Monday, November 29, 2010

under the boardwalk

I didn't really think I'd write about this show again so close to the finale, but last night's episode was something else. The prevailing mood is frequently ominous on Boardwalk Empire, but ominous took a walk right into out and out hostility and violence. Agent Van Alden took his frustrations and suspicions about his deputy out into the open, killing him by baptism as a crowd of horrified Baptists looked on. It was the perfect culmination of his growing religious mania and just plain mania. But has he completely lost control, to think that he could do that, in broad daylight, with no repercussions, just because he flashed a badge? Or because the witnesses were black?

Jimmy discovered that his mother, Gillian, was trying to murder his father, the Commodore. His male parentage is not as big a surprise as his female parentage was, as the hints have been coming and help to explain Jimmy's behavior towards Nucky—feeling he owes him something for looking after him, but also that he's better than him. Gillian was putting her son's anger into action. And hoping to inherit the Commodore's money. Jimmy quickly put a stop to her scheme, adding another shade to his character. Michael Pitt just keeps getting better and better, and he is matched by Gretchen Mol as his mother. We learn just tiny bits about her character each episode, but they always pay off in a big way. Here's hoping her part will expand next season. Jimmy also dealt smoothly with Angela's attempt to leave him. I know for the sake of the story's anti-symmetry that she had to fail, but I have to say hers is the least interesting character on the show. I would have been happy to wave her goodbye at the dock.

Steve Buscemi's Nucky had confrontations of his own. His brother tried to strong-arm him about Kelly McDonald's Margaret and Nucky responded by firing him as sheriff, deciding he was his weakest link. Good call. While Nucky can read most people like a book, where Margaret is concerned, he's clueless. He started what he thought was a simple domestic tiff with her about her supposed jealousy, only to be surprised when she confronted him with what's really been bugging her—his ordering the murder of her husband. She was not mad at him for that as much as his manipulation of her as a chess piece, bringing her onto his board. Margaret forgets that she has been doing quite a bit of manipulation herself.

Nucky finally addressed the throwaway Lysol scene from a few episodes ago, which I questioned on another blog, and showed how much it hurt him that she was preventing any chance of pregnancy. But where Jimmy's girl is weak, Nucky's is not. Margaret was packed and gone the next day, leaving Nucky consulting fortune tellers. I'm worried for Margaret. Nucky's brother thinks she's a liability. I'm not sure about Nucky. He has done a lot to protect her and win her in the past, but will he now see her as an enemy? Is she now in even greater danger?

The title of this episode, Paris Green, was quite clever. An artist's pigment which is not used anymore, it could be made from arsenic. The can that Jimmy placed on the table ties together his mother's and painter Angela's plans quite neatly, while also hinting at the trip to Paris that never was, and Nucky's accusation of Margaret poisoning herself. It's a smart show. Boardwalk Empire has proven itself as more than a creative stunt by Scorsese and friends. Its characters are intriguing and its setting continues to provide atmosphere and history (Ponzi!) for those who are listening carefully. I'm eager to see what happens next in Atlantic City.
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