Atlantic City, 1921. In a city whose fortunes have soared in the wake of Prohibition, Nucky Thompson is paying a steep price for wielding ultimate power in “the world’s playground.” Though the 1920 election is over, Nucky finds himself the target of a federal investigation for vote tampering – and an insurrection by those he counted among his closest allies. Steve Buscemi stars in the hit drama series that charts the continued rise of organized crime at the dawn of the Prohibition.
With every character on HBO's Boardwalk Empire leading a double life, season two is about making changes or facing the consequences. The stylish series also digs deeper into the futility of Prohibition, much as The Wire tackled the War on Drugs. The central figure, Atlantic City treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), aims to please all of his constituents, but loses several powerful supporters after bootlegger Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) kills a Klansman. Estranged from his brother, Eli (Shea Whigham), and former assistant, Jimmy (Michael Pitt), Nucky and his common-law wife (Kelly Macdonald) become more of a team. If domesticity suits Nucky, FBI agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) looks askance at drinkers and nonbelievers, even as he holes up with Nucky's pregnant ex-girlfriend (Paz de la Huerta, the weakest link in an otherwise strong cast), while his wife remains in the Midwest. With enemies like the Commodore (Dabney Coleman) trying to remove him from office, Nucky hires Irish Lothario Slater (Charlie Cox), who helps to keep the booze flowing, meting out the occasional head-butt as necessary. Other new arrivals include a brutal butcher (William Forsythe) and a persistent federal prosecutor (Julianne Nicholson), who wields more power than the other wives and girlfriends combined, though Jimmy's mother (Gretchen Mol) becomes more Machiavellian by the minute. Nucky also joins forces with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), while Jimmy aligns with Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza). Of course, it wouldn't be a gangster epic without casualties, and several men give in to their darker impulses, resulting in some spectacularly bloody business--including the murder of a major character. Also, heroin enters the picture towards the end of the 12-episode arc and seems likely to play a bigger, more destructive role in the next season. --Kathleen C. Fennessy