Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Boardwalk Empire, Season 4, Episode 2, "Resignation"

More elements of the Roaring Twenties emerged in “Resignation,” episode two of Boardwalk Empire’s fourth season, First, Van Alden/Mueller’s wife buys a new couch and other household goods for their home, but the puritanical Van Alden/Mueller bemoans that they can’t afford it on his salary.  She notes that they can pay for it over several months rather than all at once.  Indeed, the 1920s witnessed a dramatic rise in installment purchases, as more and more Americans could afford the consumer products of the “New Era” by using credit.  By 1926, customers made 15 percent of all purchases through installment.
In the season premiere, a black ally of Chalky White is trapped into a bizarre “they like to watch” scheme with a white husband and wife.  Angered, he murders the husband and in “Resignation,” the woman claims she was raped and seeks the help of her late husband’s employer, Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), a West Indian immigrant who is a major player in New York.  Such rape allegations often led to the lynching of black men in the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the peak period of racial violence in American history.  Narcisse notes that her charge will have credibility, given that a woman of the “Nordic tribe” made the allegation, reflecting the scientific racial categories of the 1920s.  After using the allegation to extract a share of Chalky’s profits, Narcisse has her killed, clearly angered by the woman’s desire for vengeance for a clearly false allegation.  Chalky refers to Narcisse as a “Jamaican,” and though Narcisse says he is from Trinidad, it should be noted that Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican immigrant himself, and his black nationalist group, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), were at their peak during this period.  Narcisse tells Chalky about their common roots going back to Africa, a seeming reference to Garvey’s focus on pride in African culture.
Toward the end of the episode, J. Edgar Hoover appears in the early stages of his role of head of the FBI (then Bureau of Investigation).  At this time, he was just beginning what would be a central role in the next half-century of American history.  In “Resignation,” he exposes a corrupt Treasury department official, who responds that Hoover is out of his jurisdiction and that “I’m not some Bolshevik under the bed,” likely referring to J. Edgar’s role in the 1919-1920 Palmer Raids against the American Communist Party during the First Red Scare.

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