“I keep people satisfied,” said Nucky Thompson at the end of last night’s Boardwalk Empire. “That’s all I do.” One of the big complaints that people had about the show’s first season was that Thompson was an extremely passive protagonist. But to Thompson, that passivity is a virtue: He’s just trying to protect the status quo, to make sure that everyone is reasonably happy, while also making extra sure that he and his friends make enough scratch to maintain the steady supply of flavorful champagne and nude dancers.
But last night, everything changed. Thompson’s lawyer laid it all out for him. Thanks to a couple of Confidential Witnesses, the Law has a whole laundry list of crimes to pin on Nucky: “Voter intimidation, fraud, theft of ballot boxes, and bribery.” Of course, Future President Lyndon B. Johnson was guilty of all those crimes — check out Robert Caro’s Means of Ascent for all the gory details — but one of the best things about Boardwalk Empire is how deftly the show portrays organized crime as just another part of the political process. Nucky is no less guilty of those crimes than his enemies, but they happen to currently have the upper hand.
When Nucky was released from prison, he tried to laugh off the charges. He blamed his arrest on “a frivolous political vendetta.” He talked a lot about “the working man, the family man.” He even had some sparkling repartee with the media hounds:
World-Weary Journalist: “Is there an honest man in Atlantic City?”
Nucky: “Is there a sober reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer?”
Zing! Unfortunately, Nucky’s problems couldn’t be laughed off. Since his usual place of business was crawling with state officials, he had to debase himself by actually visiting the City Treasurer’s Office, where he met his lovely secretary for probably the first time. He called for a meeting of all his allies. Only one guy showed up: Mayor Ed Bader.
Everyone else — Eli and the ward bosses — were across town at Casa Commodore. The only person who didn’t seem onboard with the anti-Nucky policy was Damien Flemming. (You remember Flemming from last season: Nucky promised him his father’s house, then decided to burn it down.) Flemming was worried that the Commodore was, well, a bit old to be launching a coup. The Commodore convinced him otherwise: First, by proving that he could lift an elephant tusk over his head; Second, by dying his hair and mustache jet-black. (“Did he fall into the shoe polish?”)
The other ward bosses don’t seem particularly inspired by the Commodore. They just want more money: “Less headaches and more green.” And they couldn’t figure out why Flemming wasn’t just going along with the plan. Last season, it seemed like Nucky had built a rock-solid operation; the only real danger came from exterior forces, like Rothstein and Van Alden. Now, though, it’s clear that everyone is going money-crazy. They’ve been running an unregulated booming business for over a year — selling cheap alcohol for huge profits, tax-free — and everyone is feeling selfish.
The ward bosses just want a bigger piece of the pie. But over in New York, a couple of smart young operators had a big idea for expanding the business into new areas. Lucky Luciano: “We’re thinking of getting into heroin.”
NEXT: It’s a slipper slope from Boardwalk Empire to Requiem for a Dream.