‘Boardwalk Empire,’ Anti-Hero Shows, and Violence

I always feel a bit stifled by Boardwalk Empire, though the show can achieve moments of emotional transcendence, like Richard Harrow’s attempted suicide last season, or Jimmy Darmody’s march to his execution. But this trailer gets at something intriguing that I’ve been thinking about in the context of anti-hero shows:

Much of the time, shows like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad experiment with how far characters can transgress while we still like them, or before the universe that they operate in demands that they be punished. But it’s another thing to ask how violent someone can get and still retain the humanity and respect for other people’s rights necessary to function on a day-to-day basis. Tony could kill someone and go on with Meadow’s college tour, but Walter White’s murder of Gus Fring seems to have broken down some of the things that moored him in his place. Of course, Tony was raised to integrate violence into his life along with other social norms and into his conception of being a man, while for Walter, it’s a rather new, and more volatile, discovery. In Nucky’s case, the question will also become how much violence a political system, as well as a home, can handle before the person who commits it can no longer be accommodated in polite company.