rothstein- get increased screentime, while the show proves that it’s not fucking around when it comes to cold-bloodedness (or sex scenes for that matter).

It feels to me like they packed a ton of development for all of the major strands in this episode, much more densely than they have before. Al Capone and the Chicago gang get their due- Al is finally ready to become the mob figure with which we’re all familiar it seems. Van Alden has finally been backed into a corner, and after a failed outright attempt to engage Margaret, his slip into corruption may end up leaving him with his best weapon to go after Nucky. Jimmy and Angela show a brief glimmer of romance before all hell breaks loose, and we see the depth of Jimmy’s darkness in more ways than one.

This was episode was another that focused on building up those that surround Nucky. That said, Nucky’s presence during some of these scenes spoke volumes- Buscemi has a delightful way of just…. watching the violent events that occur around him as if he didn’t completely orchestrate them, and he even got his moment to shove Mickey Doyle around. If there’s any moment or expression from Nucky this episode that’s worth noting though, it’s that face of sheer joy as Margaret handed the podium over to Bader.

What is likely to be everyone’s favorite moment though? Chalky paying-off the pure menace he showed during his speech to the KKK head, with the cold-blooded, bare-handed strangulation of a honky with poor word choice.

Joshua Miller: Nucky does indeed watch. I thought it said a little somethin’ about the two men that Nucky looked on with a mildly disagreeable expression as Chalky choked that goon, while Jimmy the cold-blooded badass looked completely away.

I like that the show has me guessing with Margaret at this point. I really can’t say what she is going to do at any moment. I thought there was some chance that she was going to try and blow things for Nucky once she was up at the podium. But it was so much more interesting that she didn’t. She got into that shit, only having her glimmer of guilt/doubt after Nucky failed to make eye contact with her afterward – which she clearly wanted him to. It seems that ignoring Margaret will likely be Nucky’s failing in the long run, much as it is rapidly proving with Lucy. Cause when he applies some attention, Margaret is patently corruptible. Oh, why not have some champagne Margaret? Oh, it’s not technically lying if you’re serving the greater good, Margaret. He just can’t let her have those quiet moments alone to think. I thought that final bit with her looking in the mirror and “not recognizing herself,” call-backing to her conversation with half-faced Richard Harrow, was a little one-the-nose, but the point was taken.

Speaking of Harrow, I JUST realized that he’s part of the Huston dynasty. Quite the gene pool Walter Huston had.

I believe I’ve said this before, but I never would have guessed at the beginning of the season that Doyle would still be around in episode 10. I love his smarmy presence, and his Dr. Giggles-worthy signature snicker, and the way Nucky and Jimmy are just openly hostile towards him. Like Jimmy spitting into his drink and then practically dropping the full glass in his lap. I’m still not expecting him to live until next season. Though before I thought Nucky would be his cause of death, now I’m expecting it will be Rothstein.

We all saw Jimmy’s violent freak out at the photography store coming, in some capacity. I thought it was a bit predictable that he didn’t pick up on the lesbianism, but it seems Boardwalk still has some surprises up its sleeve with the subplot – Angela moving to Paris maybe. I remain fairly bored by Angela’s own story (her screen-time without Jimmy), but I really liked that scene with her and Jimmy in the apartment while she was painting. We – and Angela – were getting a brief glimpse of Jimmy as he was before the war, I think, before being violently reminded of the man he has become.

If there was something more fucked up in this episode than Chalky choking a man, it had to be Van Alden’s attempt at smiling at Margaret. Jesus. What a creepshow. I loved that scene, and I loved why it went wrong for Van Alden. He might have been able to work some magic on Margaret, as guilt has been boiling up inside her, but he needed to stay professional. He blew it with that smile. Shit got personal and emotional and he scared her away. While I was greatly enjoying desperate Van Alden, I was hoping the show wouldn’t go the easy route and have Van Alden fall into the gutter like he did. That felt like the obvious solution for getting Lucy involved, and it impugned pretty much the only character detail I had grown to like about Van Alden, which was his staunch incorruptibility (after he gave Jimmy’s money back).

And it was fun to get a bit of Jewiness thrown into the mix. What an delightfully oddball way for Capone to become a man.

Elisabeth Rappe: So much happened in this episode that I feel like I’m on overload with it. Where to begin?

How about Van Alden? I think he’s been one of the biggest surprises of this show for me.  The promos painted him as the usual detective figure of these mafia stories — strong, capable, grim, a formidable adversary for Nucky.  But he is the complete opposite of that, and while I still feel the Opus Dei angle was a bit cheap, I admire that the writers have made him a truly crap detective.  He has things pieced together all right, but he’s no Elliot Ness. He bungles everything he touches because of his weird compulsions. The confrontation with Margaret was the culmination of an episode of complete and utter fuck-ups, and it was satisfying as only a train wreck can be.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of his descent into darkness.  I’m inclined to side with Renn, and see this as his way of getting inside this world in order to destroy it.   I feel like he’s taking some more Biblical inspiration, and pretending he’s Jacob or Caleb, scouting out the world of Caanan so he can destroy it.  Or he’s just gone off his rocker. Who knows! Lucy is a great lay, maybe he will sign up to become a bootlegger.

I will say that my favorite moment wasn’t Chalky’s beat down, but Harrow’s Tin Man moment.  I’m so used to anachronism in historical stories that I fully expected Margaret to welcome him, and was horrified when she didnt. How can you be so cruel, Margaret? Why can’t you sit your kids down and … wait, this is 1920 and no one cares about the disfigured or disabled.  The attitudes were spot on!  Harrow handled it in such an unexpected and sweet way that it made up for their hamhanded “Phantom of the Opera” reference. 

I also see doom written all over Margaret and Nucky.  What was something weirdly sensual about their relationship has now turned corrupted in short order.  Nucky clearly values her intelligence, but now I worry it was less as a companion and more as another tool in his arsenal.  The thing is, I don’t think he realizes HOW smart she is.   You don’t tell a girl that “I can sell snake oil to anyone!” after selling her some political snake oil.  The champagne moment only underlined that a little more, and every encounter Margaret has had — Lucy, Harrow, Van Alden, Harding’s baby mama — just added up to her horrified look in the mirror.

And guys, I was nearly charmed by Jimmy and then he had to beat down the photographer.  You see? He ruins everything he touches! Everything!

Joshua Miller: Are you saying you think Van Alden possibly hit the sauce (and that ass) as part of of HIS plan to get inside Nucky’s world, or as part of the writers’ plan to get him inside?

Elisabeth Rappe: Aren’t they one and the same….? I honestly don’t have an answer and I’m reluctant to guess. I’m still wondering if we may have actually seen Shannon and Paz de la Huerta doing it for real.

Joshua Miller: I will be surprised if it turns out to be Van Alden’s secret clever plan. That’s the only difference. A minor one, I suppose, but the kind I tend to care about. I’m not saying Van Alden falling into a vice-hole is bad writing. Just predictable.

Nick Nunziata: What an amazing episode. From the not subtle but vital discussions about Harrow’s mangled visage and the payoff with it to the violent scene near the end (who’d have though a simple Packard could carry so much weight?), it was proof positive that the next two episodes of this show are going to make us truly hate the wait for season two. Did you see that teaser for the last two episodes? Shit is going to get ugly.

At first I was really disappointed at the way they handled the scene early on where Nucky needed the phone to call Chalky, only to have the Woman’s Vote issue kill the momentum, though I loved Eddie Kessler (opera singer Anthony Laciura, which is news to me that the dude had man pipes) reminding folks throughout the episode how he saved Nucky’s bacon.

Nucky taking that dude for granted has to have some sort of penalty.

Luckily, the balance between the voting subplot and the Chalky subplot (and thusly Doyle’s role in Nucky taking the initiative against Rothstein) came to fruition in the best way possible, reminding me why I’m writing about the show and they’re making it. The Capone stuff was amazing and it’s obvious in every muscle on Stephen Graham’s face that he’s in it to win it. I’ve intentionally not read up on the real-life timelines for these characters most of us are familiar with (Meyer Lansky, Capone, Lucky, etc.) to see where they might veer off from the narrative.

I am so happy with this thing and I haven’t even touched on Van Alden’s developments yet.

Note to Elisabeth, Shannon did some admirable Merkin hiding but I’m pretty sure even the smallest of smalls would have had some flops in shot were they were filming it without one. No way their sex was authentic, though no one can ever debate Paz’s lack of concern about sharing her gifts with humanity.

Joshua Miller: You already know what happens to Lansky and Luciano. They become Christian Slater and Patrick Dempsey. I know you’ve seen the 1991 masterpiece of gangster cinema, Mobsters. Boy ‘o boy. I can’t wait for Richard Grieco and Robert Z’Dar to show up!

I understand your desire to avoid Wikipedia when it comes to the characters. I wish I could. Unfortunately, a previous HBO effort, LANSKY, already filled me in on both Luciano and Lansky. Unless Boardwalk decides to go Tarantino on us.

You know, I’m not sure I’d recognize Paz de la Huerta with her clothes on. Ever single thing I’ve seen her in features full frontal. Looks like she is trying to nab that “Naked All The Time” top acting prize from Bijou Phillips. What was her Boardwalk audition like, I wonder? Though I was a bit bored by how Van Alden and Lucy wound up together, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see where things go. If ever there were two maximally diametrically opposed characters, it’s this odd couple.

I felt bad for Kessler in this episode. I thought Nucky would at least give him some kind of pandering thanks, but instead he gets a “what the fuck are you still doing in here?” when he tries to bask in a little bit of love. I guess so soon after the war, Germans gotta expect to be shit on.

Btw – it just occurred to me that I think I’m the only one here who skips the previews of upcoming episodes. It’s how I roll. I like to fly blind.

Elisabeth Rappe: I feel hideously compelled to point out that some recent interview where she asserts (and the interviewer backs it up since she undresses right in front of him) that it’s no Merkin.

I know they couldn’t REALLY have been but I like to think of crazy actors pulling a porn on us.  Let me dream of the controversy! ;)

Joshua Miller: I knew we shouldn’t let women write for the site. Minds always in the gutter.

Elisabeth Rappe: Yep, all we think about is sex. T&A! And then we write really wordy articles about it and bore the dickens out of the menfolk!

Renn Brown: I’m very happy we have a lady to class up this joint (as I know Josh is too, when he ain’t pullin’ legs)- it sure helps me feel less pervy talking about the intensity of the girl parts flying fast and furious across the screen. And goddamn if Michael Shannon didn’t have some grinding happening on top of his place. I’ll be surprised if he didn’t walk away from that day of shooting with an intimate schematic of De La Huerta’s business imprinted on his belly. I appreciate that they really didn’t pull any punches with that sex scene out of any of them- and that Shannon keeps up those bizarre little grunt and groan trail-offs that Van Alden drops on occasion.

Chicago was a real standout, and they approached it in a wonderful way that sparked a change in Al Capone naturally and didn’t require a ton of set-up or a silly moment in the mirror. Love the openly discussed hat symbolism as well.

It’s going to be a huge disappointment when those credits roll two episodes from now, though I hope the season tapers off to some sort of arc before it’s done. That’s my one worry- that the inevitability of the second season meant they didn’t challenge themselves to find a satisfying end to the season (whether it makes us desperate for more or not). I’d rather not everyone involved get hit with a bus and our one season of Boardwalk Empire forever be left as a brilliant build-up to nothing but a cliffhanger. I certainly expect to be left with many questions and for too many seeds for future brilliance planted for me to ever be satisfied with just one season, but I’m hoping the finale is more of a, “YES! More…” than an, “Awww, no way!”

Joshua Miller: Indeed. The season non-ending, which The Sopranos loved to do in its later seasons, has been my big fear all season for Boardwalk. Like the new Harry Potter movie, their confidence that you’ll stick around for part two could very easily encourage them to give us an ambiguous fuck-off close out. I’m hoping for some big surprises, and at least one game changer. I’d love to see Angela actually go to Paris, the Rothstein plotline actually come to a head, and something legitimate happen with Van Alden. He either needs to become a big dog or he needs to go away. Season 2 can’t have more of middling, ineffectual Van Alden.

I hope Nucky talks Margaret into killing Lucy for him. ;)

Nick Nunziata: Van Alden’s scene at Margaret’s house following his dressing down was nice. It was the best scene for Shannon this season (well his last scene is probably his favorite) and it outed him as a creepy gentleman but it also allowed someone to distill Margaret’s plight down to the bare essence. I have no doubt she’s going to be a character that wields the hammer of justice in the near future.

It’s also interesting to think about the timing of Jimmy’s return. If he has stayed in Chicago a while longer he probably would have either prevented Capone’s tonal shift or benefited from it. Now, he’s back to being a borderline nuisance or at least yet another member of Nucky’s cadre that he doesn’t appreciate or utilize well. I don’t mind the ‘Jimmy’s Home Life’ subplot as much as I did but the character needs to be allowed to flourish and not get sidetracked in these one on one skirmishes with irrelevant characters.

In reality, Margaret’s been the only tool Nucky’s wielded to much effect and even that is backfiring. He’s shaping up to be a paper tiger of sorts and nowhere near as brilliant or strategic as Rothstein. From the peeks at the next two episodes I really have no idea how they can end this with the guy not dealing with his main conflicts. I think the D’Allessio’s will be dealt with and I wonder if that’s enough.

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