GETTING PERSONAL There's nothing to like about Nucky Thompson, really — except for Steve
Buscemi's expert performance.
If you have not yet seen seasons 1 or 2 of the Prohibition-era, Atlantic City–set HBO drama Boardwalk Empire (whose new season begins Sunday at 9pm), then stop here and get thee to HBO OnDemand or, better yet, the brand-spanking new season 2 DVD/Blu-ray package. I can not be responsible for spoilers herein.
Now then, as you'll recall, season 2 was bloodier and also more dramatically cohesive than season 1, the passages of pungent characterization alternating with spasms of graphic violence. The violence really did reach a fever pitch that is difficult to characterize. Here in the midst of the par-for-the-course gang-related rub-outs and revenge killings we witnessed Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) literally fuck his mother (in flashback) and later kill his father while his mother (Gretchen Mol) cheered him on ("Finish it!"). Is that Jacobean or Sophoclean? Well, you be the judge. What really mattered was the prolonged intensity of the patricide, and the heaping thud dad took to the floor.
There were also evocative episodes of disturbing poetic lyricism. Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the WWI sharpshooter and assassin with half a face, sets out on Memorial Day to go hunting in the woods, in "casual" hunting tweeds, necktie, and cap, having carefully packed a lunch. He wants to end it all. But, with the barrel of the gun in his mouth, a stray dog intervenes, and Richard finds himself with a pair of genial if vaguely threatening hobo-like strangers barbecuing "tree rat." Somewhere in the midst of their gnomic exchanges with Richard — as translucent insects flit about in the sunlight around him among the dark trees — he changes his mind. Richard leaves this weird, denuded New Jersey Forest of Arden somewhat transformed.
Richard is back this season, seeking bloody vengeance. Jimmy was offed in the season 2 finale by his own surrogate father (Steve Buscemi, as Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson). And you might wonder where that leaves us — the triangle of Jimmy, Nucky, and Dabney Coleman's Commodore was the little engine that drove the plots. But fear not, there's plenty going on. It's 1923, and Nucky is still trying to retain his grasp of a thriving bootlegging business, supplying New York gangsters.
Nucky is a fiction "based" on a real character, but there are plenty of historic personages going by their own names: mobsters Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and a young, hysteric Ben "Bugsy" Siegel. These are legendary goons in the ascent, including the young Al Capone. Lording over them all is New York gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein (a suave Michael Stuhlberg), barely escaping prosecution for fixing the 1919 World Series.
Fortunately, these characters are still years away from entering the history books (Rothstein wasn't murdered until 1928), so the script can still play fast and loose with their lives. But, hey, was the mob really into heroin traffic as early as 1923? Just wondering.