THE SECOND SHOT GOES DOWN SMOOTH
By Todd Schultz
Freshly sea-washed bottles of fine Canadian whisky trickle ashore; men with guns pick them up. Fortuitousness meets diligence thanks to the prohibition. Your luck can change pretty quickly in a town as volatile as Atlantic City, for good and bad.
One moment you are sitting pretty as sheriff, the next you have a bullet hole in your gut, or you could be a dying former political titan given a second chance at life and revenge. In the second season premiere of Boardwalk Empire, people and factions take action to make their own luck, spinning and jostling their hopeful prize as on a roulette table with the illegal importation of alcohol acting as croupier.
Nucky (Steve Buscemi) is feeling good after the election, his brother is back to being sheriff Jimmy (Michael Pitt) and his disfigured friend Harrow (Jack Huston) are securing the alcohol from the beach and bringing it to the de facto mayor of the black community Chalky White (played by the excellent Michael K. Williams, you may remember him as Omar from The Wire, always have to give shout-outs to my favorite characters) and his people for dilution and distribution. No sooner do Jimmy and his crew leave when the KKK shows up with a Gatling gun and lights up the warehouse. Omar lives, but he gives Nucky a threatening edict that "you goin’ school these crackers". War is bubbling like fresh malt, and Nucky plays both sides.
This move, prompted by Commodore Kaestner (Dabney Coleman) was meant not only to help secure the warehouse for his own operation. "Alcohol is the key," states Kaestner to his son Jimmy who along with Nucky’s brother Eli (Shea Whigham) is privy and complicit with the insurrection on Nucky. An overarching theme in this episode is the fight between Nucky and the Commodore over who the right to be Jimmy’s father figure. Nucky goes as far to buy a wooden carving of a boy and his father out hunting that Jimmy immediately shelves in a dark closet. Makes one wonder if these people really want to make a municipal oligarchy out of ‘Atlantic City’ or to be called daddy.
Meanwhile, Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) continues his downward spiral as the modern day Sodom further corrupts his already troubled soul. He spends a lovely weekend with his wife (Enid Graham) "taking in the sights", beats a maitre d running a speakeasy which later elicits her to put the beds together, then takes the confiscated money to his girlfriend (Paz de la Huerta, Nucky’s former flame). How much flagellation will this take to fix?
Domestically Nucky and Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) are back together, such as it is. Margaret for me remains the most enigmatic of characters next to Nucky, which is why I am so glad they are together, you simply have no idea how one will react to the other in given situations; and given the dire situation Nucky is put into at the end of this premiere episode, one is hoping that she will rally to his banner, as he has few banner men left.
Season two picks up on the great strength that season one left us with. The art direction, costumes, and other details that when done well illustrate great care for a show are still top-notch. All this and I haven’t even covered Al Capone in Chicago or Rothstein in New York, who by now smell blood in the water around the Jersey shore. It’s going to be a long season and anything can happen, but thus far Nucky ain’t feeling lucky.