3
Oct
2010
Boardwalk Empire: Season 1, Episode 3
Broadway Limited
Jordan
Three episodes into the first season of Boardwalk Empire, I have some problems with the show. The biggest problem I have with it so far is not the fault of the show so much as its pedigree: For the level of talent that is beign invested into it, I feel like the show has yet to blow my mind as much as it should. However, because its so early in it's run, I cannot say that the show is not just a slow builder that will grow to mind-blowing proportions by the end of the season. For now, though, it often feels like a lot of artful piece moving, as the plot moves forward, and everything looks pretty, but nothing really means a whole lot yet. This leaves me with not a lot to say about "Broadway Limited" outside of a simple recap of the plot, and so I will apologize in advance if the analysis in this review is sparse. I'll save that up for when the show demands a more careful glance.

To begin with, Jimmy, whose storyline provides the episode's title as he lams it on the eponymous train, is having problems on pretty much every front. Nucky and Eli are still angry at him, he is realizing how little he knows his wife, and by episode's end, Rothstein and Van Alden are both after him, with very different ends in mind. I'm not exactly sure if the show wants us to feel sorry for Jimmy, as his entire life turns to shit in front of us, but its hard to muster much sympathy for the man, partially because of Michael Pitt's disenchanted performance and partially because Jimmy has dug his own grave in every instance that he meets misfortune. I don't blame Pitt for playing Jimmy the way he is, especially as Jimmy has just returned from World War I and is clearly a part of the Lost Generation, but I think that his disenchantment can be played out more cretively than just having him accuse his common-law wife of cheating on him while he was away. Anyone could smell that confrontation coming from a mile away, and the show didn't bring anything particularly original to the scene. The idea of Jimmy heading ot Chicago, where I'm sure Al Capone will pop up again is certainly an interesting one, and I am interested to see where the show takes it, but for tonight, his storyline was pretty much a bust.

Turning to someone I know the show wants us to feel sorry for, I have serious concerns about Margaret's place in Boardwalk Empire. I think getting the point of view of a recently widowed immigrant in the early '20s is a potential story goldmine, but I just couldn't bring myself to care about Margaret working in the french boutique, humiliating for her as it was. This storyline brought the episode to a grinding halt, and I'm not sure how much purpose it served toward advancing any plot, witho ne exception. The scene in which Margaret waits on Lucy, Nucky's showgirl paramour, was a cut above everything else in "Broadway Limited" if only for the fact that it spoke volumes about the positions of both characters, and said it all beneath the surface. Lucy feels threatened by the attention Nucky is giving Margaret, and uses her position of power, and Margaret's humiliation at her naked body to make herslef feel better about it. Lucy loves Nucky, even enough to ruin her figure to give him a child, and she feels she may be losing him to Margaret because, as she coldly puts it, Nucky loves charity cases. Margaret meanwhile is as meek and mild as ever, trying to get by any way she can, and hardly daring to dream that her life can get any better. While I have several problems with the way Margaret has been used so far in the show, that scene gave me hope that both her storyline, and the show in general, will soon rise to higher levels.

On Van Alden's front, we see him be even crazier than ever before tonight as he kidnaps Rothstein's near-dead lackey from the hospital and gets a dentist to shoot him up with cocaine in order to wake him up for long enough to torture information out of him. On the home front, we see more of the awkwardness between Van Alden and his wife, whose relationship is summed up with a quick, comedic little scene: a fade in to a dark, silent dinner table, Van Alden nearly whispering, "The roast tastes good" and a fade out. This was a funny little moment, and the visuals were as deftly handled as they have been throughout the entire series--it also harkened to every other relationship we see tonight, in which those involved do not really know or understand eachother. Jimmy and his baby mama are veritable strangers, Lucy is far from understnading Nucky, and Van Alden and his wife are a million miles apart. All potentially fertile ground I hope the show will dig into later.

Finally, Nucky is in business with Chalky White after having cleared the way for him last week. Nucky tries to sell Chalky on taking 20% of the profits, then gets negotiated up to 35%; by episode's end Chalky is taking in half of his profits, as payment for agreeing to cover up a lynching of one of his men (hung by a car whose chassis reads "Liquor Kills") in order to prevent an eruption of racial tension. Steve Buscemi and Michael Kenneth Williams both play the hell out of their scenes together, with Williams first bursting with confidence in his opening negotiation, and later nearly broken with the senseless tragedy that has befallen his barely 20 year old employee. It must also be said that whenever anything else on Boardwalk Empire is not working, Steve Buscemi's excellent work more than picks up the slack. He is cold when he needs to be, quick and funny when he wants to be, and has a soft and sympathetic center that makes you triumph at his victories and actually care about his defeats.

Most of my problems with Boardwalk Empire as a show are pretty minor, especially for so early in its run. It tends to be a little too expository still, yet it showed some progress this evening, as in the scene between Margaret and Lucy I discussed above. It also seems to lack direction at this point, just sort of sprawling through each hour and filling it up with plotpoints, but not really appearing to move in any given direction or to explore any themes with anything more than a cursory nod in their direction. However, again, there have only been three episodes so far, and I have seen many great shows take their time to reach greatness (even The Wire took about six episodes to move into the territory of legitimate greatness). Finally, I think the show is a bit on the nose a lot of the time, as when Nucky looks out across the lobby of the hotel in the episode's closing shot and sees the mud he's tracked in with him. There are better ways to signify that Nucky has been walking through some muck this week than to actually show his muddy footprints. And while it hasn't found them yet, I still think Boardwalk Empire will get there in the near future.

Grade: B-

Notes:

-Sorry I missed reviewing last week's episode. Sometimes life gets in the way.

-I forgot to mention that Lucky Luciano has the clap, and that its making it hard for him to keep it up. A funny little scene, but I'm not sure it amounted to much.

-I cannot praise this show's ability to set a tone and mood enough. Every shot makes you feel the era, and it does have a very singular, and incredibly sophisticated visual style. If nothing else, this show is gorgeous to watch every week.

-"I didn't know you were so sensitive." "Like a baby's ass, mother fucker." [...] "What does mother fucker mean?" A cursory search reveals that the term was first found in a slang dictionary in 1928, so it likely would have been fairly knew in 1920 when the show takes place. This was one of those "aw, gee. This show take place in the past!" moments, but I thought it was an effective one.

-"He says you should fuck your grandmother with your faggot penis." "Little faggot penis."

-"Maybe Chaplin needs a foil."
Tags: Boardwalk Empire
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