"Boardwalk Empire" – Episode 10: “The Emerald City”

11/24/2010 Posted by Admin

"Boardwalk Empire" – Episode 10: “The Emerald City”

Television Review

By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz

As in the Land of Oz, Atlantic City thrives on illusion for the benefit of the man behind the curtain. So, it’s no coincidence that Margaret spends part of this episode reading "The Wizard Oz." Director Sean Cellan Jones shows connections between these works to deliver the show's most compelling episode to date.

“The Emerald City” opens on Richard Harrow. His face healed, he walks across a serene beach as a woman lovingly calls to him and then--she screams. Jones then reveals the scream to belong to the Schroder child after seeing Harrow unmasked -- he was sleeping with it off. It’s a scene indicative of the whole episode--characters awaken to reality as their dreams shatter before them.

Nucky, for instance, embraces the ruthless killer inside when he attacks Doyle and oversees the murder of the DeLessio brothers, who were responsible for last week’s shooting. This drastic turn gains higher significance as he molds Margaret into a representative for the city’s female voters. Margaret is on track to become the female Nucky Thompson, who she knows to be crooked--and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.

Van Alden sees the change. His obsession with Schroeder leads to a foiled investigation – thanks, in no small part, to Nucky -- and a desire to save Margaret in the biblical sense, which he personally admits to her.

Michael Shannon steals the show as Van Alden. He plays the stern, by-the-books Fed so well that his breakdown, fueled by rejection and a hopeless sense of duty, is one of the show’s most disturbing moments. His fantasy of playing copper is now a nightmare as his self-righteousness shatters through his indulgence of sin.

Atlantic City has that affect on people. Inviting on the outside, the city welcomes its patrons to the boardwalk as long as they pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Outside, the joyful noise of the boardwalk provides a soundtrack for the bleak discussion they're having above the boardwalk. While Nucky's subjects are eating cotton candy below, Nucky, Jimmy and Doyle are discussing retaliation. Nucky ignores those walking the yellow brick road as he simultaneously maintains their façade and plans the murder of his enemy, Arnold Rothstein (played by Michael Stuhlberg, who I can’t praise enough--he’s always an episode highlight).

The subtlety with which Jones observes these events allows his ensemble to do the walking. His static shots linger on the cast objectively, giving every cold stare the chance for deliverance. But as he holds on Margaret’s frightened gaze into her mirror during the episode’s closing shot, he subjectively implies that salvation will not be found in the Emerald City.

Grade: A

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