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Boardwalk Empire Recap: Nucky Thompson, Like the Great Hardeen, Is a Disappointing Imitation

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Boardwalk Empire Season 1, Episode 11: “Paris Green”

Grade: B

It\’s never easy living in the shadow of a giant, especially when that giant is your brother.  Just ask Roger Clinton, Jeb Bush, Stephen Baldwin and Jermaine Jackson.  Likewise, Hardeen will never live up to his brother\’s legacy, despite claiming to teach the great Houdini everything he knew.  Still, the magician earned an Atlantic City return engagement, this time performing for the city\’s elite (apparently magicians were more highly regarded in the 1920\’s).  But Hardeen is just a disappointing imitation and if he weren\’t Houdini\’s brother, as Nucky Thompson told his own inferior sibling, no one would care.

Yet, in the eyes of the man behind Nucky Thompson\’s power, the wrong man is running Atlantic City.  The Commodore confessed this on his deathbed to his newly revealed son, Jimmy Darmody.  The Commodore drained a swamp and built the roads and hotels that serve as Atlantic City\’s foundation and turned the reigns over to his young sheriff/pedophilic pimp, Nucky Thompson.  Despite having little to do with his son\’s upbringing, the old man wants to turn over his empire to its true successor, instead of Nucky Thompson, who is just a disappointing imitation of the Commodore\’s bloodline.  To the Commodore, Nucky is Hardeen.

The revelation of Jimmy as the Commodore\’s son was both the best and worst part of “Paris Green.”  It was the best in that it set the stakes for the series.  It now appears, especially since the Commodore is likely to recover from arsenic poisoning, that the old man will take the necessary steps to enshrine his son as the king of Atlantic City, making Nucky and Jimmy\’s power struggle the series\’ central conflict for the seasons to come (a series arch I\’m ecstatic about).

Yet, as the penultimate episode of the first season, “Paris Green” reverted back to the wheel spinning that has briefly hindered Boardwalk Empire this season.  It spent a lot of time on characters addressing their same issues (Margaret\’s guilt, Van Alden\’s fall from grace, etc.) and barely mentioned the bloody conflict of the previous episode.  Boardwalk Empire has a lot of plots to wrap up in one episode next week, and it doesn\’t appear to be building to a traditional season finale.  There were huge advancements this week alongside the paternity revelation, like Margaret leaving Nucky, Angela\’s failed fleeing and the most violent baptism ever, but the first season\’s central conflict of Nucky v. Rothstein sat idle.  Yes, the paternity revelation was the best part of the episode, but this late in the game with so much going on, should that be the best aspect of this episode?

Perhaps I\’m judging it too harshly based upon my own preconceived notions as to what a penultimate episode should accomplish.  If this were the third-to-last episode, I wouldn\’t have a problem with it – it was a riveting hour – but I\’m worried that many, if not all of Boardwalk Empire\’s first season plotlines will remain unresolved into season two.  I may just still be reeling from Lost and am unable to trust writers to wrap up unresolved plotlines, but the finale has a lot of ground to cover.  However, Boardwalk Empire has been far from a traditional television series thus far, so holding it to traditional television standards may be unfair and premature.  Being built for a multi-season run may end up being Boardwalk Empire\’s biggest strength.  Still, I\’m extremely excited for the finale, so maybe the episode accomplished its intended purpose.

Additional Thoughts

  • A close second place for best moment of the episode was Angela coming back home to find her letter missing.  Jimmy\’s calmness and non-addressing of the issue was more chillingly effective than any full-blown fit.  His eyes, however, did address the issue.  If looks could kill…
  • Jimmy said, “I\’m what time and circumstance have made me.”  A simple, yet brilliant self-analysis.  Aren\’t we all?
  • Gillian\’s apparent closeness in age with her son was explained.  Turns out, they are close in age.  Really, really close.
  • I love Michael Shannon\’s twitches and how he plays Van Alden similarly to how Timothy Olyphant played Bullock in Deadwood – as a man perpetually struggling to repress barely-contained rage.
  • Oh yeah, Van Alden\’s a murderer now.  But, he did it in Jesus\’ name, which history has proven is OK.
  • Did anyone else get an Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? vibe when Van Alden and Sesbo stumbled upon the wilderness baptism?
  • Did anyone get a Magnolia vibe when Jimmy was sitting at his father\’s deathbed?
  • Does anyone get annoyed when writers ask if certain shows/movies make you think of other shows/movies?
  • Harry lost all his money to Charles Ponzi, the source of the term “Ponzi scheme,” a scam that pays early investors\’ returns from the investments of later investors.  It\’s why Bernie Madoff is in prison.
  • In-your-face metaphor moment: Hardeen tells Margaret, “We all want to be deceived.”
  • Unsurprising revelation moment: Nucky was behind Sesbo\’s betrayal.
  • Nucky\’s family tragedy was alluded to, but not elaborated upon, but Margaret is still using Lysol as contraceptive to make sure Nucky doesn\’t get his heir.  How long will their break-up last and if they don\’t get back together, what will be Margaret\’s role in the series?
  • Nigel_6

    Really hoping some of the loose ends you mentioned get tied up next week. Regardless of whether that happens, I have a really good feeling this show will become viral a la Mad Men. To do so takes certain moments and scenes; tonight’s episode gave one: Nelson walking out of the river–gun in one hand, badge in the other. Instant classic!

    • http://www.chadjshanks.wordpress.com Chad Shanks

      Agreed, Nigel. Many of HBO’s shows gain a following after they’re released to DVD and iTunes and non-subscribers get to view them.

      And I could have written an entire post on the death by baptism scene. It really was amazing.

  • ctrlaltdelete

    I love the Boardwalk Empire series; especially the unpredicable curve balls. (Van Alden drowning Sebso via a baptism??? I mean, seeing that Van Alden didn’t break Lucy’s neck in episode 10, I sure didn’t think he was going to kill Sebso in episode 11.) (And the Commordore being poisoned to death via Gillian and his maid???)

    What a series!!!