Episode 4: Anastasia

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While watching the array of events unfolding in this episode, I couldn’t help but think of modern-day politics. In 2013, it seems as though we are a lot closer to the 1920s then we probably think we are! Granted, of course, women have since been allowed to vote and many prejudiced barriers have since been broken down, but a handful of the same political and ethical issues still abound.

In “Anastasia”, we find Nucky stressing out over the two biggest guests of his birthday party: New Jersey Senator Edge and Jersey City Major Hague. He wants to treat the two politicians like royalty in order to convince them to set some funding aside for newly paved roads leading into Atlantic City. The deal would financially benefit Nucky, his various businesses, and the city itself tremendously, so he is sure to suck up to the two men. They openly all participate in the now-illegal practice of imbibing alcohol together(just like the rest of Nucky’s party guests) and discuss matters in the back room of Babette’s Club where the event is held. Of course, several bribes and dealings ensue (though with not much success), and Nucky blames their stagnant difficulty on their bipartisanship: he is a Republican and they are Democrats.

It is interesting to compare some aspects of contemporary politics to these scenes. Too often American citizens still complain about the deals made between politicians behind closed doors, and that is exactly how Nucky, Edge, and Hague went about their financial and political discussions. To take a little, Nucky was forced to give a little; a method that we find common between the Democrats and Republicans within the American government, especially Congress, today. Such complex deals are necessary for certain laws to be passed or amounts of dollars to be allotted. And, as we have learned from current news sources, today’s politicians are certainly no exception to the covert dealings that the characters of Boardwalk Empire have utilized so much. Scandal is not at all absent from politics quite yet, especially when it comes to money and illegal activity. It seems that every week we see a new congressman or senator in the news for involvement in prostitution or money laundering.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 1.01.17 AMIn fact, a current hot topic of ethical debate right now is the film Zero Dark Thirty and the way in which it portrays the information-gathering tactics used on suspects by the American government, namely the C.I.A. and the U.S. Military. Though this practice is technically illegal, insiders have openly suggested its widespread use, much to the horror of the American public. I was no less horrified to watch as Chalky leaves Eli’s sheriff’s office with the severed finger of Ku Klux Klan member and “Grand Cyclops” Joseph Earl Dinler, after torturing him with carpentry tools in order to get information about his young driver’s lynching in the last episode. He realizes that Dinler must be telling the truth- since he stuck with his innocence during the entirety of the “interrogation,” even after the worst of the torture. I shudder to think that these types of questioning processes still happen, but according to popular culture it is extremely likely.

Lastly, the very issue of 1920s Prohibition itself brings to mind an ethical and political stuggle that our own country faces today: marijuana use. Just like illegal alcohol, it is widely known to be happening, yet is often condemned as damaging to society and relationships. People often use marijuana as a social activity, just as they would use alcohol in certain social settings. Legal woes have surrounded this substance for quite a long time, and its uses and misuses are heavily debated. Today, alcohol is nationally legal but marijuana is not, though it may well be on its way to federal approval as many individual states have opted for some leeway. In many places, you might find law enforcement looking the other way, just like boozing occasions in Boardwalk Empire. Perhaps the structure of the drug trade today is similar to the complexities and hierarchies of the alcohol business of the Prohibition Era, with many levels, layers, and changing hands before the final destination is reached.

A few scenes in this episode may give us insight into how far some people will go in order to be the reigning rulers of a booming illegal business. For example, Al Capone, Jimmy Doyle, and Johnny Torrio discuss alcohol supply and demand in Chicago with another mob group run by Sheridan and his men. Torrio’s men declare that they will be the leaders in the area’s industry and make a deal to split the profits with Sheridan, though unevenly. As a result of this takeover, Sheridan’s men maul a prostitute named Pearl that Jimmy has developed intimate feelings for. She is permanently scarred as yet another victim of such a risky industry.

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