The key question Season One asked was, “how much sin can you live with?” Season Two’s first episode doesn’t stray far from that question. No one is free of sin, everyone probably thinks there is a line they won’t cross, and everyone is probably kidding themselves. It’s fun to see how the actors are used in Boardwalk Empire. As Alan Sepinwall notes, when you cast Michael K. Williams in a part, you know the audience will think of Omar. So when Chalky White is put in a frightening position, it strikes us especially hard, because we think Omar wouldn’t put up with it. (It’s something like when Clay manhandled Gemma in a recent episode of Sons of Anarchy … Katey Sagal seems so strong, we forget she can be scared, just like anyone.) Gretchen Mol has had so many rumors follow her career that there is an extra touch of creepiness when she talks about kissing her baby son’s winky when she changed his diapers. And, of course, you have Steve Buscemi in the Tony Soprano role, which really needs no further comment.
Somehow it all works. I’m still not convinced this is a great show … the A- I gave Season One seems about right … but it manages to recreate a period without the fetishized feeling of Mad Men (a better series, but one which has a more complicated relationship to its time period), and if it’s slow moving, well, that really doesn’t bother me, or I wouldn’t have stuck with Rubicon. Like all the best season premieres, Boardwalk Empire launched the new season by building on the past while creating interesting scenarios to play out in the future.
Lastly, as I noted after the end of Season One, the production values seem closer to what we get in movies, and movie fans who consider watching TV to be a form of slumming would probably like Boardwalk Empire very much. But that’s not my problem. I’ll just enjoy listening to Kelly Macdonald talk. Grade for season premiere: A-.