S1E11: Holy sh*t. This episode did not mess around.
Back when I first found out about Boardwalk Empire, this was the type of episode I imagined for a weekly basis: grand, operatic story arches, dramatic plot changes, and kick-ass murder scenes. Up until this point, we really hadn’t seen much of that. Boardwalk Empire was more of a character driven and focused show. We were asked to care more about those involved in the situation, versus the actual situation itself.
But not this week. This week, things changed. It’s all starting to come together: Nucky’s manipulation, Margaret’s guilt, Jimmy’s aspirations, Van Alden’s madness. All of it. We finally know what this season was about. It was a setup. And if “Paris Green” was any indicator for next week’s season finale, it’s been a worthwhile wait.
Let’s start with my favorite character, Margaret. Lil’ ole, innocent Margaret — the Irish immigrant who’s lived as Nucky’s Queen of Atlantic City for the majority of the season. This week, her decisions caught up to her. Well, at least the guilt of her decisions. She catches Harry Price’s mistress Annabelle — who’s currently broke because her sugar daddy is broke — coming on to Nucky in his office. This pushes Margaret over the edge, and she lets loose all the conflicting emotions she’s felt this season: she’s angry and annoyed with their current situation, his actions, and his lifestyle. But Nucky is not one to take criticism, especially from someone who he knows isn’t innocent, like Margaret. Nucky immediately finds the hidden lysol bottle that Margaret was using to prevent her pregnancy, and says that “a good person wouldn’t be here right now.” Margaret then raises it another level and reminds Nucky that he’s the one who murdered her husband and made her a widow. Then does Nuck back down? No way. He says to watch herself. “Are you threatening me?” Margaret replies. “I’m advising you,” says Nuck.
This was a really fascinating scene because it illustrated a power struggle between two characters who typically are in control when they’re on the screen. And here, they kept trying to one-up the other. It’s obvious why they are attracted to each other — they’re both very similar people. But, as my ex-girlfriends and I know, being very similar to one another doesn’t always end well in the relationship world.
So next, let’s address Jimmy Darmody and his father, The Commodore. I must say, and this is probably an oversight for me, I didn’t realize that Jimmy was his son. Had it been mentioned at any point throughout the season? I know it’d been hinted at, but I’m pretty sure this is the first episode that they’d addressed it head on. Regardless, The Commodore is dying and he is frustrated with the current state of the “town he built.” He goes on to deliver one helluva monologue, telling Jimmy that the wrong man is in charge. I loved this moment because it revealed quite a bit more about what Boardwalk Empire’s first season has been about: who should be the boss. From day one, we’d just accepted Nucky as the fearless leader of AC. Yeah, Jimmy challenged him here and there, but after he eventually succumbed, we accepted that AC was Nuck’s town. But, The Commodore’s words have changed my mind. Atlantic City is not really Nucky’s town. It’s whoever can get in charge. He hates that Nucky has placed himself as the head of the town, and in that same way, is encouraging Jimmy to try and take some of that power back. So, will season two be focused on the adventures of Jimmy Darmody rising to power in Atlantic City? Maybe.
And speaking of power shaking up, Eli finally called Nucky out on his foulup with the Margaret situation. He emphasizes to Nucky that she’s a liability, and Nucky was irresponsible with bringing her on and should have “set her straight with his fists.” Nucky, being a little classier than Eli, tells him that that’s “not who I am.” But, surprisingly, Eli doesn’t leave it at that (probably being put in the hospital by a gunshot wound had something to do with his suddenly fearless accusations of Nucky). He goes on to remind Nucky that he has people killed all the time, but instead of doing it himself, he has others do the deed. I’m pretty sure that Nucky will be cutting Eli loose from his Sheriff position pretty soon, especially after that little debacle.
Now, let’s talk about the best scene of the season so far. Let me just say the obvious: Agent Van Alden is f*cking crazy. After last week’s NC-17 rated sex scene, things got even crazier here. He spent the entire episode trying to figure out the holes in Agent Sebso’s reasoning for shooting the key witness in the Jimmy Darmody/Nucky Thompson bootlegging case. So, next thing you know, we’re outside in a river and Agent Van Alden is baptizing Agent Sebso, trying to convince to confess to his sins and accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But, Sebso — being a Jew — doesn’t do it. But there’s an underlying motive: Van Alden isn’t really trying to save Sebso. He’s just trying to get him to confess that he murdered the witness because he’s connected to Nucky Thompson. So he keeps throwing him under water, pulling him back up, shoving him down, and so forth. The crowd watches on as Sebso finally drowns and Van Alden stretches out his arms and shouts about the judgment of the wicked. Then, he tells those watching that “they didnt’ see nothin’.” And my response to that? Wow. Just… Wow.
I think one of the reasons I loved this episode so much — and I’ll wrap my recap up with this thought — is that it managed to set up the season finale in a tremendous way, but still, through setting up, had some incredibly heartbreaking and dramatic scenes. The rest of the season had spent so much time lolly-gagging around, trying to slowly develop characters and show us the type of people we’re dealing with. And I think that’s something the writers of Boardwalk need to take into consideration. Yeah, we wouldn’t care about Van Alden’s crazy antics if we didn’t have all of his back story, but still, why can’t we see more of his crazy antics while we learn his back story? The same goes for the rest of the show. There’s a point where stories can focus a little too much on character development, and they forget that we need to be entertained as well. Let’s continue to mix the story lines up a little bit and throw in more scenes like the baptism or the coat room shootout from earlier this season. We’ll still continue to get the slow development of characters, but with that little bit of action, it not only helps the show move forward, it’s frankly quite entertaining. I hope the writers take “Paris Green” as a model episode for seasons to come.