Last week’s pilot episode of “Boardwalk Empire” culminated in typical Scorsese fashion: brutal violence and gangland killings. The second installment in HBO’s new series finds our characters dealing with the aftermath of a bootlegging job that resulted in murder. Check out our review…

The Players:

  • Director: Timothy Van Patten
  • Writer: Terence Winter
  • Cast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Gretchen Mol, Shea Wigham, Stephen Graham, Michael Stuhlbarg

Episode Title: “The Ivory Tower”

After Jimmy and Al Capone intercepted the shipment of whiskey that was on its way to Arnold Rothstein, killing the bootleggers in the process, Nucky chose to orchestrate the murder of Hans Schroeder in order to pin the murders on him. Government agent Nelson Van Alden isn’t convinced, and Nucky’s trust in Jimmy is understandably shaken. In the meantime, Rothstein is displeased with the outcome of his business deal, and wants someone to pay for it.

The Good:

  • Michael Shannon: As agent Van Alden, Michael Shannon skillfully embodies the incorruptible officer of the law, a man driven by loyalty to his country and faith in God. It’s more or less the same character he played in World Trade Center, but unlike the law enforcement agents in some other gangster dramas, he doesn’t come across as some vague, incompetent background character. Viewers get the sense that he is both talented and determined, two traits which could allow him to pose a legitimate threat to Nucky’s criminal empire as the series progresses.
  • Cinematic Scope: For a show that is still in its infancy, “Boardwalk Empire” has already managed to weave together multiple storylines featuring a variety of characters. This can be a difficult task, interfering with the natural pace of a story; sometimes we forget about a certain subplot, because it hasn’t been visited in a while, other times we’re bored with one character and would rather see another in action. Luckily, the talent behind this project have made sure that everyone’s story is one worth telling, and they all contribute to the whole. Add in the scope of this episode, which takes us to New York City and Chicago in some scenes, and you’ve got a big scale production for the small screen.
  • The Billiard Ball Monologue: The writing on this series can be a little clunky at times, sounding too much like a film buff’s take on Prohibition gangster speak and too little like the real thing. However, all sins are forgiven when Michael Stuhlbarg, as Arnold Rothstein, delivers a monologue about a pool hall jokester who would swallow billiard balls to amuse others, until Rothstein played a clever trick which caused him to choke to death. There are few pleasures comparable to watching an evil character calmly talk about how evil he is.

The Bad:

  • Slow Progress: After the violent climax of last week, viewers were expecting events to take a dramatic turn, and while the stakes have certainly been raised, not much happens in this episode. We learn a little more about the characters, we see the repercussions of their actions, but we don’t see much movement in the story. There’s no sense of urgency, and after several people have been killed, urgency is something you would expect.

Photo Gallery:

Overall:

Excellent acting by everyone involved makes up for the fact that this episode doesn’t offer anything new in the way of story. We definitely get the sense that more drama is on its way, but this time around, there wasn’t much plot to speak of.

Rating: 7/10

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.