Character Study

Sunday night was the series finale episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  Kish and I have watched the show with pleasure since its inception, and we were very sorry to see it end.  (Spoiler alert:  if you haven’t seen the last episode, you may not want to read this.)

Part of the attraction of this terrific series was its lush recreation of bygone and forgotten places, whether it is Atlantic City in the late 1800s, America in the early days of Prohibition after World War I, or New York City during the grim days of the Depression.  The sense of period accuracy was total, down to the starched collars and spats.  Part of the attraction, too, was the many tremendous performances the show routinely delivered, from Michael Kenneth Williams’ simmering Chalky White, to Jack Huston’s partially masked, tortured Richard Harrow, to Kelly McDonald’s deeply conflicted Margaret Thompson, to Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano, who probably changed more over the more than a decade covered by the show’s story arc than any other character.

It all revolved, however, around Nucky Thompson, as brilliantly portrayed by Steve Buscemi.  The last season, in particular, drilled down to the core of this fabulous character who is loosely based on a real Atlantic City politician.  Through the splices of scenes from his childhood as a straight-laced, polite boy trying to help his sick sister and protect his mother from his abusive father, to his early adulthood as a deputy sheriff trying to lift his family up and making choices that would set his future path, to the fully grown man who was a mixture of master political manipulator, far-sighted visionary, and ruthless criminal, we got to know Nucky as well as you can get to know any TV character.  When Nucky saw the early TV broadcast in the last episode, you just knew that he was looking at it with wonder — but also with an eye toward how he might profit from it in the days to come.

What a complex character Nucky Thompson was!  Consider his relationship with his faithful manservant, Eddie Kessler, who he risked his life to save.  Or his mentoring of Jimmy Darmody, only to turn and kill him in cold blood when Darmody became a rival.  Or his refusal to give up on the ne’er-do-well brother who betrayed him, even to the point of giving Eli a bag of cash (and shaving utensils) so he could clean himself up and reconcile with his wife.  Through it all, Nucky showed a deep understanding of the meaningful people in his life and their motivations, anticipating and defeating their moves against him.

And that’s why I don’t buy the last scene of the show.  I refuse to believe that the Nucky Thompson we came to know could so completely lose touch with the son of Jimmy Darmody and the grandson of Gillian Darmody that he wouldn’t even recognize him and therefore could be shot and killed by him.  Given the significance of the two Darmodys to his life, I think the Boardwalk Empire Nucky would have always kept an eye on the Darmody boy, recognizing him as a potential threat and dealing with it by helping him and co-opting him.  Nucky’s shocking death was a powerful way to end the show, but I just don’t think it was true to the character that I came to know.

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Boardwalk Expire

IMG_6034The boardwalk along one side of the pond at number 5 North is one of the signature locations in the New Albany development.  Lately, however, the boardwalk had begun to look a bit weathered — which is simply unacceptable.  So, the powers that be decided to rip up the old boardwalk and install a new, improved boardwalk that is supposed to be ready by sometime in June.

No word on whether this new boardwalk will feature Nucky Thompson or bootleg hooch.

Boardwalk Empire, In Hell

Wow, things have gotten disturbing on Boardwalk Empire.  This season we’ve seen the show morph from a relatively innocent, Prohibition-era tale of Nucky Thompson and corruption, bootlegging, and the rise of organized crime in Atlantic City and Chicago into a very dark story, indeed.

We’ve seen babies borne out of wedlock, then deserted by their mothers.  We’ve seen the racist underbelly of the jazz age and the power of the Ku Klux Klan.  We’ve seen brother pitted against brother.  We’ve seen divorce and cheating.  We’ve seen stroke-addled people slapped into submission and friends  felled by murderous rage.  We’ve seen the rise of the IRA and the introduction of heroin, purely as a money-making proposition.  We’ve seen main characters dropping like flies, and most recently we’ve seen the American version of Oedipus Rex.  My God!  What could possibly happen next?

It sure is exceptionally riveting television, though.  We can’t wait until the season finale on Sunday.

The Last Taboo

HBO’s Boardwalk Empire started its second season last night.  Fans of this terrific series were plunged once again into the 1920s world of gunrunners, bootleggers, and . . . the Ku Klux Klan?

Wait a second . . . the KKK?  I didn’t think I could be shocked watching TV anymore — particularly on HBO — but seeing white-sheeted KKK members in full uniform shocked me.  I was shocked when I saw KKK members using a machine gun to mow down members of Chalky White’s bootleg operation in cold blood, and I was shocked again when Klansmen, in their hoods and robes, were shown chatting without embarrassment in full public view on the porch of a funeral home.  The Klan made a brief appearance last year — when Chalky White, played with seething magnificence by Michael Kenneth Williams, memorably used his father’s tools to interrogate a Klansman — but it looks like they will have a more prominent role this season.

The KKK was part of the dark and grotesque underside of America of the 1920s, and showing the role of the Klan, in all its violent, racist ignorance, therefore is just part of presenting an honest depiction of that era.  However, it disgusts and embarrasses me to the core to see the members of that hated organization shown on TV.  It hurts to be reminded of the craven and unforgivable acts of the KKK and those who tolerated its madness and lawlessness.

I’m not asking anyone to sanitize the ugly racist underbelly of America in the 1920s, but I’m hoping for some discretion on the part of Boardwalk Empire‘s creators.  I just hate seeing those despised hooded figures.

Taking In The Boardwalk

Kish and I have enjoyed watching the first season of Boardwalk Empire, which ended Sunday night.  I like the deliberate pace of the show and its fascinating recreation of the early days of Prohibition, and I particularly like its central character, Nucky Thompson.

Thompson has been brilliantly played by Steve Buscemi.  It is hard not to like the character or appreciate his complexity.  Nucky is corrupt and ruthless, but also a soft touch.  He is refined and a bit of a dandy, but also able to get down and dirty in protecting his turf.  He is a master manipulator of those around him, but also easily manipulated.  He maintains an iron grip on his emotions, except when he remembers his childhood and his mistreatment by his bullying father.  The contradictions that make up his character seem endless.

As the season draws to a close, Nucky has developed a new ally — his paramour, Margaret — and has ended the gang war that generated the attempt on his life.  He will know no peace, however, because other forces are  lining up against him, including his mentor, the Commodore, and his loutish brother, who cannot appreciate that Nucky has made him what he has become.  Whether those forces allied against him will include Nucky’s strong man, Jimmy, is left up in the air, and will give us a reason to tune in when next season begins.

I would be remiss, too, if I didn’t mention the depth and richness of this show, which is filled with intriguing characters who demand more screen time.  These include Jimmy’s forlorn wife, who is trapped in a marriage to a violent man who terrifies her, the proud Chalkie, struggling to make headway in a racist, white man’s world, Jimmy’s mother, who is willing to do whatever it takes to advance Jimmy’s prospects, the barely restrained, scripture-quoting revenue agent who is constantly on the verge of giving in to his baser passions, the naive Nan Britton, who expects to move into the White House with newly elected President Warren G. Harding, and Jimmy’s masked and emotionally scarred fellow World War I vet — among many others.

This is a show that offers a lot to the attentive viewer.

Boardwalk Empire

Kish and I have watched the first two episodes of Boardwalk Empire, the new HBO series.  It is fabulous, and we are already fully and blissfully hooked.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, it is the story of Atlantic City in 1920, as Prohibition is just beginning.  The focal point of the show is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, an elected public servant who just happens to be the head of the Atlantic City underground.  Nucky is brilliantly played by Steve Buscemi.  As with so many HBO series, however, there are many other intriguing characters and historical figures who have their own subplots, including Arnold Rothstein (the gambler who fixed the 1919 World Series), a doughboy returned home from World War I who sees a life of crime as a way to make his way up in the world, an emotionally stunted IRS prohibition agent, a well-read female Irish immigrant who has been brutalized by her drunken husband, and Al Capone, among many, many others. We will happily follow the serpentine twists and turns of the plots and subplots as the season progresses.

One of the things we enjoy most about HBO series is their ability to capture the mood and setting of long-gone places and times.  Deadwood, with its spot-on depiction of a brand-new, mud-spattered, lawless town founded on a gold boom, is a good example.  Boardwalk Empire is a worthy successor — and with Martin Scorsese directing, you would expect nothing less.  The sets, costumes, and scripts do a fantastic job of recreating the era, 90 years ago, when American tried to go dry and a boom in organized crime resulted.  It is one of those time periods that seems to have been lost in the shuffle, largely skipped over in American history class when the teacher went directly from World War I and the Treaty of Versailles to the stock market crash and the Great Depression, with perhaps only a brief mention of the Jazz Age and flappers.  I’m looking forward to learning a bit more about what that era was really like.

One of the