Boardwalk Empire – “Resolution”Posted: September 16, 2012
I’m not sure where a show like Boardwalk Empire ends, as compared to a show like Breaking Bad. It isn’t a show that has a definitive “end,” so unlike Breaking Bad, which will probably end with Walt’s death (we’re all thinking it), Boardwalk allows us to drift in and out of these characters’ lives, months or even years down the road.
“Resolution” picks up on New Year’s Eve 1922, a year and a half after the events of season two and exactly three years after the series premiere. Nucky seems to have taken Jimmy’s admonition that “you can’t be half a gangster” to heart, and when we meet him he’s in an empty apartment building with Mickey Doyle and Manny Horvitz, questioning a thief who stole alcohol from one of their warehouses. After calming the guy down and getting him to give over the name of his wheelman, Nucky tells Manny to put a bullet in the guy’s head. So maybe Nucky hasn’t completely balls-to-the-wall with the whole gangster thing. But at least he’s dropped the whole “I’m a businessman” pretense.
But whenever we see Nucky and Margaret alone, it seems they’ve dropped one charade for another. As you might have suspected, Nucky’s still pretty pissed about all that land Margaret handed over to the church at the end of last season. And as soon as the last guest has left their New Year’s party he’s in her face, throwing the whole thing in her face again (like married couples do). At the end of the episode we see that their relationship has gotten much worse than heated arguments, with Nucky sleeping at the Ritz while Margaret stays at home. We also see that Nucky’s taken a new concubine, Billie Kent, who’s a friend of Eddie Cantor. Billie and Eddie perform at the Thompson’s New Year’s bash, but it’s not until afterwards that we discover how she probably got the gig.
So not an ideal situation for Margaret. But it’s not like she’s sitting at home all day every day, kneading her hands and furrowing her brow. She’s settled into her role as a philanthropist, touring the hospital the church used the land for. Although we do see her and half the show’s characters following the story of fictional aviatrix Carrie Duncan, the first woman to fly nonstop across the continental US. At the episode’s end we see Margaret standing on the beach, one of several who have come out to watch Duncan fly overhead. The symbolism is about as on-the-head as you can get. Duncan is a woman who’s breaking barriers in a way Margaret can’t.
Outside of Nucky and Margaret’s not-marriage, several other things have changed, and I enjoyed the way the show didn’t try and explain them all, choosing instead to let viewers catch up and figure things out on their own. We’re introduced to Gyp Rosetti, one of the new season’s main antagonists. In some of the show’s promo material I heard Rosetti referred to as someone who can’t take a joke – which is kind of funny considering that’s what he accuses everyone else of – and the writers definitely set that up in the very beginning. When Rosetti’s car gets a flat tire, a good Samaritan stops to offer some help, saying that he’s got some “three-in-one” in his car. When Rosetti asks what that is, the guy says, “Oil. What else would it be?” So Rosetti does what any reasonable person would do and beats him to death with a tire iron. It’s in these over-the-top meltdowns that Rosetti really reveals who he is. At the New Year’s party, when Nucky announces to his gathered underworld guests that from now on he’ll only be selling liquor to Arnold Rothstein, and not Rosetti, he flips, going around the room and insulting everyone who may have been sympathetic to him or maybe offered some help.
Across town, we see Gillian – now the madame of a high-class bordello – carrying on as if life were nothing but rainbows and sunshine. There’s always been something off-putting about Gillian, and that wasn’t helped last season when we discovered just how far her, ahem, relationship with Jimmy went , but this whole thing with Tommy and trying to convince him that she’s his real mother just feels dirty to me. Then there was her veiled threat to Richard after he tried reminding Tommy about who his parents really were. So, I guess we can chalk him going out and shooting Manny’s face off up to pent-up frustration. But you have to ask yourself, if Richard killed Manny because of Angela, can Nucky be far behind?
We also check in with Van Alden, living just outside Chicago and making his living as a door-to-door iron salesman. It seems that, in the past year and a half, Van Alden’s married his German au pair and the two have had another child. You’d wonder how Nelson could possibly be able to fit into the show’s story this season until you see him cross paths with Al Capone, who’s visiting a flower shop owner who earlier in the episode was making fun of Capone’s deaf son. In Boardwalk’s first episode, Nelson referred to being a Prohibition agent was “godly work,” and I imagine he’ll be drawn back into the fight, whether or not he has a badge backing him up.
I’ve read a few articles lately praising Boardwalk Empire for its acting, writing, set design, and everything else, but lamenting the fact that it doesn’t really seem to be about anything. I have to say I disagree, and partially blame that perception on the endless comparison between Boardwalk and that other HBO crime drama, The Sopranos. While The Sopranos dealt often with more existential issues (watch the show’s last scene between Tony and Uncle Junior to see what I’m talking about), Boardwalk Empire deals with the circumstances that led to creation of Tony’s world. While I see The Sopranos as an analytical drama, I see Boardwalk as more structural. Neither show fits perfectly into those definitions, there’s a lot of overlap between the two, but both are as good as the other. I admit that I haven’t sat down to watch The Sopranos since it went off the air in 2007, so I may go back and realize I’m full of crap, but right now I consider Boardwalk Empire to be one of the best shows on TV. And there are times when I enjoy it even more than I do Breaking Bad. I know. I’m sorry.
In any case, Boardwalk Empire seems to like Boardwalk Empire. The show knows what it is, and has I’d say from the very beginning. It knows what it does well and this feels like a season beginning in a place that’s very sure of itself. And if tonight’s premiere was any indication it’s going to be a great year for the show.