Boardwalk Empire Recap: "Two Imposters," or Oh Em Gee, Did You See That? by Donald McCarthy

Before I started to write this article I texted my friend that it’d be hard for me to restrain from just repeatedly going, “OMG, how cool was that moment?!” in my analysis. I’ll do my best, though, lest I let you fine folks down and devolve into a teenage boy who has just come out of a James Bond film and is all excited about the violence and cleavage.

But seriously, how awesome was Capone’s entrance at the end of the episode? Brilliant. But it’s not just brilliant because it was a cool moment, although it sure was, but also because we’ve seen so much of Capone this season and we’ve come to understand him. Showrunner Terrance Winter and his writers (with Howard Korder writing tonight’s outstanding episode) have done a great job when it comes to characterization and in “Two Imposters” it pays off.

You see, this episode is an outstanding action piece. The opening sequence with Nucky’s escape was fabulous and eerie. The touch of the rocking horse, reminding us just how close innocents were to getting trapped in this, is an example of how this show can use very small notes to great effect. A larger, but still effective note came in the form of Nucky killing his assassins. We’ve not seen Nucky like this in the past but he’s a full on gangster now. Speaking of gangsters, many movies have been based off the idea of one mobster, who is down on his luck, coming back to take on his nemesis. That’s pretty much Nucky’s plot in this episode but it feels different from previous iterations of this story. What brings this episode, and the whole show, to another level is that the writers have invested time and energy into making the characters into real people, people that we understand and are interested by even if we don’t necessarily like them.

I mentioned a review or two ago that Chalky White is Boardwalk Empire’s least developed character. Tonight, we saw that change and it’s thanks to the writers and actor Michael Kenneth Williams, who is an alum of The Wire where he played the magnificent Omar Little, that he comes alive so quickly. The way he speaks is unique but not too unique that it becomes distracting. Giving characters their own voices is a key part of great writing and Boardwalk Empire has had that down since the beginning with most of its characters- in this episode we see that extend to Chalky White.

I’m glad Chalky has entered the fray as the story of the black community during this time period promises to be a fascinating one. Since it appears that Chalky will be getting his own club on the boardwalk soon, it’s inevitable that he’ll play a larger part in the show (he damn well better). Chalky has been relegated to small subplots in the past and hasn’t received nearly as much attention as even our characters outside of Atlantic City do. Speaking of that, let’s discuss a little on how this episode upends Boardwalk Empire’s usual structure.

I’ve talked in the past about how Boardwalk Empire often operates as a series of related but still independent short stories. For instance, we have Capone in Chicago. He’s met Nucky and many of our other players but for this season he was doing his own thing. Even in Atlantic City, we had plots unrelated to the season’s main story; Gillian and Richard had their adventures in love and prostitution. I’ve seen critics disagree with this approach but I think it’s a valid one as it fleshes out the universe that we’re seeing. I don’t need everything to come together at once in order to enjoy various plots and character stories. But I don’t mind when they do. Tonight’s episode brought together stories that I did not expect to see combine. Capone’s appearance at the end shocked me in the best way. It makes sense but also works as a surprise.

While not as big in the “shock” department, just as interesting was seeing Richard and Gillian deal with Gyp Rossetti’s men in the brothel. Now that Richard’s been dismissed he looks to be heading back towards his murderous ways. Is he going after Gillian now? How will that affect Rossetti? Will he team up with Nucky? I want to know but I love that the show leaves us guessing until next week’s season finale.

Finally, let’s take a look at one of the quieter plotlines in this episode which is only quieter because of how explosive the others ones were: Luciano’s drug deal. Last week I mentioned that a potential problem with Boardwalk Empire was the fate of the historical characters. When I saw Luciano’s buyers turn on him I initially felt disengaged because I knew they wouldn’t kill him and I figured he’d have his own men there to bail him out. Opps, I was wrong. Luciano was arrested. It’s historically accurate but it also ends up being more interesting than if Luciano was in mortal danger. Now we will see just how a mobster reacts in this era of mob rule when they’re arrested for their dealings. We’ve seen Nucky and Rothstein escape justice in the past but with Luciano caught in the act we’re going to see a brand new side of the way the mob and the law battle. I’m thinking we won’t see his plot play out until next season but that’s fine; it’s a nice teaser for season four (which is coming as the show has been renewed although there was little question that it would be).

The only problem I had with this episode is that it’s difficult for me to analyze! It’s very much part one of two which means we have to wait until next week to see what all of this will mean. As we wait for it, let’s just sit back and enjoy Boardwalk Empire’s excellent plotting and characterization. This program shows that when the two are well done and work as one, we are in for a treat. Other shows should take note.

Line of the Night: “…and we talk about who dies.” – Al Capone (I need to mention again the great work that Stephen Graham does as Al Capone)


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.