Boardwalk Empire season 2 sails along toward its finale with last night’s ‘Two Boats and a Lifeguard,’which sees Nucky Thompson re-evaluating his options in the wake of his shooting, as Jimmy struggles for personal and professional respect in a changing landscape. “Two Boats and a Lifeguard” adequately sets up the endgame for Boardwalk Empire season 2’s plot, provided one doesn’t get lost in all the symbolism.
There’s an oddly telling moment at the midpoint of Boardwalk Empire‘s ‘Two Boats and a Lifeguard, wherein Angela Darmody’s new friend Louise casually remarks that ‘not everything has to make sense’when describing an abstract sand sculpture, which puts an odd sort of comfort into reviewing the episode. Directed by showrunner Terence Winter, ‘Two Boats’features a plethora of dream imagery and interpretive visuals, but one that Louise’s statement reminds us need not be the deep ocean of metaphor we wish it to be.
Around the time I started overanalyzing the episode’s apparent obsession with food, from ‘daddy eats first,’to Nucky compared to an onion and an artichoke, Van Alden making a stink about following procedure only to skip out on his meal’s check, or Jimmy and Manny discussing the finer aspects of butchering venizen, I realize that we can lose ourselves looking for symbolism.
Some morals are more immediate, the way mortality presses on those in the business of life and death. Not only must Nucky face his own mortality in the wake of the failed shooting, but from his father as well, and the generations beneath. The son becomes the father, as Nucky finally gets around to requesting Margaret’s children call him ‘Dad,’just as the old men in power note that their pups have grown fangs, which seem to eat away at their time left in power on this Earth.
Nucky however is the shark that never stops swimming, or rather the drowning man who never gives up, as even gunshots and a step down from office brings new opportunities to make friends with the IRA, or stall the takeover with Chalky’s strike. Perhaps ‘Two Boats’preoccupation with food strikes a resonant chord with the themes of mortality after all, the way food forces us to confront our dependent natures and the brevity of existence beyond our more basic needs. It’s a wonderfully reserved, but heartbreaking scene when Nucky finally breaks down crying over his father from something as simple as untied shoelaces; for we are all of us at the precipice of death, and dignified ends can be undone by something as simple as a careless funeral parlor.
Of course the ‘pups’don’t quite have everything figured out either, as we find all four conspirators Jimmy, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky all still under the thumb of their employers, condescendingly chided for their failure to deliver on their promises. Even Jimmy, now crowned ‘Prince James’in the wake of Nucky’s resignation, ends up no closer to becoming the man in charge he’d like to be, while Eli reminds him of Nucky’s intelligence or Manny hounds him for unfulfilled liquor that Jimmy only claims to know where to obtain. It’ll be interesting to see where ‘Prince James’goes from here with his own unique vision of his father’s kingdom, after sending a clear message to Manny and the other partygoers that he still demands their respect, hurling poor Mickey (Paul Sparks) over a balcony.
Plenty of future Boardwalk Empire developments are set in motion by ‘Two Boats and a Lifeguard, and I’ll be especially curious to see what business Nucky conducts in Ireland, and how his closer relationship with Sleater will bring out his tryst with Margaret in last week’s ‘Peg of Old.’The writers are certainly working to push Jimmy to his breaking point even with his gradual ascent to the throne of Atlantic City, and provided Nucky’s adventures in Ireland don’t take him out of the equation for too long, we’re in for a hell of a showdown. I’m not entirely sure how Van Alden’s continued corruption will fit into the larger story this season, but perhaps Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson) will provide the bridge needed to really bring Michael Shannon back into the narrative.
Definitely a quieter entry than last week’s ‘Peg of Old,’but a lot more momentum building toward the final episodes of the season.
And Another Thing…
- So we’ve got a whistling bellhop, a fight that hasn’t happened, a baseball glove, young Nucky with a gunshot wound, and a shot deer struggling to move, as adult Nucky reminds himself ‘Daddy eats first,’before shooting himself. Sheesh. Any takers, dream analysts?
- Certainly a lot of ground gained for Angela, taking a new lesbian lover as well as casually brushing off her marriage with Jimmy during his honest confession.
- Ooooooooo, Katy (Heather Lind) got DISSED, yo! Sleater’s only got eyes for ‘mom,’now, and that sounds much grosser than it really is.
- ‘Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan.’A little on the nose, after Nucky’s father died, no?
- ‘Your move, Dad.”Yes. It is.’
- Jimmy makes a nice effort to comfort Richard amidst all the celebration and transition, but I’m wondering if even that relationship fractures by season’s end.
What did YOU think?