Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Boardwalk Empire: I ain't building no bookcase

After watching the fourth episode of Boardwalk Empire, I think it's starting to take shape. It's set in America's Prohibition era, where criminals and political figures still control the flow of alcohol. 'Nucky' Thompson is at the head of it, a political 'boss' who controls Atlantic City through all sorts of criminal activities. It's part gangster show and part political drama - there's no line between the two. And Nucky's brother is Sheriff of the county, so they can pretty much get away with anything. Thankfully they seem to be fairly decent gangsters, more helpful than destructive. In the most recent episode they handed the leader of a Ku Klux Klan group over to Chalky White, the head of the black community in the city. Played by Michael K Williams, this character is the centre of any scene he's in, of which there aren't nearly enough. Here he tells the Klan member a story about his father, a gifted carpenter who was killed by 'six white men'. He gets out his father's tools, and when asked what he intends to do with them, says 'I ain't building no bookcase'. But in a threatening, Omar Little sort of way. In fact, sometimes he just seems like Omar in a red coat. Maybe an ancestor, or evidence of time travel, he's still the coolest thing in an entirely different show.

Elsewhere the show is really going for the 'old society' thing. Racism and sexism are a big part of it. We look in from the outside, with a bunch of sympathetic characters around to stop us going mad. There's the bad gangsters, who are okay really, then the really bad gangsters who say mean things about everyone. Though, in the case of some of these women, they may have a point. The majority of the female characters are completely pathetic, sitting around on their husband's laps being apocalyptically stupid. It's there for a point, to show a contrast to the pleasant Mrs Schroeder, but it's overdoing it a bit. The fact that Margaret actually has opinions on things impresses Nucky, when she puts forward some thoughts on women's right to vote. It might not sound like much, but his current girlfriend can hardly string two words together.

And there's a thing going on with Jimmy, who always looks like he's about to start singing Arcade Fire songs. Gangsters have meetings in big coats and hats. I'm not really sure who most of them are, but it'll become clear eventually. It's going for the slow build-up approach, and I'm more than happy to see where it goes. There are moments of brilliance here. Moments that are getting more frequent as the series goes on.

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