A lot has been said about the similarities between The Sopranos and Boarwalk Empire and for good reason, since the show’s promotional materials have actively requested that comparison. But the latter show is much more than an attempt at re-doing the earlier and one of the largest differences between the two is in scope. That isn’t to say that Sopranos wasn’t an epic show, it certainly was, but its cast never dreamed higher than their little community. If he could, Tony Soprano would’ve stayed in Jersey and never dealt with the New York families, things simply would’ve stayed with the status quo and life would stay on an even keel. Aside from the drugs and hookers, most of his goals were for nothing more than family stability and a healthy income.
Nucky Thompson, on the other hand, is a dreamer. He’s already plenty wealthy, but he wants more and is willing to put this dream ahead of a family. He’s also concerned with things much bigger than just his weekly take. It’s telling that much of Boardwalk’s action has occurred in Chicago because the show is about with more than just the Atlantic City, it’s concerned with what’s happening throughout the whole nation and using Atlantic City as a synecdoche to funnel its interpretations through. It’s significant that the show’s not just titled after the local boardwalk but also with the idea of an empire; the national stage of America is always a significant part of the show.
What bigger way to effect the nation as a whole than to be the man behind choosing the president? Of course, Nucky’s not the only one behind this decision, but the highlight of “Hold Me in Paradise” is showing how key he was in the Republican Party’s nomination, which then did in fact lead to the presidency. These national politics have been a somewhat slow-moving subplot for a while now, but here they’ve finally come to fruition. Due to the betrayal of Senator Edge on a road appropriation bill he backs the other guy, who turns out to become President Harding. eWhile this is presented in a less showy manner than most of the show’s revelations, it’s in fact one of the biggest events we’ve seen—just one that has mostly large-scale implications rather than local ones.
But that’s skipping to the big reveal when the real action of the episode comes near the begging when a crew, almost certainly (but of course not definitely) from New York, robs Nucky’s casino and shoots his brother. Nucky is at the time away in Chicago for the RNC, but has to head home to deal with the developing situation. This puts into action two different threads: first Enoch reaching out to Jimmy to return to Atlantic City and second asking Margaret to hide his books for him. As the episode closes it appears almost certain that Jimmy will take this suggestion, as he’ll always be an outsider with the Italians, while Margaret eventually does look at her sugar daddy’s books and doesn’t seem to like what she finds there.
In all, it’s a fine episode that has less fireworks than what we’ve seen recently but is perhaps more elegantly plotted than anything the show’s given us thus far. My one quibble would be with the end. Margaret is one of the few characters who’s really changed since the beginning of the show and by now it seems like she shouldn’t be shocked by what she finds in Nucky’s ledgers. Then again, people can be very self-deluding when they wish to look the other way, but she’s also by no means stupid and this coming as a surprise to her seems pretty ridiculous.
Beyond that, we get both a hint at the resolution of Jimmy’s journey out west and a sense of where the show will be going for the rest of the season. Politics, which have been in the forefront of the show for the past few episodes, seems ready to die down for a bit(other than when Eli’s up for election) in favor of getting back to the mob part of the show. The interaction between crime and government will of course always be intrinsic to Boardwalk, as that’s largely what it’s about, but the balance seems ready to shift to some real conflict between New York and New Jersey.
• If there’s a loose thread in all of this, it’s what’s going on with Van Alden, who seems to be a true wild card. He verges upon self-parody every time he enters the screen, but while most of the pieces are coming together in the rest of the show what role he’s set to play seems especially unclear.
• The nude painting is absolutely hideous. I’m halfway convinced that kid who says it looks good is in fact blind, a counterpart to the Capon’s deaf son..
• He’ll “fold like hot laundry” is pretty forced and awful, even for “period” language. The show isn’t stylized enough in a Deadwood or Firefly fashion to pull off a line like this, and even those shows sometimes faltered. I’d rather it didn’t try.
• The portrayal of Harding as an incompetent blowhard seems rather historically accurate. On that note, the poem he reads is real, though supposedly it was sent to his wife.
• And the fortuneteller bit also takes you out of the story. That’s a really clumsily used device.
• I haven’t mentioned it before, but to me Van Alden is pretty much The Simpsons’ Rex Banner, to the point that I call him that when I forget his actual name.
• 16mm silent porn films are actually still available, though obviously not in 16mm:
• 5 Ohio presidents from the civil war by then is in fact pretty insane.
• The Republican Convention looks … just the same today.