Boardwalk Empire Renewed, Stays Solid in Episode Two
Tim Van Patten had a thankless job directing the second episode of Boardwalk Empire. The pilot was helmed by Martin Scorsese, and it did all the great things pilot episodes can do: It laid out a sprawling world, hinted at the series' potentially epic scope, and established the basic workings of this version of Prohibition-era Atlantic City with plenty of flash, sizzle, and blood. Plus, well, it was Scorsese, and it had style to spare. Van Patten was the one steering the ship for "The Ivory Tower," and though the episode had a good deal less punch than the pilot, that doesn't mean it was bad. It was, in fact, quite good. It's just that Van Patten had to in essence slow things down and say: This is where we are going, and this is how we're going to get there. The series is every bit as riveting as when it started out, it's just beginning to feel like a series and not a 75-minute open-ended film.
The episode's themes -- written in big neon letters -- were about the perils of wealth and how possessing it tends to have more problems than needing it. Jimmy Darmody blows most of his cash from last week's heist and winds up short on what Nucky Thompson insists he's owed for letting Jimmy operate, so Jimmy winds up stealing back the necklace he bought for his mother just to make the payment. Then, in a cruel display that shows just how brutal Nucky can be, Nucky gambled the whole wad on roulette and promptly lost it, with Jimmy watching the whole time.
At the same time, Nucky and Rothstein traded pissy messages about who owes money to whom, and Van Alden came to the realization that Nucky's a much bigger criminal mastermind than his original target Rothstein. Rothstein's still a major player, but Nucky's the most dangerous kind of criminal: he's the legit businessman, the elected official with his hand in a thousand pockets who grows more untouchable every day he continues to do what looks like real trade. He's the Clay Davis of Atlantic City.
The only one able to resist the call of the dirty money is Margaret Schroeder, who spends half the episode in the hospital recovering from the blows that put her there and killed her unborn child. She knows her husband was a rotten man, and doesn't pretend otherwise when she's visited by Nucky's brother, Eli, the sheriff. But, probably in part because she was reading Henry James' The Ivory Tower while recuperating, she's unwilling to accept the hush money Eli gives her to coax her cooperation in the story that her husband was a bootlegger. Her suspicions are confirmed when Van Alden tells her that her husband was a patsy for a bigger criminal, and as a result, she returns the money to Nucky. She doesn't want the charity, and she certainly doesn't want to be sucked into a life of avarice.