Boardwalk Empiremay not be HBO’s greatest foray into the gangster genre, but it succeeds by filling a niche that no other show does. It’s a period piece featuring remarkable talent across the board, with the best writers, directors and actors in the business contributing their best work. When it pays off, it does so magnificently. Read our review of last night’s episode to find out why. . .

The Players:

  • Director: Timothy Van Patten
  • Writer: Howard Korder
  • Cast: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt, Jack Huston, Shea Whigham

Episode Title: “Gimcrack and Bunkum”

With the Commodore more or less out of the picture for the time being, Jimmy and Eli try to maintain their power, but Jimmy’s inexperience is clear. Eli tries to win back Nucky’s favor, but too much damage has been done to their relationship. Nucky, on the other hand, is doing better, having discovered a way out of his legal troubles. Richard takes a trip out to the woods and has a chance encounter with two hunters.

The Good:

  • Visually stunning: “Boardwalk Empire” has the budget that allows its directors to offer up some striking visuals for a TV show, but after a while, the familiar sights of Atlantic City grow banal and commonplace. Thankfully, this episode gives us some variety. Richard’s scenes in the woods are terrifically shot, with the landscape itself becoming a character in the action. When Eli buries a body in the weeds at daybreak, the natural beauty of the scene contrasted with the horror of his actions is truly effective.
  • Nucky and Eli: Steve Buscemi has played Nucky as a man who appears to be constantly fatigued and annoyed. At first, this seemed to make the character uninteresting, but like Al Pacino playing Michael Corleone, he hid depths of emotion in the character that occasionally break free. Case in point: Eli goes back to his brother begging for forgiveness, only to be met with Nucky’s explosive rage. While it’s not exactly a Michael and Fredo moment, it’s intense, and the drama draws us right in.
  • Jack Huston: As Richard Harrow, Jack Huston is pure brilliance. His character deals with enough emotional turmoil to put Hamlet to shame, and Huston gives him a plethora of subtle physical tics to make him seem even more real. It’s likely to be an overlooked performance, but it shouldn’t be. Huston deserves to be at the top of the A-list when his tenure on “Boardwalk Empire” is through.

The So-So:

  • Jimmy: Jimmy’s character has been inconsistent, though we probably can’t fault Michael Pitt for not trying. At first, he came across as too much of a stereotype, the war veteran who saw too much violence to truly be human again. After some time, he developed, but it seems that he’s been put on the back-burner this season. Any time his character comes close to developing, the writers move on before anything substantial happens. Sometimes he’s cunning and ruthless, sometimes he’s brash and impulsive, sometimes he’s simply vacant and cold. If all of these aspects of his character seemed to tie into each other organically, we might have more interest in him, but because they don’t, we’re confused.

The Bad:

  • No Chalky, no Van Alden: “Boardwalk Empire” features a relatively large ensemble cast, and it’s nearly impossible to fit all of the major characters into one episode. With that said, this season hasn’t been very fair to two of the show’s most important players. After the dramatic events of last season, we want a little more time to see what’s going on in Van Alden’s head. Granted, he is a naturally stoic individual who is supposed to be difficult to read, but, well, he did murder his own partner last season. That shouldn’t be ignored. Chalky, on the other hand, just needs to have his moment already. So far, he’s been allowed to do little more than seethe. Well, we’re tired of that. Let’s see him take some action.

Overall:

“Boardwalk Empire” doesn’t always live up to its potential, but when it does, it’s fantastic television. Last night’s episode combined skilled directing with strong writing and impressive acting to deliver an hour of solid entertainment. We’re hooked.

Rating: 8/10

“Boardwalk Empire” airs every Sunday night on HBO!

What did you think of last night’s episode? Tell us in the comments!