This week’s Boardwalk Empire was a rather dour affair with dark overtones serving as harbingers of things to come. Primarily focusing on the attempts to deal with the lone surviving witness of Jimmy’s (Michael Pitt) liquor heist fiasco, we got to see a bit of Van Alden’s (Michael Shannon) true colors as well as take a fascinating tour through 1920’s medical practices (let’s just say I’m glad they have pills for that now).
Van Alden reminds me of a preacher who spends his entire career on the pulpit bashing homosexuality only to finally admit that he’s gay. He’s all twisted and knotted up behind a veil of propriety and rules while secretly repressing some sick…something. His method of getting Rothstein’s lackey to literally “open up” wasn’t just over the top, it takes some sort of crazy to stick your bare hand in someone’s gut…especially that guy. His scene at the dinner table with his wife was one of the best scenes of the night and it was only several seconds long.
It’s a thrill to have Omar (Michael K. Williams) back in any form, and it looks like Chalky will have a significant role to play as he takes over Mickey’s operation and deals with the hanging. One thing I had not expected from this series was its attempt to tackle racism and fascism. The clear class lines being drawn between Angela (Aleksa Palladino) and Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) in that dressing room scene may be an early attempt to begin planting the seeds for exploring the economic roots of both. If there’s any real criticism to be thrown at Boardwalk so far, it’s that its themes so far are soft targets. War turns men into killers. Men who feel inadequate turn to cruelty and violence. Been there, done that. But the novels that seem to be popping up in each episode seem to be hinting at a stronger thematic direction. This week’s novel, Free Air by Sinclair Lewis, champions the working class everyman and ridicules upper-class characters as being snobby elitists (much like Angela). The novel that appeared in 1.02, The Ivory Tower by Henry James, is an attack on the corrupt nature of wealth.
Meanwhile, Nucky (Steve Buscemi) continues to endear himself to us despite his corruption and said wealth. Perhaps it’s as Angela says, that it’s because he has a soft spot for charity cases. Or maybe it’s because of his sense of loss over never having children. Whatever the reason, we feel for him. He doesn’t seem to flaunt his status (or even truly enjoy it) so much as go about maintaining it in a rather professional, businesslike fashion.
Jimmy, on the other hand, is losing some empathy. His jealousy over the photographer just made him seem rather stupid. But maybe that’s the point. He’s criticized by both his wife and Nucky repeatedly for giving up the books and any attempt at doing the hard, scholarly work it takes to rise to the top. Perhaps in his ignorance, however, he can see what they can’t. It’s not learning or even smarts that make a difference in a corrupt system that values only wealth. It’s power with a fist. As we saw last week, a part of Nucky wants to pretend he’s not really a gangster. Sure he gives the orders and smuggles the booze. But he’s not one of them. Jimmy knows differently. He knows what it is that makes Nucky who he is. And it can’t be found at the local library.
As the walls start to close in from Rothstein and now the Italians, Nucky won’t be able to keep fooling himself. Every move he makes is leaving a trail of mud behind him, all the way up the steps of his ivory tower.