‘Boardwalk Empire’ Recap: The Emerald City

ALT TEXTS1E10: In its first season, Boardwalk Empire quickly defined itself as a show with great atmosphere, excellent set design, and interesting character development. But at the same time, on a week-to-week basis (and here we are, with only two episodes in season one remaining), nothing ever really happens. Don’t get me wrong — that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the show, we’ve seen Margaret grow from a timid, abused Irish immigrant to her current position of political power and, in a sense, the “Queen” of Atlantic City. Also, Jimmy is no longer the punk kid that heisted hooch in the first episode. Instead, he’s grown into a full-fledged gangster.

But, like I said, other than seeing our characters grow up a bit, nothing has happened. The story is still revolving around an event that happened in the first couple episodes. And so, obviously, when you spend nearly the entire season focusing on one single event — a booze heist — one has to wonder what Boardwalk Empire is really about. I’ve heard complaints that there’s not enough action, or that Steve Buscemi isn’t menacing enough to play a crime lord, or that it’s taking itself too seriously with all the symbolism and drama. But, I think that’s okay. Yeah, some more action scenes similar to that coat closet scene a few episodes back may help the show’s excitement level, but I think it’s trying to do something different than the crime shows before it. It’s asking us to try and identify with the characters, see their growth, and decide on their morality issues.

Take the prime example of this morality issue — Margaret. In “The Emerald City,” Nucky’s asked her to give a speech introducing Ed Bader as the new Republican candidate for mayor in front of the League of Women Voters. (Also, I’d like to take this moment and say how funny Nucky’s reaction to the ratification of women’s right to vote: immediately make them Republicans). Margaret obliges — and delivers one hell of a speech, by the way — but she questions herself about it. Plus, look at when Agent Van Alden confronts her about the morality of associating with someone like Nucky Thompson. Rather than take the abuse, she (rightfully because that dude is a freak) flips it on him, making him feel the like the creepy one. These are both issues that Margaret does have a problem with, but the question that’s raised is the classic “can you put a price on anything?” Yeah, Margaret isn’t necessarily making money on this whole deal, but in the span of this season, she’s grown from having nothing for her children and being a small voice barely getting any attention in the community to having everything she’d ever want with Nucky, along with people actually listening to her opinions. Honestly, I can’t say I’d do anything differently if I were her.

And speaking of Van Alden, let’s talk for a minute about this crazy mo-fo. Okay, so I do feel bad for him. He can’t seem to catch a break when hunting down the connection between Nucky and the booze. But, I think he’s finally realized how over-matched he truly is. No matter how hard he tries, it seems that Nucky’s power extends everywhere. And although I’m not sure if Van Alden actually suspects his partner’s story about killing the prisoner is BS, but from his actions following it, I feel like he does believe it. I mean, he really gets desperate — showing up at Margaret’s door, pleading with her to understand his frustrations. And then when that falls apart, where does he head? The self-mutilating Christian man heads to the tavern, gets himself all liquored up, and hooks up for some nasty NC-17 worthy sex with Lucy Danzinger (Nucky’s former lover). And man, I’m not sure why, but I really feel bad for this character. Perhaps it’s Michael Shannon’s terrific acting, but overall, I just really see him collapsing. And what I really think Boardwalk Empire is about — it’s more than booze and money. It’s about a society with all of its parts — the criminals, the cops, and the bystanders — all falling apart because of one thing: prohibition.

But, now that we’re talking about this whole crime part, let’s talk about the craziness of this week’s “message-sending” scene. This is probably the most badass we’ve seen Nuck all season. He’s illustrating his change from corrupt-political figure to full-fledged crime boss quite nicely. When Mickey Doyle stopped by Nucky’s office to tell him all about the D’Alessio brother’s plan for murder, Nucky and Jimmy create a plan that has Chalky accept that bribe from a few weeks ago — putting them in the same room for a good ol’ fashioned massacre. And when everything comes together, Chalky learns that these boys were also responsible for lynching his friend, and then, Jimmy takes over as a badass. One of the D’Alessio’s — the scarred one with “dogshit on his face” — talks too much and Jimmy puts a bullet in his forehead. “I wasn’t going to, but you kinda talked me into it,” he says, like a boss.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Al Capone is acting like a punk (but what’s new?). He’s distracting people during meetings and pulling pranks. So, after getting called a punk one too many times, he decides it’s time to grow up. He buys a real hat and promises Johnny Torrio that he’s going to clean himself up and take himself seriously. Which, I think, is a great thing for his character. Maybe it’s because Capone is such a well known name in history, but I really would like to see the show develop his antics more.

And that was pretty much the extent of this week’s episode. We had a lot of buildup that finally came together with Jimmy and Nucky sending a message to Rothstein in New York City. And, we had some interesting character performance from Margaret. On top of that, there was some crazy sex from the least-expected place, Van Alden.

Now, here we are. There’s only two episodes left in Boardwalk Empire’s debut season, and I can safely say I have no idea what’s going to happen.