Boardwalk Empire is certainly in quite a different place than it was in its pilot episode—Margaret Schroeder has gone from an abused immigrant wife to a widow and mistress, Jimmy has gone from Atlantic City to Chicago and back, Nucky's job gets dirtier and more morally ambiguous every episode. And yet, somehow, it seems to go nowhere—each character wrestles (or at least arm-wrestles) with the same issues every episode, but rarely seems to resolve or conclude anything, preferring instead to spend thirty seconds or so staring contemplatively at something at the end of the episode.
And so it goes in The Emerald City.
Margaret Schroeder wrinkles her brow at things that remind her that Nucky is actually a crime lord, not a city treasurer, and takes on a dubious responsibility for him—speaking to a group of women in support of Nucky's puppet mayoral candidate. Her trepidation is gently implied, but nothing comes of it, and so we spend the episode watching her be very mildly conflicted and then do nothing about it. At some point she will have to do something about the trouble she seems to be having grappling with Nucky's business dealings. Otherwise, I'm just going to assume that all those introspective moments are an accident of the directors' love for heavy mood music and pulling the camera slowly away from characters.
Meanwhile, as things in Atlantic City get more dark and dangerous, so does Nucky's job. He goes about this with precisely the same demeanor he has always gone about his business. He seems to struggle barely at all with the idea of murdering people to keep power. This is both a new side of Nucky and not a new one at all—he acts the same, but now we know that he is no stranger to the truly dirty work of someone in his position, and that it does not perturb him much. Despite its dark implications, this is a bit of an uninteresting turn—he has no moral qualms for us to watch him work out, and his moral descent is less of a descent and more like further, darker character exposition, in which we see all of the things we see every week but have to flinch a little more often. Nucky isn't changing, we're just seeing a little more of his life, without seeing much more of him.
In the continuing saga of Agent Van Alden Is A Complete Lunatic, our unbalanced friend shows up at Margaret Schroeder's doorstep and tries to "save" her, letting slip that he looks at her picture at night (he refrains from mentioning the self-flagellation), and she throws him out for being enormously creepy. Then he goes to a bar and gets drunk on illegal whiskey, runs into Lucy, and sleeps with her. Lovely. Van Alden's continual escalation of insanity has made him completely unrelatable and mildly absurd; his subplot is beginning to become tiresome, as all it accomplishes over the course of an episode is to make me confused an a little uncomfortable, without giving me any reason to care about or understand Nelson Van Alden. So I don't.
In the Continuing Saga of Why Is Lucy Always Naked?, 1) she is back and NAKEDER THAN EVER, and 2) it's because she's hot, and this is premium cable.
In the Continuing Saga of Jimmy Has PTSD: He gets angry and beats somebody up. Then he gets angry and shoots somebody. War! Trauma! Anger! Violence! Seriously, we get it.
In the Continuing Saga of That Guy With Only Half A Face, that guy has only half a face. He's kinda bummed about it.
At this point it's beginning to seem a bit like the writers of Boardwalk Empire are just writing the same episode over and over again and shuffling up the plot details.