'Boardwalk Empire' Season 2 Premiere Recap: Things Are Changing in Atlantic City
The Season 2 premiere of HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' wasted little time thrusting the Atlantic City power structure we grew to know in Season 1 into a state of chaos and flux. While some critics, including AOL TV's own Mo Ryan, have called 'Boardwalk' slow-paced and somewhat boring, the action-packed Season Two premiere delivered major developments for Nucky Thompson and several of the show's main characters. It opened and closed with a bang, literally and figuratively.
A few minutes into the episode, the Ku Klux Klan attacked Chalky White's bootlegging safe-house in a chilling, 1920s-style drive-by-shooting, emptying a gigantic machine gun into the distillery. The brutal attack killed four of Chalky's people and wounded half-a-dozen others, including a woman. It was an unsettling and intense scene to watch that proved to be a pivotal jumping-off point for several of Season One's simmering storylines.
Chalky managed to shoot one of the Klansman as they escaped, but in a reflection of the unjust racial politics of the era, the story around Atlantic City immediately became "Chalky White shot a Klansman," and a political crisis unfolded for him and Nucky Thompson.
In a meeting with Thompson, Chalky drew a line in the sand. In the wake of the shooting, he pulled his people out of the bootlegging business for their own safety, and told Nucky that if he can't keep the Klan in check, Chalky will seek his own retribution. As Michael K. Williams told AOL TV in an interview this week, Chalky White is out for justice this season, and if prior TV history is any indication, that won't turn out well for his enemies ... just ask Stringer Bell.
We later learned that the Commodore orchestrated the brazen Klan attack, using it to strike at one of Nucky's bases of power, his liquor distribution apparatus. He, Jimmy and Eli have been plotting to make their move on Thompson, with political help from the Governor and Atlantic City's other power brokers. That power-play culminated at the end of the episode, as Nucky was arrested by the State's Attorney on charges of election fraud.
Jimmy Darmody seemed conflicted about betraying Nucky, but he's made his decision. His back-in-the-picture father The Commodore, who's newly healthy, has promised him more power and opportunity than he has under Nucky's rule. Several scenes in the episode emphasized Jimmy's guilt about betraying Thompson, who served as a surrogate father figure to him growing up. Nucky's done a lot for Darmody, setting him up with a new house by the ocean, but Jimmy wants more for himself than a job working security, and is now firmly under his father's spell and control.
Nucky sensed that there was something brewing, and that Jimmy was holding back on him. Darmody and his masked sidekick Richard Harrow were supposed to be providing security for the distillery, but curiously were nowhere to be found during the shoot-out.
In a sad scene, they reminisced about duck-hunting together when Jimmy was a kid, and Nucky warned him that the Commodore is a "duplicitous man," almost begging him to come clean. But Jimmy stayed silent, and when Nucky sent him a statue of a father and son hunting together, he put it in the back of his closet in a symbolic gesture that seemed to close that chapter of their relationship.
Thompson is getting cut out in other ways, too. Back in Chicago, Johnny Torrio and Al Capone are getting into the bootlegging business with George Remus, who has an established power base in Cincinnati. There's competition for Atlantic City's liquor now too, and Torrio sends Capone to New Jersey to send Thompson the message that "things have changed." Little does he know that Nucky won't be in power by the time he gets there.
Sensing his allies are dwindling, Nucky begins to confide more in Margaret Schroeder. He's taking on more of a father role with her young son Teddy, who was caught lighting matches in school. When Nucky talked to him after he got in trouble, Teddy expected a beating, because that's how his father raised him, but Nucky has a different way of dealing with this problems. He kindly tells him to mind his mother and stop misbehaving, and then buys his obedience by giving him a few dollars to spend on candy at the sweet shop.
Meanwhile, Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden's wife came to town for the couple's 13th wedding anniversary, and he gives her a tour of the city, but there's liquor and sin everywhere they look. When the waiter at a restaurant asks if they'll be imbibing with their meal, it pushes Van Alden over the edge. He orchestrates a raid on the restaurant, clubs the waiter in the head and shuts the place down. His wife watches it all with a smile on her face, deriving some weird sexual satisfaction from his power trip. After she leaves to go back home, Van Alden goes back to the boarding house, where Lucy, Nucky's former prostitute girlfriend, is pregnant with his child. For these puritanical prohibitionists, repression manifests itself in mysterious ways.
Jack Huston's Harrow character remains a hauntingly sad scene-stealer. Watching him cut out pictures of happy families from newspapers and glue them into a collage book, admiring a romanticized version of domestic life that his disfiguring war injury will likely preclude him from having for himself, was strange and heart-wrenching. His embarrassment to eat in front of even his closest colleague Darmody emphasized the shame he lives with every day.
I also enjoyed the well-edited scene where Nucky, in damage control mode after the distillery shooting, gives parallel speeches to Atlantic City's black and white conservative churches, delivering two completely different messages. "These coloreds need to learn a lesson," he tells the white crowd, right after castigating the Klan in front of the black congregation. While modern politics certainly gives us plenty of hypocrisy to get frustrated with, at least YouTube and Twitter preclude a politician like Thompson from engaging in double-speak this absurd.
I'll conclude this recap with my two favorite quotes from the episode, which both, oddly enough, came from the brooding and careful-with-his-words Darmody:
"That's an awful waste of a lot of good tablecloths," he jokes to Nucky, making fun of the KKK outfits.
"Should I be concerned that there's blood on these crates?" one of his bootlegging associates asks, as he's taking the last crates from the abandoned safe-house. "Not unless it's your own," Jimmy coolly replies.
What did you think of the 'Boardwalk Empire' Season Two premiere? Leave your thoughts on the episode in the comments: