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 FemmeThe Emerald City


Episode 11: “Paris Green”

“Well you have been, haven’t you? Not a word about this man, who beat you, who murdered the baby you were carrying, who you loved so very much- I haven’t lost one second of sleep over what was done, and neither have you.”

Renn Brown: Margaret and Nucky lay it all on the table, Eli gets replaced, Jimmy catches on to Gillian and Angela’s respective secrets, and Van Alden takes what seems like a chance to regroup and come back as an agent of righteous fury once again and instead mutates it into another horrific act. Boardwalk Empire has no desire to drag out its sub-plots, and no fear of laying it all out on the table, which serves it well as we edge towards the final episode. The writers certainly allow things to boil under the surface, or remain mysterious allusion for several episodes (hints at Jimmy’s father, for example) but when they pay them off, they tend to do it all the way. Margaret and Nucky’s confrontation was a serious turn of events, and while I feel Margaret is ultimately going to return to her place at Nucky’s side, her disappearance is the kind of obvious shift another show would wait a season or two to get to. I think this abundance of material and eagerness to move through it is what I love so much, and is what could ultimately sustain this show for a long time, even without the bedrock of a solid central family or aligned group to fall back on. Even with all of the forefront plot, there’s still the thematic undertones that wax and wane, appear and retreat as they do in all great storytelling. Jimmy’s frustration with Nucky for example, is likely to pay off as much or more in the future than it is next episode, so the Commodore’s words and Gillian’s explanations should have a while to tumble around in his head. Important scenes and emotional turns that have immediate effect and even more meaning during events to come- this isn’t just plot, this is great television, and it’s great long-term narrative building.

I still don’t know if Van Alden is tumbling to some unknown place, or just taking a long path back to being a true threat to Nucky. I still don’t know if Angela is finding her way into a unique plot-line, or if this is just the tumultuous bedrock on which the rest of her and Jimmy’s relationship will have to sit. Is Rothstein’s story going to collide with Chicago and lead to that increased screen time we’re always hoping for? I love that all of my complaints are really just demands for more of the show. I just want more.

Elisabeth Rappe: It’s hard to believe I ever complained that this show seemed lost, wouldn’t payoff, or had rushed into things.  Boardwalk Empire is proving to be as finely wrought as its Art Deco decor, with every story angle looping back in on itself in a pretty spectacular and terrifying fashion.

I’m really, really, REALLY impressed with the female characters on this show. It’s curious and wonderful that television is offering the complex roles we’re not seeing in cinema right now.  When the show began, I was sort of flippant about Margaret — oh, she’ll become corrupted by Nucky and his fair city, she’ll be a symbol OF the city as Van Alden and Nucky tussle — and I was wrong on all counts. She’s complicated and unpredictable, and if the show rushed her into Nucky’s arms, it was simply acting on Margaret’s orders. She made a mistake.  There’s a point where I side a little with Nucky — she does like to make noise about how good she is — but Margaret has no intention of being used. Being his girlfriend was one thing, and it took care of her family, but she’s not about to become a political tool and babymaker, not when Nucky has dozens of them he might pluck up at any moment.  She’s worth more than that, and it’s to Nucky’s detriment that he helped her realize that.

Angela’s story is small, but heartbreaking. I’m not entirely sure what game the photographers were playing, and I imagine there might be more to the story than just kinky sex.  Or not.  People will do a lot for kinky sex. I’m really worried for her, and what that loaded envelope will mean to Jimmy.

And speaking of Jimmy — man, how casual was that “My father is the Commodore” reference?  I love that this show gives everyone credit for thinking, and doesn’t make a big deal out of information. Yeah, that’s his dad. You’d already figured it out. But here’s the ugly angle you didn’t know about poor Gillian, and why she’s young enough to be Jimmy’s girlfriend! Again, a wonderful bit of character work.  She has this Mother Dearest, it’s all in the past persona going, but there’s something incredibly fierce and nasty lurking underneath, and it has access to arsenic.  What’s Jimmy going to do with that information? I don’t want to judge this episode on the preview of the next, but I’m so worried he’s going to sell his own mother out.  I’ve spent a lot of time underlining how and why I dislike him (and you may be happy to know my sister is as annoyed with me as you guys!), but the bottom line is that I don’t trust the slimeball.  Jimmy is this seething ball of “the world done me wrong” rage, and I worry as to whose bodies might serve as his stepping stones.

Oh, Van Alden. I literally don’t know what to say except “How the hell is he going to survive into season 2?”  This may be the first time in the history of fiction that I felt sorry for the corrupt cop, and it’s darkly funny that it takes a Biblical lunatic to make the guy on the take into the better man.  Van Alden could make Elliot Ness hide under his bed before siding with Capone.

Joshua Miller: How is Van Alden not going to get arrested for murdering his partner?! I’m with you Renn on being wary/unsure of where this spiral is taking Van Alden, but it was great to see him becoming proactive here and not just wallowing in his crapulence with Lucy for another episode. Religious war Van Alden is starting to work for me. Though he has also forever earned my ire by insulting Chinese food. Dick.

Everything about the Commodore subplot was sublime. The reveal that he was Jimmy’s dad was indeed handled perfectly; the best kind of twist, both obvious yet still a little jarring emotionally. The scene where he reveals he knows Gillian has been poisoning the Commodore was just so good, illustrating so much about the two characters and their relationship. Jimmy all but saying, “Look, I don’t really want you to kill the old bastard, but you’re my mother and I love you and if you want him dead, I’ll support that.” Gillian is quickly becoming one of the most interesting characters on the show for me. And I’m glad that you’re slowly coming around on Jimmy, Rappe. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to LIKE him, just the character. He’s a strange bird. He will no doubt make Angela’s life a passive-aggressive nightmare from now on, yet he still has the humanity to give Richard Harrow a WTF look when Harrow robotically suggests murdering a family of women and children. Though I have to disagree that Jimmy has a “world done me wrong” complex. I think the world DID do him wrong, but when he says things like “I’m what time and circumstance has made me,” I get more of a sense of cool acceptance rather than self-pity. Like Harrow, he knows he is a monster inside, but is trying to use it.

I thought it was a bit corny to include a Ponzi reference, but the episode more than made up for that dorky bit of “Hey, look! It’s history!” by using Margaret’s “friend” as the catalyst for the big Nucky/Margaret flame war. And Jesus. What a fucking scene that was. In one short conversation the show successfully filled in pretty much every crack I had spotted in the Margaret character/storyline. Hell, they did it in one line, when Nucky cruelly, yet aptly states – “A good person wouldn’t be here right now.” So fucking good. Margaret was finally laid low, and what made the moment so amazing for me is that she deserved it. And the ball just kept rolling when Eli finally lays Nucky low moments later. With a show as well-written as Boardwalk, it is always hard to know where the line is drawn between certain faults and certain knowing plans. Those two conversations with Nucky, first on the offensive, then on the defensive, aired out and finally exposed all the lingering doubts I had about where that “line” was indeed drawn. This show knows exactly what it is doing with its characters.

What kind of fireworks in the finale going to provide? That’s the big question now. Margaret is gone and still has Nucky’s ledger (I assume). Eli was fired without his knowledge, but like Houdini’s brother, Eli isn’t going to let people think his brother had all the good ideas – but what, if anything will he actually do about it? Will Margaret and Van Alden finally join forces? Given that we only have one episode left, I’m not really expecting anything to happen with the Rothstein story other than a big cliffhanger. A dangerous partnership with Capone maybe? Man, next Sunday can’t coming soon enough, friends.

Btw – anyone else get a twinge of Oh Brother Where Art Thou? when Van Alden is first walking down to the riverside baptism?

Nick Nunziata: Great episode, and aside from the (telegraphed but great) ‘baptism’ most of the violence was verbal. I love the way things are coming together. Nucky is pushing his luck and ambition is killing him. Jimmy can only be really hard or really soft and his choices on when to turn them on is leading to a bunch of interesting conclusions. The stuff with the Commodore… I was disappointed. The poison thing is more interesting if it’s his servant and I think the stuff about him being the father is chaff. Nucky’s the father. I’d bet a dollar on it.

Van Alden in my mind is the Big Bad of Season One. He’s just about run his course and I’d love to see him flame out in a big way. That way in the next season they could bring in a hard-nosed winner of an adversary (think of the class Keith Carradine brought to Dexter S2 as an example) who’s more of a straight shooter. I think the loony aspect of Van Alden kept the character from being a total bore, but it has a shelf life.

Renn Brown: Van Alden has spent too much time floundering on the sides to simply crash and burn without ever becoming a real threat to Nucky. Few of his engagements with Thompson have turned out to be meaningful, and his biggest victory ended up being more of an advantageous play by an immigrant woman, than any standoff between the two. I think we’re writing off Van Alden a little early, and he may go down, but it’s equally likely that he’s just at the precipice on which he will find the bent, warped place from which he will wage righteous war from this point on. Covering up Sebso will definitely be a thing (and might be the kind of problem that bites him in the ass at a key moment later), but I think the agent, like many characters on this show, are actually reaching their true places within a bigger story that will soon start, as if this first season is a massive prologue.

I was guessing the servant was doing it too Nick, and it could still be a possibility (the funny “concoctions” she’s been giving him?) or even a partnership type-deal (most likely). Tough to buy Nucky as the father at this point though- that would be a cheesier twist than I’d like to see. Nucky does have some serious background and secrets to be revealed next season I expect, if the episode with the childhood home and the allusions to his dead wife mean anything.

Joshua Miller: Man, I really hope they don’t pull a Nucky-father twist with Jimmy down the road. Now you have me paranoid, Nick. Thanks a lot.

I have to completely disagree that it would have been more interesting if the servant was poisoning the Commodore. That is who I immediately assumed was doing it, and I wasn’t that engaged. I think Gillian was the right move, as it further strengthened her devious nature. First Lucky, now this. Gillian and Jimmy are proving quite the dynamic duo of crime. I expect some tricky shit from them in the future. Plus I also like the relationship between the Commodore and his maid. She’s such an irrelevant character that doing away with her with a minor villainous twist wouldn’t have accomplished much dramatically. Frankly, I hope she isn’t made the scapegoat either. If the Commodore is sticking around, I’d like to see her stick around too.

Honestly, I could go either way on Van Alden at this point. He’s become a lot more interesting in the past couple episodes, but whose to say that will last. While it would be a shame for him to ultimately prove an irrelevant time-wasting element on this season (and get a bullet in the brain in the finale before ever really posing a problem for Nucky), I also see the appeal of what Nick says about bringing in a heavier hitter in Season 2.

Elisabeth Rappe: I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor maid is made out to be the scapegoat.   Sadly, it would be the most historically accurate thing to do.  Servants are always the rich person’s first enemy — and a black servant? Yeah.   You know,  I feel really dumb that the Commodore’s poor dog didn’t scream “Clue!”, because it was pretty unlikely a dog gets sick and dies as its master does except in a poetic sense. He was eating the Commodore’s food!   This whole thing was really telegraphed, but such is the glittery world we live in that all we thought was “Hey, he’s real mad at Nucky.” 

I was going to suggest Eli and the Commodore might end up as allies, but I remember he was pretty dismissive of the uniformed Thompson. Eli will end up with someone, though, and it will probably be Chicago. Nucky won one verbal fight and lost another, because Eli was spot on with his assessment and knowledge of Nucky’s new world. For being the illustrated as dolt of the show, he’s proved to have a wider and more deadly grasp than Nucky, who still tries to keep his hands clean in the most superficial sense.  Dismissing him is going to prove really deadly.

The sad thing that is if Van Alden thought as much about making friends as he does about an ex-witness’ penis, he and Eli would probably find some common ground!

I was struck with what a miserable man Nucky was by the episode’s end. It was a sour disposition that opened and closed the episode. The whole Hardeen show struck me as someone uncomfortable with the knowledge that he always gets second best, and that Atlantic City has brought him profit, but not a lot of class or respectability in the grand scheme of things. He’s a sideshow. He can’t get Houdini, he can only get Hardeen.  He can really only have Lucy, not a girl like Margaret. His world is cheap. His life may be cheap. I can’t wait to see where he goes from here, frankly, because life just is getting more twisted and violent for him.

Joshua Miller: I didn’t pick up on the dog either. And I also felt stupid for missing it.

I like what you say about Nucky realizing he isn’t getting what he wants. Very good point, especially as it relates to Hardeen.

Nick Nunziata: The thing about Margaret is that she’s a myth too. He tried to make her his perfect companion but it was all a lie. Which I guess is a good metaphor for Atlantic City as well. Nucky is the king of Nowhere and the only life is pretend.

Elisabeth Rappe: I don’t know if Margaret was a lie.  She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s motherly.  She was the white picket fence he fancied for a moment. But you can’t have the white picket fence and a ballot box beauty, at least not in this context.   Had Nucky gotten down on one knee and moved them out to a house like the Commodore’s, I think Margaret would have been what he wanted and hoped for. I think that’s what Margaret wanted, really. But he wants both a whore and a wife, and he wants to dance between the two and sell each as a great idea for Margaret. But to throw the birth control in her face — literally — and tell her that’s not her decision?  He wants babies? Whoa.  That’s a lot to ask of a girl when you’re petting former lovers in your office.  He seems to think he can rent a wife and mother like a suite at the Ritz.  Nucky, that’s Lucy! That’s not Margaret. To get a Margaret and a baby, you have to make some harder commitments, and not proudly tell a lady you can sell her snake oil.

Renn Brown: I think Eli is getting way too much credit in this conversation. Nucky is ultimately the king of a playground, but he’s still serious business, and is going to be waging serious war against serious people. I don’t mean to be all starry-eyed about the main protagonist, but Nucky is seeing the big picture and the changing tides where others are not. Frankly, I think his diminutive stature and clever politicking are selling short how ruthless he is and the lengths he will go to stay on top. He’s not doing the shooting, stabbing, punching, and choking, but he sure as hell is making sure those things happen. The conversation between he and Jimmy was key, and his ownership of the murders he was ordering was as cold as could be. We haven’t gotten a “College” episode where we get to see our main hero outright murder someone, but I still have no illusions as to Nucky’s capabilities.

I keep harping on it, but I really do feel like this first season has all been stage-setting. It’s no accident that we entered the story on the cusp of a serious election, and if Nucky pulls through with all of his chess pieces in place, his enemies established, and his crew dimensional (including Margaret, who will be back), then an engine will have been built that can power the show as long as it wishes to run… with monkey wrenches aplenty, of course.

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