I’m surprised to find that I’m enthralled by Boardwalk Empire, the popular HBO series, and by Steve Buscemi the portrayer of ‘Nucky’ Thompson, the brains behind Atlantic City’s Mob that thrived during Prohibition. The show teems with drama and excitement in its depiction of the roaring twenties and its melding of money, sex, violence, crooked politicians and legendary gangsters, such as Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein.
For all that, Boardwalk Empire has historical and educational value. We see Eddie Cantor as a young start-up entertaining gamblers and politicians alike. We meet the mistress and illegitimate baby of President Harding and watch the deal making that enables his rise to the Presidency.
Regarding Steve Buscemi or ‘Nucky’ Thompson, he is far from a matinee idol. He looks middle-aged, dissipated and has deep bags under his eyes. So why do I like him so much? ‘Nucky’ is a complex man. Clearly he is the agent of violence and corruption—always carried out by others, at his behest. But he’s a soft-hearted, soft-spoken, often kind man who treats his women with tenderness and peels off dollars to rescue the needy. His temper does flare, but only momentarily. And so far, unlike the other gangsters, I haven’t seen him take a swing at his lady loves.
As I writer, I am fascinated that I like a Protagonist who is a criminal, while I abhor the FBI Prohibition Agent, Nelson Van Alden, a self-flagellating religious zealot and hypocrite. In one episode, I found myself rooting for Van Alden’s double-dealing fellow agent whom the FBI man holds under water until he drowns.
There are villains in the Arts whom we enjoy. Take Dr. Hannibal Lecter, for example. To many, he is scary, but funny and a caricature. Yet Jeffrey Dahmer, a real life cannibal, makes one sick.
We often forgive well-known sinners, provided that they are punished or find redemption. The public may also give a pass to those who cheat on their spouses, falsify their income tax records, or fail to pay traffic tickets. I, personally, will forever abominate child molesters, wife beaters, animal abusers, rapists, and torturers.
But back to ‘Nucky’ Thompson: At the end of season one, his enemies are joining forces against him. Even though I read on Wikipedia what happened to the real ‘Nucky,’ I can’t wait until season two of Boardwalk Empire becomes available.