'Boardwalk Empire' Season 1, Episode 4 Recap
by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 10th 2010 10:20PM
['Boardwalk Empire' - 'Anastasia']
Michael K. Williams held an acting master class during Sunday's 'Boardwalk Empire.'
We're only about a third of the way into the show's 13-episode run. But in future, when we think of season 1 of 'Boardwalk Empire,' our minds are likely to return to this gripping scene.
As was the case on 'The Wire,' the character Williams plays on 'Boardwalk Empire' isn't bombastic or overtly threatening. Like Omar, the toughest of Baltimore's many tough characters, Chalky White is a character who is clearly intelligent and who has no reason to prove himself to anyone. These are characters who are completely confident of their abilities to master any situation, with their wits or with physical force. They don't need to try to inspire fear; their track records speak for themselves.
It was what Chalky didn't say in that scene that was so terrifying, and because Williams possesses such ample charisma, he didn't need to oversell anything in the terrific script from Lawrence Konner and Margaret Nagle. Chalky didn't make crude threats against the Klan leader or vent his fury at the man's repugnant racism. He simply told a story that made it very clear that he had no problem using any and all means to get the information he wanted.
Chalky didn't need to say, "I wouldn't mind killing you for sport," but he didn't need to.
It must have taken a certain amount of control for Chalky not to do that, considering the recent lynching of his employee, a murder that was reminiscent of his father's brutal demise. It didn't necessarily matter to Chalky whether this man had done the deed or not, but, like Nucky, Chalky is able to see the bigger picture. He won't take a course of action until he is sure it's the right one.
Self-control is not a big priority for the younger generation of gangsters, however. Lucky Luciano, sent to get information from Jimmy Darmody, instead acts on an attraction to Mrs. Darmody -- whom Luciano probably assumes is Jimmy's wife. This may upset the tangled relationships among Chicago, Atlantic City and New York factions even further, but Lucky can't stop himself, just as the impulsive Gillian can't stop herself from throwing attitude at the well-dressed gangster who knocked on Jimmy's door. Both Gillian and Lucky may have cause to regret their actions, but they only live in the moment. Planning, strategy? That's just not their style.
The most volatile personality belongs to Al Capone, who thinks nothing of firing a gun next to the head of his sleeping friend, Jimmy. Al is all bluster and provocation, with little regard for long-term planning. If Capone thinks territory is there for the taking, he takes it, consequences be damned. He may think he's tougher than Sheridan, the Irish boss of Chicago, but as Jimmy tries to point out to Al, it's not simply about toughness. Sometimes discretion and compromise are called for. Not seeing the bigger picture, Al thinks he's won a skirmish with Sheridan, when he's probably begun a war.
Jimmy certainly has better judgment than Al, but he hasn't quite realized yet that the criminal life he's leading can have awful consequences for those around him. Thanks to Al's heedlessness, Pearl ends up with her face sliced to ribbons. Of course Jimmy could not have known that would happen, but he may come to realize that turning into a real gangster is not a solution to his problems -- that choice has created a new set of problems, not just for him but for the people around him. It's caused a rift with Nucky, and now it's just about ruined Pearl's life.
For Nucky and Jimmy, the criminal life is turning out to be both more and less than they expected.
Margaret Schroeder, on the other hand, is still seduced by the lives led by Nucky and Atlantic City's elite. But for Nucky, his "surprise" birthday party isn't really a surprise, it's one more round of glad-handing while wearing a plastered-on smile, one more reason to curse lax servants, one more round of arm-twisting with fellow politicians who could help bring federal dollars to his area. It's work, in other words.
But to Margaret, the party is a magical place, one where she gets to have current-events conversations with tuxedo-clad potentates, see how the high and mighty live and even take a spin around the dance floor. She can, for a few minutes, feel like Princess Anastasia. Of course, later, that magical feeling is gone, but she swipes a silky item from the dress shop where she works, desperate to keep a scrap of something fine and magical in her life.
Expectations seem to be one of the themes of this show -- and what happens when expectations and aspirations meet with the cold, hard truths of reality. Chalky is well aware of what he's had to sacrifice to get where he is; he's a realist and that allows him to survive.
Jimmy's just started to realize how much he may have to give up to get the life he sees Nucky leading. And he still has little or no idea of what that life costs Nucky in worry and pressure.
Saintly Margaret Schroeder tries to be a good person, but her life is full of workaday worries and cares. She may not expect the good life, but she's willing to sacrifice a little of her virtue to at least get a glimpse of it. But once a person has started tasting the fruits of ill-gotten gains, where does that path lead? She came her for a better life, after all, not the same old dull drudgery.
For Nucky, "success" has led to a place of isolation and quiet sadness. He's acquainted with the entire world, but he has no real friends. And in the smart, capable Mrs. Schroeder, he sees a a glimmer of a real relationship. Most of his life consists of artifice, appearances and dealmaking, but surely he's wondering at this point if there's more to it than that.
'Boardwalk Empire' airs 9PM ET Sundays on HBO.
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