Boardwalk Empire 2.01 "21" ReviewA tv review article by: Nick Hanover, Jamil Scalese
Nucky faces a lot of insurrection among some of his most trusted people. Chalky's own life is threatened when the Ku Klux Klan launch an attack too close to home. Margaret must deal with her son's disciplinary behavior. Angela asks Gillian's advice over Jimmy's affections at home. And Van Alden decides to show his wife, Rose, around the town for her anniversary.
Boardwalk Empire airs Sundays at 9 on HBO.
Nick Hanover: So Boardwalk Empire succeeded last year in part because of how strong its pilot was. This season's opener wasn't quite as strong, which may have been due to the lack of a director on the level of Martin Scorcese at the helm, but I felt a lot of this first episode was massive set-up for the season as a whole. Which is understandable, but it made for a sometimes less than satisfying viewing experience. What did you think? Was this a good opener or just an unavoidable way of setting up this second season?
Jamil Scalese: Yeah, I don't think this was another Emmy-winning directing performance by any means, but I liked how much more intense and motivated the opener was compared to the lulls of last season. The plot maneuvering and huge scene jumps didn't help much, but the number of characters this show holds is staggering. Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and Jimmy (Michael Pitt) are the undeniable big two and the character trees that branch from them populate one of the best and most diverse casts on T.V.
Nick: Let's dig into the Nucky and Jimmy dynamic for a minute. Last season's finale hinged on the divide between them that happened as a result of Jimmy's exile. This opener built on that, specifically Nucky's suspicion that he's losing Jimmy and his attempts to rebuild their connection. There were some extremely well-written moments as a result of this, like Nucky's remembrance of when he and Jimmy used to go gull shooting. But then we get that overly obvious ending, with Jimmy putting a gift from Nucky up in the dusty section of a closet. Do you think this season is going to focus on Jimmy shutting Nucky out once and for all? Or do you think there's still hope for their relationship?
Jamil: Can't I plead the fifth? I think it will only complicate further, as Jimmy's shrug-off Nuck's gift actually surprised me a little. I thought he would struggle with the decision to overthrow his pseudo father figure but it seems the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) has really slammed the wedge in the harder than I thought. Even though the season opener was all over the place it seemed that all threads eventually flow back to this relationship. The family dynamic in the series is so extremely peculiar. Just look at Jimmy Darmody's home life, doesn't it just make you feel uncomfortable?
Nick: Jimmy's home life just confuses me at this point. But maybe that has something to do with that creepy comment his mom (Gretchen Mol) made about "kissing his weewee" when he was an infant. That can't be normal, can it? But I think what really connects this opener and thus this season is the breakdown of Nucky's relationships on the whole. We see snippets of him getting together with other women while Margaret is home alone and her kids are acting out, we see Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) threatening him with a race riot if he doesn't come through for his people and Eli (Shea Whigham) is doing his part to agitate those conflicts. Hell, even Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) is giving up on Nucky.
Does Nucky have a back-up plan that we're going to be seeing soon? Or are we now looking at The Fall of Boardwalk Empire?
Jamil: No one is on Enoch's side. His cohorts are betraying him on every level, from his family, to his political allies and booze buyers. Then again, as you said, he is sleeping around, handling discipline with dollar bills and giving backhanded, contradictory speeches to crowds of different races. He is a bad guy after all. It almost feels like Nucky is down to his last guns, but I still feels like he wields great power on the boardwalk and will have surprises down the line for Jimmy and his gang of usurpers. Almost totally detached at this point is Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and his mission to bust those who horde alcohol. The great moments of him and his wife celebrating their "lucky" 13th anniversary were clever and shone new light on one of the most awesome characters in the lineup. Did you expect their dinner to end like that?
Nick: That may have been my favorite part of the episode specifically because it came from nowhere. There were hints that Van Alden was going to do something, but I didn't expect a full on raid, and I expect that it will have some repercussions for Van Alden soon. He's getting crazier and sloppier and I think that if he keeps being so aggressive, one of the sides is going to let his skeleton out of her closet. But still, I didn't expect Van Alden's storyline to be so fun, as last season his scenes often were the weakest, until the end of the season, at least. I've liked his character but I felt he was often underutilized and the writers didn't quite know what to do with him, but I suspect him and Nucky might be forming an unholy alliance soon. Which leaves Margaret (Kelly MacDonald) as the odd one out. I couldn't get into her scenes at all this episode. Did they fall as flat for you as they did for me?
Jamil: Was Margaret even in this episode? Seriously, she only seemed to talk to a nun, and that's about it. She might be the only character not plotting against Nucky, and is generally forgotten for the first hour of this season. I don't expect that to continue though as she was a workhorse in terms of screen time last year, and we shouldn't expect the sassy lass to dwindle away. Plus, she gets a little bit hotter every episode, so there's that. What other moments stuck out for you in this episode? I have many, but two were George Remus (Glenn Feshler), the guy who referred to himself in the THIRD PERSON throughout a conversation with Torrio, and Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) asking Jimmy how it feels to have "everything." Two examples of how this show is shedding its label as a period piece.
Nick: Remus was an excellent addition, especially given the crazy real life history the guy has and that whole thing about him likely being the inspiration for Jay Gatsby. And Harrow remains a favorite of mine, he's just such an interesting character and is so unique, there's no one else like him on television right now. The other big stand out for me in this episode was Chalky White, as I think he remains severely underestimated by everyone and he could either wind up being the deciding factor in which side wins...or he could sweep in and take over while the other players weaken themselves with their infighting.
Jamil: Agreed on Richard, he is the prized jewel of Boardwalk Empire . From his first moments with Jimmy he has absolutely commanded the screen. Chalky is a wildcard and he knows it. With his pull has now weakened, and the Ku Klux Klan on the rise, I think he might do something drastic that will have Nucky holding the pieces. That's what the season premiere seemed to be all about – the Treasurer of Atlantic City is in some serious shit.
Nick: This season will definitely see some serious attacks on Nucky's empire, and I do like the direction this premiere indicates things will be going in. Which is why I say it's an unavoidable way of setting up a potentially great season. I think it could have been a little bit better constructed and more artful, but it still accomplished what it needed to, which is filling us in on what's going on with this huge cast and letting us know how crazy everything is about to get. So I'm going to give it . What about you?
Jamil: I'll follow your lead, sir. is fair. The episode managed to touch on every major character from last season and even brought in a couple new ones. Heck, we didn't even cover everything from it, like the Commodore's bear story or the oligarchic meeting on the future of New Jersey roads. It was good, a little erratic, but good. I look forward to more focused storytelling the in future. Or the past. Whatever.
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.