Sex, betrayal, murder. They are often the keys to any great gangster epic, and with a heaping dose of all of them mixed into this week’s episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” you can be sure that we were hooked. Thankfully, unlike a soap opera, which loses its appeal once we turn off the television and realize how ridiculous the story was, “Boardwalk Empire” only lets us admire it more when we sit back and think about what we just watched. Read our review to see why. . .
- Director: Allen Coulter
- Writer: Howard Korder
- Cast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Aleksa Palladino, Gretchen Mol, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Jack Huston
Episode Title: “Under God’s Power She Flourishes”
In the wake of Angela’s death, we are given a look into the past, seeing a glimpse of Jimmy’s Princeton days. We learn how he met Angela, what compelled him to join the Army, and are finally told something we always suspected about his relationship with his mother. In the meantime, a crime from Van Alden’s past comes back to haunt him, Nucky realizes that Esther Randolph may indeed be able to send him to prison, and Margaret continues to battle with her own conscience.
- Van Alden: We’re never quite sure whether or not we can call Van Alden a realistic character, but thanks to Michael Shannon’s acting ability, it’s not a question we ask ourselves too often anyway. He is able to convince us, through the deliberate cadence of his monotone voice and the subtly powerful expressions on his face, that this person could exist. We think we get an interesting moment with him early in this week’s episode, when he speaks of his childhood and how he was raised by religious fanatics who thought the world was ending. That scene was satisfying enough, but we get an even more intense scene, one in which Van Alden doesn’t say a word, when he is confronted about the murder of his partner. The look of dawning realization on his face is very much like the imagined image of a sinner on Judgment Day.
- Margaret: As we’ve mentioned before in our reviews of this series, Margaret hasn’t done much to make us like her this season. Her shift from poor peasant to spoiled mistress was too abrupt. Thankfully, she’s grown to slowly assert her own strength of character once again. In recent episodes, that meant that she basically prayed and fretted, but in this week’s episode, she displays a willingness to take truly drastic measures to save her soul.
- Jimmy’s rage: Jimmy has his best episode all season this week, especially when he unleashes several years’ worth of fury on his mother in response to Angela’s death. It’s not a pretty scene to watch, but it is performed hypnotically.
- Princeton Days: The flashbacks to Princeton simply don’t show us enough. Because this is an ensemble show and this aspect of the episode had to be wedged in among several other subplots, the writers obviously could not grant it a full hour of screentime, but it ends up feeling too much like a quick taste of this story and not enough like a full meal. We’ve always kind of wondered how Jimmy and Angela could even be together in the first place, so it was helpful to see them several years prior to the events of the series, when they were young and, if not in love, then definitely in giddy lust. This gives the death of Angela–not to mention to fracturing of her relationship with Jimmy–added emotional weight, but it almost feels tacked on.
- Eli: Eli’s character is impossible to pin down. One episode he’s angry and ruthless, the next episode he’s tearful and begging for forgiveness. One minute he’s an inept, perhaps even socially awkward disappointment to himself, the next minute he’s the coolest guy in the room. Usually, being unable to predict a character’s behavior is a good thing, but with Eli, we’re not thrilled, we’re confused. He’s potentially facing death row–almost certainly facing life in prison–and he acts like a drunk at the bar who has been asked to hand over his keys. It rings false.
- Jimmy and Gillian: Anyone who has followed this show since the beginning has been well aware of the awkward sexual tension between Jimmy and his mother. We all knew that there was something going on there, and we also knew that it was just a matter of time before we were given an opportunity to find out exactly what that something was. However, that build-up doesn’t make the bedroom scene between these two any less uncomfortable, nor does it truly justify that part of the series in the first place. When all is said and done, we wonder if the show needed it. In an otherwise strong episode, it was a bizarre moment that is impossible to ignore.
This season of “Boardwalk Empire” trudged along a little too slowly for our tastes, but in this penultimate episode, everything comes crashing down upon the numerous characters we’ve been following. While the absence of a character like Chalky is once again disappointing, we are glued to the screen and unable to think anything negative (except while watching “that scene”) about this episode while we watch it. In retrospect, we can see some faults, but they are nothing to be truly unhappy with.
“Boardwalk Empire” airs every Sunday night on HBO!
What did you think of last night’s episode? Did the melodrama work for you, or was it too much? Did that very uncomfortable scene between Jimmy and Gillian ruin the episode, or did it actually serve a purpose? Tell us in the comments!