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Boardwalk Empire, Season 2 Premiere

bill bodkin goes on the boardwalk, down by the sea…

Every Memorial Day Weekend, gaggles of vacationers return to the Jersey Shore for another season of sun and fun. And when their flip flop touches the planked walkways of beaches from Belmar to Barneget, from Avon to Atlantic City, everything comes back to them. That air of familiarity, all the smells, the sites, the sounds — they call come rushing back with one touch of the boards, one smell of salty air. It’s like they never left, but boy are they glad to be back.

This is exactly how the season premiere of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire felt. As soon we heard the guitar strums of the opening credits (lifted from The Brian Jonestown Massacre), as soon as we see the whiskey bottles wading in the Atlantic and soon as we see the visage of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) — everything comes rushing back. You remember how great that first season was, you remember the opulent sets, the great characters, the blood season finale. Then as the instrumental crescendos to its climax, chills run up your back as you are ready to see what the creative team of Boardwalk can do to top its first season. And as Nucky walks back towards the bright lights of Atlantic City, you’re ready to jump in head first, like the famed Steel Pier Diving Horse, into Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire.

It’s ironic that this episode is entitled “21.” Like the game of blackjack, some cards (or in this case storylines) are dealt to us face up while there’s some that are still facedown, waiting for the opportune time to be shown to us.

The theme for the second season is pretty simple — everyone wants to take Nucky Thompson down. In fact we actually end the episode with Nucky being taken away in handcuffs by New Jersey State Troopers on election tampering charges. But who set him up — we’re going to have to wait for that card to be dealt.

Outside of this mystery arrest we see Nucky’s main nemesis the triumvirate of Jimmy Darmondy (Michael Pitt), The Commodore (Dabney Coleman) and Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), who came together in the closing moments of last season, beginning their plot to “take back Atlantic City.” We are also given a small taste of the storyline that Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) are thinking of cutting ties with their Atlantic City liquor bootlegger (Nucky and in some part Jimmy).

Continuing with the 21 analogy, the “face down” cards or plot lines that are dealt but haven’t been revealed yet are the inevitable involvement of Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stulhbarg) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), the intentions of Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and what exactly is Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) going to do after being brutally attacked by the KKK. And speaking of the men in white, we saw the debut of Dominic Chianese, Uncle Junior of The Sopranos, debut as the head clansmen, albeit in a brief, wordless scene — you know there’s more to come of that.

Yet the brilliance of the episode doesn’t lie within the main storylines that are set in motion. As with the first season, it’s the little things that make Boardwalk Empire standout. The always captivating Richard Harrow (Jack Huston, nephew of Anjelica), returned in a heartbreaking scene — too embarrassed to eat in front of the Darmondys because of his facial mask. The father/son relationship between Nucky and Jimmy is also touched up and the question of whether Nucky will be a father figure to Mrs. Schroeder’s (Kelly MacDonald) oldest boy is raised.

Also the love triangle involved Lucy Danzinger (Paz de la Huerta), Agent Van Alden and his wife is brought back, further complicating an already complicated federal agent. Even the riff between Jimmy’s wife Angela (Aleska Palladino) and mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) is brought up, which may lead to some big consequences by season’s end.

The episode set the table with a lot of storyline, all told at an easy to follow and brilliantly executed pace. It’s going to be a very interesting season on Boardwalk Empire that will no doubt be filled with the requisite blood, booze and broads but also brilliant writing and acting, making it one of the must-see dramas on TV.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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