Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Boardwalk Empire," Season 3, Episodes 2-3

Eli Thompson is released from prison and Nucky’s rivalry with Gyp Rosetti accelerated in episodes 2 and 3, but the intriguing historical angle came from a subplot involving Nucky’s African-American ally, Chalky White.  His family reveals the class divisions that emerged in the North as more and more Southern blacks moved to the region during the 1920s and beyond.

While Chalky’s wife and kids are educated and firmly part of the black middle class, Chalky is illiterate.  Last season, we saw some subtle tension within the family because of this dynamic.  This split comes to the forefront when his daughter’s would-be doctor boyfriend asks him for permission to marry her.

With European immigration cutoff because of World War I, Northern industrialists recruited black labor from the South.  Black newspapers like the Chicago Defender also played a pivotal role in this effort, urging their southern brethren to make the journey to the “Promised Land.”  Black populations in cities such as New York, Detroit, and Chicago grew considerably.

While Northern blacks encouraged the migration, tensions emerged when the newcomers arrived.  Southern blacks were often very deferential to white people, frustrating the older residents.  The newcomers’ evangelical worship seemed strange to Northern blacks raised in more reserved Protestant churches.  Chalky hints that her wife’s father was not thrilled when he initially met him, in part due to these kind of regional differences.

Chalky’s kids mention both jazz music and the poet Claude McKay.  Both represented key elements of black culture during the 1920s.  A distinctively African-American form of music, jazz emerged during the decade, particularly in New Orleans and Kansas City.  McKay’s poetry was part of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of black culture that occurred as a result of the greater freedom experienced by Northern blacks.

By episode 3, we continue to see echoes of the “Godfather” series in the show.  Nucky is experiencing guilt over shooting his surrogate son Jimmy Darmody at the end of season 2.  This seems a clear parallel to Michael Corleone’s guilt over ordering the death of his brother Fredo in “Godfather II.”

Not so sure about the show’s direction at this point.  Rosetti doesn’t appear to be an engaging villain; he is simply so insecure that he takes an offense at any comment, making Joe Pesci’s character in “Goodfellas” look restrained by comparison.

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