If asked what the first season of Boardwalk Empire is about, you’d almost certainly find yourself stumbling for an answer rather than having one at your fingertips. Not that every show needs a central focus, but for a sprawling HBO drama like this, it does really help. Boardwalk Empire’s lack of momentum besides time moving forward has long been its stumbling block, and it’s because the first season didn’t feel like it was building towards anything. Sure, there was an election, but that will always be the case.
Ending the first episode of season two on a cliffhanger (of sorts) with Nucky Thompson in jail has already given this season more to work with than before. While it’s too early to say for sure, season two seems to be about the everyone-vs.-Nucky gang war that’s slowly been brewing and the way it has already split Atlantic City in two. Cutting the prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden entirely out of this week’s episode helps emphasize this fact: in “Ourselves Alone” you have to pick a side, and Van Alden’s war against liquor in general just doesn’t cut it.
Almost as fast as he was taken to prison, Nucky posts bail and leaves, although not before speaking for a bit with Chalky White about their situation. When he leaves, Chalky soon finds himself put with the other black prisoners, one of whom hates him. The brief story of Chalky’s time in jail is actually the best part of the episode, even though it does little except to help characterize him (and it’s kind of sad that it’s taken the show so long). Last episode intimated that Chalky would be taking much more part of this season, and so far this is certainly the case. What we see is a man who has followed after Nucky’s footsteps, forging bonds with his fellow men not through intimidation like the prisoner who hates him but rather through generosity. He knows and has assisted everyone he’s held with, and in this way he’s in some ways Nucky’s true protege.
Jimmy, on the other hand, has a hard time forging real bonds with anyone else, even for merely a business relationship. Once again he leaves Atlantic City to pursue assistance elsewhere, this time from Arnold Rothstein in New York. Rothstein’s not interested in him, though, due to Atlantic City’s implicit connection with Nucky. One thing leads to another and before he’s made it out of NYC Jimmy has killed a couple of men for trying to rob him.
Back in Atlantic City, everyone else is simply trying to figure out how firm the sides of the upcoming turf war are. The Commodore’s hold on his men seems tenuous, other than with Eli. Nucky, on the other hand, has connections with everyone but can get few to come out and help him in his time of need. One of his greatest assets remains Margaret, who shows her loyalty to Nucky by stealing his ledgers back from his office before they’re found and used as evidence. Here she becomes, while not Lady Macbeth, certainly complicit with Nucky’s lifestyle in a way we haven’t seen before. Previously it’s seemed like she has affection towards Nucky and no compunction about using his ill-gotten gains, but she lacked the hesitancy here that she did with helping him out in the election during the first season.
Oh, and aside from that, there’s an irrelevant-seeming plot between Margaret, Nucky and an Irish military man looking for a donation in their fight against the British. This seemed to serve the sole purpose of leaving behind one of his men to flirt with Margaret. This seems… rather reminiscent, let’s say, of Furio’s role in The Sopranos, but hopefully the show will take things in a different direction.
The fight for control of Atlantic City may not be too interesting to anyone who read the “spoilers” for Boardwalk Empire, i.e. the actual history of the city. However, what it has done is bring out a Nucky we rarely saw in the first season. With Nucky fighting for his life, there’s much more at stake and as a result the petty machinations that took up so much of the first season are finally starting to look more than petty.
•”Who are you, Mr. Darmody?” – While this is too on-the-nose in a typically Boardwalk Empire way, it’s still a good question.
•”There were men touching your possessions in ways I consider offensive.”
•”Come on, Nucky, how’d you fix the election.” – Wow did reporters, according to Boardwalk Empire, suck back in the day.
•One thing that’s pretty great about Boardwalk Empire is that this is all resulting from a conspiracy by the local Yacht Club. Kind of love that it’s a yacht club conspiracy
•”When you start running the numbers, it starts looking very attractive.” – on heroin. If we start heading down that road this could be a very interesting season indeed.
•I really love the Latin-speaking mutton chop man.
•All jokes should end with, “I don’t know how it ended, but it was a little naughty.”