Boardwalk Empire Odds and Ends.

More stuff floating around in notepads that I wrote during the most recent Boardwalk Empire season:

Textured walls and people in the corner of the frame.  Oh god, I already want to watch last night’s Boardwalk Empire episode again!

Everyone rightfully praises Breaking Bad.  It’s a tightly written story with really deliberate framing of scenes.  When something is put into a shot you know it will have some sort of significance.  It’s that attention to small (usually) inanimate objects that gives the show it’s driving force.  It can be a slow show at times, but you always know there is some sort of payoff waiting at the end of the storyline.

Boardwalk Empire also has a slow, methodical pace punctured by bursts of violent action.  There are more characters and the varied storylines are more dispersed, so the structure of the show is ultimately different.  “Attention to detail” also takes on a different meaning in this 1920s prohibition world.  While Breaking Bad’s contemporary settings are studded with items of interest, the Boardwalk world is an entire scene of detail.

The beginning to this season was especially slow.  At times I wished there were less characters to follow because the first three episodes were like getting the 1924 sampler platter.  Lots of tasty, carefully arranged nibbles that left you looking at the clock, hoping dinner would start soon before your stomach starts eating itself.

Things finally started to roll with “Acres of Diamonds.”  Thought I sometimes think there need to be less characters, I really like the college storyline with Nucky’s nephew.  The collegiate and youth culture of the 1920s is a different landscape that the show hadn’t gone to before.

Historical dramas can occasionally get kind of stagey or look hokey in their costuming and set design.  Part of me wonders what I’m not seeing because I’m a person of 2013, and I’m curious to see how the show looks from the perspective of 2030.  I think it’ll hold up pretty well, but time will tell.

________

Sometimes I think I like all the characters on Boardwalk Empire that all the general internet fans dislike.  I’ve always been a huge Margaret fan (though my fandom did lapse a bit went she went all Catholic guilt churchy).  This season I actually like the Willie storyline.  It’s fun to go inside the 1920s collegiate world, and Willie is a great contrast with Jimmy Darmody.

Sure, Jimmy had a partial college experience, but the flashbacks to his college storyline in the 1910s presented a very different atmosphere.  He left college for the hardknocks Army school and lived through terrible World War I battles that scarred him emotionally and physically.  Even before he joined the military he had a crazy upbringing with very, ermph, untraditional family relationships.

On the other side of the coin, Willie was born into a powerful rich family.  Though his dad Eli hasn’t exactly been father of the year material, he has always had a mom and dad in some fashion, as well as a herd of siblings.  He grew up in a nice home and got to go to a nice college because his family had the leverage and bucks.  Not his fractured adopted family, but his own flesh and blood, as an earlier episode this season reminded us.

Both characters leave college against the wish of elder Thompsons, but their motivations for leaving have a lot to say about the differences in their characters.  Willie poisons and accidentally kills a fellow classmate over some immature teasing.  He was publically embarrassed and rather than live through the embarrassment and move on, he takes it extremely personally and wants a public show of revenge.  He clearly has a sense of entitlement.  He knows which family he comes from, and he doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions because he has the Thompson family safety net.

Jimmy’s safety net was always tenuous.  Even though he had Nucky as ally, they weren’t related, and his life never had any truly reliable family members.  When he went off to fight in WWI he needed an escape, and he made his reckless decision fully aware that it could be his death.  WWI served as Jimmy’s emotional death, and it only took a few mistakes before Nucky made it his physical death too.  The brutal and violent physicality of Jimmy is a manifestation of all the wrongs he was served in life and how his connection with reality and security was tenuous from birth.

I don’t think Willie thought of poisoning his enemy, leaving college, and pegging the murder on his friend and roommate as a death sentence.  I don’t think he realized the levity of his actions until after they occurred, while I think Jimmy was fully conscious that his decisions placed him on a death tightrope.  Willie doesn’t seem to have that same suicidal bent.

Willie seems to embody the roaring twenties cliches more than Jimmy.  To me, Jimmy was always a product or embodiment of the legacy of modern warfare and a domestic byproduct of late 19th century machine boss politics.  His life had more to say about the 1900s and 1910s.

Willie’s a spoiled rich kid who seems to think the world owes him something.  Even though Nucky gives him Ragged Dick, I don’t think he’s going to take Horatio Alger to heart – the 1920s ethos is to get rich quick and have a good time in the city.  Though willie says he wants to work hard and earn his way in life, the Alger protagonist is a hero for older generations.  It’s only a matter of time before Willie gets swept up into mess of the 1920s and his personal Great Depression hits.

As I said earlier, I do like the Willie character, and part of me hopes that he turns out to be a stronger presence and less of a pawn for sussing out the Nucky and Eli relationship.

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