Boardwalk Empire 101 – Boardwalk Empire

“You can’t be half a gangster Nucky, not anymore.” (Jimmy)

The moment Boardwalk Empire started with that twenties-style fade-in, I knew I’d be in for something completely different. Of course, I kind of saw it coming, what with Martin Scorsese directing, but still. The characters! The sights! The music! The story! It was just as I’d hoped it would be. In fact, no. It was better.

Time, Space

The year is 1920, the location Atlantic City. Prohibition has just started. In time, it would become proof that illegalizing any kind of drugs doesn’t work. But no one knows that yet: the USA thinks that it can save the nation. This is the backdrop for Boardwalk Empire, a half-documented, half-romanticized story about the high times of the mafia.

At the centre of this drama stands Nucky Tompson (the wonderful Steve Buscemi), treasurer of Atlantic City. Because of its location, this city quickly turns into the centerpiece of the underground liquor mafia. He is surrounded by a dozen (I kid you not) clearly defined characters, some of which are existant, some of which aren’t. Since I never researched about the mafia, I can honestly say the only one I knew was Al Capone. Boy, Al Capone.

Nucky and Jimmy

The episode introduces character after character and bombards you with info, trying to get you to understand the stakes, the era and the psychology. Central piece in the episode’s drama is taken by Jimmy, Nucky’s sidekick, who wants to be just like the old crook, but doesn’t get a chance to shine in the spotlight. Buscemi and the awesome Michael Pitt bounce wonderfully off another.

Thompson wouldn’t be a class-A hero (in the dramatic sense; morally speaking this guy is as a crook as they come) if he didn’t have a backstorywound. And yes, lo and behold, he’s a widower. A widower that uses his power to turn a pregnant woman into a widow. Interesting. Margaret Schroder (a stunning Kelly MacDonald) and Nucky might not get that many scenes, but their tension is an interesting one and one can’t help but wonder where the story will take them.

Thoughts and things

  • Is anyone else intrigued by the things Jimmy did in the war? Or are they unimportant?
  • I’m amazed by MacDonald’s performance – she played every emotion in the book, in every scene it was like watching a different woman.
  • This episode had a lot – a lot – of music going on. I hope they release a soundtrack, even if it only has the opening credits on them.
  • Speaking of which, is anyone else reminded of Magritte whenever they see Buscemi staring at the sea, wearing a hat? I don’t think his paintings will ever be the same to me.
  • Jeez Louis, is this series violent. Even for HBO. That point blank shotgun to the face? Whoa.

In All…

This is not a show for everyone. Boardwalk Empire juggles a lot of characters around, and the plot (reconstructing the mafia’s golden days) is nearly impossible to do justice. But boy, after having seen that first episode, they’ve got me hooked. Unlike what I feared, the characters are so well-defined it’s easy to keep them apart. And make no mistake: Boardwalk Empire never tricks you into thinking it’s about plot. From the moment Nucky Thompson gets on stage to talk (or rather: tell a flat-out lie) to a bunch of prohibition-loving women, you know you’re in for a hell of a ride.

It’s got great characters, an intersting plot, brilliant actors and it looks absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV. So what’s not to like?