As Martin Scorsese says “You figure out how much sin you can live with.” The ’20s was known for excess. Right in the middle of the prohibition days, where politicians become gangsters, working men become cold hearted killers and men of virtue transform into sinners. The men of the 1920s only knew one style as Chris Laverty editor of “Clothes on Film” says “it’s tough. Its masculine clothing, these aren’t metrosexual guys.” Women could vote for the first time and had more power and freedom than ever before. The show can be sexy at times but also very dark and real. “Boardwalk Empire ” uses the glamour of jazz, alcohol, speakeasy’s, and finely made clothing to draw us in while deep dark character progression is used to keep us.
Politician to Mob Boss
At the heart of the show is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi ) the Ex-Treasurer of Atlantic County, New Jersey. ‘Nucky’ can be seen wearing his lapel flower with stylish pinstripe suits walking around the city with an air of arrogance or self-confidence but always calculated. With one foot in politics and the other in criminal activity, he arms himself with information not weapons. Never allows himself to get his hands dirty. One minute he can be found in a KKK meeting the next a sympathizer to the minority plight.
Behind the illusion he is also a man who craves love but not attachment. As the show progresses we get to understand why he is so allergic to genuine love from others. The fear of becoming a father is very real to him. As the onion starts to peel away this calculated Mob Boss shows what he is capable of doing if placed in a corner with no retreat but also his ice heart shows signs of melting. Money has corrupted the man. Will he ever find salvation? Mr. Thompson’s motto “We all have to decide for ourselves how much Sin We can live with.” Indeed Enoch!
Princeton student to cold hearted killer
James Edison “Jimmy” Darmody (played by Michael Pitt ) the protégée of “Nucky” started off as an intellectual student in Princeton who later enlists in the Army when World War I breaks out. A man who walks on egg shells and a man who dearly wants to be respected by everyone that he comes in contact with. In his desire for recognition the glamour of being a mob boss calls to his very core. He is shy at times but don’t let his reserved personality fool you. He is a cold hearted killer. With the shadow of “Nucky” constantly over him, Darmody must do even more. He is willing to take the life of other men to serve his evil plans of taking over what belongs to his former teacher.
The affection of his mother is one that leaves the viewer guessing and then later confirming what one has suspected. Losing his humanity is something of a struggle in every episode for “Jimmy” and now with his rise from shy Princeton student to being the “man”, he has made some very powerful enemies, and we all wonder if he does in fact take over or just wilt away. Jimmy’s motto “We hold on so desperately to life.” We shall see Mr. Darmody!
Man of the law to sinner
Agent Nelson Van Alden (played by Michael Shannon ) the man who references the bible any chance he gets. Proud that he cannot be corrupted. From the start we see this Agent of the United States Bureau of Prohibition (department for the Internal Revenue) do his job with passion only a possessed man can do. Agent Nelson sees himself as the last stand between the evil men who seek to destroy everything good. He is a hard man, one who sees everything in black and white. You are either on the good side or the bad side. In the later parts of the first season you start to see how far Agent Nelson is willing to protect the good name of the law.
Not even the strong mental will of Agent Nelson is impervious to the corrupting power of the “boardwalk.” Slowly we start seeing the change. Give a little here and a little there. One gets that Agent Nelson does want to do right. But, as the saying goes sometimes doing the right thing is the wrong thing. We start seeing the dark side of a God fearing man slowly appear as each episode passes. Agent Nelson Van Alden motto: “Do you think Christ hears you in this forsaken place”? Better hope he does.
In watching “Boardwalk Empire ” you will find someone who you could have been. You will either hate, love or sympathize with all of the characters. What you won’t do is pass them over like a backdrop. A masterpiece of character psychology mixed in with chic sin.
“Boardwalk Empire ” can be seen on HBO and HBO GO (a fully interactive online website with the full library of both Season 1& 2)