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!

With your hosts Nick Nunziata, Renn Brown, Joshua Miller, Elisabeth Rappe and Jeremy G. Butler


With Season One having just wrapped up we figured we’d compile all of our First-Season Tag Team Reviews into a handy little package.  Whether you’re just starting with the show, catching up on a few episodes you missed or going for the complete re-watch to hold you over until Season Two, this little collection of thoughts from the CHUD Staff is the perfect companion.  Just click on the episode titles to read the entire review!



Episode One – Boardwalk Empire (Pilot) – Click to read!
It’s January 1920. On the eve of Prohibition, Nucky Thompson, Atlantic City’s Treasurer, condemns alcohol at a Women’s Temperance League meeting. This is where he is noticed by Margaret Schroeder, a pretty, pregnant housewife who comes to him for help in getting her abusive husband, Hans, a job. Later that evening, the duplicitous Nucky privately tells his ward bosses about the opportunity to make huge profits selling bootleg liquor. At a countdown-to-midnight blast at Babette’s Supper Club, he assures Jimmy Darmody, a recently returned WWI vet, that his appointment as “Man Friday” to the new Chief Clerk of the Fourth Ward, Paddy Ryan, will lead to bigger things. Jimmy, meanwhile, has higher aspirations and ends up making an alliance that may have dire consequences for both him and Nucky.



Nick Says:
  “When one looks back at the pilot episodes for all their favorite television programs, very rarely do they represent the full vision of the show. Characters feel thinly realized, there’s none of the benefits from familiarity and everything is still trying to find the nooks and crannies where it’ll settle. Boardwalk Empire’s pilot is a little different by weight of the presence of Martin Scorsese and The Sopranos’ Terence Winter pulling the strings. It’s unfair but it’s true. This show can’t just be passable to justify its existence.  And it isn’t just passable, it’s quite good…”



Episode Two – The Ivory Tower
Straight-laced, uptight Agent Nelson Van Alden investigates a crime which he feels has been pinned on a scapegoat, so pays a visit to Nucky and leaves convinced that the Treasurer is “as corrupt as the day is long.” Nucky quickly does damage control, enlisting his brother, Sheriff Elias Thompson, to close ranks with their underlings. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Al Capone shows a local reporter what he thinks about accusations that Johnny Torrio was involved in the killing of local mobster “Big Jim” Colosimo. Back in Atlantic City, Nucky discusses the upcoming election with Commodore Louis Kaestner, his aging mentor, with whom he debates the women’s vote issue. Later, before heading out for a night on the town, Nucky chews out an angry Arnold Rothstein over the phone, then meets privately with Margaret Schroeder, who asks him for help in providing for her children. As a long day ends, a traveling salesman named George Baxter, in town for a few days with an unwilling young beauty named Claudia, makes a startling discovery while on the road home to Baltimore.



Renn Says:  “With some of the hype and flash of the first episode having died down, Tim Van Patten (a familiar, respected name among HBO devotees) settles Boardwalk into a familiar rhythm right away. With only its second episode, the show has given us a much fuller picture of the systems at work in Atlantic City, started setting up the threads that will lead us to deadly conflict, and begun piling the weights on our character’s shoulders. The show is also already accumulating symbolism as well, including a loaded reference to The Ivory Tower by Henry James- an unfinished novel known for its nasty look at the corruption of the rich…”



Episode Three – Broadway Limited
As a witness threatens to expose the partakers in the woods massacre, Nucky, Van Alden, and Rothstein take special interest in a hospital patient who may know something about the massacre. Chalky’s take over of Mickey Doyle’s bootleg business gets off to a rough start. Nucky evaluates his relationship with Lucy. Margaret starts a new job at a French boutique on the boardwalk. Meanwhile, Jimmy takes Nucky’s advice to travel west.



Jeremy Says:  “That’s actually true of the entire episode – a few moments of great here and there, a few more moments of good, but overall it was a pretty middling effort.  That said though, I like the possibilities that Jimmy’s going to Chicago opens up, so I’m still on board and have a positive outlook on where we’re going…”



Episode Four – Anastasia
In Chicago, Jimmy settles in with Capone and his boss Johnny Torrio, and also a beautiful prostitute named Pearl. Capone’s take over of Greektown for Torrio creates tension with a local supplier. Jimmy and Capone negotiate the territory issue with the local supplier, Sheridan. Nucky plan to impress some key politicians at his “surprise” party and he lobbies a U.S. Senator for more road access to Atlantic City. Chalky and Elias interrogate someone suspected to have something to do with the lynching. Lucky Luciano visits Jimmy’s apartment and questions his mother, Gillian about his whereabouts.



Elisabeth Says:  “But the episode really belonged to the women. (And yes, you can mock me for being a soft spot for a female oriented episode.)  I’ve been critical of Margaret’s character so far, but I certainly don’t dislike her, and I really loved what they did with her here.  The expression on her face when she walked into Nucky’s party was just wonderful (good job, Ms. MacDonald), and the chemistry between her and Nucky was so palatable. For a moment she was swept up in a world of romance and royalty, and she was so caught up in the glamor that she could even excuse the presence of the demon liquor.    It doesn’t last long, however. The carriage turns back into a pumpkin (or rather, a cake bearing the nearly naked Lucy) and Margaret realizes she’s no princess, but simply Anna Anderson…”



Episode Five – Nights in Ballygran
Nucky wishes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style, but Eli, Margaret and Van Alden have other plans.

 


Joshua Says:  “I think all of us who got our love on with episode four were worried it might prove an anomaly, but episode five would seem to indicate the quality may be here to stay. The Margaret vs Nucky power play was fantastic to watch. Just delicious. Like an armrest-gripping football game, at first I was a little worried with how team Margaret was playing. I called out immediately that the Jimmy subplot wasn’t going to go anywhere, and I was concerned the same might be the case with Margaret’s subplot. Would the episode just be a zillion scenes of her losing faith in Nucky and everyone else? But when we see her passively gloating over the destruction of Nucky’s St. Patrick’s Day party, it all gloriously paid off like a down-to-the-wire and game winning field goal…”



Episode Six – Family Limitations
As Jimmy gets in with Johnny Torrio, Nucky takes a closer look at a theft on the boardwalk. Margaret stands up to Lucy.



Nick Says:  “The big coup of this episode was taking a character I was indifferent about and making him great. Jimmy (and Michael Pitt) won me over big time here, and not because of his terrific moments of cunning and ultraviolence but in the scene at his hotel room when Al Capone stops by to ‘apologize’. Actually the scene at the party leading up to that moment as well. There’s finally a little nuance to the character and he’s finally doing more acting with his eyes than his hair. Jimmy’s become a nice counter to Nucky, and watching how he’s able to get under a legend in the making like Al Capone’s skin one can only wonder what he’s going to bring to Atlantic City with him. A chip on his shoulder or Mt. Kilimanjaro on his shoulder…”



Episode Seven – Home
Nucky has to revisit his childhood; Jimmy becomes allies with a veteran while the D’Alessio brothers get in good with Lucky Luciano.



Elisabeth Says:  “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.)”



Episode Eight – Hold Me in Paradise
Nucky travels to Chicago to attend the Republican National Convention, but events in Atlantic City distract his attention.



Renn Says:  “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…”



Episode Nine – Belle Femme
As Margaret continues to work for Madame Jeunet, Nucky realizes he has to battle a rival.



Joshua Says:  “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…”



Episode Ten – The Emerald City
Van Alden becomes conflicted as his emotions get in the way of his work; Nucky requests that Margaret keep supporting his side. Also, Angela is shocked to see Jimmy’s violent side.



Nick Says:  “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…”



Episode Eleven – Paris Green
Jimmy deals with some troubling family problems. Nucky shakes up the status quo. Van Alden deals with Agent Sebso’s temptations.



Renn Says:  “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…”



Episode Twelve – A Return to Normalcy (Season One Finale)
Nucky wonders how much change Election day will bring to Atlantic City. Torrio tries to be the peacemaker between two bitter rivals with dire consequences. Jimmy, as well as Margaret, Van Alden, and Eli, ponder their futures.




Nick Says:  “I liked the episode for what it was but can’t help feeling the balance of what was rushed and what was tied together was poor. This seemed like they had to go down a checklist of things to cross off looking towards the next season…”



So that’s it for Season One.  We hope you’ve enjoyed the show as much as we have and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading these as much as we’ve enjoyed writing them.  Be sure to join us back here for Season 2.