“Let me ask you something Mickey, how the fuck are you still alive.” – Eli (Boardwalk Empire Season 3 Episode 2, “Spaghetti & Coffee)
If there’s one thing Boardwalk Empire does well (besides the costumes), it’s in delivering great, understated dialogue. “Spaghetti & Coffee” was filled with just that.
Over the past few years, some viewers have complained that Boardwalk Empire lacks focus. These moments of brilliant writing and acting are overshadowed by two questions.
Terence Winter’s series revolves around a massive cast, with overlapping stories. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is somewhat center stage in this period piece drama. Much of the conflict springs forth from Nucky’s actions. Yet, Nucky never really steals focus. There’s no point in the series where you feel overwhelmingly connected to his character. Nucky isn’t Tony Soprano, the central character on HBO’s past hit series The Sopranos. Although Buscemi is great, if Nucky died, the show could ostensibly go on with out him.
Here’s the thing.
Nucky ISN’T the main character. Sure, he may be the guy we see during the opening credits. But, he’s not Don Draper to Mad Men nor is he Walter White to Breaking Bad. At all times, his story shares relatively equal focus with that of at least two or three other tales at any given time, especially prior to Mr. Darmody’s demise.
The truth is Boardwalk Empire isn’t a singular story. It’s not The Sopranos, where Tony and his family are the central characters. It’s about the Empire – the good, the bad, but mostly the seedy underbelly. The main character IS the Boardwalk and all of the people who come in contact with it.
Just like Treme. Just like Oz.
You may want Boardwalk Empire to be Mad Men, a singular story focused on Don Draper – not necessarily the era. If Mad Men focused on the era, then the first four seasons would have had more black characters than the maid and the guy who worked the elevator.
We’ve been trained as consumers of media – whether it be in TV, Movies, Video Games or Books – to look for a central character. We want to recognize the antagonist and protagonist so that we can identify with them. But, what if the character IS actually the place and the time period? Isn’t that just as important as a person?
You may not be able to commiserate with a location. You may not be able to personally sympathize with an time period. But, look out your window. Compare your world to Boardwalk’s society. If you look close enough, you will see moments where they intersect. And, that’s where the story begins.