“Boardwalk” Walking

This is a big week for “Boardwalk Empire”–its second season just appeared on Blu-Ray/DVD, and this Sunday will see the premiere of its third season on HBO. I’m curious as to the direction the show will take at this point, after the murder of one of its leading characters. Jimmy Darmody was no hero, but we saw much of the “Boardwalk” world through his eyes. He’s not easily replaced.

When my Season 2 set arrived from Amazon, I immediately cued up the most notorious episode the show has aired to date: “Under God’s Power She Flourishes,” when all is revealed—and then some—about Gillian and Jimmy’s relationship. What a heartbreak this is, from the very beginning when we hear Angela’s “Jimmy, I’ve got to leave,” as if in a dream. And then to see Jimmy as a teen-ager, before his service in World War I, before all the killing we’d already seen him commit. If you’d like to know what a fine work “Boardwalk Empire” really is, watch this episode again, this time with the excellent commentary of among others, Gretchen Mol (who for the record was as icked out as the rest of us by Gillian’s behavior). Then go back and watch Season 1 from start to finish, and you’ll find that the show’s creators were amazingly consistent in character development with respect to Jimmy, Gillian and Angela. I suspect they had “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” in mind from the inception of the show, but waited until just the right time to pull that rabbit out of the hat.

Watching Season 1 again is seeing Jimmy lose his humanity, bit by bit, over the course of time. He’s genuinely contrite—he even has tears in his eyes—when he apologizes to Nucky about the booze robbery in the woods gone wrong that left five Rothstein accomplices dead.  After he flees to Chicago and sees his favorite prostitute have her face cut up by a rival gang member, he starts his slide. For the remainder of Season 1, Thug Jimmy and Compassionate Jimmy alternate. He beats the boardwalk photographer, Dittrich, unmercifully while Angela and Tommy look on in terror, yet he takes Angela back after her abortive attempt to run away with Mary Dittrich. Throughout this season and the next, we’re constantly reminded of what the war did to Jimmy, and when we ultimately learn the full extent of the damage his mother caused, it’s no surprise to see him welcome death at Nucky’s hands.

After Season 1, “Boardwalk Empire” lost a good deal of its social scope—no more WCTU, suffragettes, the original Ponzi scheme, incubator babies or those Margaret Sanger pamphlets on birth control. Season 2 saw Jimmy’s murder and the loss of an intriguingly complex character whom we could alternately sympathize with and be repulsed by. These are important subtractions from a show that can easily become just a Jazz Age version of “The Sopranos.” “Boardwalk Empire” needs to go back to what made it so intriguing in its first season—the character development against a strong social and political backdrop. The good news is Chalky White is still on the scene, hopefully along with more discussion of the significant African-American presence in Atlantic City. I’d like to see more politics, especially since the new season skips ahead in time to 1923, when the Teapot Dome Scandal breaks and Nucky’s friends in Washington are about to go down. Don’t get me wrong—I could watch Michael Stuhlbarg as Arnold Rothstein outsmart everyone for hours at a time—but I’d like to see more of Atlantic City in its hey day. In other words, more Eddie Cantor, fewer blood baths.

I’ve got my fingers crossed for Sunday’s premiere. I hope I’m not disappointed.

32 thoughts on ““Boardwalk” Walking

    • If you haven’t seen the show before, I still think you should watch it from the beginning. You need to see all that’s come before in order to get the full emotional impact of the Princeton flashbacks in “Under God’s Power She Flourishes.” Take it from one whose first “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode was “The Body” in which Buffy’s mom dies. Without the build-up, you don’t get the resonance. JMHO, of course.

  1. Great review, I’m looking forward to Season 3 of Bordwalk Empire as well. I was bit shocked when they killed Jimmy, gonna be interesting to see how this affects Nucky’s empire.

  2. I am so looking forward to this premiere tonight! I’ve spent the last few weeks getting caught up again with Season 2 and it’s such an incredible show. Definite shades of “Jazz Age Sopranos” (Margaret and Owen vs Carmela and Furio, anyone?) but you’re right- the character development is so strong and essential and the show has definitely hit its stride. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do without Jimmy and how that ultimately affects Nucky’s psyche.
    Sorry for the blab! I loved this post and I’m looking forward to what else you write as the season goes on :) Congrats on the FP.

  3. Betty, I’m glad you are discussing this. It is funny they mention his name as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in the show. His real name is Enoch Johnson? Now if you do a bit of research in South Jersey, you will come up with another similar character named, Billy “The Duke” Thompson. (haha, you see same last name). I believe his character is based off of these 2 guys. Billy “The Duke” was Boardwalk Empire before there was an AC boardwalk. In fact, he had owned over 6,000 acres in Gloucester City, NJ (along the Delaware) with a boardwalk encompassing 3 towns and a pier that stretched over a half mile long. It held the largest amusement park in the world, casinos, a state of the art racetrack, and the first ballpark that held electric lights (now called the Phillies who played there). World leaders came from all over to see the sights. In fact, The duke was the largest political powerhouse ever in NJ history!

    The amusement park was also the greatest pleasure resort in the world. It held an electric fountain and botanical gardens, tallest ferris wheel in the world and held many other offerings like a man who could walk on water! (he used cork shoes)

    Thompson’s history also was of Irish decent.

    So as you can see there is some similarity to “Nucky’s” character with both these guys. The Duke was known to be also be involved in shady business dealings.

    Just wanted to put a little history behind the show.

    I love the show! Thank you for your post and being “freshly pressed.” I will follow you:)

  4. I loved the 1st season of Boardwalk Empire, but my interest waned at the beginning of Season 2. When I started seeing ads for the 3rd season, they instantly drew me back & I looked forward to the premiere. I made a point to catch up & boy am I glad! The end of Season 2 was interwoven with so many layers of unexpected turns! The season premiere gives us a glimpse of yet another promising chapter for Boardwalk Empire!!

  5. Can´t wait. It´s a great show. I had the opposite experience to the previous commentor. I liked Season 1, but I felt it was a little slow at times. Things started to heat up for me in Season 2 and you can see the gangsters are starting to swing with the changes. I particularly like to follow the progress of Capone, Luciano and others as young guns on the make. Fascinating stuff.

    • The gangster history is great—I love that Dion O’Bannion has been added to the mix this season, as I’ll be posting about later. I just don’t want it to overwhelm the rest of what makes “Boardwalk Empire” such a terrific show—the politics, the social changes, the Jazz Age whoopee.

      • Yep, I´ve been watching some history documentaries recently about Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torio and all them, so it really brings it home to you. I didn´t even realise Luciano became the head guy until after the documentaries. Some great acting going on too, and it doesn´t hurt to have Scorcese involved in the project. Gotta love that early jazz too.

  6. I couldn’t believe it when they killed Jimmy off – I suppose its brave of them as it was so unexpected – I think the programme is just brilliant and I’m so looking forward to series 3 – I do wonder if Jimmy’s son will be involved in this series at some point (obviously a little older)

  7. Awesome show. I got my copy of the second season last week, and watched it all in a marathon session. Was a bit eeek when the complexity of Jimmy’s relationship with Gillian was fully revealed, but loved how the episode was fleshed out.
    Will be interesting to see how the third season comes about. It’s already on Pay TV, but I’m resisting until the next dvd release…then it’ll be another marathon session!
    Thank you so much for posting!! Nice to see I’m not the only ‘addict’ to a great show.

  8. Awww man! Lemme know when there are spoilers!!

    Although that’s probably more my fault than yours. Haven’t finished watching the first season yet, and still have to buy season 2.

  9. Hahah, oh, well, I don’t usually go on the internet for spoilers and I’ve only really gotten into it once we got the box set. Go to bed, go to school and work, come home, watch Boardwalk repeat.

    I was intrigued because the title made me think you were doing a comparison between Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire which made me go crazy because those are my two FAVORITES.

  10. Really enjoyed this, Betty. Love the series, want to blame Nucky for Jimmy being Jimmy and Gillian being Gillian (13 yrs old?) and despise dead pater for raising the homicidal Nucky and Eli. Greek tragedy at its finest.

    Watched the premiere of Season 3 and Gillian is still at it. Poor Richard will have his hands full. Margaret, Margaret oh what a tangled web. And the look on the Swedish girl’s face while holding Nelson’s new son. Can’t wait for the next episode.

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