‘Boardwalk Empire’ – ‘The Age of Reason’: When life gives you lemons…

Senior Television Writer
10.30.11 57 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Boardwalk Empire” coming up just as soon as I catch your meaning…

“The Age of Reason” is the last of the episodes that HBO sent out before season 2 began, and when I watched it, I half-wished the initial screener package had ended with “Gimcrack and Bunkum.” I was on such a high after the Richard/Jimmy scene, the Eli/Nucky fight and the other great moments, and then brought back down a bit by an episode that spends a lot of time with Agent Van Alden, and with Nucky back to his more buttoned-down, less compelling self.

Still, if “The Age of Reason” isn’t the most exciting episode of the season’s first half, it’s important in the way it sets various things in motion for the second half. It’s an episode about faith, but also about contingencies. You can pray to whatever deity you believe in, and try to connect with Him spiritually, but you’d sure as hell better have a backup plan in place in the event He doesn’t solve your problems for you.

So Margaret reluctantly takes her first confession in years to set an example for Teddy, and while she doesn’t reveal any of what she’s been up to as Nucky’s unofficial consiglieri, she does confirms what we’ve known for weeks: that she’s seriously attracted to Owen Sleater, and possibly even considering him as an option if things with Nucky remain cool and difficult. (Of course, he’d have to stop paying attention to Katy first.)

Our first scene transition conflates Van Alden with Jesus on the cross, which is no doubt how Nelson views himself deep within his hypocritical, self-aggrandizing, fevered mind. Throughout the episode, he prays about the fate of Agent Clarkson, though it’s not entirely clear whether he wants the man to survive, or to die without giving up Van Alden’s shady doings. And though he manages to escape justice when it turns out that Clarkson’s “I know what you did” is a delirious childhood memory, his fear of his impending professional demise winds up sending an alarm signal to Mrs. Van Alden, who comes down in time to see Lucy’s baby. (And Lucy having the baby on her own is its own impressive back-up plan.)

Until now, Van Alden’s been able to get away with a lot, but at least for this week, he suffers personally even as his job remains secure. And I hope that either his period of grace doesn’t last (Michael Shannon is obviously very in-demand in the movie world right now) or he winds up more directly in Nucky’s path, because Van Alden has become much more erratic and less interesting the further he’s had to move towards the story’s margins.

Nucky and Rothstein spend a lot of time orchestrating a back-up plan to get around how Jimmy and the Commodore shut down his usual liquor channels, and Jimmy nearly blows up their Plan B when he spots Manny’s sidekick(*) with Nucky and Waxey Gordon. But instead, Meyer Lansky talks Jimmy into a fascinating Plan C, one where the young turks leave their mentors alone in the short-term but wind up becoming richer and more powerful in the long-term.

(*) And even that murder has a religious tint, as Manny complains he can’t do it because his former friend is “trafe” (food that isn’t kosher), so Jimmy winds up doing it in a manner similar to how a kosher slaughterer would: quick and clean, with the blood draining immediately.   

And after being so smug that Harry Daugherty was going to get him out of the election fraud mess that he violently turned away Eli’s attempt to team back up with him (and before Eli could tell him who was going to testify against him), Nucky winds up right back in the soup because Daugherty is more scared of Nucky-hating Senator Edge than he is of Nucky. When you have as many enemies as Nucky has developed, you need to not only have a Plan B, but C through X, Y and Z. He may come up with those later, but doesn’t have those now, in part because of his own temper. Nucky was always the cool customer, and Jimmy the hothead, but this week Jimmy actually listens to the advice of Atlantic City elder Mr. Whitlock about how not every insult needs a response. He eases up on ruining Nucky’s shipment because Meyer helps him see the longer game (where Manny can’t resist shooting the goon who sings Waxey’s praises) and may have put himself back in the game even though the Commodore is now physically and mentally irrelevant.

Lot of game to still be played in the second half of the season, but Nucky’s falling behind at the moment.

What did everybody else think?

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