Boardwalk Empire “The Good Listener” Review (5×02)

14 Sep


“Live long enough to cash out.”

Nucky Thompson, like Johnny Torrio, is nearing the end of his run, and he’s reminded of that fact at every turn. However, Nucky being the person he is, he won’t get out without finding some way to satisfy the burning greed that resides within his heart, the craving for power that drives people in this environment to kill and retaliate and kill some more. He realizes that if he dies, he’ll open up routes for others to build their own empires, and he’s not having any of that because his legacy needs to be under his own control, not under the mercy of the young up-and-comers.

Because of this, we’re introduced to Joseph Kennedy, and we’re taken back to Young Nucky times once again to help shade in some of his present motivations. There are less flashbacks than in the premiere, thankfully, and we see the divide between the Commodore and Ethan Thompson clearly when the latter pulls out a gun and aims it at the former, then drinks away the money that’s supposed to be used for his daughter’s funeral. Nucky’s difficult childhood certainly plays a role in how he views those around him who are rising to the top; to him, they didn’t have to experience what he experienced, so they don’t get to take control of what he wants to grab ahold of.

Of course, as much as he’d like to believe he has agency, he’s simply a product of his environment, controlled by others like Gillian or van Alden are controlled by others. Nucky’s able to get his retaliation, Gillian gets her pen and paper–after a fake out, as it’s played so that it looks like the administrator wants sexual favors–and van Alden and Eli pull off their hit, but they’re all exhausted. Contrast that with the raucous scene in Al Capone’s apartment or the youthful energy of Luciano or Lansky, and you’ve got various generations attempting their own power grabs.

The most interesting pairing of the episode involves Nelson van Alden/George Mueller and Eli Thompson, both of whom are broken men but are still ripe for some hilarious scenes. Essentially, their problems are opposites: van Alden’s tearing at the seams because of his family, and Eli’s doing the same because of the lack of his family. “Sometimes I find it easier to despise someone than to love them,” van Alden tells his partner in crime, and we see that he’s been caught up in a perpetual cycle that’s prevented him from truly embracing happiness. He doesn’t know what it means to really settle down because he’s been constantly pulled back into the muck, back under the influence of someone else.

And so it goes in Atlantic City. Those in power are on top, but there will always be someone who’ll rise above you.



-No Chalky here. With a shortened season, you really start to notice when some characters get the short end of the stick. Also, I can’t wait to see Narcisse again.

– “WHY MUST IT ALWAYS BE PANDEMONIUM?!” Then again, we get Nelson van Alden.

-Clouds float “because of…the…atmosphere.”

-I would watch an entire episode about Eli, van Alden, two old ladies, and a dog in an elevator.

-Willie Thompson’s joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and it remains to be seen what his ultimate goals with regards to Nucky will be.

-Nice circle imagery employed by the episode throughout, from the opening to the very final image (the ear hole of a dead Tonino).

Photo credit: HBO, Boardwalk Empire

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