Last night, Boardwalk Empire, kicked off it’s fourth season. Eight months have passed since season three ended when Gyp’s cartoonish reign of terror came to abrupt, yet picturesque ending, Nucky bested his enemies, ditched the red rose and decided to kick it on the DL, and Chalky acquired himself some delightful real estate on the boardwalk.
I’m bringing back the Plot Line Power Rankings for this season, much like I did with Game of Thrones. Each week I’ll be ranking the various plot lines of Boardwalk, based on strength, enjoyment and entertainment value.
A quick defense of Boardwalk Empire…
Last week I read a couple different takes on the show and it’s upcoming season. One of the more negative takes came from Grantland and it’s TV writer, Andy Greenwald. Greenwald is not a fan of the show and has routinely assailed it as a well-dressed, empty suit. He says it lacks heart and the good intentions it originally had have never been met.
Ok, fine. That’s his opinion and his opinion is one I respect. But I disagree. Or more specifically, I don’t disagree with some of his arguments, I disagree with with the arguments existing in the first place.
Boardwalk is not The Sopranos. It’s not in the top tier of shows that have aired during this Great Era of Television. When it first came out, it may have looked that way. But in the end, it’s not the case. If there is a show that Boardwalk should be compared to, it should be True Blood. Why True Blood? Because both are pure entertainment. Plain and simple. They are pulp and not meant to incite the kind of deep discussions shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad or Mad Men create. When Boardwalk ends, there’s not really a heck of a lot to talk about once you get past whether or not you thought the episode was good or if it was bad. You can kick around Nucky’s motives for something or ruminate on the latest example of back-stabbing. But past that, there’s not much else to talk about.
And that’s fine.
Not everything on television right now has to be massively thought-provoking. Some of it can just be fun and entertaining- which shows like Boardwalk and True Blood are.
So let’s all ease up on Boardwalk Empire. Let’s just enjoy the lavish sets, attention to detail and the strong performances. Let’s get past the fact that yes, James Gandolfini would probably have been a better Nucky Thompson than Steve Buscemi and killing off Jimmy Darmody was a bummer. We should focus on the positives and not the negatives. Leave the negatives for politics.
And now back to the Power Rankings…
Giddy Up America’s Boardwalk Empire Plot Line Power Rankings: Week One
*The first episode only included about half of the show’s cast, so more plots will most likely be added to the ranking next week
1. The One About Richard Harrow’s Mid-Western (And Occasionally Murderous) Odyssey
Since the death of Jimmy Darmody at the end of season two, I don’t really think it’s a question when it comes to who is Boardwalk Empire’s most interesting character. It’s Richard Harrow. I’m not even sure who would be second. Arnold Rothstein maybe? Maybe Chalky? Regardless, Richard Harrow is becoming the heart of Boardwalk that Andy Greenwald keeps looking for. I wondered where Richard would end up after he ended last season shooting up the Commodore’s old digs and rescuing Tommy. Turns out he did what anyone would do in his position- hit the road. What road specifically? Well, it looks like it’s the road to Wisconsin; the road home. I’m fully on board for some Richard back story. Fully.
2. The One About Nucky Thompson and You Know, Whatever That Entails This Week
The idea that “you can’t be half a gangster” has been one of the dominant threads and drivers of Boardwalk Empire since Jimmy first said it in season one. Last season seemed to be about Nucky venturing further and further over to the gangster side of life; leaving his public life behind. Season four kicks off with Nucky seemingly in full on gangster mode. Gone is the blue Rolls Royce and the swanky digs at the Ritz; replaced by a more nondescript whip and lodging at the Albatross Hotel, located a stone’s throw from nowhere and down the dunes from the bright lights of Atlantic City. At the start of the episode, Nucky was looking to make amends from his adventures and decisions of season three- trying to broker piece between himself and Rothstein and Masseria (with both Luciano and Lansky in tow.) The episode fades out with Nucky looking towards future dealings in Florida. In between there’s a show girl who talks too much, a family dinner at Eli’s house with his small army of off spring and some house keeping at Chalky’s club (more of that later.)
In the end you just have to wonder: is Nucky the least interesting character on the show? Would a different actor change that?
3. The One About Al Capone and the Cicero Follies
Two things we learned this week:
1. Al Capone is a stickler for proper spelling
2. The clock is ticking on his days of being Johnny Torrio’s under study.
4. The One About Chalky White & the Perils of Restaurant Management
It’s been a slow burn for Chalky White so far. He made some strides last season, though and in the season four premiere, now appears to be an equal of Nucky, And like Nucky, he finds his day to day comings and goings hassled by some ridiculous bullshit. What’s a man to do when his number two objects to being a pawn in a couple’s weirdo and racially twinged love tryst? Heavy is head that wears the crown.
This week seemed like a placeholder for our man Chalky, though. With Jeffrey Wright waiting in the wings, I have a feeling this season is going to be a Chalky White coming out party.
5. The One About Eli’s Son Possibly Becoming the Next Jimmy
In case you forgot, Willie, Eli’s oldest son, played a small part in Nucky’s battle against Gyp last year. What part exactly? Hmm. I’m not exactly sure.
But I am sure that Willie has “I’m totally going to drop out of school, try and join my dad and uncle’s business and possibly be dead by the end of the season in a tragic mix up” written all over it. Stay in school kid.
6. The One About That Shady Agent Knox
The old rope-a-dope, Agent Knox? Well played sir. Can a gun still be considered Chekov’s gun if it’s alluded to at the beginning and then used at the end or does it have to be visibly present at the beginning?
Oh and this guy’s totally going to be a buzz kill this season. You know, just like he was in The Hurt Locker and Flight.
7. The One About Gillian Losing Her Way
I’m sorry, Gillian, what was it you wanted?
Ok, cool. But first, you should probably watch Trainspotting.
It’ll help you kick that little heroin habit you’ve developed.
See you next week.