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Boardwalk Empire Recap: You Won\’t Need a Mask if You Burn Away Your Scars

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Episode 7: “Home”

Grade: B -

I had my Phantom of the Opera references ready before the infamous organ theme punctuated Richard\’s poetic bullet to the face of Pearl\’s slasher.  Jimmy Darmody\’s masked sniper looked so much like the Broadway icon that the Boardwalk Empire creators had no choice but to cue up the music or face copycat charges.

Still, the mask covering half of Richard\’s missing face served as a rather heavy-handed metaphor for the masks Boardwalk Empire\’s characters wear to conceal their own scars.

Enoch Thompson (or “Uncle Nucky” as he\’d have the kid he made fatherless call him) has daddy issues.  He wears a mask of confidence, glamour, power and success to hide the emotional scars left by an abusive father who never cared for him.  Nucky\’s father carries on conversations with cats and is the only person in Atlantic City who sees Eli as more promising, still, after achieving so much, Nucky still wants the crazy old coot\’s approval.

Nucky\’s scars aren\’t just emotional, however.  His hand bears the mark of a hot poker his father yielded to remind him who gets to eat bread first and he spent 11 days in the hospital as a child after his father forced him to fight older boys who stole his signed catcher\’s mitt – a story he confided to Margaret.  Nucky tried fixing up the house where most of his father\’s abuse occurred, but no amount of paint could prevent him from seeing it as the place where he was scarred.  So, instead of continuing to have something to mask over, Nucky burned that bitch to the ground.

I thought it was poignant that Nucky\’s father lived in a cat-infested crap hole while Nucky is the financial benefactor for so many in Atlantic City.  He puts Margaret and her kids in a lavish home with the other “concubines,” gave Damien money to buy a house nicer than the burning home he was promised and he even supports Angela Darmody (who has apparently embraced her lesbianism).  Nucky takes care of people, the way his father never took care of him while allowing daddy to wallow in his own filth as a reward for his parenting.

Though the broken relationship with his father serves to illuminate Nucky\’s character, having a disapproving father is disappointingly unoriginal.  It\’s become a television cliché, one that I hoped Boardwalk Empire would avoid.  Though, the situation gave Nucky reason to confide in Margaret and I loved her empathetic, “I\’m no stranger to a man\’s cruelty.”

Meanwhile, Jimmy Darmody (aka the poor man’s Leonardo DiCaprio) is masking the scars caused by witnessing grotesque violence by enacting grotesque violence.  He got to recite this week\’s monologue – a gruesome anecdote about watching a German soldier suffer while trapped in barbed wire – and met a fellow veteran whose war wounds make his pale in comparison.  Ever the opportunist, Jimmy enlisted the half-faced sniper\’s expertise to put a hole in the face of the guy who cut up Pearl\’s.  Jimmy even taught him how to lie.

Also, the Rothstein making a play at Nucky\’s crime empire subplot continued to move at a glacier\’s pace as an overacting newcomer tried bribing Chalky out of his alliance with Nucky and later aligned with Charlie to persuade those guys who are always sitting around a table whose names I can never remember to rob Nucky\’s casino.  In other ridiculously slow-moving storyline news, Van Alden got exactly one scene this week that yielded him a snitch from the pilot episode roadside massacre.  Though I wish Van Alden would have more screen time, this short scene could have huge repercussions and lead to Jimmy\’s return to Atlantic City.

Writing about this episode confirmed my original feeling that it was easily the slowest and least interesting of the season.  As we\’ve passed the first season\’s halfway point, the show has yet to produce a real sense of urgency.  I\’ve enjoyed every episode thus far and the writing, acting and production are all superb, but as each episode ends, I don\’t have that “Oh my God I can\’t wait until next week” feeling that great television shows inspire.  It\’s still early, and I wrote in earlier recaps that Boardwalk Empire will reward patience and I\’ll stick to that assertion.  While this episode was mediocre, especially compared to the last two, a mediocre night on the boardwalk is still better than most nights anywhere else on TV.

Additional Thoughts

  • Lucy watched Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as she perceived Nucky to be changing before her eyes.  Another heavy-handed metaphor, I got it.  She also told Nucky, “I feel empty without you inside me.”  Me, too.
  • Weekly history lesson: The test Jimmy refused to take was the Woodworth Personal Data Survey (WPDS), a test developed by Dr. Robert Woodworth to help determine which military recruits would suffer “shell shock” when fighting overseas.  It has been called the first personality test and was highly influential in developing future personality inventories. Thanks Wikipedia!
  • Chalky White is the best-dressed man on a show full of well-dressed men.  He\’s also arguably the most underused character, along with Van Alden, who\’s been disappearing lately.
  • “This is fine work.” – Doctor looking at the results of the operation that mangled Jimmy\’s leg.
  • In the opening credits, when it said “Directed by Allen Coulter,” I thought, “The redhead announcer from Letterman?”  Turns out I\’m stupid and Allen Coulter is a well-respected director who has helmed several Sopranos episodes and the movie Hollywoodland. Alan Kalter is Letterman\’s fiery-haired announcer.
  • Margaret mentioned that she didn\’t think Nucky is over his wife.  I\’m still anxiously awaiting the flashback that illuminates Nucky\’s married life.
  • Loved the shot of Jimmy sitting under the “Now Venereal Diseases” portion of a poster.
  • Boardwalk Empire waited until Halloween to unveil its masked character (pointed out by the AV Club’s review).
  • Hardy Richardson (the baseball player who signed Nucky\’s mitt):

I am a freelance writer currently living in Houston, TX. I have a wife and a cat. One of the two hates me.
  • logan casey

    Michael Pitt is certainly not “the poor man’s Leonardo Di Caprio….Pitt is much more attractive-looking and charismatic than Di Caprio….Out of all the characters on BOARDWALK EMPIRE I am mesmerized and most interested in the character of Jimmy Darmody played by Michael Pitt…I do not think I have ever seen an actor as handsome as Michael Pitt…..All of the other actors look like “poor men” compared to Michael Pitt….I love the series but the characters which I am drawn to are: Michael Pitt first and Steve Buscemi second….I think the character of Margaret Schroeder should have been played by a prettier-looking actress….Schroeder is very plain-looking and looks like a middle-age woman in some scenes…It is difficult to believe that both Nucky and Van Alden are smitten with her…

  • http://www.tarawrites.com/ Tara Clapper

    “aka the poor man\’s Leonardo DiCaprio” – My thought exactly as I watched this episode. It’s not to disparage Michael Pitt; it’s just that they look alike and play similar characters. It kind of weirded me out.

    I think the point of having Kelly Macdonald portray Margaret IS to make her look like the average woman and a housewife–the message being that there’s so much more to her than a pretty face. Pretty floozies are clearly omnipresent in Atlantic City, so it makes sense that the men would go for someone more like Margaret, in both demeanor and looks.

  • Daniel K

    I think your expecting to much. From Sopranos to the Wire, all these shows have heavy handed metaphors. I find this better than most other shows which lack any thought and avoid any foreshadowing or symbolism of any kind. I found this episode to be one of the best. Often shows rush story arcs and plots out of fear of losing the audience (try watching the latest season of Dexter, talk about rushed). But true story telling is a slow buildup of characters and subtle twists that eventually come to a conclusion in a spectacular fashion (or sometimes not so spectacular which can be just as rewarding). I think if your patient and enjoy the ride you will be satisfied when it ends.