It took its time, but Boardwalk Empire has finally shown us what kind of show it’s trying to be. No, sir. Boardwalk isn’t simply The Sopranos with nicer suits and without Tony Sirico’s marvelous hair. It isn’t only a story about organized crime. It’s about politics. It’s about power. It’s about the people in this time and place who, metaphorically speaking, were standing just offstage, calling the shots, running the show. Of course, it isn’t just about that. People like Johnny Torrio and Al Capone are the gangsters we’re used to. Gangsters like Nucky and the Commodore are effecting real change. And not all of it’s bad.
I said in last week’s review that it seemed like the writers had only just realized that the end of the season was coming up pretty quick and that they should probably start wrapping things up. But even in the first moments of its season closer, the show felt like it itself was taking a leisurely stroll down the boardwalk, taking time to get its palm read and look at underweight babies in those weird glass cabinets. When it becomes clear that Arnold Rothstein is going to be indicted for fixing the World Series, Lucky Luciano and Myer Lansky convince him to reach out to Nucky, who’s got the political connections to make the whole thing go away. They know that it’s probably going to cost them, and that getting Nucky to help them will mean selling out the D’Alessios, but what other choice do they have? I really loved Luciano’s line, when Rothstein says he didn’t realize he was paying them for advice: “The advice is free. You pay us because we’ll get our hands dirty.” I suppose that’s a little odd, because as far as the D’Alessio’s are concerned, Luciano and Lansky didn’t do anything. Jimmy, Al and Richard Harrow were the ones who did all the heavy lifting. And that montage was some great stuff, too, wasn’t it? The show’s really done a great job keeping a consistent tone with what Scorsese set in the pilot.
And the whole thing couldn’t have worked out better for Nucky? He put his problems with Rothstein to bed. He got filthy rich in the process. And he was even able to use the entire thing to boost turnout at the ballot box, calling a press conference and framing the entire thing as the Republican machine in action, bringing to justice thieves and bootleggers who wreak havoc on society and sully Atlantic City’s good name. And it works. Bader’s elected mayor, and Nucky and his cronies get to stay on for a while longer.
And I guess that’s it, right? As the sun sets, Nucky and Jimmy share and drink and Nucky says, “Well, kid, this sure is a great boardwalk empire we built.” WRONG. Nucky may have solved some short terms problems. But he’s alienated almost everyone close to him while doing it. Eli knows he’s little more than a pawn for Nucky to do with as he pleases. Jimmy sees the way Nucky treats people and realizes he’s been screwed over more than a few times himself. And then we have the Commodore, who’s going to live now that they’ve discovered his maid was poison his food. Nucky letting the maid go with a handful of cash was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the Commodore’s decided that things in AC may be better with Jimmy running things. As the episode ends we see him, Jimmy and Eli sitting in big leather armchairs, brandies in hand, plotting their hostile takeover.
But Nucky’s not completely alone. In slightly more upbeat news, Margaret’s decided to stand by her man, and totally abandon principles she was trying to trick everyone into thinking she had. I don’t think her decision to go back to Nucky was motivated entirely by selfishness, but it definitely played a part. As she and Nan Britton are headed back home after some religious gobbledygook on Halloween, Margaret finds a headstone in a church cemetery with the name Enoch Thompson on it, right on top of Nucky’s wife. When she goes back to confront him about it, Nucky tells her the story of his infant son, his death, and his wife’s resulting dementia. Nucky’s still a thief and a murderer, but that story kind of brought him back down to Earth, made us all remember that he’s a person, too. Add to this the fact that Margaret’s realized that without Nucky and all of his wonderful money she’ll be going back to being a poor, single mother. Working as a shopgirl to scrape by. As is often the case where Margaret’s concerned, the show’s explaining things to us in as plain of terms as possible. Margaret gets the rag in her piece of Barmbrack cake. The rag symbolizes poverty. Margaret doesn’t want to be poor. Poor bad. You get the picture.
Ever since Agent Van Alden drowned poor Sebso in the middle of that lake, he seems to have woken up a bit. At least he’s not walking around in some religious sage haze. But remember that for Van Alden, baseline is giving semi-religious introductory speeches and bitch-slapping Department of Internal Revenue applicants for offhand jokes. But maybe he realizes this is a problem, because he’s packing it up. That’s right. He’s hanging up his badge. His wife isn’t too excited about that. She likes being the envy of all the other pan-sexual women at Bible study. So Van Alden says that if this is the path God has chosen for him, let Him give him a sign. And that sign comes in the form of Lucy, who just breezes into his office with that puckered look on her face and tells him that she’s pregnant. Van Alden has now become the most sympathetic person on this show.
So, Jimmy vs. Nucky. It seems like this may be the story the show’s been waiting to tell all along, with this first season serving as one lengthy prelude, helping us to understand what the hell we’re looking at. Word on the street is that season 2 is even more expansive than season 1. Word on my street is fantastic! If the show can pull off this season what it did in its first – lightning usually strikes twice, right? — I’ll be more than happy. I like the complicated storylines, even when they’re a bit plodding, so I’m just as happy watching Nucky at the Republican convention as I am watching Jimmy blow Sheridan’s head off. Well, maybe not as happy.