Boardwalk Empire, “The Ivory Tower”: Vote Republican.

While ‘Boardwalk Empire’s’ pilot set several plot threads in motion — and delivered some good action sequences — this week’s episode pulled back and spent some time fleshing out its characters.

First, Nucky Thompson. I’m not sure if this has more to do with Nucky or the way Steve Buscemi plays him, but I get the feeling that he’s a guy who’s still trying to get the hang of being a gangster. When Jimmy walks into his office like nothing happened, Nucky tells him he’s got 48 hours to get him $3,000, the price of being a gangster in Nucky’s town. I asked myself, “What’s he gonna do?” I guess after seeing what happened to Margaret’s husband last week, I should just take Nucky at his word and pony up with the money.

Part of my problem may have to do with how jaded I am from having watched ‘The Sopranos’ and movies like Casino and Goodfellas. That is to say, Nucky isn’t Italian and his operation isn’t run like a Mafia family. Still, I see him as somewhat of a proto-gangster, or maybe someone who wouldn’t be so quick to shoot you in the kneecaps. But then again, Mr. Schroeder.

I liked Nucky’s montage, showing that he’s a man of the people, and how he manages to hang onto power. While all those mob movies portray characters who traffic in violence, Nucky seems much more likely to throw money at a problem.

Agent Van Alden became a much more interesting character this week. In the pilot he came off as some sort of Evangelical abusive father with that, “It’s a godly pursuit,” line. After his conversations with Nucky and Margaret, I thought we were seeing the beginnings of an actual personality poking its head out, all until we found out where Margaret’s ribbon disappeared to. As he wrapped it around his hand and took a good, deep sniff I half expected him to start whipping himself like that albino monk from The DaVinci Code. There is something interesting there, with his Jesuit straight man going up against Nucky’s material excess. Van Alden isn’t blind and understands that Nuck’s “as corrupt as the day is long.” They played nice enough during their talk, but it’ll be interesting to see them together once they become increasingly at odds.

At the end of the pilot, Jimmy’s seemed to be riding high on the hog. Knocking off booze. Teaching Nucky lessons about being a gangster. And he spent his money like there’d be about that much coming in every week. He was moving up in the world until Nucky knocked him back down and told him he about the extra three grand. How sobering for him. He had to take what little money he left, along with stealing back some jewelry he had bought his mom — after his new pal Al Capone hung up on him. He got Nucky his money, and was taken back into his good graces, but you can tell things are going to be different from now on. Nucky took some pleasure in humiliating him, and blew the $3,000 on a roulette bet just to rub the salt in nice and deep.

I’m really interested to see how Nucky’s relationship with Margaret develops, and wonder if she’ll eventually turn into the show’s Peggy Olsen. While it’s obvious that Jimmy will eventually be gunning for Nucky’s seat, I could see Margaret turning into more of a partner. She turns down the envelope filled with money given to her by Eli, instead telling Nucky that she prefers to earn her keep. When she asks what she can do, Nucky tells her to vote Republican. We already established that Nucky’s a champion for the little fella (sometimes literally)[/Homer Stokes], and I could see him using Margaret as his advocate, his woman on the street.

One thing the show does that I really enjoy is switching between AC, Chicago and New York. Checking in on Capone and Rothstein elevates the story to a much grander scale than we might get if we stayed only in AC. I wonder how long it’ll keep up. And speaking of Rothstein, he had some great lines this week, telling Big Jim’s shooter about killing a man by making him choke on a billiard ball. But better than all of that was Nucky telling him to see what happens if he ever shows his face in Atlantic City again. Hardcore stuff. We need to get t-shirts made.

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