Boardwalk Empire – 21 Review

Nucky faces a lot of insurrection among some of his most trusted people. Chalky’s own life is threatened when the Ku Klux Klan launch an attack too close to home. Margaret must deal with her son’s disciplinary behavior. Angela asks Gillian’s advice over Jimmy’s affections at home. And Van Alden decides to show his wife, Rose, around the town for her anniversary.

Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire was one of my favourite shows from 2010. It was great to see a period drama that was willing to take its time setting up all the various plot threads, and allow the show to rest entirely on its characters without relying on gratuitous nudity to keep audiences interested (not that there wasn’t plenty of skin on show, it just wasn’t the focus of the show). Now, nearly a year later, it’s time to dive back in to the seedy underworld of prohibition era Atlantic City.

We left the first season with a montage of our characters reflecting on their situation to the tune of “Life’s a very funny proposition, after all,” a fitting end that left us questioning where the fragile situation in Atlantic City was headed in Season 2. 21 eases us into the new season with a similar montage to the tune of “After you get what you want, you don’t want it,’ which seems to be the theme of the new season. Before you can blink, the show kicks into some of the brutal violence that so often features in this story, showing the audience the shape of things to come.

As with the entire first season, all of the performances on display in 21 are fantastic. Michael Pitt seems even more settled into the intense role of Jimmy, and Jack Huston is both incredibly tragic and sinister at the same time as the mutilated gunman Richard Harrow. There is so much depth to each of these characters, and the show is clever enough to let the actors portray their inner demons without dialogue, rather than trying to dumb things down for the audience. The story of Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) in this episode is a great example. There are so many things going on beneath the surface of this character that audiences are expected to pick up on without any overt explanation. This is a character that we have seen develop from a righteous crusader to a broken self-loathing shell, and we know how he thinks, we don’t need it explained to us with exposition.

Though the show’s focus is as always the characters, there are a number of important plot points set up throughout the episode that give us a hint of where things are headed this season. I expect that like the previous season, these major plot threads will play out slowly over the next eleven episodes with the occasional shocking twist thrown in. The board is set, what’s interesting is seeing how the characters will deal with the plots and machinations happening all around them. Though some have criticised the show’s slow pace, I feel that the tension created as events slowly play out is far more interesting than any action scene.

Overall, if the rest of the season plays out with the same quality as the first episode, it will once again be one of my favourite shows of the year. Though there were a couple of scenes that could have been tightened a little bit in this episode, they were a very minor issue that didn’t detract from my viewing experience. If you haven’t watched Boardwalk Empire before, I highly recommend that you go out and grab it on DVD. If you’re a fan, then I’m sure you’re as excited as I am to see where this season goes.

What I Liked – Opened with a bang. Great performances. Established a real sense of tension for the rest of the series.

What I Didn’t Like – Some of the editing could have been a little tighter.

Rating – 4.5 out of 5 (Extremely Enjoyable)

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