Episode 2 of Boardwalk Empire Season 5 introduces us to those characters that didn’t make it into the opening episode. We catch up with Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), lamenting being exiled from his family, drowning in booze and urine. Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) is in the loony bin and using herself in different ways than she has in the past to get what she wants. Al Capone (Stephen Graham) is loving being the boss after Torio (Greg Antonacci) was put out of commission in Season 4 and is now basking in power and fan mail. That’s a lot to catch up on.
To confound things further, The Good Listener is full of exposition so it’s easy to lose track of exactly who is working for whom. Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) appear to be in cahoots after all, having moved on from liquor and heroin, and are now looking to become the most powerful men in America by ending the old empire – which includes Nucky. If you find yourself in any doubt, a tip: don’t trust anybody.
Some new characters need no introduction, but get them anyway. The Wire’s Jim True-Frost makes an appearance as Eliot Ness, the American Prohibition Agent famous for bringing down the Capone Empire in Chicago. In other words, it won’t just be the Boardwalk Empire that falls this season – not that we’re yet to visit Atlantic City.
Flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood continue and still don’t add anything we didn’t already know, merely compounding the fact that Nucky’s father was a rotten egg. Gillian’s story also looks set to continue, when really there isn’t anywhere else for her to grow. While Gretchen Mol brings unfaltering ability to the role, the character’s arc could have been considered wrapped up a season ago.
Fortunately, while we catch up with everyone and everything, this episode brings an almost comedic tone to the series, certainly far from anything that has come before. The laughs come predominately from Nelson Van Alden / George Mueller (Michael Shannon), whose former federal agent is now flourishing as an underboss in Chicago. His seemingly perfect wife and family he fought so hard for are now a burden that he finds easier to “despise rather than love”.
Shannon’s delivery of these unintentional punchlines are always perfect, be it telling his son how clouds are made, his wife how to speak proper English or simply screaming “Why must it always be pandemonium?” when an attempted robbery goes awry. One scene in an elevator (accompanied by sidekick Eli) could give most sketch shows a run for their money.
We are now 25 per cent through the reduced run of eight episodes and Boardwalk Empire is already fit to burst with people and plot lines. How will all these new developments be sewn up in a satisfying manner? At least there will be a laugh or two: only two episodes in and the awkwardly paired duo of Eli and George are already threatening to steal the season.
Not got Sky? You can watch Boardwalk Empire Season 5 online in the UK on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – no contract. The subscription includes Seasons 1 to 3 of The Walking Dead ahead of the new season, which will also be available on NOW TV from October.