Episode 13: 21

As Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire begins, we quickly realize that some amount of time has passed since we last saw Nucky, Margaret, and the show’s other characters. A lot has changed – some for better and some for worse.
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First off, Margaret and the children certainly seem settled in their Atlantic City home. Margaret’s clothes seem more expensive and she cares much more about her appearance. Wearing makeup is a look that definitely becomes her. She’s clearly blossomed under Nucky’s care, especially now that she has maids and servants waiting on her as soon as she awakes. We observe her giving orders as she sits in the lavishly decorated dining room and it seems as though she has lived this way her whole life. Although she is clearly enjoying the lifestyle (and I don’t blame her), I hope that she is still able to remember her humble beginnings and where she came from. Her single worry in life is Nucky’s late-night escapades. Now living full-time with her and the children, he often returns home at all hours of the morning. I think that deep down, Margaret knows he is drinking, gambling, and possibly sleeping around, but I believe she chooses to ignore it since she would rather keep her lifestyle than put up a big fight about it. She softly scolds him once, and then proceeds to keep her mouth shut. It will be interesting to see how long she can do this for.

Jimmy and Angela’s situation has progressed as well. Now officially married, they’ve moved into a large and beautiful home on the beach. Jimmy, who realized at the end of last season that he needed to be a better father, has finally seemed to break through to Tommy. Tommy appears much less afraid of his dad, and is ecstatic when he offers to take him to shoot seagulls on the beach. Though Angela forbids it, Jimmy ignores her orders. His disregard of her wants and needs is definitely something that hasn’t changed. It doesn’t help that sly Gillian is still hanging around, constantly undermining Angela’s authority in the house. Though I took a liking to Gillian in the first season, her blatant disrespect towards Angela is frustrating and rude. The fact that she clearly fights for Jimmy’s attention over his own wife is also just plain weird and out of line. I like Jimmy and Angela as individuals, but together they may just have one too many obstacles to overcome in order for their marriage to succeed. I wonder if Angela will ever leave Jimmy to escape to Paris to find her former lover Mary again.

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Meanwhile, Agent Van Alden is surprisingly still in town. Clearly, he was convinced to stay in the city despite his original arrangement to take up another position somewhere else. I guess his plan to escape his sins, such as murdering Sebso and impregnating Lucy, fell through. Or perhaps he felt obligated to stick around for Lucy’s sake. (Is it possible that he has a heart??) Nevertheless, he brings his wife Rose to AC for a honeymooning weekend. Last season, he was quite cold towards her, denying her a fertility doctor when she wanted to have children and displaying almost no emotion when he came home. But things have changed. Now, we actually see him smile with her and treat her to a nice romantic dinner. Has his experiences in Atlantic City changed him and brought him actual feelings? After Van Alden shows off to her by flashing his authority and raiding the very restaurant in which they are dining, they go back to the hotel room and have sex. But Van Alden’s image of a loyal and loving husband is soon diminished when he returns to his place alone in the morning and a now very pregnant Lucy is there. He hands her the cash he picked up from the raid and coldly orders her to leave. There are many unanswered questions about their relationship here. Does she live with him? How far along is she? What will happen when the baby is born? I hope Season 2 will satisfy these ponderings.

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Lastly, one significant change happens at the end of this episode – and a cliffhanger at that. Nucky, ditching family movie night for an urgent call from the office, arrives at his Ritz apartment only to be arrested on the spot for election fraud. Is this the Commodore’s doing? After all, Jimmy, Eli and him have all had some time to plan their inside attack on Nucky, even enlisting Bader and Nucky’s own ward bosses to help. This could be the beginning of one complex and corrupt Atlantic City civil war.


Episode 12: A Return to Normalcy

Ah, the season finale. After the previous episode, I couldn’t wait to see what this one had in store. The writers left us with feelings of shock and surprise, as Margaret leaves Nucky, Van Alden murders Sebso, and we discover that the Commodore is Jimmy’s father. But as this piece’s title suggests, the plot in this episode is simply a gradual return to normalcy.

We begin with the Atlantic City election matters. Nucky and his men have had a tough time countering the Democrats’ accusations of corruption and crime. Even Chalky is on the fence, since opposing mayoral candidate Fletcher has approached him for the black vote. Nucky must pay Chalky $10,000 and offer an invitation to the victory party in order to bring him back to the Republican side.

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Nucky is not the only desperate one though. Rothstein, about it be indicted for fixing the World Series, will seemingly do anything to clear his name. He reaches out to Torrio for a connection to his archenemy. Nucky is the only one who can properly quash the indictment. Though the two have been a “war” for quite some time now, Torrio arranges their meeting and the two make some peace. In exchange for Rothstein’s clearance, Nucky is paid a million dollars and given the location of the remaining D’Alessio brothers. Only time will tell if these two gangster lords can truly put their past behind them.

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But the power is now completely in Nucky’s hands. Calling a press conference, he reveals that the D’Alessio brothers were responsible for the massacre in the woods and the death of Hans Schroeder. Even though we know this information is false, it satisfies the public and quells the previous accusations of internal corruption and responsibility for the murders. This was a smart move by Nucky, and just in time. He is re-elected and Bader wins as mayor. All has unfolded according to plan, setting the stage for a return to normalcy. In this case, “normalcy” is Nucky’s complete control over Atlantic City’s operations.

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The Commodore, Jimmy and Eli discuss Atlantic City’s future.

But not all would agree with him. We now observe the Commodore in recovery after the poison was discovered in his body. The blame was placed on his maid rather than Gillian, but I am still not sure how true this is. Regardless, the Commodore is determined to establish a new and close relationship with Jimmy and begins by informing him of his past with Nucky. Nucky worked for the Commodore and the two were caught election-rigging years ago. Nuck convinced the Commodore to take the blame and go to jail while he kept the city up and running until the Commodore’s release. But by the time this happened, Nucky had taken full control with no plans to give his power back. Now, the Commodore has planned to enlist the help of both Jimmy and Eli to take him down and re-establish the balance of power. This is their return to normalcy. This will certainly be difficult to do and will most likely cause Nucky a big headache in the seasons to come. In the meantime, he revels in his election victory, and President Harding’s victory as well. Contributing to his bliss is Margaret, who returns to congratulate him and share a forgiving toast. We find that Nucky has come to need Margaret in order to feel “normal.” He is able to confide in her, trust her, and also have a good time with her free of stress. He opens up and tells her about his deceased son and wife, and reveals that he is at his happiest when he spends time with her and her children. As change looms on the horizon, I can only hope that this normalcy is meant to last for both of them.

Episode 11: Paris Green

Whoa. I knew that Boardwalk Empire had complicated plot lines (it is, after all, about gangsters), but I was NOT prepared for what happened in this episode. So many important things were revealed, definitely setting the stage for a dramatic finale of Season 1. Let’s tackle these huge issues one at a time…

First of all, the Commodore is Jimmy’s father! All season, we watched as Nucky paid visits to the commodore of Atlantic City. We get a sense that he had once been what Nucky is now: powerful, influential, and corrupt. The commodore is an older man who has settled down into his lavish lifestyle, often reminding Nucky that he was the one who put Atlantic City on the map in the first place. There are several brief scenes throughout the season where the two discuss the city’s political future together, and the Commodore actually seems to have more authority. Yet, we’ve also observed him gradually getting sicker with some sort of disease, preparing Nucky for his eventual absence and death.

Listen to what Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter has to say about this important part of the episode here.

I should have figured out that the Commodore was Jimmy’s father when Gillian calls and informs her son that his father is sick and he must visit him on his deathbed. But I only finally made the connection when Jimmy physically walks into the Commodore’s bedroom. Prior to this episode, we knew nothing about Jimmy’s past family life, only that his mother was young when she had him and raised him alone. Little did we know that she was the Commodore’s prostitute as a teenager, making him Jimmy’s (much older) dad.

To make matters even more shocking, we find out that Gillian has been poisoning the Commodore! When Jimmy goes to visit his father’s deathbed, he eats a biscuit and vomits soon after. Thinking it was the result of the emotional and heated discourse between the two (they certainly have a strained relationship), Jimmy thinks nothing of it. However, the Commodore’s doctor runs several medical tests and finds arsenic in his system, while Jimmy finds a can of the poison hidden in the trash bin. No wonder Gillian has been paying regular visits to the Commodore, she was killing him slowly in order to get his inheritance. But keep in mind- he is not dead quite yet.

Meanwhile, Agent Sebso is working with Nucky! We know that Sebso purposely killed the only witness to Jimmy’s murder and then lied about it to Agent Van Alden, but we weren’t exactly sure why up until this point. Our suspicions are confirmed when we see him calling Nucky from a telephone booth- he is concerned that Van Alden will find out the truth. Nucky assures him that the deal has been finished and no one will know, meanwhile urging him to take up a federal post in another location.

But Sebso never gets the chance to do this. Filled with overwhelming anger and distrust towards him, Van Alden actually murders Sebso by drowning him in a river, all while a church group watches in horror. They were under the pretense that Van Alden was baptizing him, not killing him. It’s official- Van Alden has gone off the deep end. He has become completely obsessed with destroying Nucky’s empire, becoming crazier and more desperate with each episode. The writers of Boardwalk Empire certainly know how to get us to side with the criminals in this series; they simply make the “good guys” detestable.

And finally, in the most surprising move yet, Margaret leaves Nucky! Discovering that Annabelle, her friend and neighbor, once had an intimate relationship with him has set her over the edge. It seems as though all of her insecurities about her arrangement have finally spilled over, leading her to reveal to Nucky that she knows Eli killed her husband and that they are heavily involved in the liquor business and other illegal activities. The two have a major fight and Nucky storms out of the apartment. Fuming, Margaret collects her belongings and the children. The next time we see the apartment, it is empty along with Nucky’s heart.

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Episode 10: The Emerald City

You can leave Atlantic City physically, but you can never truly escape its influence. This episode just goes to show how once you enter into a world of corruption and sin, there’s no turning back. Appropriately named “The Emerald City,” Atlantic City is similar to this grand idea of Oz, present in the book that Margaret reads to her children. Though the glitz, glamour, and luxury are indeed enticing to outsiders, there is much more going on below the surface. Nucky is like the wonderful wizard of Oz, controlling the city behind the scenes, while his each of his moves affect all of the other characters individually.

Just like Dorothy believes that the Wizard is the means to her end, Margaret and Nucky have a similar relationship. Though they may actually be in love, they still use each other for their own personal gain to at least some extent. In this particular episode, we see Margaret finally becoming more at ease in her new lavish home, clearly enjoying the wealth that Nucky has given her and her children. After all, she was pretty destitute when we met her in the beginning of the series. On the other hand, Nucky uses Margaret to intervene on his behalf with the local League of Women- she must convince them to vote for Bader for mayor (since the 19th Amendment has just been passed), even though deep down she knows full well that he is not qualified. Nucky simply wants Bader to win so that he can continue to “guide the hand of government.”

The discussion of this matter happens over champagne, something that Margaret would never have indulged in previously. Her claimed temperance has seemingly been halted, perhaps as a result of her relationship with Nuck. Furthermore, she eventually consents to delivering a speech to the League of Women in favor of Bader. Though the address is flawless and quite eloquent, I sense that she still feels very uncomfortable. She has officially stepped into the world of lying and corruption.
Margaret feels uncomfortable after her speech. We even Atlantic City take a toll on the ever-pious Agent Van Alden. He is angered by two major events in this episode, eventually leading him to his downfall and sin. The first is that his FBI boss has given him a final warning. Now that the last witness to Jimmy’s crime has been killed off, Van Alden has no evidence to prosecute him with. Supervisor Elliot is clearly fed up with Van Alden continuing to botch the case, and thus gives him only one final chance to come up with something substantial. Furious and desperate, Van Alden goes to see Margaret in a last-ditch effort to save himself and catch Nucky Thompson. However, Margaret is not willing to comply, especially after Van Alden makes personal advances towards her, all the while trying to convince her to “escape the wrath of hell.” Clearly disgusted with Van Alden, she orders him out of the house. Now Van Alden has reached a tipping point. Leaving his religious beliefs behind, he goes to an illegal speakeasy, gets drunk with Lucy, and ends up taking her home to have sex with him. The score is Atlantic City: 1, Van Alden: 0.

Click to hear what series creator Terence Winter has to say about Van Alden's descent into sin.

Click to hear what series creator Terence Winter has to say about Van Alden’s descent into sin.

Meanwhile, things are heating up in the gangster war between Nucky’s men and Rothstein’s. Mickey Doyle has changed sides. Rothstein and Lucky, still fuming that the D’Alessio brothers failed to assassinate Nucky, tell them and Mickey that there will be a price to pay. Being the typical self-centered snake that he is, Mickey fears for his life and gives himself over to Nucky and Jimmy, confessing everything to them and helping them to come up with a plan to catch the D’Alessios. They set up a complicated but brilliant scheme in which Chalky will pretend to do business with them and thus lure them all to the same place, but the plan goes horribly wrong when he learns that they were the ones who lynched his driver. Thus, before all of the brothers are even there, Chalky ties the three men up and him and Jimmy end up killing two of them. They let the last man, Lanksy, return to New York to inform Rothstein and Lucky of the horrors that he witnessed.

With all of these complex loyalties, lies, and indulgences, Atlantic City is anything but enticing underneath all the emeralds.