Original Air Date: Sep 19, 2010
Sara M. – Sr. Reviewer
Atlantic City, 1920. This is the year of prohibition in the United States. Which gives rise to the mob and, in Atlantic City, Nucky Thompson as a leader. The man lives a double life, one as the city treasurer and the other as a member of the newly emerging mafia.
Through out the course of a few days Nucky has to manage his duties in government, play host to visiting “associates” from Chicago and New York, deal with a new employee, help a young mother struggling with her abusive husband, and handle his temperamental girlfriend. It’s a hectic life this man leads, but it certainly is an exciting one.
There’s a lone boat waiting. Just waiting. As the fog begins to clear a small trio of power boats come into view. One pulls up along side as the cargo is revealed, cases of Canadian whiskey. They transport the shipment; from boat to boat, then onto trucks. The two vehicles move along the dark roads, stopping for nothing until they spot something just ahead. A car is turned on its side and a man is lying bloody on the pavement. The men get out to inspect the accident closer, just as they turn the car over and move it off the road headlights illuminate the situation. Men with guns get the jump on them. And we return, three days earlier…
Nucky Thompson is, for all intents and purposes, a pillar of the community. He attends prohibition rallies hosted by the Women’s Temperance League. At the meeting, Nucky takes the stage to praise the women for their hard work in the effort to ban the demon liquor. He shares a story from his childhood, of growing up poor and loosing a father to alcoholism, being forced to drudge through a blizzard to find food. Overall, he seems to be a “progressive” thinker, supporting prohibition and women in their endeavor to get the vote. Before he can continue, Jimmy Darmody, his driver, interrupts. Business must be attended too and Nucky must leave early. First thing he does outside is pull out a flask. A politician through and through, he knows that you say what you have to for the votes.
Down on the Boardwalk a party is in full swing. A last hurrah before prohibition sets in at midnight. At “Babette’s,” a popular night club, the corrupt of Atlantic City gather for a dinner. Nucky, police chief and Nucky’s brother Eli, the mayor, and most of the city council. The beloved treasurer is playing hosts and reassures the men that prohibition won’t affect the city. He’s already made arrangements to smuggle in alcohol and they’ll turn a major profit on it. Jimmy is reintroduced to the group, he has just returned from the war. There is clearly something amiss with Jimmy, he’s only 22 but has been aged by what he’s seen and done. Coming back and working as Nucky’s driver is far from fulfilling, but it’s all he can do with a bum leg. Despite his wife’s urging, he refuses to return to college. He knows that if he sticks with Nucky opportunities will present themselves. Although he’s far from patient enough to wait for it. When business associates come to town, Jimmy strikes up a conversation with a young driver who works for Chicago. They discuss the shipment coming in and hatch a plan. Jimmy certainly thinks this Al Capone is the right guy to work this job with.
At Nucky’s office, a young woman from the prohibition rally is waiting to see him. Mrs. Margaret Schroeder, expecting her third child and sporting a semi-hidden shiner, was so moved by his story that she is hoping Nucky will be willing to help. Her husband Hans is a gambler and a lush. There are few job opportunities as it’s the off season at the boardwalk. There isn’t anything available at the office, but he gives her a handful of cash and has Jimmy drop her off at home. Returning to the poor neighborhood in a Rolls Royce provokes a great deal of attention. Especially from her husband. Later that night he finds the money and questions her about it. She lies, saying that Nucky offered her a ride after she felt faint and that it’s no business of his where the money came from. He smacks her around a bit before settling down to dinner.
The night of the shipments arrival Nucky is out with his girlfriend, trying to make up for all of the interruptions. Jimmy, Al and another man pull of the robbery but are spooked by a deer, one gun goes off then all of them fire. Four men are dead, they need to get out of there before anyone else shows up. The evening is interrupted when Eli calls, informing Nucky of what has happened. They go into action, looking for a way to cover things up and figure out who is responsible. It becomes clear that Jimmy has told the feds about an illegal distillery in a funeral home so that he would be able to pull off the heist. Nucky still protects Jimmy and after hearing that Margaret’s husband has beaten her to the point that she has lost the baby, he knows the perfect person to take the fall for the four murders.
Hans is picked up by two police men, taken out in one of the boats used for transporting shipments of whiskey, beaten to death and dumped. He later washes up in a net of fish. Al takes the second truck back to Chicago, Jimmy turns a profit on his half and cuts Nucky in, telling him that it’s no longer an option to just be a part-time gangster. Things aren’t going to be easier now, the man the shipment was sold to, Arnold Rothstein, either wants his whiskey or his money. That’s not Nucky’s concern at the moment, he picks up a bouquet of flowers and goes to visit Margaret in the hospital.
This was an incredible pilot episode. The production value is incredible, the sets and costumes are fantastic. And I really couldn’t think of anyone better to play Nucky than Steve Buscemi. There are some moments of graphic violence, which can be hard to stomach, but they seem to be rather brief. I was a little worried that this was going to be a rehashing of The Sopranos, but Terence Winter has really created a unique realm. There are a lot of great characters, but Nucky is particularly interesting. He’s a widower who seems to genuinely miss his wife, despite the fact that he has a girlfriend. And the way he starts to care about Margaret without a second thought is something I didn’t really expect for a character of this decade.
What did everyone think? Any characters jumping out? Likes, dislikes? Looking forward to next week’s episode? Share your Two Cents below.
Next Week: The Ivory Tower