This post contains spoilers through the October 10 episode of Boardwalk Empire.
As a Boardwalk Empire newbie who’s shotgunning the series all at once, one of the things that stands out most about the show is its manneredness, its theatricality. Sometimes this works beautifully: Steve Buscemi’s very good at pulling off slight strangeness or outsizedness and making it seem natural, while Kelly Macdonald’s very good here precisely because she’s a bit of a neutral agent. She can do things like sneak into Nucky’s offices by pretending she’s a pregnant, itinerant Irish girl: she’s good at seeming invisible when it counts. But it doesn’t always work well, and last night’s episode focused on two characters where I think the mannerdness of the show doesn’t necessarily work very well: Lucy and Nelson.
I should make no bones of the fact that I think Paz de la Huerta isn’t a very good actress period, and in this role, she’s playing a character who is flighty and maybe doesn’t have much education or sense as if she’s stupid to the point of disgust. When she whines to Nelson that “I wanna go out…That neighbor lady stopped by the other day. She invited us for dinner…a simple dinner. Some conversation. Some music, for god’s sake…a Victrola…I used to be out every night in the week…Say what you want about Nucky, at least he was fun,” it’s hard not to feel anything but contempt for her. Has she managed to learn absolutely nothing about Nelson in the months he’s effectively kept her locked up in? Does she genuinely have no idea that there is precisely nothing in that whine that will move a man who, as he explains to her, without judgement of his parents, “was taken to a Christmas pageant by an aunt in 1894. When my parents found out, they broke off all relations.”