Sunday, October 2, 2011

Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Begins

While this blog is concerned primarily with the real Boardwalk Empire it is also compared with the HBO version that's on TV, so in that vein here's Hilary Rothing's explanation of what's happening on the screen.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE 2.02 'Ourselves Alone'

Nucky finds himself on the outs with his own brother, as the Commodore readies a new regime.

By Hilary Rothing

October 04, 2011

Episode Title: 'Ourselves Alone'
Writer: Howard Korder
Director: David Petrarca
Previously on "Boardwalk Empire":

Van Alden staged a raid at a restaurant while celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife. Nucky did damage control after the KKK ambushed Chalky at his warehouse. The Commodore pushed Jimmy to break away from his mentor. Meanwhile, Nucky was cuffed for fixing the Atlantic City mayoral election.


Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) confronts her maids when she hears them whispering about the news of Nucky's arrest. Meanwhile, Nucky's lawyer bails him out, causing cellmate, Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) to bristle. In New York City, Jimmy (Michael Pitt) makes an offer to Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbard) to undercut Nucky's distribution deal. Rothstein says he'll give it thought and promises not to let word get out of Jimmy's bold move. Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) invites a hesitant Jimmy to a poker game and a meeting with Mayer Lansky.

Nucky's lawyer tells him that the State has two confidential witnesses who are willing to testify against him in the election fraud case. Margaret poses as a poor woman to get past the Deputy Attorney General at Nucky's office and make off with his ledger and cash. The Commodore (Dabney Coleman) rallies Eli, Damian Flemming and Jim Neary in an effort to take Nucky down. Flemming later voices his concerns to Neary over betraying Nucky.

Chalky gets a visit from his wife in jail. When a fellow prisoner continues to antagonize him, Chalky uses his influence over the other men in the cell to come to his defense. Nucky confronts Mayor Edward Bader about a leak in the election fraud scheme. Bader denies any knowledge of it.

Margaret gets a visit from a Sinn Fein representative, Owen Slater, looking to case Nucky's home before his boss arrives for a meeting. He flirts with Margaret, who is taken off guard by the young man. Later, his boss insults Margaret for forgetting where she is from and is gruff with Nucky, who makes a donation to the cause, regardless.
Jimmy meets with Mayer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and learns that he and Lucky are thinking of getting into the heroin trade. Later, two of the mobsters he took money from in the poker game try to rob him but Jimmy kills both men.

Damian Flemming attempts to warn Nucky about the Commodore's plans just as Eli (Shea Whigham) calls to issue a threat. Nucky makes him one last offer to confess his betrayal and make things right but Eli only makes a quip about taking power and hangs up on his brother. Meanwhile, the Commodore introduces Jimmy to a group of older men he claims run Atlantic CIty.

Later that night, Margaret returns Nucky's ledger and money to him and suggests he burn the book, instead committing all records to memory. He agrees and she tosses it into the fire.


The times, they are a changin'. That was certainly the theme in 'Ourselves Alone.' That and the realization that valued ally of mobsters of various ethnic persuasions and fringe political organizations, Nucky Thompson, is suddenly short on friends, himself. Meanwhile, his brother Eli and the man he considered a son, Jimmy are preparing to wage war with the Commodore in command.

I've been grumbling about "Boardwalk Empire's" pacing since last season, thus I was pleasantly surprised with the uncharacteristically brisk pace of this second season. There was quite a bit of movement on several fronts. Jimmy made a ballsy move in reaching out to Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano. The Commodore readied his men to take down Nucky and we met a new troublemaker on the scene, Sinn Fein associate, Owen Slater, who seems to have Irish eyes for Margaret. All interesting developments as we make our way down the boardwalk and deeper into season two.

Speaking of Margaret Schroeder, she continues to struggle with her upstairs/downstairs identity crisis. In the opening moments of the hour, it was hard to remember the timid shop girl who waited on a hateful and demanding Lucy Danzinger. Yet she was quick to remind one of her maids that she, too, was once a pauper. And then there was Margaret's visit to Nucky's office, dressed in one of her maid's cheap coats. Despite how easily she slipped into the role she once occupied at a lesser station in life, Margaret knows there's no going back. Not even to her hometown of Kerry, Ireland, as we saw when she supped with the Sinn Fien representative. Indeed, it appears Margaret's turned a corner, conning her way past a Deputy Attorney General and advising Nucky on how best to keep his secrets safe.

Another player on the boardwalk, Chalky White, also flexed some muscle this week, without lifting a finger. Chalky's sphere of influence was made clear when he threatened to shut down AC by calling for a massive strike. But there's nothing quite as convincing as a good ole' jail cell beating to hammer the point home. The more Nucky marginalizes Chalky, the more his power is made obvious.

Sadly, Van Alden and his ongoing moral meltdown were not on the agenda, this week, as well as Richard Harrow's take on "One Hour Photo" with the Darmody family. Instead, we spent more time with Jimmy, who's quiet discontent and constant brooding can get a bit tiresome. Like Steve Buscemi, I fear Michael Pitt is doing the best he can with a character who is thinly written. I was, however, tickled to see more of the Commodore and his taxidermy trophy room.

With his enemies, "dear brother" Eli included, now joined in the common cause of taking Nucky down, "Boardwalk Empire" hangs onto my interest. I'm still not enamored with the character of Enuch "Nucky" Thompson but I'm invested in just about every other thug, gangster, disfigured war vet, long suffering wife and mentally unstable Prohibition Agent this show has to offer. That's certainly enough to keep me in AC for another season.

Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.

What we're looking for in Boardwalk Empire season 2
Michael Noble

Michael looks back at the first season of Boardwalk Empire, and comes up with some things that the show needs to do in its second run.

Published on Oct 6, 2011

This article contains spoilers for Boardwalk Empire season 1.

Time doesn’t half fly these days. It doesn’t feel all that long since Sky Atlantic burst onto our EPGs in the UK, promising a feast of high quality US television. The opening course seemed rather delicious, a new Prohibition-era drama from the creative minds behind The Sopranos, Goodfellas and The Departed. Best of all, we no longer had to endure several spoiler-dodging months waiting for it to make its way over the pond. We’re still on fast forward, it’s early October, and we’re already settling down for the second season.

In many ways, the shortness of the gap makes sense. So much of the first season of Boardwalk Empire felt like things were being set up for later, that it may come to feel like one long season with a mid-term break for the summer. This does, however, give some hope that the second season will see things ramp up considerably. There are many opportunities to do so.

Of the show’s many characters, Jimmy Darmody was the one with whom we were most likely to identify. A young man, embittered by his wartime experiences and sense that his talents are being overlooked, seemed set for a challenging journey to acceptance. However, he spent a good deal of the season exiled in Chicago. Sure, he was learning his ‘trade’, and coming to terms with his limitations, but it felt like he was kept away from the main story arc, only returning as the season drew to a close

Meanwhile, the Commodore, one of the show’s most intriguing characters, was barely in it.

Now there is always something to be said for economy, and there was a certain difficulty with a disgruntled housemaid and some arsenic, but there was an overriding sense that we have yet to see him for the power he plainly is. However, the newly formed alliance between him, Jimmy and Eli Thompson looks set to kick things off nicely.
Nucky Thompson may feel that things are looking up, what with the election dealt with and with Arnold Rothstein on the back foot, but in actuality, his problems are just beginning.

Talking of problems, Lucy Danziger, possibly the nakedest character in television history, has certainly got some interesting times ahead of her. Her condition will cause nothing but trouble for resident oddball, Nelson Van Alden, and he has very tricky path to negotiate. That said, it is unfortunate that the show’s female characters seem destined to remain defined by their relationships with men. Aside from Lucy, we have Angela Darmody, finding it difficult to handle her own desires while negotiating her relationship with Jimmy. These are good characters. They can do more on their own.

But what of Margaret Schroeder? The journey from battered wife to companion of Nucky Thompson was a little circuitous, and there has been a tendency to see her as all too willing to become a ‘kept woman’. But as the series has gone on, she’s shown more of a stronger, wilful side that means that the audience, like Nucky, have probably underestimated her. In Margaret, delicately portrayed by Kelly MacDonald, we have a character from which we can genuinely expect some surprises.

This will require some improvements. The show also seemed at times to lack the confidence in economic storytelling that has been HBO’s hallmark. Take Jimmy’s wartime experiences. In the very first episode, he showed his capacity for violence, which he explained by saying, 'yeah, I seen some things [in France]'. That would have been enough, we could have learned more by his actions as the story progressed, but the writers couldn’t avoid giving him an 'impassioned' speech to Nucky in justification.

One of the themes I would like to see explored is the problem of what to do with a generation of demobbed angry young men, scarred by their experiences in war. This is a large theme (and one that resonates today) but could nevertheless be told through the actions and choices of the characters without resorting to tearful exposition. They can do better; they managed it superbly with the fascinating man-made monster Richard Harrow.

Van Alden’s obvious religious mania was another piece of unnecessarily heavy storytelling. There should be enough material to show Prohibition as an ill thought out disaster without making the government’s man such an obvious loon. In fact, the opportunities for a rich and engaging story are so abundant; we could simply let the era do the talking.

The 1920s are a very interesting decade to explore. Not only can we watch notorious characters like Rothstein, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky make their journeys into infamy, but we can also see America dance blindly through the decade leading to the Wall Street Crash and the Depression.

For those of us still coming to terms with the aftermath of the credit boom, it makes for instructive viewing. The setting of Boardwalk Empire also gives it the opportunity to fill a gap in the retelling of the American century that was being told through television. A dramatic arc can be traced from Deadwood (mid-1870s) through to Mad Men (1960s) and onto The Wire (2000s). The addition of a show about the 1920s helps to create a pattern in which the state of America has been examined at intervals of around forty or so years.

The makers of Boardwalk Empire have the task of showing America’s faltering steps into socio-political maturity and sophistication. Done properly, it stands to be awesome. Let’s hope that the second season sees them do just this. The beginning hasn’t finished yet.

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