Boardwalk Empire – “21”

Boardwalk Empire – “21

Boardwalk Empire was neck-in-neck last year with The Walking Dead for my favorite new show of 2010. The show started strong and slowly built to awesomeness. The second season begins on a mellower note (save for one burst of machine gun violence and a raid) but teases the approaching storm. The Commodore (Dabney Coleman) was somewhat underused in the first season but by the finale it was clear that it would grow significantly in season 2. The conspiracy against Nucky is going to have bloody consequences.

Another character underused in the first season was Chalky White, as played by the always-amazing Michael Kenneth Williams (who will always be identified with his role as Omar on The Wire). Chalky had some great moments (“These are my daddy’s tools.”) but the overall story arc of the season didn’t concern Atlantic City’s black community as much as it could have. Since early in the episode the Ku Klux Klan attacks one of Chalky’s building with a machine gun, I’d say race relations are taking a larger role this year. At least three of Chalky’s associates are killed in the attack but the bigger concern is that Chalky kills two of the Klansmen. Nucky decries the KKK to his black constituents while disparaging the African American community to a white audience. He even attends the funeral of one of the Klansmen. How much help Nucky is going to be is unclear. He does have Chalky arrested to protect him from a lynch mob. However with all of Chalky’s wife’s proud talk about their son headed off to college, I can’t help but feel the poor kid is doomed.

The KKK figured into the Commodore’s plan for destabilizing Nucky’s empire. I feel like that’s going to bite him in the ass at some point. Jimmy already seems very conflicted about betraying Nucky. The Commodore may be Jimmy’s father, but Nucky was the one who actually acted like a father to him. In the end of the episode, Jimmy has to put away his memories in order to steel himself for what he has to do. Eli didn’t do too much this week, but there’s the implication that he’s not doing his job to the best of his abilities… which is about usual for Eli.

Michael Shannon continues making Nelson Van Alden into one of the most disturbing characters on television. All he does is show his wife around town but no matter what he’s doing, everything about him always seems… just wrong somehow. Shannon’s great in the role. We also get some insight into his marriage, which previously seemed like a loveless sham. Tonight though, Ms. Van Alden’s excitement watching her husband punch a maître d’ and shut down a restaurant hints that there may be more to that marriage. The misdirect of the bed frame repeatedly pounding against the wall when Nelson was merely trying to point out a defective spring in his mattress was amusing. Lucy, carrying (maybe) Van Alden’s child, didn’t do much this week but I am very interested to see how 1920’s flapper Lucy and conservative Christian Van Alden interact with each other.

“21” gives the comforting impression that another fantastic season is ahead. Jack Huston as half-faced enforcer Richard Harrow has been added to the main cast and I’m excited to see how his character is developed. His scrapbooking of happy family images was simultaneously creepy and heartbreaking. Boardwalk Empire could have been just another Sopranos clone (with a period setting) but has become something more. The setting, the characters, the design, the writing: all of it comes together or one of my favorite hours of television each week and I’m stoked for how it unfolds over the next twelve weeks.

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