“Boardwalk Empire” is television on a broad scale. Although the majority of the action takes place in Atlantic City, the true setting of the show isn’t a place, but a time in history. We’re fortunate that show’s writers are willing to venture outside of their comfort zone to capture that moment. This week’s episode takes us across the Atlantic to Ireland, and by doing so, illustrates something that even some historians forget to mention: Prohibition rippled throughout the world, even in countries in which alcohol was still frequently consumed.
- Director: Brad Anderson
- Writer: Steve Kornacki
- Cast: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Pitt, Jack Huston, Michael K. Williams, Vincent Piazza, Lucy Gallina, Josie Gallina, Stephen Graham, Charlie Cox
Episode Title: “Battle of the Century”
Having relinquished his role as Treasurer of Atlantic City, Nucky voyages to Belfast, Ireland with Owen, hoping to begin a new illegal business selling weapons to the IRA. Margaret remains in Atlantic City and tends to Emily who, we discover, has been stricken with polio. Enjoying his new position of power, Jimmy continues to make business deals, but his ambition may be getting ahead of him. In the meantime, with the consent of Chalky, Dunn Pursley asks his fellow African-American workers to strike.
- Ireland: Whether it’s The Godfather, Scarface, or any of the classic contributions to the genre that Warner Bros. gave audiences in the ’30s, the gangster film has often been a narrative of immigration. Codes of honor are not dismissed simply by stepping off the boat at Ellis Island, and old grudges have a way of finding a new home. As we saw earlier this season, Owen remains loyal to the IRA, and by taking us to Ireland for an episode, “Boardwalk Empire” reveals the strains of rebellion which remain in his soul.
- Dunn Pursley: Our first meeting with Dunn wasn’t too spectacular. He came off as arrogant and ignorant, never an attractive combination. However, this week, he’s starting to grow on us. Beneath that grating exterior is a character of courage and integrity, one who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid of doing what it takes to get it. We’re curious to see what will become of him in this show.
- Margaret: This has not been a stellar season for Margaret. She’s had moments that interest us, but overall, she’s basically been a harsh, spoiled woman; the Margaret of season one would be shocked to learn what has become of herself. This week, she’s given a little more to do than merely berate her maids, having to cope with the fact that Nucky’s money can’t shield her from all pain when Emily is diagnosed with polio. Her emotional distress is a reprieve from her usual behavior, but she remains too passive to truly admire.
- Jimmy: Jimmy has his power now, but it was a lot more fun to watch him try to earn it. His transition from mentally wounded veteran to powerful criminal was an engaging story arc, but his juvenile behavior in recent episodes is a turn-off. Sure, it’s supposed to be; the tension comes from the fact that Jimmy isn’t able to handle the responsibility he has taken on. Still, it’s making his time on screen a little less enjoyable for the audience at home.
- Pacing: To put it simply, the pace of this episode is a little off. We don’t need swift movement, but a slow-burn is only worth the time we invest if the payoff is worth it. We all knew that a worker strike was coming, so we didn’t need another episode to lead up to it. Nothing too shocking happens this week, but the pace of the episode seems to indicate that something shocking was suppposed to happen.
“Boardwalk Empire,” while entertaining, is not the kind of show which is best appreciated on an episode-to-episode basis. It paints on a large canvas, and the way to truly enjoy the work is to take a few steps back and see the bigger picture. This week’s installment wasn’t thrilling on its own, but in the grand scheme of a gangster epic, it was an important chapter.
“Boardwalk Empire” airs every Sunday night on HBO!
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