Beware, this post contains my cheap analysis of last night’s “Boardwalk Empire,” rife with spoilers.
I want to like “Boardwalk Empire.” I really, really do, since you know I’m a sucker for beautiful, stylized, compelling television. I want to like it so much that I’ve been reading recaps and tv journalists’ analysis from all viewpoints to convince me that it’s worth it. I mean, Gawker says it’s a letdown; the LA Times says it’s perfect as it is.
Despite my reservations, I’ve loyally tuned in every week, and was even excited for last night’s season finale. But like all the other shows, I was left feeling kind of empty and confused. It’s like something’s missing that I just can’t put my finger on …
Everyone seems to love Steve Buscemi as Nucky, but I find him miscast. He’s almost too nice — someone said passive, and that’s it. He’s basically a gangster, but he’s not menacing enough when he needs to be. He’s a limp fish, so I don’t understand why his ward bosses are enamored by him or why any of them follow him. The LA Times says it’s because Mr. Buscemi is not attractive, and being shallow, we expect our heroes (or anti-heroes) to be beautiful. I get that, but he’s also not charismatic — he doesn’t feel like a leader to whom people would flock.
I was most looking forward to how the women of the era were portrayed. So far, the loose women and mistresses are the most interesting. I love, love, love Kelly Macdonald, and I’m still intrigued by Margaret. However, the Nucky-Margaret thing should have been a slow build, but they shacked up in less than one episode. And I never understood why either was interested. Are they only using each other? He needs her to secure the women’s vote, and she needs him as a benefactor. Or do they actually care about each other? I’m not really buying either situation.
I want to root for Margaret every time she shows her strong, rebellious, outspoken side. I know women of the period had limited opportunities, but we cheer Margaret for leaving Nucky to follow her moral compass. Then she finds a scrap of cloth in a cake and runs right back. Do what? Am I supposed to respect that she reneged on her principles because she’s scared she’ll be destitute? Her behavior is so conflicted that I’m not clear on who she’s supposed to be. Or is that the point? (Sigh.)
I thought the Angela-Mary story was a throwaway, intended to give HBO some salacious sex scenes rather than to serve as any real plot device. Plus, Angela’s another limp fish with no backbone — more pathetic and sad than compelling. Go to Paris, please.
I actually dig Agent Van Alden, only because he’s so freaking unpredictable. You never know how he’s going to react with his crazy eyes. That scene when he thought Margaret had come to the office to see him was genius. But wait. The agency just bought that his young partner, whom he drowned in front of 30 witnesses, died of a heart attack? I mean, really.
It’s all about the details — yes, there’s a smidge of storyline about race relations, which is probably why those churchgoers never disputed Sebso’s death. But then you have Chalky White requesting to attend the Election Day victory party. Nucky tells him that’s a tall order (I assume because he’s black), and then at the end we see Chalky and his girlfriend(?) just relaxing at the bar. No one seems to notice or care. Where’s the follow through?
Therein lies the problem — the show lacks a certain depth. When I’m confused about why characters do what they do, I believe more that the writers aren’t consistent than that the behavior is supposed to build suspense. I’m less willing to suspend disbelief when I can’t sympathize with characters because I don’t understand their motivations. [I mean, Don Draper does crazy things, but I understand why.]
HBO somewhat rashly renewed Boardwalk Empire for a second season after the first episode. So, I’ll keep watching and hope they all get their act together in preparation for Season 2.
Are you watching? What did you think?
Maybe it’s utter brilliance, and I just don’t get it.
That could be why they write for television, and I don’t.