Boardwalk Empire 2.1 – Welcome Back to Sodom by the Sea

Greetings, all, and welcome back to Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Since the Season 1 DVD set of “Boardwalk Empire” has yet to emerge, I have to admit that my memory on what went on when last we saw Nucky Thompson and the rest of the gang isn’t as fresh as it perhaps ought to be, so I’m hoping that your recollections are similarly imprecise. If not, then lord knows I’ll hear about it, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed and just dive right in, shall I?

The first sight we see this season is a bunch of kids running through the surf, picking up…a bottle? I think it was a bottle. Maybe it’s just because I was watching the episode as an advance screener, but it was so damned dark that I honestly couldn’t tell exactly what they were picking it up. But, hey, it’s a show about running bootleg liquor during Prohibition, so a bottle makes about as much sense as anything else, and I’m going to take a similar stab in the dark and presume that what they’re moving onto trucks in the next shot is crates of the same stuff. Basically, the whole segment is intended to give us a quick look at what all of the usual suspects are doing nowadays, and it looks for the most part that they’re still doing about the same thing they were when we left them. Nucky’s still enjoying the 24-hour party while Margaret remains at home, Jimmy’s busy handling the transport of product to Chalky White, Eli’s recovering from his wounds, Agent Van Alden’s with his wife, and…hey, wow, look how much more energy the Commodore’s got! Amazing how reinvigorated one can be when they stop ingesting poison, huh? Unfortunately, it isn’t long before all of the joviality is replaced by tragedy, with Chalky’s operation being abruptly machine-gunned into oblivion by a bunch of KKK members. Pretty horrifying stuff, and although Chalky manages to make it out alive, he’s rightfully pissed about what’s gone down. (At least he manages to take one of his attackers down before they drive away.)

Nucky and Margaret may be making this relationship work, but it’s clearly having a toll on the kids. After pulling an all-nighter, Nucky arrives to find Teddy ensconced under the dining room table, refusing to go to school because he’s been so traumatized by the nuns, but Nucky talks him out by sharing his own past educational experiences, leaving the adults to enjoy a bit of tense conversation amongst themselves. It might’ve shifted into a little bit of loving, but thanks to the nattering of the children, Nucky bails out, leaving Margaret understandable frustrated. Uh-oh, Teddy, you’re in trouble…

Looking in on Angela and Jimmy, it’s clear that Angela’s still an emotional wreck after losing out on the lesbian love of her life at the tail end of last season. She might be trying to put on the façade of family happiness, but there’s misery dripping from every word out of her mouth, and she obviously has no tolerance for Jimmy’s mother, Gillian. Speaking of which, how incredibly creepy was it when, apropos of nothing, she announced that she used to kiss Jimmy’s wee winkie once upon a time. Talk about your awkward revelations. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Capone’s still got a chip on his shoulder when it comes to people perceiving him as Johnny Torrio’s lackey, as evidenced by his reaction to George Remus, whose ridiculous tendency to refer to himself in the third person completely confuses Capone. Remus submits a plan to help Torrio do an end-run around Nucky Thompson, which Torrio accepts, quickly passing the buck to Capone on the matter of informing Nucky that his services will no longer be required.

At approximately the same time, Nucky is basking in the glow of his new endeavor with the Roads & Highways boys, taking bribes from an Irish gravel consortium – represented by a big-eared gentleman named Ernie – and smiling all the way. Returning to his room, he takes his latest ill-begotten gain and slips it into his stash, adjusting the books accordingly, where he’s soon greeted by Eddie, who presents him with the news that Chalky has done gone and shot himself a Klansman. Nucky and Eli are kind enough to stop by and pay their respects to Chalky and his family after hearing the report on what’s gone down (this is the first time we’ve met Chalky’s wife and son, isn’t it?), and, boy, do they get an earful as a result. Chalky’s done, having reached saturation point when it comes to the bootlegging lifestyle, and he demands that Nucky do something to help him and his African-American brethren. Nucky counters that he’s the only thing keeping Chalky from the end of the rope, and Chalky bounces right back and tells him that either Nucky takes care of the situation or there’s going to be a major uprising. It’s more or less an impasse, leaving Chalky to say little more in the end that, “Are you gonna arrest me or not?” He’s pissed…and he should be.

It’s apparent that things are pretty lax around the Revenuers’ HQ in Atlantic City when Agent Van Alden’s not around. Now that he’s in town, however, things are no doubt going to change. First, though, Van Alden enjoys a leisurely ride on the boardwalk with his wife, where she suffers from pangs of depression at the sight of the baby-incubator store and he spies Nucky Thompson and no doubt enjoys a quickening of his pulse, even if he does describe him as “no one of any consequence.” Elsewhere, concerned by Teddy’s complaints, Margaret decides to go visit his teacher, Sister Bernice. As it turns out, the Sister had a very good reason for whacking Teddy: he was playing with matches. As a former budding pyromaniac myself, it’s good to nip these things in the bud.

I had to watch the scene with the Commodore strutting around his office twice, so taken was I with Dabney Coleman’s performance. It’s good to see him actually get the chance to be bold in this role after having been forced to act so sickly for all of last season. So Eli, Jimmy, and the Commodore are seriously in bed together, eh? I knew the Commodore and Jimmy were finally forging a father-son relationship, but I didn’t realize Eli was so tight with them…although maybe tight’s not the word, since the Commodore pointedly wants to keep Eli from being too deeply involved in the goings-on. No surprise: it really pisses Eli off that he’s playing second-fiddle once again. Standing amongst his stuffed animals, the Commodore makes no bones about the lesson he’s trying to impart to Jimmy: “You’ll be judged by what you succeed at, boy, not what you attempt.”

Nucky speaks to the parishioners of Chalk’s church, vowing justice for those slain in the attack on his men…and, in a deliciously seamless cutaway, we see that he’s managing to speak out of the exact opposite side of his mouth when lecturing to a decidedly more Caucasian crowd. When word arrives that the KKK member wounded in the attack has died, Nucky orders Eli to arrest Chalky…strictly for his own good, you understand.

Happy anniversary, Agent Van Alden! Enjoy that buttermilk! Mrs. Van Alden is so unabashedly by-the-book that she’s all but guilting her husband into busting the establishment for their waiter’s between-the-lines offer for an alcoholic beverage, so when he gets up, ostensibly to visit the washroom, there’s little question that he’s going to flash his badge…or is he? Well, first he’s going to give his wife an anniversary present, the old softie. After that, though, he knocks the waiter flat, at which point we realize that his trip to the washroom was really a trip to the telephone to call in a raid on the establishment. Happy anniversary, Mrs. Van Alden! I’ve got to say, that was a pretty hysterical cutaway to the bouncing mattress, then pulling back to show that it was just our favorite agent observing that there’s a problem with the springs, but don’t tell me that the look in Mrs. Van Alden’s eyes after the raid wasn’t one of lust for her husband. Confirmed: they do it with the lights off. As she returns home a few scenes later, she’s clearly sad about her departure, and maybe he is, too, but I think he’s realized that he gets a lot more gratification from his work than from sexual release. Sorry to put it out there so specifically, but it’s true, don’t you think?

Boy, times sure have changed…for the better, obviously, but it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that, less than a century ago, it was considered politically correct to tell the widow of a murdered KKK member, “He was a pillar of the community, he’ll be sorely missed.” When Jimmy shows up, ostensibly to pay his respect to the deceased, Nucky seems suspicious that Jimmy didn’t notice anything suspicious at Chalky’s when he was there prior to the attack, and his suspicions are reasonable, given that Jimmy clearly dodges the topic. After both guys reconvene on the porch for a quick smoke, Nucky tries to revive the parent/child relationship that once existed between them, then comes right out and asks if Jimmy has anything to tell him about what his dad’s got going on, but once again Jimmy slips away without an answer. When we later see Nucky talking to Margaret, she suggests that he’s jealous of Jimmy’s relationship to the Commodore, but he argues that he’s just angry. I’d say it’s somewhere between the two, but she’s definitely onto something, and it becomes evident that Nucky’s in search of someone else to fill the void left by Jimmy. Cue the conversation between Nucky and Teddy about the latter’s pyromaniacal tendencies, but whereas Teddy’s expecting to be beaten, Nucky tries a gentler tactic…like, y’know, bribery. Okay, so he’s not Dr. Spock. Whatever works, though, right?

Hey, it’s Richard Harrow! I’d been wondering when he was going to show (half) his face again. Despite the fact that they work together on a regular basis, Richard’s clearly still not comfortable with the idea of removing his mask to eat in front of Jimmy, let alone Angela, but that’s not the only reason he’s acting skittish this morning. Clearly, his very existence is weighing on his mind, as he asks Jimmy, “How does it feel to have everything?” Jimmy has no reply. As we see later,

Well, what do you know? I guess that theory about Agent Van Alden’s preference of work over sex wasn’t on target after all. Looks like he decided to let Lucy Danziger go ahead and keep his child after all, and – no surprise here – she’s ultimately just as hot pregnant as she was before she was expecting.

Lots of stuff goes down in the last few minutes of the episode. Jimmy does a deal with some liquor on the sly from Nucky, who’s otherwise occupied by Eddie’s panicked call about the arrival of a gentleman from the state’s attorney’s office. Turns out Solomon Bishop has arrived to arrest him for election fraud. Oh, man, that’s got to hurt. Meanwhile, Margaret’s trying to enjoy a screening of The Kid, but she’s too distracted to laugh along with the rest of the audience. Richard’s dreaming of a Norman Rockwell existence as a husband and father, a dream that is almost certainly doomed never to come to fruition. The last scene, however, shows Jimmy opening a gift sent to him by Nucky, and his reaction is all too telling: it tugs at his heartstrings, but – not unlike his emotions – he’d rather hide it away and keep it out of sight. I feel like Jimmy’s struggle with his relationship between his birth father and the man who actually raised him is going to be a major plotline of this season…but, heck, we’re only at the end of the season premiere. Who knows where things will lead from here?

A trio of random quotes and observations to close:

• “It’s nearly 8 AM.” “Considering the night I had, I’m amazed I’m home by 9.”

• “Ain’t you George Remus?” “Who’d you think I was?” “You just said it like it was someone else.” I thought Capone’s complete befuddlement with how to handle Remus’s preference for the third-person was hilarious.

• I loved the gasp that Van Alden’s wife gave when she realized that the pamphlet she was reading contained the location of all the taverns and houses of ill repute in the greater Atlantic City area. Hey, where I can get me one of those?

  

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