We’re back! The year is 1921, Atlantic City is still under the dapper thumb of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, and my goodness Boardwalk Empire it has been a good two minutes’ worth of Season-One-round-up montage and there has been no gratuitous nudity! Why, one should – never mind the dancers are back all up in Steve Buscemi’s grill. Phew. All spoilers, all the time up ahead.
Boardwalk has proven itself in its first season as a show with some pretty immaculate casting and direction, if a rather slow-burning plot. And despite Michael Kenneth Williams turning up as a better-tailored and better-connected version of his character in The Wire, BE‘s plot never gets too complex to lose for long. HBO have even provided a delightful infographic to keep you up to date. If you need to take a moment to reacquaint yourself, I’ll wait for you here at the end of this sentence. Everyone else, come with me.
So that montage, let’s get to it! (Seems this is The Done Thing in the first episodes of returning shows.) Nucky and Margaret are happily co-habiting and Nucky is not always so great with children; Jimmy and Angela have moved into a giant house by the beach with Richard Harrow, who is having the best day ever running illegal booze; The Commodore is no longer poisoned and is now in training for the tridentspear event at next summer’s Crazy Old Dude Olympiad, he has also got his estranged son Jimmy on-side to bring down the Nuckster; Nucky’s brother Eli is posing in front of a mirror looking at his bullet wound in the manner of a pregnant mother; and speaking of which, though it’s not in the opening sequence, Agent Van Alden has knocked up Paz de la Huerta and is using confiscated contraband money to keep her out of sight and naked in every scene in which she appears. But we don’t know that yet so forget that, it was just a neat segue.
Margaret’s son has been hit with a ruler by the nuns at nun school. When Detective Schroeder accepts her son’s alibi of ‘I didn’t do anything’ she takes action by turning up to Nun Junior High wearing several furs and apparently not worrying about leaving herself open to Sister Jeremy Kyle’s judgement of her living situation. Baby Schroeder has been playing with matches and has developed a fascination with fire after the episode last season where Uncle Nuck burns down his father’s house in front of a little boy. Father Of The Year 1921 then has a heart-to-heart with his adoptive son during which he buys off a small child in exchange for his compliance. There’s an awesome little moment where he is counting out dollar bills then changes his mind and only gives him a single. Shrewd.
In other plotlines, Chalky White and his merry bootleggers is attacked by the KKK with a Gatling gun mounted on the back of a truck. They have been commissioned by the Commodore to stir unrest in Nucky’s criminal empire. One of the KKKs is shot and killed, and in a pretty neat little bit of scene shifting Nucky appears in the churches of both sides feeding appeasing rhetoric against the other. Nucky is angry with his brother for not controlling the KKK but turns out THAT WAS THE PLAN ALL ALONG because Eli has also signed up to evening classes on ‘how to turn on your former mentor’ and is now on Team Commodore. On that topic, Jimmy has some pretty reasonable concerns about attacking a man who can demand a million dollars from a Chicago gangster and receive those same dollars, but the Commodore is all like ‘chill bro I shot a bear once’ and Jimmy is not totally convinced.
Al Capone is tasked with going to Atlantic city and telling Thompson that his deal with his chief bootlegging supplier is off, but that is something that will wait til next episode. About Agent Van Alden: he brings his exceedingly Christian wife to the least scrupulous city in America for a weekend of churchgoing, and guess what! There is liqour everywhere! Then he busts the restaurant he has just eaten steak in to prove how much of a badass he is to her. Then he steals the money they confiscate to pay for Paz de la Huerta’s baby, which is a shocking revelation to everyone.
The episode ends with Nucky being arrested for one of any of the twenty crimes he committed before breakfast, in this case ‘election fraud’, and Jimmy opening a wedding gift from the big man, which is a huge and gross ornament of a father and son fishing, which is a thing they talked about earlier. Jimmy puts it away in a cupboard for symbolic purposes but also because it is huge and gross. End scene!
So considering it felt very much like a slow episode and as much a foundation-builder for the rest of the season as anything else, there was a surprising amount of development and even a genuinely tense action scene at Chalky’s warehouse. Noticeable also that there wasn’t so much in the way of well-directed social commentary, save a small scene involving politics and construction contracts in the very first scene. But if nothing else, Boardwalk Empire has probably the best ensemble cast I’ve ever seen – literally every main character holds your attention beautifully, and the rest have near-tangible inner lives. If the show itself seems a little cold at times – it’s rare that I feel personally invested in these guys - it is only allowing for the quality of its calculation. Can’t wait to see where this season goes. To tide you over til next week, here’s a teaser trailer that reminds us all of how funny a noise ‘Nucky’ is:
How did you find your first trip down the new season on the Boardwalk? Let us know in the comments.