Review: HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ season 2 exceeds the first – previews

The second season of Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s Emmy Award-winning, period gangster drama debuts this Sunday night (September 25th) at 9PM Eastern/8PM Central and we have seen the first six episodes. <P></P> <P><STRONG>Slight spoilers ahead.</STRONG>  </P> <P>As you remember the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) was nearly dead in season one after the old arsenic poisoning from a disgruntled maid. Well the Commodore came roaring back, and son Darmody (Michael Pitt) is his new pride and joy, and mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) is smelling a cozy retirement with new empire making plans.</P> <P>The unfortunate object of the Commodore’s power grab plans is of course, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) who becomes hard-pressed to keep his station in Atlantic City. </P> <P>But how it all goes down and who stays with Nucky, and who abandons him, will surprise you.</P> <P>Breakout scenes are delivered by Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) who does a stellar job of relaying his character’s pride, frustrations, wounded soul and vengeful anger. </P> <P>His stately home, elegant wife and educated children, funded by his gangster life, are all a balancing act for his entire family.  We feel even more for him when Nucky, who he desperately needs to stay in power, pulls his chains and reins him in to subdue his rightful anger. Chalky’s scenes are electric this time out.</P> <P>My favorite from season one, actor Jack Huston’s cryptic WWI veteran turned hit-man Richard Harrow, rips our heart out and struggles this season with his place in the world. </P> <P>Watch for an interesting scene between Harrow and Al Capone in Darmody’s house as Capone is talking to Darmody – nodding at Harrow – telling Darmody to have "Frankenstein" take care of a certain problem.  Harrow replies directly to Capone saying he won’t do it, enraging Capone who views Harrow as an incidental underling, "What do you mean, ‘won’t?"  Wonder if they will cross paths again later in the season.</P> <P>Another one to watch is Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald). So clever and such a survivor is our Irish rose, pragmatic and hardened to the core.  Margaret is a fascinating female character whose survivor skills and political thinking prowess exceeds Nucky’s at times. Great "Upstairs/Downstairs" scenes to watch for as Margaret asserts herself as lady of the manor. She cares for, but is not in love with Nucky, and the fallout of that will be seen thanks to a new character introduced this season.</P> <P>Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) rivals Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) as the smartest of the young gangsters and realizes the foibles and flaws of both his real father and his mentor father Nucky. Great scenes for him and his pal Al Capone (Stephen Graham) who has a soft spot for the "Mick" gangster and his "Dago" wife, as Al kiddingly refers to Angela (Aleska Palladino).  Capone, Luciano (Vincent Piazza) , Lansky and Darmody are beginning to vibrate on the same level.</P> <P>The tightly wound Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is another one whose damaged psyche is on display, caught between a certain floozy Lucy (Paz de la Huerta) and his Prohibition-obsessed ultra conservative wife who is brought to Atlantic City for a quickie visit. He is in a colossal pickle and has fallen into an ethics morass so deep, it will be interesting to see how he ends up at the end of this season.</P> <P>Please watch for guest actor William Forsythe, cast as a lusty, jovial and lethal gangster / butcher named Manny Horvitz, who takes a shine to both Darmody and Harrow, and will be part of the story. </P> <P>Also joining the cast is Charlie Cox, cast as Owen Sleater, a charismatic Irish gangster with aspirations and a lustful heart.  Sleater is a demolitions expert with connections to the Irish Republican Army who works his way into Nucky’s inner circle in more ways than one.  Both Forsythe and Cox are powerful scene stealers. </P> <P>Another gem to watch for is Michael Zegen as young Benny, aka  “Bugsy” Siegel. "Benny" was the kid who worked with Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano coming up under Rothstein’s eye. Zegen does a good job with the limited time so far I have seen him.</P> <P>Michael Stulbarg’s character Arnold Rothstein is a measured intellectual force of nature; his intelligence and politesse a respite from the guns blazing approach of Darmody, Luciano and Capone. A great scene to watch for is a fast exchange between Rothstein and Luciano as he receives Jimmy Darmody for a sit-down and then points out the merits of Darmody’s clever discretion to Lucky. </P> <P>Eddie Kessler, Nucky’s erstwhile butler, is cleverly turned out by Anthony Laciura. Eddie has lots of great moments in season two, and has mastered the art of the disdainful side eye when it comes to certain visitors who pay Nucky a visit.  He has much more screentime this go-round, and his work is excellent.</P> <P>Major props to actresses Paz de la Huerta and Gretchen Mol as well. Paz de La Huerta plays showgirl Lucy Danzinger, and she is touchingly vulnerable this season and she surprises us. Darmody’s sexy mother Gillian is complex, rageful, damaged and we feel for her character.  Gillian has compartmentalized that brutal child rape she endured and subsequent pregnancy, then scraping by (as the Commodore long forgot her) in order to survive and raise a son. She is on fire this season too.</P> <P>"Boardwalk Empire" – like FX "Sons of Anarchy" – has a phenomenal second season completed. If you were on the fence for season one, please give this series another look, you’ll be glad you did.</P> <P>It also goes without saying that "Boardwalk Empire’s" below-the-line crafts of production design (set decoration is in this category), costume design, cinematography, editing and makeup and hair are <A href="http://www.btlnews.com/awards/boardwalk-empire-wins-big-at-the-creative-arts-emmys/"><STRONG>exemplary</STRONG></A>, and make this entire smallscreen effort a sensory delight for the viewer. </P> <P>These are important things that often are overlooked by reporters, but matter greatly to the success of any show and transport both the actors and us into this other world. A+.</P> <P> </P><IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/hKOy6N9I22I" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Darmody <IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mlhdvCAlrXI" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Luciano <IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Pb73Rmv2teI" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Chalky White <IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/0u-CHuzDIiA" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Harrow <IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/MvGaanUVJNo" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Agent Van Alden <IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/1S27TNfvy10" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Rothstein <IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mBSaCAuo3N0" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Capone <IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mlI2a-fQ89k" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME><IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/LA-BCRHjjfA" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME><IFRAME height=315 src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/7qyoirqIn6I" frameBorder=0 width=560 allowfullscreen></IFRAME>Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.