Boardwalk Empire is a solid, not great, show you will keeping coming back to watch. Steve Buscemi is great as the exacting kingmaker of Atlantic City (and sometimes New Jersey). Buscemi is a such a peculiar actor in manner and look that I often felt it was he that ran the boardwalk in the 1920s, not the real 'Nucky' Thompson. Yes, Boardwalk Empire is historical fiction. Characters like Nucky’s brother sheriff 'Eli' Thompson (Shea Whigham) and black gangters "Chalky" White (Michael Kenneth Williams, whom every will probably still see as Omar from The Wire). There are a lot of infamous criminals that are directly referenced as well, like Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Al Capone (Stephen Graham), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef). After looking it up I found a dozen more that were real people. Then there are other infamous criminals that we call politicians like New Jersey Senator Walter Edge (Geoff Pierson) and Presidential candidate Warren Harding (Malachy Cleary), and many other local officials in the Atlantic City sphere of influence. The first season has prohibition - those who enforced it and those who violated it - and women’s suffrage, race relations and politics, change and corruption. For someone who likes American history it is a fun show.
It’s also a gangster show, which I feel I’ve seen many times. Nucky Thompson takes his bribes, controls the blacks, gets his women (Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Schroeder and Paz de la Huerta as Lucy Danziger), and runs the politics of Atlantic City. But is he ready for a real challenge? He controls the police and the politicians, but can he be a real gangster? Early on his protege "Jimmy" Darmody (Michael Pitt, who looks a bit like Leonardo Dicaprio), just back from the war, doesn’t think so. When Jimmy acts the part of a gangster, Nucky casts him out. Jimmy lands in Chicago with Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci) where he plies his trade with violent low-level gangster Al Capone. Every time you hear a name like that casually dropped you get a little excited. When Elit gets shot by an Italian gang testing Nucky’s medal, Nucky calls Jimmy back. He uses Jimmy to muscle them back to New York City. Nucky is not as weak as his thin frame lets on. At the same time he loses road funds in a political battle with northern New Jersey interests. As punishment to Senator Wedge for siding against him, he scuttles Wedge’s Vice Presidential aspirations at the Republican convention in Chicago and throws the weight of the New Jersey delegation behind Warren Harding. Nucky may look outgunned, but he is a politician who has fought to get and keep his power with a politician’s best tool, cunning.
It is fitting then that this cunning may do him in. Jimmy, Eli, and the Commodore (Dabney Coleman as Jimmy biological father who impregnated his mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) when she was 13) see how Nucky’s deals only seem beneficial, but always benefit Nucky more, leaving the other party less than satisfied. He is using them for his gain and they want what the power and money they think they deserved all along. As the season concludes it is clear that those closest to Nucky are going to challenge him in season two.