In my first analysis of this great, great show, I let slip that I enjoy watching this more than I enjoy watching Mad Men (blasphemy, I know). I’ve been thinking over a little as to why that is. There is no doubt that Mad Men is the deeper show and there’s no doubt that Mad Men is the more daring show. The very idea that a television program would revolve around one ad man’s existential crisis is revolutionary and the show has, with very few exceptions, always done an amazing job of making it come to life in a visual medium which can’t be an easy feat.
The problem with Mad Men is that Don Draper’s existential crisis is vastly more interesting than most of the other plots. In turn, the character of Don Draper is much more interesting than everyone else. When I’m watching Mad Men, I usually enjoy but do not love the plots that concern Joan, Pete, Ken, Betty etc. More than anything, I’m waiting around for Don Draper’s next scene. It’s not always like this by any means, Peggy is a very arresting character and Pete and Roger have their moments, but Draper is the reason I watch the show.
Boardwalk Empire doesn’t have this problem for me which is likely why I find it more engaging overall. I think Nucky is fascinating, although not as fascinating as Don, but, unlike with Mad Men’s supporting cast, I am also fascinated by Rothstein, Eli, Gillian, Richard, Margaret, Lucky, Chalky, and Capone. When Nucky isn’t on the screen I’m not antsy to get back to him because, by and large, everyone else is just as interesting as him or at least close to. That’s why earlier in the season I said that I don’t mind if the characters’ stories don’t end up connecting as I find them arresting even on their own. Then we had last week, where the plots began to intersect and bring the show to a whole new level. That continues this week, as Richard’s love for Jimmy’s son, Tommy, brings him back to The Artemis Club, guns blazing. We expected a gunfight in The Artemis Club, but we expected it to be between Nucky Thompson’s men and Gyp Rossetti’s. Instead, Terence Winter gives us a one man tank mowing down Gyp Rossetti’s men so he can bring a child out of a dangerous environment. He’s an early CPS agent, clearly.
This narrative twist works not just because it’s awesome, and it is, but because it resolves a large part of the narrative in a surprising and character driven way. We know Richard can kill, we know he loves Tommy, but we didn’t know that he would end up slaughtering nine people in order to get to him. This does take Nucky out of the main storyline a little but it’s not a huge problem as he already made a deal with Rothstein that doomed Gyp Rossetti’s crew. The fact that Richard ended up being the one to do the killing only made it more narratively satisfying and leaves Richard in a unique spot going into next season. The scene also shows how fantastic a director Tim Van Patten is. I should also note that in this episode The Artemis Club in general looked gorgeous and completely creepy. Great job by the production team.
But where was I? Ah, yes, Richard getting some of Nucky’s kills.
We don’t need to see Nucky himself kill more people. We saw him do it last week and we saw him organize the assassination of Masseria’s men this week. He’s not only a gangster now; he embraces the title. At the episode’s end he tells Eli that it’s time for him to become less of a known figure. Tony Soprano made the same move in season four of The Sopranos. Those of you who watched the latter show now that Tony only became more and more corrupt as the show went on. Nucky is following a similar path but in his own way. He’s still more than happy to use his political connections and still more than happy to be a political player- he’ll just do it behind the scenes. Nucky Thompson- a better dressed Karl Rove. At this point, unless it’s mandatory for the plot, there’s no real need for us to see Nucky murder; we can easily assume that he can and will. Last season’s arc was to make Nucky a gangster by killing Jimmy. This season’s arc was to make him embrace his new livelihood.
As for Nucky’s opposite, Gyp Rossetti? Well, the guy got one hell of a last scene, giving a hilarious impersonation of Nucky before one of his own men stabbed him to death in order to make peace with Atlantic City. One last round of applause for Bobby Cannavale who played a character that could have easily fallen apart but became incredibly watchable. Hopefully, Nucky will learn from Rossetti’s mistakes and not end up taking things too personal. Look where it got Gyp- dead on the beach.
I’d say that I can’t wait until next September but I don’t want to rush the days away! Still, I look forward to seeing where Terence Winter plans to bring Nucky and company left. He gives us some clues but events are by and large still up in the air. Will Margaret still play a part? Where is Richard off to? Will Rothstein figure out Nucky leaked his name? If I keep this up, I will want to rush to next September…
So that’s it for Boardwalk Empire until September 2013. In the meantime, HBO has the fantastic Game of Thrones coming up at the end of March, while AMC has Mad Men in mid March, and FX has Justified in January. Then there’s Breaking Bad’s final season on the horizon. It’s a good time to be a fan of great television.
It’s been an absolute joy writing for you guys and writing about a show that I love. It took me a while to figure out just how to approach this show but I think, in the end, that’s an important part of the journey- the show changes the way I write about it. If it didn’t, thenit wouldn’t be a particularly noteworthy show. See you all soon!
Line of the Night: “Arnold.” “Arnold.” “Rothstein.” “Rothstein.” –Means and Mellon on the phone with Randolph. I had such a smile on my face when Means showed up.
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.