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Monday, September 26, 2011

Boardwalk Empire 2.1: Politics in an Age before YouTube

My favorite - and most instructive - part of Boardwalk Empire's fine return for Season 2 last night has Nucky giving a speech to the "colored" people, followed by a speech to a white audience, in which he makes precisely the opposite point.  Although, technically, this would not have been possible in the age of television, or even radio, in which some enterprising person in one or both of the audiences might have recorded the speeches for broadcast, the palpable smack in the face of these two contradicting speeches comes from our present YouTube age, in which such duplicity would be instantly seen and felt.  And this is exactly what makes Boardwalk Empire so good - the way it continually shows us, in subtle and major ways, how we've changed so much since the early 1920s, but still remain the same.  Our politicians still are double-talkers in their hearts, but they've learned, for the most part, to say a little less to audiences armed with smart phones and easy to  reach You Tube.

Elsewhere, Boardwalk Empire was also firing on all smoky cylinders.  The unholy alliance of Jimmy, Nucky's weak and jealous brother Eli, and the Commodore continue their work against Nucky.   They may be behind, and certainly seek to exploit,  the KKK attack on Chalky, which occasioned Nucky's dual speechifying.   And they may have been responsible for Nucky's surprise arrest on election-fixing charges at the end of the episode.

Agent Van Alden continues to be one of the most despicable characters in all of television.   His pathetic, repressed wife goads him into turning their 13th wedding anniversary into a bust of a restaurant that serves spirits.   She later tells him that she finds his policing "thrilling" - as in getting her aroused - but the most appetizing part of the scene was a mention of butterscotch pudding, which sure sounded delicious.

Nucky is as appealing as Van Alden is monstrous.  Nuck once again shows he has heart of gold, in the humane, loving way he talks to Margaret's son about not playing with matches in school.   In this way, Boardwalk Empire continues the portrayal of the mobster who tries to good to his family, seen so vividly in The Godfather and The Sopranos.

And rounding out the episode, for me, was a shout-out, literally, for what is now the Harlem line on MetroNorth - my usual train - with a mention in the episode of a train leaving Atlantic City heading north to "New York, Mt. Vernon, White Plains, and Pleasantville".   I wouldn't mind getting on a train now, at White Plains, traveling back in time and tipping my hat to Nucky and that roaring age.

See also Boardwalk Emipre on HBO ... Boardwalk Empire 1.2: Lines and Centers Power ... Boardwalk Empire 1.10: Arnold Rothstein, Media Theorist  ... Season One Finale of Boardwalk Empire

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