Ten Great Moments from the First Season of Boardwalk Empire

I had been doing synopses/discussion of each episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire but at some point, it became a little bit cumbersome. I was so busy frantically scribbling down notes that I was missing the meat of the show. Sure, I was getting the mechanics of it, but I wasn’t enjoying it to the maximum degree. So around episode 7, I bailed on the idea and figured I’d re-visit the show later with a “Ten Great Moments”. But I’m too impatient. Even with two episodes left in the season- plenty of time for another great moment to be piled on here- I’ve opted instead to post my list early. Here, in my opinion, are the ten best moments from the first season of Boardwalk Empire.

1. Richard Harrow says “Eye do”
I know this might be hyperbole but I can’t think of a cooler murder/assassination/death in recent TV/film history than the one that Richard Harrow doled out in episode seven. Pairing it up with the music from Phantom of the Opera, sequentially, made it all the better. The whole sequence was pure genius.

2. Chalky’s father was a woodworker. And then…
Having been wronged (seemingly) by the Klan, and with someone in front of him there to pay the price, Chalky White unleashes hell.

3. Jimmy Darmody’s hit on Charlie Sheridan
It worked on so many levels. It helps establish that Darmody is no longer the green, mistake-prone kid that Nucky sent west to Chicago. It helps establish that Darmody is a rising star. It helps develop Al Capone as power-hungry and jealous in the same episode. And it gives Chicago to Johnny Torrio. The method with which the tension is built, and the way the hit was orchestrated, hearkened back to classic mob movie hits like Michael Corleone’s murder of Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo in The Godfather.

Image copyright HBO

4. The French Way
Those first three things on my list were for the fighters amongst you. This one is for the lovers. What a fantastic, and memorable, scene it was. You may recall that Jimmy and his wife (who we later found out is either a lesbian or at least bi-sexual) are preparing to, um, “be amorous” with each other. But she alerts him that it “isn’t a good time”. His solution? “We could try it the French way”, which he learned during World War I in Europe. Turns out that “the French Way” is good old fashioned oral sex. Vive la France!

5. Lucky Luciano has gonorrhea
This was uncomfortable, maybe a tiny bit humorous, and one of the more shocking things we’ve seen in the series to date. The gist of it involved Lucky Luciano at the doctor getting a cure for gonorrhea. It involved some kind of tire iron thing shoved into his Mr. Happy, and then some sort of zinc sulfate cure was applied. If you are a man and not a doctor, and you saw it, I’d bet $5 that you winced, grimaced, or got sick to your stomach.

6. Al Capone’s Wake-Up Call Service
Capone sneaks into a sleeping Darmody’s room, past Darmody’s girlfriend/prostitute named Pearl, and wakes him up… by firing a gun into the pillow next to Darmody’s face at point blank range. Then, as Darmody clutches his ear wondering where his hearing has gone, Capone cackles maniacally. It gives us a glimpse of Capone as fun-loving, completely reckless, and ultimately very dangerous. It also was one of several moments that’s made Capone my favorite character to date.

7. $3,000? I don’t need no stinking $3,000.
Early in the season, Nucky is angry at Darmody for causing so much stress by knocking over the liquor shipment in the pilot episode. Darmody’s punishment is to round up $3,000 and give it to Nucky. And he does so. He has to sweat, bleed, and claw his way to finding the money but he manages to do so. And Nucky’s response, upon being handed the money, is to immediately piss it away on the roulette wheel. It was a brilliantly subtle way to show us how powerful Nucky was, how he liked to show off that power, and how much he needs to be the alpha dog in Atlantic City.

8. I’ll take “impure thoughts” for $500, Alex.
Nelson Van Alden is obsessed with Margaret Schroeder. But he’s also a very devout man, a boy scout at heart, desperate to live the life that his good Lord wants him to live. And so upon having impure thoughts about Margaret, he punishes himself in a bizarre, ritualistic way that entails whipping his own back to the point of scarring.

Image copyright HBO

9. Darmody meets Mommy’s “kissing friend”
Of course, Jimmy’s kid was referring to the woman, not the photographer guy in the picture. But it didn’t stop Darmody from destroying a camera, scarring a small child (who was being photographed) for life, tossing the photographer out the window, and beating him within an inch of his life. James Darmody is a jealous man.

10. Van Alden makes a gutsy move
Having found a survivor from the Darmody/Capone heist in the pilot episode, Van Alden is insanely driven to crack the case. When the shooting victim refuses to give up any information, and alive by a mere thread, Van Alden shoves his hand into the blood and guts of the open wound and ruthlessly tortures him for information. It speaks volumes about the type of character he is.


Filed under Boardwalk Empire, TV Shows

10 responses to “Ten Great Moments from the First Season of Boardwalk Empire

  1. Jim

    I love that the first season of the series is still running and can already fill a top ten list with great moments.

    Actually, there are a few more that can be added, chiefly Van Alden’s downward spiral from this week’s episode. I can’t figure out if he’s giving up his pious ways, or knows that he must think like a rat to catch a rat. I suspect we’ll learn that it’s the latter. Either way, it was another moment of muscular storytelling on this awesome show.

    • Van Alden is such a fascinating character. I think he’s supposed to be some sort of commentary on the insanely devout, sort of like homophobic senators who solicit gay sex in airport bathrooms. (not my commentary… I try to be as apolitical as possible… I just think that’s the BWE writers’ commentary)

      I got 10 moments in there and there were three that I left on the cutting room floor (Capone’s headless joke, Rothstein’s cue ball choking story, and the initial Darmody/Capone heist).

      • Jim

        I think you picked the 10 well.

        BTW, I was watching Groundhog Day the other afternoon (one of my favorites of all time) and was delighted to notice that Michael Shannon who plays Van Alden on BWE, was Fred, the newlywed kid that Phil gave Wrestlemania tickets to after talking his bride out of having cold feet. It’s such a “gee whiz” and innocent role, it’s like he’s another person (which I think actors are supposed to do, right?).

        • That’s excellent! There are bunch of “Whoa, that’s ____?!?!” on that show, but that’s one I definitely didn’t know. Johnny Torrio is “Butchie” from The Sopranos. The guy playing Rothstein was the star of the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man”. Richard Harrow is John Huston’s grandson (and Anjelica Huston’s nephew, I think). Margaret Schroeder was Llewellyn Moss’ wife in “No Country for Old Men”. Al Capone was Babyface Nelson in “Public Enemies”. And then Darmody has been in a ton of stuff. I became a big fan of him after “Funny Games”.

  2. Yo Droid!

    I’m jumping in to the discussion a bit late. Just found your blog via Jim’s blog. I LOVED this show! I like how it built up slowly. Mrs. Schroeder, Nucky, and Jimmy Darmody are my favorite characters on the show.

    Kelly McDonald is AWESOME as Mrs. Schroeder! Her character arc has been spectacular. She starts as the abused immigrant wife and finishes as the lover of the most powerful man in Atlantic City. I hope she gets an Emmy or Golden Globe for this show (though awards are really complete BS). She’s a solid actress and was great in Trainspotting, Gosford Park, and No Country for Old Men.

    Buscemi is finally getting the exposure as a leading man that he deserves. Besides being involved in many excellent films (especially when working with the Coen brothers) , he has been the savior of many an awful film, i.e. Armageddon and Con-Air. And let’s not forget how he was the brightest spot towards the end of The Sopranos (as an actor and as the writer of the Pine Barrens episode). Buscemi as Nucky is perfect.

    This is Michael Pitt’s best work to date. I like him so much in this show that I’ll have to go back and watch Funny Games and The Dreamers to see his earlier work. His Darmody character is equal parts intelligence/menace/psychosis. It’s interesting to see how they are portraying the handling of post-traumatic stress after World War I. I’m not a war expert, but I’ve rarely seen that showed with regards to the “Great Wars”.

    Can’t wait for season 2!


    • Pitt is phenomenal in “Funny Games”. Just… cold, right down to the bone, and that’s exactly what’s called for in it.

      And Buscemi is one of my very favorite actors working. His work with “Tree’s Lounge” was part of the inspiration for David Chase to create The Sopranos. And as you say, his work with the Coens is amazing.

  3. I’ll have to check out Funny Games. How does it compare to the French version? I haven’t seen either, but I know the same director handled both versions. An interesting exercise.

    Buscemi is just great! He’s just so natural. He can be creepy, sympathetic, and also downright hysterical. From Mr. Pink to Nucky… a plethora of memorable roles. I also have a soft spot for the guy cause Buscemi was my grandparents last name. 🙂

    • I haven’t seen the first version, but I’ve heard that if you’ve seen one, there’s no need to see the other because it’s 95% a shot-for-shot re-make.

      I’ve heard a few people say that Buscemi is their problem with BWE- they can’t buy creepy Buscemi as a powerful politician. Personally? I think it’s a testament to his range that it doesn’t bother me in the least.

      • I agree. Buscemi is just great! I was talking to someone that was reading the book, and his comment was that physically, Buscemi bears no resemblance to the real life Nucky (Nucky Johnson). Johnson was apparently a big, imposing, backslapping kind of politician. Like I said before, it’s about time Buscemi gets his due and lands a starring role.

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