Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Episode 13 ’21’ Review

It’s been nearly a year since the Season 1 finale of HBO’s award winning 1920’s gangster series, Boardwalk Empire, starring Steve Buscemi. You always want that first episode of a new season to kick the show into high gear, and ’21’ did not disappoint.

The episode begins with a brief montage, catching the viewer up on the going’s-on of much of the principal cast. The episode truly kicks off with one of my favorite characters/actors, Chalky White (the always incredible Michael K. Williams). After receiving his latest shipment of alcohol, Chalky’s warehouse is attacked by the Klu Klux Klan.

With a show known and loved for its violence, this opening scene sets a tone that hopefully the rest of the season will follow. From slitting a young man’s throat to using a mounted machine gun on the warehouse, killing anyone they can, a couple Klansmen enter the building, looking to finish of Chalky, but one ends up getting shot and they run off. Before they can get away, though, Chalky finds a rifle and, ever so calm and earnestly, shoots one of the Klansmen in the throat.

Last season set a standard for backstabbing, and Season 2 looks to carry on that tradition. Jimmy (Michael Pitt) and newly re-instated Sheriff Eli (Shea Whigum) have continued their partnership with the newly invigorated Commodore (Dabney Coleman), although both Jimmy and Eli seem to have slight reservations about turning on Nucky. It’s also revealed that they were in on the KKK attack at Chalky’s, hoping to get Chalky out of the business and hurting Nucky at the same time.

Speaking of Jimmy, he is now married to Angela (Alleska Palladino) and has moved his family, including his prostitute mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) in with them. Things are definitely still somewhat awkward between Jimmy and Angela, after discovering her previous lesbian tryst and her attempt to run away.

Things are made even more awkward by Gillian, who’s always had a very odd relationship with Jimmy. This is further cemented when, for no real reason at all, she tells Angela that when Jimmy was a baby, “I used to kiss his winky.” There’s nothing like the thought of a fourteen year old mother kissing her newborn babies “winky” to make you feel rather scummy, so thanks for that, HBO!

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Johnny Torrio and Al Capone have established a deal with another bootlegger, George Remus, to begin receiving shipments from him instead of Nucky. Torrio informs Capone that he is to head to Atlantic City to give Nucky the news, which doesn’t sit well with Capone.

Federal Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) has stalled his war on indecency for a moment to entertain his wife, who’s visiting him in Atlantic City to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Mrs. Van Alden is appalled by the rampant, sinful ways of Atlantic City, which comes to a boiling point when they (The Van Alden’s) are offered alcohol. Nelson seems to have let the waiter slide, much to his wife’s chagrin, but by the time they are done with their food, Nelson bashes the waiter in the face just as his team of Prohibition agents file into the restaurant, declaring “a raid” and shutting the place down. After witnessing Nelson taking charge of the situation, Mrs. Van Alden is noticeably excited. What follows is possibly the funniest scene of the show so far. I won’t spoil it, but rest assured, it’s some clever editing on the part of the show makers.

Nelson is, unbeknownst to anyone else, living with his own sin in the form of the very pregnant, always naked Lucy (Paz de la Huerta). Near the end of last season, Van Alden was at his wits end and had some serious grudge-sex, and ended up getting her pregnant. Van Alden is now in a place where his shame and sin has taken on a living form, it’s also a cruel reminder that his own wife cannot bear children. It’s an extra layer to the Van Alden character that will hopefully play out convincingly as the season progresses.

Richard Harrow, the war veteran missing half his face, continues to be a heartbreaking character. Taking a look at Jimmy’s life (beautiful wife and child, money, home, a complete face), Richard simply asks him, “What’s it like to have everything?”, to which Jimmy, who takes most of it all for granted, has no reply.

Harrow is brought to miserable, well acted life by actor Jack Huston and is single-handedly one of the best parts of this show. Along with the never-ending sadness this character carries, Huston is also able to infuse a slight bit of sinister into the character, leading one to believe that he might just be willing to do whatever it took to get what he wants. There’s a scene later in the episode where Harrow is shown piecing together a scrapbook of advertisements and photos of happy families, and the smile he flashes is equal parts heartbreaking and foreboding.

And then there’s Nucky. He’s still the partying, two-faced politician he’s always been. He seems to a new land buying scheme in order, aided by his powerful friends with businesses that could stand to profit greatly what the scheme would entail. Nucky, being the smart man that he is, takes notice of the rift between himself and Jimmy and senses that the Commodore may be up to no good.

After the attack on Chalky, both sides, the Blacks and the Whites, are outraged. What follows is another excellent use of editing as Nucky reassures a large Black congregation that he and his people are working diligently to put an end to the KKK. With a quick camera change, we see Nucky mid-speech now speaking to a gathering of Whites about the dangers the Black people of Atlantic City pose. This scene perfectly sums up Nucky Thompson. He is always able to ever so casually play both sides of an issue. One can’t help but think that this much double-crossing will eventually catch up with him.

As the episode comes to an end, Chalky is arrested, according to Nucky, “for his own safety”, after the Klansman he shot dies from his injuries. Nucky finds himself also under arrest, ambushed by several government agents accusing him of Election fraud.

– Matt Hardeman

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