Review: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ – ‘All In’

A quick review of tonight’s “Boardwalk Empire” – which HBO renewed earlier this week – coming up just as soon as I don’t like pie…

“Boardwalk Empire” is a show that deals with a lot of ethnic gangs and enclaves at a time in our history where crossing those ethnic lines was even more rare than today. Note how confused people always are by the Luciano/Lansky partnership, whose origins are detailed here by Meyer. Ethnic pride runs especially deep in “All In,” an episode in which black, Jewish and German members of our large ensemble express love of their heritage in different ways.

For Eddie, playing tour guide to Ralph Capone for the day, it’s expressed in song (in a surprisingly joyous set piece for what’s usually a pretty dour show) at a bar for German emigres. For Dr. Valentin Narcisse, it’s expressed in a long monologue about the Libyans versus both the Nordics and the “duppies” in their midst who seek to do their fellow black man harm. (Ordinarily, I would say Dunn Purnsley fits Narcisse’s definition to a T, but here he’s being used as Narcisse’s instrument of justice against someone else, and part of his ongoing game against Chalky.) For Meyer Lansky, it’s expressed first in a major move to take Rothstein’s place in Nucky’s Tampa deal, then in a savage, Yiddish-accompanied beatdown of the man who was heckling Rothstein during a long, losing night at the card tables.

That card game was fascinating, in that it’s one of the few times in the run of the series when we’ve seen Rothstein at such a complete loss. The cards are not in his favor, and his compulsion to gamble won’t let him leave and come back another day. At the same time, Nucky is Nucky: cool, collected, almost bored, but not smug as he cleans his sometime-ally, sometime-enemy, out of a large chunk of cash. Some of this is necessary to establish the eventual rise of Meyer and Lucky, but it’s still unsettling to see games master Rothstein be so vulnerable.

As for the rest of the episode, the Chicago scenes remain disconnected from the rest of the show for now but enormously entertaining (I especially liked the decision to leave the camera outside the apartment where the Capone brothers and Van Alden were making their collection, so we’d just see the man fly out the window), I still worry we’re spending much too much time with Willie Thompson (here inadvertently killing his rival with some bad chemistry), and I fear for both Eddie (taken into custody by Agent Knox as the weakest link in Nucky’s chain) and Chalky (falling for Daughter Maitland, which presumably is just how Dr. Narcisse wants it).

What did everybody else think? Also, as a reminder, if you’re going to be in Manhattan a week from tonight, I’ll be moderating the “Boardwalk” panel at PaleyFest NY, which will include a screening of next week’s episode, a few hours before it airs. If there’s anything you want to hear from Terry Winter, Howard Korder, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jeffrey Wright or Gretchen Mol, I’m open to suggestions.