The third episode is filled with conflicts and cultural crisscrossings, not only continuing to propel the story of Boardwalk Empire forward, but also providing even more insight into Atlantic City’s vibrant yet increasingly dangerous society. We observe several community struggles throughout this piece, in everything from religion to racism to social class.
The episode begins with Al and Jimmy’s accidental survivor of the shooting, Simon, being rushed to the hospital after being found alive in the woods. Nucky realizes that this man could potentially endanger his and Jimmy’s reputation since he could easily give away valuable information about the alcohol heist to the Feds. After a sly but failed attempt by Eli to end Simon’s life, Agent Van Alden steals the victim away from the hospital so he can extract the info before it is too late. However, while they drive to New York in order to get a statement, Simon begins to perish. We finally observe Van Alden’s ruthless side after Simon insults him in Yiddish and he responds by inflicting torturous pain in order to selfishly get his information. Simon concedes with a name – Jimmy – and then subsequently dies. Even more surprising, Van Alden recites serious Christian prayer and last rites over the body, blatantly disregarding the victim’s religious beliefs while at the same time showing us his devout religious side despite his constant hard heartedness.
Meanwhile, Nucky has pulled some strings in order to get Margaret a job at the Ritz Carlton’s fancy Parisian clothing shop, Belle Femme. During Margaret’s first day at work, Lucy (Nucky’s young, beautiful, yet bratty girlfriend) comes in to try on lingerie. She does nothing to hide the fact that she feels superior to Margaret, scolding her during the fitting process and making it clear that Nucky did this for Margaret out of pity. “He’s a soft touch for the charity cases,” she sneers. Margaret is taken aback at this insult, and seems to feel more destitute than ever. She returns to her small, humble house in the poorer area outside of town, while Lucy is treated to luxurious Ritz Carlton living, where Nucky has an entire hotel floor.
In addition to the religious and class issues we have observed in this episode, we have also learned more about race relations in Atlantic City during this 1920s time period. Nucky pays a visit to powerful gangster Chalky White in order to strike a whiskey-related deal with him. Chalky is a leader in the local African American community, and, though he is certainly as capable and as manipulating as Nucky Thompson, he does not able to have any political power. When his young driver and comrade is ruthlessly hanged in a hate crime, Nucky and Eli force Chalky into keeping the news of the murder quiet, since “it’s an election year, and the last thing we want is a race war.”
The episode has also given us a glimpse into Atlantic City’s Italian circle as well. The D’Alessio brothers, hailing from a large family of Italian mobsters and demanding repayment of their loan, bail Mickey Doyle out of jail, who was put there when the Feds discovered his secret whiskey distillery. He makes an off-handed joke about their heavy Italian culture, but they quickly reassert their authority with threats if he doesn’t return their money.
These cases provide us insight into the complex social circles that must constantly overlap within Atlantic City’s diverse society during the 1920s era. Whether necessary to the ever-growing illegal alcohol industry or not, we leave the episode with a better understanding of the cultural and social structures of the city. It will be interesting to see how much the interconnected relationships between races, religions, and classes change throughout the series and which barriers will eventually be broken down. Boardwalk Empire is simply a reflection of melting-pot America at this point, but since we ourselves are living in 2013, we know that American society has some big changes ahead soon.