Boardwalk Empire: Home Is Where the Heart Isn't

At this point in the run of

Boardwalk Empire

, it's clear what the weakest part of the show is: the opening credits. I've harped on this before, but the repetitive and faux-artistic shots of Steve Buscemi standing in the surf and looking pensive don't at all reflect what the show's about. This isn't the story of one man, but of a place, and a time, and a way of life that represented and engulfed the country. Even episodes like last night's wonderful "Home," which focuses to a large degree on Nucky Thompson's psychobiography, depend on a growing number of characters to work. The sweep and scope far outstrip the reach of one man, however powerful he might be.

The episode itself was, typically, arresting. Jimmy and Nucky continue to chart parallel courses as the troubled rulers of their bloody kingdoms, and though those similarities are often done subtly, sometimes they're, well, not. Case in point: Jimmy's leg, injured in the war, is acting up again just as Nucky's father takes a fall and breaks his own leg in the process. The maladies both reflect a lack of control, from Jimmy's inability to completely heal (despite repeated surgeries) to Nucky's impotence in attempts to help or control his father.

They also spent the hour taking contrary approaches to their personal lives and suffering the consequences. Jimmy's trip to the hospital introduces him to fellow vet Richard Harrow, played with superb intensity by Jack Huston. Richard's missing part of his face and wears an eerie painted replica over the left half, and as they're waiting to take part in an assigned personal inventory (what Jimmy calls "the nutcase test"), Richard confesses his discomfort at having to be so honest. Jimmy tells him to just start lying, so they blow off the test and head to the cathouse Jimmy's using as a home base so he can set Richard up with a woman for what's probably the first time in Richard's life. Jimmy's actions continue to take him further from the kid he used to be, with his sickly easy duplicity on display when he catches up at a diner with Liam, the goon who cut up Pearl's face. Jimmy claims he's not there to kill Liam, instead delivering a horrifying story about letting a German die over the course of several days, but as Jimmy leaves, Liam's taken out by a sniper bullet from across the street. The shot came from Richard, a marksman who looks like he won't be leaving Jimmy's side any time soon. (And thank goodness. Huston's a remarkably compelling presence, and he's listed as appearing in the rest of this season's episodes.)

Back in Atlantic City, rather than keep lying, Nucky finds himself forced into greater bouts of honesty and self-exploration at the urging of Margaret. This, not unpredictably, leads to recollections of his father's wicked abuse and a youth spent in general fear of everything and everyone. Nucky tries to move on and give his childhood home -- now emptied because Eli's taking in the old bastard -- to a colleague, but he gets so overloaded with bad memories when visiting that he torches the place and gives the other man money to find a new place to live. Like the man said: We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us.

Scattered thoughts:

• Angela turned out to be a lesbian (didn't see that one coming) having an affair with the woman from the photo studio, though she's still apparently taking a payout from Nucky while keeping up the façade of grieving Jimmy's absence.

• It was also interesting to see Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky (who, in 1920, was all of 18 years old) show up to partner with Mickey Doyle and the D'Alessio brothers. I can never keep the names of the brothers straight; the only one I recognize with any regularity is the one played by Max Casella, who will forever be known to me as Doogie Howser's best friend and as Racetrack Higgins:

• The episode was directed by College Station's Allen Coulter, who also helmed the solid Hollywoodland and the far less well received Remember Me, in addition to working on multiple episodes of The Sopranos and Sex and the City. It looked great, too. My favorite shot was probably Nucky striking the match on the wall before setting fire to the hellhole in which he'd grown up.

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