Boardwalk Empire, Season 2: Final Thoughts

Boardwalk Empire just completed the second season, a season that was met with much critical acclaim. The Onion AV Club gave five of the episodes this season A- or better ratings, and believe me–they don’t dole those out liberally. For comparison, the beloved show Modern Family only has one A or A- rating this season. Curb Your Enthusiasm earned 4 A or A- grades out of their most recent ten-episode season. So how did the season go? What’s left to be said before we put the show away for a few months? Here are my final thoughts on the second season. Caution: spoilers ahead for the entire season. If you haven’t seen the whole season, I highly recommend that you do not read this.

It’s impossible to speak about this season without talking about the humongous role that Jimmy Darmody played, both before “the incident” in the finale and moving forward. When the show debuted last season, I wrote about the relationship between Darmody and Nucky Thompson:

Michael Pitt’s character is going to be a great part of this show. The tension between his character- Darmody- and his boss, Nucky Thompson (played by Buscemi) is going to be palpable throughout. The character is developing with some Moltisanti-esque overtones- young and power-hungry.

I assumed that the Nucky/Darmody story would play itself out over several seasons, probably even the show’s entire run. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong about how long Darmody would last. Frankly, doing something like this gives the writers a ton of credibility in my eyes. As Terrence Winter, the show’s creator, mentioned in this incredible HitFix interview, they’d painted Jimmy into a corner and it would’ve stretched logic to allow him to survive his failed attempt on Nucky’s life. Having Jimmy’s story end the way it ended was the natural, and appropriate, conclusion. While I’ll miss the hell out of his character, I appreciate that the writers didn’t bullshit us by allowing him to survive.

There’s so much that’ll be left in the Darmody aftermath. Whither my favorite character, Richard Harrow? Darmody was more or less his only friend, and now he’s gone. It’d be logical for Harrow’s character to disappear from the show but I hope they don’t take it in that direction. Nucky, in the meantime, became so much more ruthless and cold-blooded than he’d ever been, all in a span of about 20 seconds of the season finale. Watching the development of his character’s shift towards bloody sin is going to be fascinating. And then there’s also Eli, who somehow managed to survive his own attempt on Nucky’s life, all while helping to bury Jimmy. What will happen to Gillian? She’s been robbed of all of her means of power acquisition, since both Jimmy and the Commodore are toast. But she’s conniving enough that I won’t be shocked to see her with more up her sleeve.

Now that Darmody’s storyline is finished, Winter and the writers can focus on other characters, and that excites me. There’s tension between Arnold Rothstein and the pair of young turks, Luciano and Lansky. Manny Horvitz is set up to play a more prominent role if only for part of next season. You can take that to the bank, boychik. In the meantime, as mentioned in the Winter interview on HitFix, it’s no small coincidence that Van Alden’s escape happens to place him in Cicero, Illinois. Historically speaking, that’s where Al Capone really grew to power. And chronologically, the show isn’t very far from this:

The Torrio-Capone organization, as well as the Sicilian-American Genna crime family, competed with the North Side Gang of Dean O’Banion. In May 1924, O’Banion discovered that their Sieben Brewery was going to be raided by federal agents and sold his share to Torrio. After the raid, both O’Banion and Torrio were arrested. Torrio’s people murdered O’Banion in revenge on October 10, 1924, provoking a gang war.

Focusing on Capone and fleshing out his story a little bit can only help that show. The same is true of both Lansky and Luciano. Additionally, I’d love to see Dominc Chianese’s character, Leander Whitlock, return for next season. Now that the Darmody story is over, they have time to take on this task.

Less of this, please.

There’s a delicate balance with Margaret and her storyline. I found it mind-numbingly boring, not to mention unrealistic when she experienced a wild shift mid-season. She went from being Nucky’s accomplice, to cheating on him, to devoted Catholic willing to take an uppercut swing at Nucky, all in the name of Catholic guilt. It transpired over two or three episodes. Having read the Winter interview, I’m glad to see that he addressed it. And even with resolution coming between Nucky and Margaret, she managed to take one more shot at him, ruining his land deal by giving it to the church. My biggest beef with all of this is that it’s all too familiar. We’ve seen it all before, with Carmela Soprano frantically working with the church to absolve herself of her part as a willing accomplice in her husband’s evil deeds. I hope that she’s officially made peace with her religious questions and we can move on from it with her storyline now that Nucky and Margaret are married.

More Greek goddess stripteases would be nice.

Speaking of the marriage, the marriage scene was one of the best moments of the show’s two years thus far. The obvious homage to The Godfather was deftly handled, never turning into full scale bloodbath (other than Neary’s “suicide”) while juxtaposed against the amazing dialogue of Assistant Attorney General Esther Randolph as she prepares to nail Nucky to the cross… or so she thinks. The season was littered with great moments–Jimmy tossing Mickey Doyle off of a balcony; Horvitz’s barbarianism, including the murder of Angela and her lesbian partner; Eli murdering Alderman George O’Neill; the attempt on Nucky’s life; Lucy’s message to Van Alden, left in the record player; the horrifying incest scene between Jimmy and Gillian; Gillian’s seductive, stroke-inducing dance in just the first Greek tragedy she helped re-create; and on and on.

Essentially, the series is in incredible hands. It’s been two seasons, and Winters and his crew have rarely taken a misstep. It seems like the loss of Darmody rips up the heart of the show, but it’s really not true. The show is, after all, about the story of Nucky Thompson and his gangster ways. Popping Darmody was just a natural thread in that story. Now begins the anticipation for season 3. It’s going to be a long wait.


Filed under Boardwalk Empire, TV Shows

9 responses to “Boardwalk Empire, Season 2: Final Thoughts

  1. Matt Stewart

    I’m just now working my way into television shows, but this one actually caught my attention when it first came out. I will check it out one day. Nice work!

  2. Staci Alexander

    I think you nailed it right on the head. The killing Jimmy has been really unpopular (to put it mildly) on all of the message boards I’ve read, but I thought it was a genius move. It gives more cred to Nucky; didn’t Jimmy himself tell Nucky that he needed to stop being “half a gangster”? Also, with some of the wild turns the Jimmy character has taken this season, I’m not quite sure how much farther they could have gone.

    I also think (read that: hope) that this will push fan favorite Richard into a major role next season.

  3. Excellent recap John!

    I really enjoy this show and love how it’s all playing out. I will admit that the double and triple crosses get a bit confusing at times, but the characters and the acting on this show are first rate and keep me coming back for more.

    Personally, I enjoy the Margaret/Nucky dynamic and look forward to seeing how it all plays out when he finds out about the land transfer. Margaret’s Catholic guilt thing is a bit over the top at times, particularly because Margaret is a pretty shrewd character, so you’d think that she would have better coping mechanisms than just falling back on religion when things get murky.

    Although I’ll miss Jimmy and his troubled relationship with Nucky, there are plenty of characters on the fringes for them to develop further in Season 3. They did a great job of giving Chalky White more to do in Season 2 when compared with Season 1. Hopefully they’ll do the same with my three favorite hoods from this season, i.e. Manny Horwitz (has William Forsyth ever been this over the top, yet infinitely watchable before? Love this guy!), Rothstein, and Lansky. Capone and Luciano irritate me a bit for some reason.

    I’m sure there’s more to say, but you covered it all so well that I’ll stop here.


  4. I have a love hate relationship with this show, the side plots in New York, Philly, Chicago, and heck even Dublin are more interesting to me than AC, I just can’t stand all the Jersey characters, except Harrow and Van Alden, and maybe Chalky. But that was a great finale, and a fitting end for Jimmy.

    Moving ahead, Manny is my favorite character right now, I hope he gets an expanded role next season and ends up in an epic showdown with Richard.

  5. I haven’t read this. The reason? I am still wading through the season, but it has been relugated to something I watch in the mid season break. I hope to ctach up soon

  6. This season was not the first time Margaret has allowed her guilt to get the best of her. Remember the death of her husband, Hans? She must have suspected that Nucky had a part in it. Yet, she reveled in her decision to become his mistress . . . until Van Alden challenged her on the subject. Then she expressed guilt and self-righteously left Nucky to feel good about herself. Only, she could not stay away in the end. Emily being stricken with polio only took Margaret’s behavior a step forward.

    I like Margaret, but she can be very hypocritical and self-involved when it comes to her guilt vs. her desires. I don’t understand the complaints about the turn her character took this season. It was nothing new.

  7. Sal

    Thanks for the sum up. I was a good read.
    I kind of dislike the character of Manny Horvitz. He is a rough guy with his own way of thinking, but his brutality just doesn’t suit me. I am very curios what new characters will join us in the next season. Now it’s time to wait or re-watch the whole show on a weekly basis.

  8. I understand Jimmy’s death creatively, psychologically, and so on. It was executed beautifully.

    I just think that it was exactly one season too soon. With others rising up in power in season 3, he could have been pushed down more and more over time. I think it was a little too quick to end him this season. I also found some of his behaviour over the top, despite his background. I know he is a messed up and tortured soul, but it felt contrived that things would go so wrong every time he was involved in something.

    I guess it’s whether you think a character should be taken at his peak, or let him go a bit longer, even if it’s a stretch. I would rather have more scenes with the character, myself.

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