"Boardwalk Empire" – Episode 5, “Nights in Ballygrand” Television Review

10/21/2010 Posted by Admin

"Boardwalk Empire" – Episode 5, “Nights in Ballygrand”

Television Review

By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz

"Boardwalk Empire" is no stranger to cultural tension. The last two weeks dealt, in part, with the racial divide between Nucky’s class and those doing the work. While Nucky’s stance remains one against bigotry, his role as a bootlegging treasurer makes him more interested in votes and profit than racial harmony. Culture clash comes up again in “Nights in Ballygrand” as Nucky’s relationships force him to come to terms with his own ethnic heritage in one of this season’s best episodes.

“Ballygrand” opens with Eli’s jealousy finally boiling to the surface. Resentful of Nucky’s success, Eli wishes to give a speech at the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day banquet, proving that intelligence is an attribute of both Thompson songs. Following their brief argument, the Widow Schroeder approaches Nucky with Irish Soda bread, which he rudely brushes off.

Within the first scene, Nucky finds himself faced with both his new world responsibilities in Eli and cultural heritage in Margaret. Nucky, the Horatio Alger self-made man, spends much of the show distancing himself from any one ethnicity. He’s a flag, a representative of all ethnicities and fulfills this role to stay in power. As a result, Nucky’s upcoming St. Patrick’s Day celebration, an important and historical day for his family and ethnic brethren, is more of a formality than a celebration.

Margaret is the exact opposite. An Irish-born immigrant, she holds old-fashioned ideals that keep her in the fight for prohibition. She’s a symbol of the failure of the American dream--she works hard, but barely has enough to provide for her family. Last week’s moral lapse leads to her disappointment in this episode as Nucky’s neglectfulness leaves her crushed. So, when his racquet moves next door, she informs the authorities.

The St. Patrick’s Day banquet brings all of this to ahead. Eli’s speech raises some questionable subjects that pit native born Irishmen against American born. Nucky to eases these tensions with some old fashioned ethnic humor and stereotypes, but it isn’t enough to stop the FBI. The raid indicates that this shallow form of cultural unity is not enough to cease the problem--Van Alden’s men are color blind in this regard, caring only about prohibition’s enforcement.

The resolution between Nucky and Margret indicates a resolution to many of their cultural differences, reflecting a possible bridge between the old and new worlds. However, as cathartic as this resolution feels, there are still many problems arising out of it, particularly between Eli and Nucky. Nevertheless, after weeks of exposition, there’s certainly enough payoff to make this episode finally live up to the promise of excellence made by "Boardwalk"’s pilot.

Grade: A

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