When Boardwalk Empire ended last December, there were at least five major plotlines at work, and about as many characters involved in each one of them: Boardwalk the show and the actual boardwalk are groaning under the weight of all that’s going on. Season two premieres this Sunday on HBO and, after nine months, you could be forgiven for struggling to remember not just who’s who, but who betrayed whom, who shot whom, who wants to shoot whom, and who hasn’t seen Paz de la Huerta naked. But Vulture is here to help you get back up to speed with a refresher course on the plot hydra that is Boardwalk Empire.
Roles: Treasurer of Atlantic City; HBIC (Head Bootlegger in Charge); Protector of the Widow SchroederLast seen: Celebrating a sweeping Republican election night victory in A.C. at his usual haunt, Babette’s: Thanks to his sway, he, Mayor Bader, and President Harding all won.
The Nuck runs Atlantic City much the way Boss Tweed presided over NYC: one foot in government, one foot in the gutter. Equally at ease with his roles as A.C.’s top politico and chief gangster (main jobs: brokering alcohol deliveries to the city during Prohibition and rigging elections), Nucky’s calculating and impersonal manner have engendered both a wealth of success and the enmity of everyone from his former ward (Jimmy Darmody) to his patrone (the Commodore) to his own sheriff brother (Eli Thompson), the three of whom have now united in plotting a Coup d’Nuck for Season Two. And let’s not forget that assassination attempt in Episode 9, which reminded everyone that even the Nuck’s garish suits can’t scare someone out of taking a swipe at him.
Roles: Nucky’s former protege/ward; son of showgirl Gillian and the city’s former overlord, the Commodore; ABIC (Aspiring Bootlegger in Charge)
Last seen: Colluding with Eli and The Commodore to knock the Nuck off his perch
A Princeton student-cum-soldier, Jimmy returned from the Great War ready to apply his newly acquired skill set to hustling hooch and just about anything in which he can employ his hard-earned, dead-war-eyes stare. Smart but short-sighted, his impatience to move up the ladder, coupled with the revelation that Nucky engineered Jimmy’s parents’ illicit (not to mention illegal) affair, causes a rift with his mentor and guardian that portends a coming faceoff. At home, his common-law wife, Angela, nearly left him for gay Paree and her lesbian lover, and now seems to live in a perpetual sullen, sexually confused state. On the bright side, he has an able and loyal soldier in half-faced vet Richard Harrow, and he’s BFF with Al Capone.
Photo: Macall Polay/Macall Polay
Roles: Widow; Nucky’s kept lady; conflicted temperance crusader
Last seen: Reunited with Lucky after a volatile breakup
The sharp mother of two has gone from abused wife to desperate widow to shrewd shopgirl to supplanting the feral Lucy Danziger as Nucky’s kept woman. Her feelings for Nucky seem genuine, yet she’s well-aware of the precariousness of their arrangement. She also struggles morally, supporting Prohibition while living a cushy life made possible by bootlegging. Above all, however, she’s determined to never go back to the days of her Joad-like existence, and seems ready to do whatever it takes to ensure her and her children’s security — even if it means making stump speeches for the Nuck or forgetting her own politics when material comforts are on the line.
Roles: Sheriff of Atlantic City; Nucky’s younger brotherLast seen: Huddled up with Jimmy and the Commodore
At first he was one of Nucky’s chief allies, but his allegiance to his smarter brother has completely deteriorated, based on both a long-simmering sibling rivalry and Lucky’s refusal to put blood over business. After unceremoniously relieving Eli of his duties to support a ruse that he was ridding his administration of corruption, Nucky clumsily reinstated him once the political waters stabilized. Eli, of course, takes to this like Jimmy takes to pacifism, and decides to throw in his chips with The Commodore and pull a classic Fredo.
Roles: Senior Prohibition Agent; champion bitch-slapper; forceful proselytizer; self-flagellator
Last seen: Absorbing the news that he’s Lucy Danziger’s baby daddy
The jaw-clenched Van Alden pursues Nucky and his crew with a single-mindedness that drove him to gross insubordination, murder, and — sweet, sweet 150-proof irony! — alcohol. His obsession with bringing down Nucky’s operation is matched only by his mania for the Widow Schroeder, and he channeled his fixation by taking up with Lucy, Nucky’s ex-flame. After he murdered his partner, whom he (rightly) suspected of working for the other side, Van Alden decided to leave Sodom and return to his wife, until Lucy showed up and hit him with a Maury Povich special.
Roles: Leader of Atlantic City’s African-American community; Nucky’s booze distiller; ex-boxerLast seen: Thoroughly enjoying discomfiting white folks as the only black man present at Nucky’s election-night party at Babette’s.
Chalky’s demand for an invitation to the election party (along with a new car and a payoff) to secure A.C.’s black vote for the Republicans says a lot about who he is. He works successfully with Nucky but never forgets the color line that bars him from fully reveling in the spoils of his position, which sometimes causes ideological flare-ups in their relationship. After Chalky’s driver was lynched, he leaned on Nucky for a higher split in exchange for agreeing to help cover up the murder and avoid a race war during the critical elections. His “I ain’t building no bookcases” scene and unblinking execution of Matteo D’Alessio (of the rival D’Alessio Brothers crew that carried out his chauffeur’s murder) leaves no doubt about his ruthlessness, not to mention his aversion to carpentry. Season Two will see more Chalky, including one standout scene that does Omar proud.
Roles: Showgirl; Jimmy’s mother; the Commodore’s former teenage mistress
Last seen: Nursing The Commodore, and attempting to mend fences between Jimmy and his father.On HBO’s Boardwalk website, Gillian is given no last name, which is fitting since she seems to belong to nobody but herself. Her strongest tie is to her only son; given the relatively small difference in their ages, she sometimes comes across more as a big sister than a mother. That’s not to say her inner Tiger Mom can’t be roused, which she demonstrated by carrying on an affair with Lucky Luciano for pretty much the sole purpose of delivering him to Jimmy. Her connection with Nucky still waits to be thoroughly explored, though we do know that it was he who procured her for The Commodore at the ripe old age of thirteen. Her latest move is encouraging Jimmy to embrace his father, but that seems less motivated by the prospect of family dinners than by the fact that it’s a good power move.
Photo: Macall Polay/Macall Polay
Roles: Nucky’s patrone; former HBIC; Jimmy’s father; decrepit lech
Last seen: Plotting the demise of his protegeThe Commodore, recently revived from a long-standing murder attempt by his maid that blew The Help’s shit pie right out of the water, saw that the resentment for Nucky that he shares with Jimmy and Eli was an opportunity to regain control of A.C. While the Commodore taught Nucky much of what he knows, the fact that that he was oblivious to his own poisoning for so long indicates that he may well be short a few passenger cars on the Ferris wheel.
Roles: Most powerful gangster in the country; gambler; proponent of murder by cue ball.
Last seen: Decamping for Chicago after Nucky’s political connections secure a dismissal of his World Series game-fixing charges.
The initial target of Agent Van Alden’s investigation, Rothstein runs New York City and started out doing business with Nucky until they fell out over a power move cloaked as a gambling debt by Roth. In the end, they carved out a shaky peace with the balance tilted heavily in Nucky’s favor. His intervention prevented Rothstein from having to serve time for fixing the 1919 World Series, yet it deepened the bitterness Arnold holds for Nucky, as he’s not proud of having to kowtow to someone from across the Hudson. Rothstein employs both Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, both of whom are still baby gangsters during Boardwalk’s era. Luciano and Jimmy have faced off before, but Season Two’s preview indicates that they’ll set aside their differences for the greater good of heroin. As for Rothstein, he also gives really good sneer.
Roles: Chicago mobster; friend to Jimmy; dad of the year
Last seen: Helping to make the peace between Nucky and Arnold Rothstein
Capone, we know, ultimately rises to take over Chicago; yet, at the moment, he’s still under the tutelage of his mentor, Johnny Torio, in the Windy City. Savvy but hot-tempered, Capone matures as he climbs the ranks in the Chicago crew, and by all indications will be calling (and firing) a lot more shots in Season Two. Having bonded with Jimmy after the two hijacked a booze shipment meant for Nucky, he’s likely to back his pal in the eventual showdown over Atlantic City.