November 22, 2010

Boardwalk Bar Mitzvah

Al Capone is one of the most fascinating characters on HBO's incredible "Boardwalk Empire." While other characters like Enoch Thompson, Arnold Rothstein, and Lucky Luciano were all real people, none of them have the notoriety of Al Capone. Portrayed on the screen by the talented British thespian Stephen Graham, Mr. Capone is one of the most intriguing characters on the show, and it was never more clearer than last night's episode entitled "The Emerald City."

Since the first episode, when he and Jimmy Darmody where standing by their cars, waiting for their prospective bosses, Capone has behaved like a juvenile frat-bro madman. He lost his cool during the liquor heist in the first episode, blasting away on some "innocent" bootleggers because he got spooked by some deer. He repeatedly flies off the handle, stomping out people who he doesn't enjoy. And whether it's a joke cigarette to his boss or a gun getting fired next to Darmody's head, he loves a good prank.

Well all that changed last night with a Bar Mitzvah? A what? Yeah, a Bar Mitzvah, and while I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see the reception, the scene was effective awakening for the future crime lord. A helpful Jewish elder basically explained the Bar Mitzvah service to Al and you could see in his eyes the message of becoming a man resonating with him. I have no doubt in future episodes/seasons we will see a new Al Capone, particularly one that rises up to inherit Johnny Torio's mob empire.

But as much as the kind Jewish's elder's words had an effect on Capone, the actual scene of the Bar Mitzvah was clearly an homage to the greatest gangster film of all time: "The Godfather." In that film we witness Michael Corleone's "Baptism of Fire" where he systematically offs all the rival crime lords and comes into his own as The Godfather, all intercut with a Catholic baptism. In "Boardwalk" there isn't much killing, but the use and effect of a religious ceremony to show a criminal's growth is the same.

I could go on forever about all the loaded religious references on this show. The obvious one is the fire and brimstone pontificating of ATF agent Nelson Van Alden. But there are many more subtle undertones. Jimmy Darmody is essentially living a violent version of the prodigal son story-line and Rothstein seems to only speak in almost biblical parables. And fan favorite Richard Harrow (the dude with the mask) is on some path of twisted redemption. And as for Capone, I can't wait to see how his Italian heritage accepts his conversion to Judaism.

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