Boardwalk Empire, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review

Boardwalk Empire, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

Season two of HBO’s excellent series, Boardwalk Empire, is in full swing. If you are familiar with Boardwalk Empire at all, you know it is set in Atlantic City during the 1920s, the glorious time in our nation’s history known as Prohibition. You probably know that Prohibition wasn’t a very good idea. It didn’t stop the making, selling and distribution of liquor, but only drove it underground and led to the rise of the criminal class. Enterprising businessmen who didn’t mind going against a little old law realized there was lots of money to be made.

Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi), the head rogue in Boardwalk Empire’s gallery of rogues, is no fool. He manages to stay at the top of his game by outsmarting his rivals and cashing in on a political favor whenever he needs one. He is a sometime politician and a “businessman” with a keen instinct for survival. He has underlings who fall all over themselves to do his bidding, including a brother of questionable loyalty who is the sheriff.

Besides being a ruthless gangster who won’t stop at snuffing out whoever gets in his way (or having somebody else snuff them out), Nucky Thompson has more than a small touch of humanity and also a domestic side. He has a living arrangement with a widow with two small children named Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald). We saw in season one how Margaret came to be a widow and how she came to be Nucky’s almost-wife. She’s domestic and soft-spoken, with an Irish accent, but she knows how to get what she wants and is a lot smarter than her kind is usually given credit for. She’s always ready to lend a helping hand when Nucky is in trouble. She gives the impression that she will be left standing when everybody else is brought down.

Nucky Thompson’s chief rival is “the Colonel,” one Lewis Kaestner, a septuagenarian gangster played by Dabney Coleman. The Colonel used to be top dog and longs to be so again. In season two, he decides to openly challenge Nucky Thompson. He has a powerful ally in his son, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), an up-and-coming hoodlum who is a veteran of the Great War. Jimmy has a restless wife, Angela (Alexa Palladino), a young son, and a beautiful, glamorous mother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol) who looks barely old enough to be his sister (the Colonel had his way with her when she was only thirteen). The thing about Jimmy is he is torn between loyalty to his father, the Colonel, and loyalty to Nucky Thompson, who acted as a surrogate father to him when he was growing up. Nucky believes he’s more of a father to Jimmy than anybody else ever could be.

Brutish Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) see himself as a kind of avenging angel. He takes his job as an agent for the U.S. government very seriously. He believes anybody who profits from the illegal liquor trade should be called up before the law. He frequently invokes his religion but lives by his own rules. He is not above killing a man (or more than one) if it suits his purposes. He has a mousey, lonely wife back home that he doesn’t seem to like very much; also a lady friend, Lucy Danziger (Paz De La Huerta), in Atlantic City who is expecting his child. He doesn’t seem to care much for her, either; he keeps her a virtual prisoner in his apartment until after his baby his born. Lucy is a rough-hewn, tough-talking sexpot who happens to be Nucky Thompson’s cast-off girlfriend. Since Nucky threw her over in favor of Margaret Schroeder, she’ll stop at nothing to get revenge.

Of the secondary characters in Boardwalk Empire, my favorite is Richard Harrow (played by Jack Huston, grandson of John Huston), a tragically disfigured, gravelly voiced war veteran who becomes a friend and associate of Jimmy Darmody. He is in the service of the bootleggers and thugs he associates with, while longing for a “normal” family life that he will never have.

Boardwalk Empire is loaded with period detail; in its sets and costumes it has a feel of authenticity. The vintage cars and period music stand out in every episode. The characters are well drawn and believable and the dialogue crisp and intelligent. This show has everything the viewer could want in a period crime drama and then some. How many TV series have had Warren G. Harding, Jack Dempsey and Eddie Cantor as characters?

Copyright © 2011 by Allen Kopp

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