Boardwalk Empire season 2 episode 6 review: The Age Of Reason

Interesting parallels with The Sopranos continue to show up in Boardwalk Empire. Here's Michael's review of The Age Of Reason.

This review contains spoilers.

2.6 The Age Of Reason

Catholicism has always made good television. In part, the ceremony of it makes it very easy to communicate visually, while the central dynamic of sin and redemption is excellent material for drama. It has dovetailed neatly with the American gangster genre, particularly of the Irish and Italian variants, and so a scene with a priest or a rosary have become part of the visual grammar of the gangster picture.

Boardwalk Empire is very much of that pedigree, with The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos alumni on board. In this episode, The Age of Reason, it is the institution of Confession that is examined, and it goes way beyond the needs of ceremony.

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There are a lot of troubled souls in Boardwalk, not least of all Nelson Van Alden. Although not a Catholic, he is certainly the most prone to religious mania, as the unfortunate Agent Sebso could testify.

By now of course, he has one or two things he needs to get off his chest, professionally and personally. Van Alden is a confused, desperate man, and his two lives intersect dramatically. The moment when we are led to expect that he is being called in to see Lucy in a maternity ward, only to have him shown in to see the deep fried Agent Clarkson is clichéd, but is at least effective in demonstrating how utterly confused things have become. After making a tense near-confession to both his wife and his boss, it becomes clear just how much pressure he is under. As the episode draws to a close and we, like him, discover that his wife knows about Lucy and the newborn baby, it comes almost as a relief. Quite where Van Alden goes now is anybody’s guess.

Margaret’s relationship with her faith is slightly less troubled than that of her erstwhile stalker. Not so much a lapsed Catholic, as a ‘forgotten-she-ever-was’ a Catholic, Margaret nevertheless wants to see her son Teddy educated in the faith. As he approaches his coming of age, she wants him to be ready to make his first confession. She seems genuinely taken aback when the priest suggests she does the same. This sparks a crisis for her as she is forced to confront her relationship with Nucky.

Once again, we’re back in Sopranos territory. Several of Carmela’s storylines were driven by the conflict between her faith and her marriage to a violent criminal. I can’t help but feel that the topic was handled better in the earlier show. Although it feels like we’re stepping ever closer to some major revelations concerning Margaret’s past, this reconnection with her culture seems a little forced. With Carmela, the conflict emerged fairly naturally, with Margaret it is a little forced. It was only a few weeks ago that she was taking the lead in her relationship with Nucky. Maybe we just knew Carmela better.

This exposes the extent of the challenge that the writers of Boardwalk Empire have set themselves. They have a large cast, and several storylines at play. With so many spinning plates there is always the risk that some depth in characterisation will be lost. The Sopranos managed it by maintaining the focus on Tony, while other ensemble shows, The Wire, Game of Thrones, seem capable of doing it with only a nominal ‘lead’. Boardwalk Empire is a show of this latter type. Steve Buscemi may have top billing, but the show does not revolve around Nucky.

In all honesty, if there is a top billing up for grabs, it really ought to go to Michael Pitt. His Jimmy Darmody is increasingly the narrative heart of the show. He is learning and growing all the time. This is demonstrated, sometimes clumsily, through the use of telegraphed phrases, such as ‘not every insult requires a response’. The show is better than that, and it is much more interesting to see his development through the ways he his taking control of his own destiny and winning the respect of others. He has earned the admiration of his elders, Leander Whitlock and Manny Horvitz, as well as that of his peers.

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By the end of this episode, the rising generation of Luciano and Lansky have begun to recognise their own potential for what it is, rather than simply empty youthful bravado. It is Jimmy who is showing them the way.Read our review of the last episode, here.

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