Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season [Blu-ray Review]
Author: Jesse Carp
published: 2012-09-13 02:16:30
Season 1 of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire burst onto the scene with the bravura filmmaking of Martin Scorsese setting the style for the new Terrence Winter written series. Even though the Academy Award winner wasn’t ever present behind the camera for the second season, not a hint of the cinematic or storytelling savvy was lost while the prohibition era drama (set in Atlantic City) resumed smuggling episodes of only the highest quality. The seeds planted at first season’s end had grown into fully formed, and genre familiar, conflicts. What’s a great gangster story without ‘family’ trouble? And whether it’s between blood (or surrogate) or just mafia relations, the second season of Boardwalk Empire is flush with in-fighting, not to mention face smashes, throat smiles and bullet holes.
That’s right, those looking for violence won’t be disappointed, because this season says an often gory farewell to several main characters, as well as a whole slew of minors. However, Boardwalk Empire is concerned with far more than spilling blood. Almost every drop comes at a narrative price, either to progress the story or the characters. Episode 1 (“21”) opens with a quick catch-up montage before the rest of the action unfolds almost entirely (and appropriately) within the Atlantic City borders. The storylines and crooks from New York, Chicago and Philadelphia do weigh heavily on the season, and Nucky even makes a trip to Ireland, but focusing the first episode on the Jersey shore’s (dysfunctional extended) first family as well as the other main residents is the perfect way to start Season 2.
Each of the major threads and themes are addressed within the most important setting before the rest of the locations, and the corresponding characters that serve to make everyone’s life in Atlantic City a little more complicated, are (re)introduced starting as early as “Ourselves Alone” (Episode 2) and the four best newcomers - Charlie Cox, William Forsythe, Erik LaRay Harvey and Juliette Nicholson - also enter the action early and often. I really enjoyed Charlie Cox as Owen Sleater; he brought a lot of conflict and charm to the program, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of Furio from The Sopranos (and ‘Junior’ as a recurring character also didn’t help distance BE from its HBO predecessor). New and old, the entire ensemble does a great job in their respective roles while Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald and Michael Pitt carry most of the weight with ease. And Jack Huston’s performance as Richard Harrow may be my favorite of all, his storyline is without question.
The season also has a nice rise and fall structure, with a major confrontation coming to a head every three episodes or so that capably changes the power balance and narrative trajectory. Every minor victory for Nucky is followed by a major defeat, while the opposite plays out for the rising Jimmy later on. The standout installments for me include the already discussed premiere plus Episodes 3 (“A Dangerous Maid”), 5 (“Gimcrack and Bunkum,” my favorite) and 10 (“Georgia Peaches”). However, there were strong scenes littered throughout the season, not to mention consistently beautiful and compelling cinematography.
One of the issues I had with Boardwalk Empire this season was the often muddled passage of time, a lack of clarity that makes a few of the storylines suffer (Margaret’s especially). It also didn’t help that the first half was stronger than the second, not to mention that the last two episodes were so devoted to Jimmy it made the other threads’ conclusions feel rushed. While I was not a fan of the flashback heavy “Under God's Power She Flourishes,” the revelations at the end do pack quite a punch and set up the last installment perfectly.
As far as the bells and whet whistles go, there are plenty of special features that accompany the Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the episodes. Additionally, it’s the little flourishes that make these compilations special, like the ‘Babette’s Supper Club’ sign in lights on the disc or the specially crafted menu sequence that neatly stitches together a few of the season’s key scenes and best shots. For the forgetful, there’s a 15 minute “Back to the Boardwalk” recap, as well as character dossiers (the former’s helpful, the latter are annoying), plus you can learn all about Owen Sleater and Manny Horvitz with the “New Characters” spot. Information regarding the period, and the real people who populated it, is accessible with the endless (albeit brief) videos or blurbs contained in the “Living in 21” and “The Money Decade” features. Six of the episodes have accompanying audio commentary and there’s a full-on exploration of “Under God's Power She Flourishes” in “Secrets of the Past: Storytelling in Episode 11.”
Boardwalk Empire, like most great television dramas, is a morality play writ large. The sprawling narrative and large ensemble allows the period piece to engage with the most important issues of the day, shining a light on how many of them still plague us today. I often thought of Mad Men while watching BE and how little/much things had changed in 40 years (and then in the other 40 till now). The extended family bonds are the main focus of Season 2, not to mention the primary source of spilled blood, but feuds are also fueled by other long lasting national conflicts like race, gender and class, as well as the never-closing generation gap. It’s all-out war, just pick your fare. Not every note rings true and not every thread stays taut, but overall the second season succeeds in amping up the tension and intensity of the already-impressive first, delivering the goods on almost every front. “To The Lost.”
Length: 720 min.
Starring:Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald
Directed by: Timothy Van Patten, Jeremy Podeswa, Allen Coulter
Written by:Terrence Winter, Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki, Bathsheba Doran
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