Boardwalk Empire 2.02 "Ourselves Alone" Review

A tv review article by: Nick Hanover, Jamil Scalese

Nucky makes it out of his jail cell, but Chalky is left behind and has to deal with a brash young fellow who doubts his reading abilities. While Nucky sets about figuring out who's still loyal to him and just how much dirt on him has been found, Margaret pulls off a nifty bit of espionage and stands her ground against a dickish visitor. Jimmy is already putting together his own plan outside of the Commodore's and visits Arnold Rothstein with a proposition that isn't too well received, but at least impresses rival Lucky Luciano and his pal Meyer Lansky. Also, the Commodore lifts a gigantic elephant tusk over his head. Because he's a badass.

Boardwalk Empire airs Sundays at 9 on HBO.

Nick Hanover: Last week we spoke about the hole that Nucky has found himself in and what that might mean for the rest of the season. Already in the second episode we're seeing Nucky basically knocked down to the bottom, with hardly any allies and his competition practically carving up his territory for themselves. What do you think Nucky's prospects look like after this episode?

Jamil Scalese: The decline of Nucky is as quick as it is brutal, and in two episodes he’s become possibly the character most worthy of our sympathies. To ask me about his chances moving forward, well, I think the whole episode honed in on one conclusion-- his allies are jumping ship, but the one that stayed is strong. After being essentially ignored in the premiere Margaret shined in this hour and I love the journey of her character since the beginning of the show. She indicates with her abduction of Nucky’s files from his cop-swarmed office that she is a valuable weapon in her lover’s arsenal. Her interactions with new character Slater show that she has no shortage plot threads moving forward. What did you think of Slater? Can this show afford any more characters on its roster?

Nick: Margaret really came into her own this episode, both with the canny bit of sneakery you mentioned and with her icy little showdown with Sinn Féin representative John McGarrigle. Slater I'm a little unsure of. Is he meant to be a temptation for Margaret? A Jimmy replacement for Nucky? I trust the writers but I have to admit I'm a little concerned they're playing character Jenga here.

What I felt was more promising was Jimmy's plotline this episode, which had him reaching out to Arnold Rothstein in a fulfillment of the concept of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." His scenes with Lucky Luciano in particular, where they could barely contain their contempt for each other, were dynamite, and I'm pretty excited to see what goes on between those two and Meyer Lansky. Jimmy's part of the show is often the most entertaining and I get the sense that this season is really going to spotlight that.

Jamil: I was just thinking that, even last year, Jimmy is the best part of the show. He teeters from menacing to smooth to humble and unassuming. He seems as unsure of his next move as we are. I thought his attempted deal with Rothstein was as misplayed as Rothstein implied it was, and the only reason the top New York gangster didn’t react negatively was due to his awe of Mr. Darmody’s brashness. The scenes with Luciano and Lansky were a nice new development in Jimmy’s empire-building journey, and I love the energy of Luciano and how the writers brought together that odd, odd, dynamic between him, Gillian and her son. Of course Jimmy’s father played a “strong” role in this episode as he gathers an even larger faction of Nucky naysayers. Did the Commodore come off more powerful or pathetic?

Nick: I think the Commodore is way too confident in a plan that seems pretty risky. Even the other players acknowledge that no matter how much they plan, Nucky got to where he is precisely because he's so smart and crafty. The Commodore only barely has the others on his side and all it would take is someone making a better offer and that alliance would topple. He has them on his side for now but I wonder how much longer Jimmy in particular will stick by him, especially if this deal to bring heroin into Atlantic City pays off. Jimmy's current associates are all future big deals, as he's hanging out with the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano and even Meyer Lansky's weird little yappy friend is none other than Bugsy Siegel. I still think this is going to be a battle where the real victor is going to be whoever stays away from the biggest losses and that could very well be Jimmy, who has proven himself to be a shrewd strategist. Especially if he gets the increasingly more frustrated Chalky White on his side.

Chalky White's story here wasn't as connected to the larger picture, but damn if it wasn't intense, and he showed off the kind of pull he has in the community. Watching Dunn Purnsley get his in that cell after being such an asshole wasn't just a nice bit of brutality, it was also an indication of the loyalty Chalky commands. Do you think we'll be seeing that aspect of Chalky coming in to play soon?

Jamil: HBO gold. From the beginning with close associates Nucky and Chalky sharing a brief moment in a cell, to the end of Dunn’s old-fashion ass-whoppin’, I thought the jail scene was the crown of the young season. Though mostly unrelated to the bigger picture I do think the digression in the Atlantic City lockup did and will serve a purpose in showing Chalky White’s pull in the black community. I was a huge fan of the show challenging him on a level that didn’t involve race and giving him the chance to match his might with an opponent he can actually knock out without consequence. Dunn Purnsley made for a fabulous victim; I was enamored by his brutishness and vernacular. Jigaboo? Brother Tambo? Fun!

It brings up a bigger point you inadvertently mentioned -- I love being taught history so easily. The way this show incorporates history elements and mingles it with fiction is smart. Somehow there’s suspense in stuff we already know. Even so, the larger, more noticeable names typically have smaller roles, with fictional characters like Jimmy, Richard Harrow and Agent Van Alden being fan favorites.

Overall this episode was about how the men with power on Boardwalk Empire are dealing with the shift of influence. Consequently, many characters were missing from this episode. Where’s Lucy? Richard? Al Capone? Does anyone of significance die on this show? The one most close to death last season is lifting elephant tusks over his head.

Nick: We did see Van Alden's partner die, but point well taken. The suspense isn't so much in who will live or die but who will come out on top or be relegated to footnote status or worse. You're exactly right that the show does an excellent job ramping up that tension despite the fact that the bulk of these characters' fates are only a Wikipedia link away. But there's real excitement in being so immersed in such an important time in American history, at the dawn of the era of organized crime. To me the conflict boils down to the past (the Commodore) and the future (Jimmy and perhaps Chalky) versus the present (Nucky). We know Jimmy will succeed at some point, in some fashion, or at least his side will, but will that be because the past and present destroy themselves or because the present and the future merge? That's something Boardwalk Empire will likely keep us guessing about for some time, but my gut instinct is that the Commodore won't see the end of this season.

Jamil: Yes, it’s time to keep an eye on how these different groups mix and separate, and I guess that is where the momentum in the season lies. It reminds me of Deadwood in a lot in the ways. The show is built with so many separate but not exclusive plot lines and emphasizes inserting all the history it can while still keeping things human.

In terms of who will win: Nucky’s reach is still far and mighty, and I would not be at all surprised to see him and Jimmy team-up again. Real-life Enoch Thompson makes his way out of this soft mutiny, and we even see the Commodore’s underlings openly questioning the intelligence in overthrowing him. As Nuck reminds us, he tries to be fair to everyone, and I think that will resonate with his enemies when it comes to decisive action. But really, the story elements of this show go generally unnoticed to me until I sit down and prepare to chat about it with you, Nick. When watching I’m wrapped up in the lives of the inventive and often wacky characters that scare, humor and fascinate me.

Nick: Boardwalk Empire is one of the most immersive shows on tv, it's true. They've done such an excellent job making this time and this story come to life that it's easy to forget where you are while watching it. There may be a lot of spinning wheels some times, and occasionally it can get a little too wrapped up in monologues (like last episode's scene with the Commodore discussing bear hunting, which was brought up again here), but I can't think of many shows that are on television right now that are as good at selling the whole scenery and experience.

Jamil: They do get lost in the showmanship and aura of the roaring 20’s. Sometimes those musical numbers or character speeches drag on or as you said in the case of the bear metaphor, are repetitive. That’s why it keeps coming back to the ensemble cast for me, is there a limit? I really missed some of my favorite characters, and even if this only the second episode of the season I feel a little robbed. When Slater appeared on Margaret’s doorstep I knew his boyish good looks and dashing accent meant less time with other deserving subplots. Are the showrunners overcompensating for the fact that a lot of the story is written for them? Or am I complaining about getting too much of a good thing?

Nick: No, I think your complaint is legitimate. I'm willing to trust the writers and see what happens with Slater, but I do think you're right that at this point we don't need the cast to keep expanding and there are more important, existing storylines that deserve to be followed up on. But with all that said, what are you giving this episode? I wish we had something in between 4 and 4.5 but I'm going to round up and say

Jamil: Damn our rigid rating system! I think I’ll mark this one as , it was a great episode with some memorable scenes, but was missing some of the key elements. Plus there was that weird scene where Jimmy killed those muggers in the park. That just didn’t sit right with me.

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.

Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.

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