Boardwalk Empireis back, and so are we! Returning for season 2 of HBO’s Atlantic City spectacle, a new batch of the CHUD’s brightest will recap each episode with our reactions, thoughts, and expectations for what is ahead. Join us each week as we follow the most opulent show on TV…
Mike Flynn: A sprawling epic that owes as much to the Coens as it does to The Sopranos, the first season of Boardwalk Empire overcame the impossible and managed to prove that lightning can strike twice. HBO has cornered the market on crime series set in my home state again, and while time will tell if it will have the consistency and longevity of Tony and the gang, Boardwalk’s second-season opener, 21, has hinted that it will.
The show is not as fast paced as Dexter or Breaking Bad; it takes the episodic format of its action seriously, and the pacing helps us marinate in the mesmerizing production design and the way 1920’s Atlantic City has been realized. Nevertheless, HBO veteran Tim Van Patten’s direction magnetizes us right into the stories and the cast maintains its momentum, and Steve Buscemi is exquisitely nuanced as the cunning yet conflicted Nucky.
The major strengths, however, are twofold. Chalky appears to be a larger presence this season, which is great news for all the Omar Little superfans (like many of you and myself), and while everyone’s favorite modern-day gay Robin Hood parallels Chalky—they’re both revenge-motivated badasses looking to destroy a larger criminal force—what makes Chalky so refreshing is that he’s not a guy on the streets. He has power, he has money, and most of all, he has disciples, and from the explosive reintroduction to his character, this guy’s pissed. We saw it briefly last season, but I have a feeling we’re in for some season-three Wire badassery from the great Williams.
What I can’t praise enough about this show, however, is Michael Shannon. Why the Emmys decided to overcompensate The Good Wife in the Supporting Actor in a Drama category is maddening nonsense. Last season, Nelson Van Alden was my absolute favorite thing in the show, and this season hasn’t changed that opinion at all. From the way he single-handedly kills the fun at the speakeasy, to his hostility towards Lucy, to simply the deadly shrewdness seeping under his forced, awkward facial expressions, Shannon is the show’s most magnetic force. Van Alden is Eliot Ness by way of Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, a shadowy lawman so corrupted and immoral that we root for him just to see how far he can take the character.
The Episode’s Best Moment: Gotta go with Chalky’s gang versus the KKK, though Gillian’s FUBAR line about kissing her baby’s genitals just ups the brilliant Oedipal angle she’s got with Jimmy.
Where Does It Go From Here: Just like most organized crime czars, Nucky will find his way out of this pickle, and when he’s out, he’ll be back bigger than ever. The KKK won’t show any remorse, and we’ll probably end up with the Prohibition version of the opening scene of Bad Boys II as organized by Chalky. Given Paz de la Huerta’s off-screen drunken antics, I can’t rule something bad happening to Lucy out of the question, given how hostile Van Alden was to her. That’s what you get for immorality…and not giving him tickets to WrestleMania.
Albert Schwartz: Slipping back in is an apt description, because Boardwalk has a pace unlike anything else on TV, but it was shockingly easy for me to fall back into it’s rhythms. A lot of that is probably down to the terrific opening sequence, which mimics the credits while swapping out Buscemi’s bland, square-jawed handsomeness for the most compelling and my own personal favorite character, Richard Harrow. What makes Richard so awesome? Let me count the ways.
1) He has a tragic backstory that puts Nucky’s dead baby and Jimmy’s “mommy kissed my winky” nonsense to shame.
2) He is a WWI veteran. While not as sexy as that whole thing with the Nazis, this is the hardest core conflict one can bring half their face back from.
3) Upon returning, he became a freelance sniper. This is, indisputably, the coolest profession that exists or ever has existed.
4) He sounds like Princess Leia impersonating a bounty hunter
5) Just when you think he’s this wounded, misunderstood puppy, he comes out with some seriously disturbing shit like volunteering to murder the D’Allessio’s mother, just to see what they do. There’s a creepiness and genuine edge to the depiction that stops something like his bit of scrapbooking from becoming utterly maudlin, which would be a very easy line to cross for most shows.
The Episode’s Best Moment: So the best bit for me was probably seeing Jack Huston’s name in the regular credits. I want as much Richard as Winter and co. are willing to dish out. The most impressive feat the premier pulled off was making me genuinely enjoy Van Alden’s storyline. He’s still operating mostly in his own little spin-off series (which was my main problem with him last year), but something about the horrificly repressed interactions with his wife was both funny and sad to me. I was actually happy for them when they got to have their 3-8 minutes of genuine marital interaction at the end of the night. And the bedspring gag, while cheap as all hell, made me laugh, so I guess I can’t hold it against them. Although the biggest laugh of the night for me was the Commodore waving a spear around in the opening montage. For some reason that cracked my shit up.
Where Does It Go From Here: It’s interesting how deep in the shit Nucky finds himself already. He’s under arrest, with no allies that I can count. His brother, the Commodore and Jimmy are actively plotting against him, with Gillian’s tacit approval. Richard’s loyal to Jimmy, not Nucky. Chalky’s in custody and furious with him to boot. Capone is on his way to tell him Chicago is taking their toys and going to Ohio. The influential KKK is aligned with the anti-Nucky conspiracy. It’s down to just him and his chiseled good looks at this point, and I’m not sure that’ll be enough considering that he isn’t even aware of half his problems yet. Even little Teddy is ignoring his advice in favor of the whisperings of a sultry mistress called Fire. And we’re only one episode in. We didn’t get to see a lot of truly desperate Nucky last year, but this year it looks like we’re in for plenty.
M. Morse: ; Prior to today I had never seen an episode of Boardwalk Empire. I spend most of my vanishing free time writing up cancelled television shows here on Chud, and so the saga of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson had so far been passed over in favor of enigmatic battles between Good and Evil in Depression- era America and Old West mining camps doubling as microcosms of civilization.
It comes as no surprise to me, given how much I enjoyed Carnivale and am continuing to enjoy Deadwood, that HBO’s depiction of Prohibition-era Atlantic City sucked me right in. What is surprising: how easy it was to just jump right in at the top of the second season with next to no knowledge of what’s come before.
Terence Winter and Tim Van Patten do a terrific job of making a layered narrative accessible to new viewers, and that’s something easy to overlook and undervalue. There are a daunting number of lead and supporting characters here, yet each gets a moment of definition that serves as shorthand for their journey so far and that also works as interesting drama. Thompson is an engagingly slippery lead – speechifying to African Americans and Klansmen alike without batting an eye – and Buscemi is totally at home in the man’s skin. I’ve always liked Buscemi’s work as a character actor, and Thompson gives the actor a prime showcase for his talent. I’m fascinated by conflicted-hero(?) figures, and I fell hard for Michael Shannon’s Van Alden. The character is seemingly made of Repression, and Shannon underlines that fact with every strained word that manages to escape from his mouth. He’s unexpectedly funny, and kind of mesmerizing.
If there’s a common thread here in this sprawling tapestry it’s Envy. Nearly every character covets something that another character possesses even as they possess something that another covets. That’s a subtle but interesting skeleton to hang an episode of television on.
But the strongest draw for me so far is the clear, immersive sense of time and place that the show evokes – from the map of local speakeasies disguised as a religious pamphlet to the meal order that Van Alden gives his waiter (Nothing refreshes like a cold glass of buttermilk!), all the details add up to a convincing whole. HBO doesn’t cheap out in terms of production design, and more than any one individual character or plotline, it’s the world on display here that has me eager to go back and see what I’ve missed in the first season. By next week I’ll probably have devoured the entirety of the first season.
Favorite Moment: Chalky’s son performing a lovely rendition of Clare de Lune as Lenore and Chalky look on with pride and Nucky and Eli look on with veiled impatience. That, or Agent Van Nelson’s takedown of the restaurant where he and his wife are celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary (“lucky 13!”). Then there’s also the Coen-esque (very nice comparison, Michael) shot of the Commodore practicing his spear-fighting in the opening montage.
…I had a lot of favorite moments.
Favorite Line: Jimmy: “That’s an awful waste of a lot of good tablecloths.”
Where Things Go From Here: I have absolutely no idea and I rather like that feeling. I’m particularly curious to see how/whether Van Alden’s and Thompson’s storylines collide.
Final word from Nick Nunziata…
Nick: It’s good to have the show back. This first episode did what it needed to do and that was get us back into the swing of things. So often a show needs a whole episode to get its legs under it and resume the tempo of the previous season. Boardwalk Empire luckily feels like no time has passed and it’s a wise choice that they didn’t go with the Martin Scorsese route or some other bit of high profile filmmaker. The show doesn’t need a fancy name behind the lens just so long as the great groundwork laid out in season one continues at a measured and steady pace.
I was a little disappointed in some of the developments of the season, not the least of which being the Chalky White situation. It certainly complicates matters, and it appears this season is all about the walls closing in on Nucky. I can’t imagine all of our principal characters surviving the season.
With the second episode we’ll be shifting into a schedule that has the reviews posting shortly after the episode’s air. So watch out for the next Tag-Team soon!