Boardwalk Empire 102 – The Ivory Tower

“I’m making a statement.” (Al Capone)

Second episodes are always a hard thing to pull off. In this case even more so: you have a pilot directed by Scorcese and the assignment that you have to emulate his style. Good luck. It was immediately clear the cinematography was a lot more modern this time around – the Chicago opening shot a fine example of this. But is that a bad thing? Hell no. No one can imitate Scorcese anyway.

Song of Solomon

Allow me to quote Wikipedia in regards to the title of this episode, The Ivory Tower:

From the 19th century it has been used to designate a world or atmosphere where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life. As such, it usually carries pejorative connotations of a wilful disconnect from the everyday world; esoteric, over-specialized, or even useless research; and academic elitism, if not outright condescension. In American English usage it is a shorthand for academia or the university, particularly departments of the humanities.

And the book by Henry James:

The Ivory Tower is an unfinished novel by Henry James, posthumously published in 1917. The novel is a brooding story of Gilded Age America. It centers on the riches earned by a pair of dying millionaires and ex-partners, Abel Gaw and Frank Betterman, and their possibly corrupting effect on the people around them.

So there we have it. Of course we’re not talking about academics – I think the word esoteric is more important. Our theme for the episode: the chasm between rich and poor – the rich being disconnected from their own existence; the poor being knee-deep in their existential shit. Margaret Schroder (who read the book in the hospital) coming home to clean up the brutal mess from the day before. Jimmy Darmody having to steal back that wonderfully loaded necklace from his own mother, only to see the result of it washed down the drain by Nucky.

But then, there’s other kinds of disconnection. What’s with prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden? What made him steal Margaret’s ribbon? Was it love? Or some form of creepy passion? He’s an interesting character, a pious man with a raging bull inside of him. Or Arnold Rothstein, who is so far removed from his own humanity it hurts. Jesus Christ, this guy had a guy killed by suffocation for his own amusement. An episode ago, I would’ve said his henchman Lucky Luciano was the creepy one, but now… Ouch.

Bits and Pieces

  • The most shocking display of “OMG! Twenties!” this week: Jimmy and Angela in bed. I don’t know what was worst: the (failed) discussion about the French way, she then going down on him or the fact that they did it all in front of their kid. That was a lot to swallow. And all at once.
  • The commodore calling his servant inside, then grilling her about stuff she has no way of knowing. Even Nucky seemed to think that was a cruel thing to do.
  • Runner-up in the “OMG! Twenties!”: Jimmy’s mother looks younger than Jimmy.
  • Margaret returning the money and asking Nucky for a job was very endearing. I wonder if those are extensions or if Kelly MacDonald actually has hair that thick. Surely didn’t seem that way in Trainspotting.
  • Lucy Danziger, who spends more time naked than dressed, told Nucky to grow a mustache. In eighty years, she’ll watch Fargo and take it all back.

In All…

I thought this was a very strong follow-up to the first episode. Sure, it’s easy to gnaw around on it and smugly say “Heh. Scorcese”, but no. Strong episode, introduced some new characters to deepen or main ones. Introduced a spectacular theme, too. It reminds me of Mad Men, which uses the sixties to tell us something about themes that are important to us today. In this episode, Boardwalk Empire tried to do the same thing – be it with more gansters, violence and nudity.

Not a bad trade-off, really.