by DICK CHENEY
creator Terence Winter
You know what is a completely original idea I have never heard before? A woman in an unhappy marriage to a powerful man begins an affair with her husband's younger, attractive subordinate. The relationship comes about because of the ethnic connection between the two lovers. This general plot has never even been experimented with until now.
Much of Terence Winter's Boardwalk Empire is a lot more interesting if you pretend The Sopranos never happened. (This is equally true if you have never seen Goodfellas or Casino.) There's actually a scene in Martin Scorsese's completely retarded blowjob of the Dalai Lama, Kundun, that I am completely reminded of every time I watch HBO's prohibition-era drama.
The potential child prophet is shown a variety of objects, some commonplace, other more valuable, on a woven blanket. Whichever object he selects, as in the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, indicates the likelihood he is a god returned to Earth to appear on Dr. Oz. (I believe roughly the same process was used to appoint Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the house, except the correct object in question was a needle filled with Botox.)
This reminds me of Boardwalk Empire insofar as the show's writers can't decide between a variety of individuals. There is an insane number of characters in Boardwalk Empire, actually over 100 of them, with 80 of those wearing an identical hat. It's difficult to know exactly who to focus on when you love them all the same.
As a viewer, keeping track is exhilarating and discouraging, because whoever you do choose to invest in will likely end up bludgeoned by Bobby Cannavale or set on fire by Bobby Thompson. Both are unpleasant and humiliating, and make you wonder why no one was called Robert in the early part of last century.
Relatively safe from this merry-go-round of death is Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). Nucky had a very difficult home life as a child, and tries very hard to be a good stepfather to the children of his wife Margaret (Kelly MacDonald). For some reason the fact that Nucky excels where his father failed does not really capture our attention the way that Tony Soprano's poor parenting did.
The writers of Boardwalk Empire can't possibly believe a few kind words outweigh the countless murders and the numerous infidelities Nucky implausibly consummated while succoring Broadway actress Billie Kent. Thompson was very nice to his girlfriend - she called him her gangster - but there is a hard and fast rule, in drama and in life, that being nice to someone who is going to die does not count.
Examining the weirdly sympathetic portrayal of Al Capone yields roughly the same feeling. The man who gave a bad name to so many Italian-Americans being presented as the heroic godfather and loving parent to a deaf child when he is basically their Osama Bin Laden leaves a terrible nausea in my sizable gut. It's roughly analogous to the disgust that rose inside me while I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II and terrorists blew up the USS Barack Obama. A sinking feeling. Get it?
When I think about who I actually empathize with in Boardwalk Empire, my faith in people is usually destroyed within minutes of them garnering my favor. All the emotional reserves I placed in the Picasso-faced Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were destroyed the moment I saw him in a liquor commercial and his countenance wasn't half exploded. Marlon Brando would have rather clawed his eyes out, and I think a lot less of Terence Winter that he did not insist upon it.
I won't make any more lighthearted remarks about how disgusting I find the constantly topless Gretchen Mol. Such commentary is completely misogynistic and diminishes the righteousness of my jokes about Nancy Pelosi. At least Gretchen is trying. I even received a nice jolt in my Dockers when the only living Mrs. Darmody had intercourse with an unemployed man who intensely resembled her late son. The pseudo-incest represented a sweet moment, akin to when George W. Bush makes Laura put on a massive white wig before doggystyle.
My momentary engagement with Gretchen's plight vanished when she drugged and drowned this Jimmy-lookalike in her whorehouse bathtub as a means of getting her son declared legally dead. I have never known a woman who actually killed a man, and I have certainly never known an attractive woman who has done this. That's as close to a compliment as I can pay Gretchen Mol.
The death of Nucky's handsome bodyguard Owen Sleater (Charlie Cox) on last night's episode, due to the treachery of an Italian-Jewish coalition against the Irish, attempted to strike an ironic note. After Owen's body is sent to Nucky's home in a wooden crate, Margaret breaks down crying, recollecting the previous day when she told Owen she was pregnant with his baby. "Whatever you tell me next," she informs him before his passing, "let it be the truth." "I'm hoping it's a boy," he responds.
Despite our knowledge that this flashback presents Owen telling a fucking lie, he comes across as more human than he did during his entire run on Boardwalk Empire. Even a liar is endearing in the moments he's telling the truth. The disappointment comes afterwards.
Then, dreamy, half-amusing, half-tragic music sang him off. And now he looks like this:
The opening sequence of Boardwalk Empire has taken on a new meaning of late. Last night's episode took the discord between reality and fiction still further by watching American excesses flood the beaches of Atlantic City. Beachgoers rushed into the surf to claim bottles of whiskey floating in the water. Even if there never was a storm to later destroy that very boardwalk, this was metaphorical overkill. Using the past to say something about the present is inherently unfair. It's a dirty trick, the vain task whereby winners rewrite history according to their own impulses. Sure, Al Capone is still a disgusting gangster, and women weren't getting the diaphragms they justly deserved. But really, that can mean nothing to us now.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. He last wrote in these pages about the Showtime series Dexter. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.
"Something In Between" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)
"If You Have To Leave" - The Phoenix Foundation (mp3)