S02E01: 1921. Things are going to be different this time around for Atlantic County, New Jersey. Prohibition is only a superficial arrangement. The government is corrupt. The cops are on payroll. The Klan is afoot. People read of local murders in the morning paper. You can’t even trust your oldest friends. All right, I guess things aren’t that different on HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
The opening montage reintroduces us to a slew of familiar faces, in familiar settings. Nucky is fraternizing at Babette’s. Eli is examining his gunshot wound. Jimmy and Richard are carting alcohol to Chalky. And poor Maggie is spending her nights alone.
The season begins on a particularly violent note: the Klan (as hired by a now recovered Commodore Kaestner, who shows no regard for anyone whatsoever) opens fire on Chalky’s operation, killing four of his men and injuring several others. However, it is Chalky who will later face the wrap for retaliating and killing one of the Klansmen.
Nucky and Eli visit Chalky’s extremely lavish home to discuss the measures to be taken. Nucky feels he needs to take action against Chalky to maintain an air of justice for the public. Nucky insists that he is looking out for Chalky’s best interests by proposing his arrest, but Chalky feels otherwise. Later, Nucky is seen delivering conflicting speeches to both the black and white communities, promising an allegiance to both. When it is publicized that the man Chalky shot died, Nucky arranges his arrest “for his own safety” -- they’d lynch him otherwise (if you believe Nucky).
“If I got beaten by a nun at your age I’d get another lashing from my father.” – Nucky
The scene to follow the purported race war (which is actually strictly business) is a Schroder family issue. Nucky comes home at 8 a.m. to Maggie fighting with her son Teddy, who has been lashed by a nun for misbehaving at school. Nucky callously remarks that Teddy may be at fault, despite his protests, and that he deserves harsher parenting (overlooking the fact that he should be the one to actually dole out this parenting).
Margaret goes to visit the nun who disciplined Teddy. She explains that Teddy was playing with matches in a closet in the school (the matchbook so happens to come from a certain Babette’s Nightclub). She further explains that Teddy will not be expelled, as the principal is good friends with Teddy’s “uncle” Nucky Thompson.
Margaret brings the incident to Nucky's attention, explaining her fear that Teddy has developed a fixation with fire. Nucky replies, “What’s that about?” which, alone, is funny, but is even funnier (and more interesting) when you figure that Teddy developed this from watching Nucky cathartically burn his childhood house down. Nucky speaks with Teddy, who immediately assumes he will beat him (as did his father). Instead, Nucky tells him to mind his mother and his teachers, and, as he knows no other way to make amends with people, gives Teddy some money and sends him on his way.
“That’s an awful waste of good tablecloths.” – Jimmy
Nucky visits the Klansman's funeral (mostly for show), where he sees Jimmy, who says the man was a high school teacher of his. Nucky talks with Jimmy, who he believes to be withholding some information. Jimmy has been receiving orders from the Commodore (his father, if you recall) in an effort to gradually inch Nucky out of the picture. Back in good health, the Commodore wants the city back under his thumb for he and his son to run. Jimmy is not too comfortable with this—early in the episode, he remembers guiltily that Nucky was always there for him when he was a child, as opposed to his father. Nucky took him fishing and hunting. The two discuss this at the Klansman’s funeral. Jimmy pushes this guilt aside, still holding somewhat of a grudge against Nucky over several of the events of last season, and continues forward with the Commodore’s plans. There’s also something a little bizarre up with his relationship with his mother. She seems to have an unhealthy affection for her son. But that’s to be explored further.
“I thought you didn’t believe in gifts.” – Mrs. Van Alden
The greatest character in the series gets due screen time in this episode: Agent Nelson Van Alden enjoys an extremely tense wedding anniversary with his wife. She comes to visit him in New Jersey, and it’s as uncomfortable as you’d imagine. After she takes timid issue with the town as a whole, Nelson takes her out to dinner, where the two are offered alcohol for the occasion by the waiter. At first, Nelson does nothing about this, and he and his wife just eat dinner. But then, he revisits the option with the waiter -- but as a ruse. When the waiter offers to fetch some champagne, Nelson punches him in the jaw and calls in reinforcements: it’s a raid. The whole restaurant is to be shut down. And his wife is kind of turned on by it all. The two make love for the first time in what has likely been a very, very long time before she heads back out of town.
There is still the little matter of his pregnant prostitutesque girlfriend, Lucy Danziger. But one marital problem at a time.
“What’s it like to have everything?” – Richard
We get a more interesting glimpse of Richard, the veteran who wears the face mask, in this episode. He is extremely envious of the family life that Jimmy has, but clearly does not appreciate. Jimmy seems to have a soft spot for Richard. In a breakfast scene, he explains to Richard that he need not be embarrassed to eat in front of the family. This scene also reveals an unopened package from Nucky, congratulating Jimmy on his new (finally official) marriage.
We also see Richard making a scrapbook of pictures of happy families -- whatever comes of this will be very, very interesting (or so it seems).
The Commodore calls Jimmy into private a meeting to tell allegorical stories about taking down bears, lions and leopards. It is all basically a means of telling him that he will not be daunted by the likes of Nucky Thompson, or any man. It’s an interesting connection to the closeness Jimmy had with Nucky as a kid through hunting. While the Commodore was hunting game by himself, Nucky was hunting seagulls with Jimmy. Not as impressive, perhaps, but worth worlds more to Jimmy than some stuffed heads. But Jimmy is not willing to admit this to himself.
The Commodore arranges two things, with Jimmy’s help: the theft of liquor from the blacks, and the arrest of Nucky for election fraud. The episode ends with Nucky being taken to jail while the Schroders wait for him at the movie theater, to which he promised Teddy and Maggie he’d take them. We also see Jimmy finally open Nucky’s package: an envelope of money, and a figurine of a father and son hunting. Jimmy hides this in the dark corners of his closet. And soul. Sorry, that was too heavy-handed.