I do expect to have everything.
—Nucky Thompson, speaking for pretty much everyone.
Boardwalk Empire is an HBO drama, set in Atlantic City, New Jersey in The Roaring Twenties -- the end of the war, the upturn in the market, and the beginning of Prohibition. It is written by Terence Winter; the pilot episode was directed by Martin Scorsese. HBO ran the series from 2010 to 2014.
Steve Buscemi stars as Villain Protagonist Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a corrupt county treasurer who develops his own bootlegging ring in Atlantic City in the wake of Prohibition. The series focuses on how Nucky balances his dual lives as respected public figure and underworld kingpin, and the multi-sided conflicts between the federal government, his own operations, and those of his rivals, all amongst an ensemble cast.
It has also done its research.
- Absurdly Youthful Mother: Gillian gave birth to Jimmy at the age of 14.
- Abusive Parents:
- Nucky's father is a real piece of work, having scarred his hand at age 9 for grabbing food first, forced him into an impossible fight over a baseball glove, and undoubtedly many other traumatic events. Even as he's going senile he remains as hateful as ever.
- Hans Schroeder beat his children.
- Gillian, a control freak with no sexual boundaries, to Jimmy.
- Van Alden was raised by fanatical members of a Doomsday cult. According to him, his father sold (or possibly just gave away for free) the family farm when he was a child, at the start of the supposed year of the Second Coming and when a whole year of living in poverty in a tent passed without it happening Van Alden's father blamed him for it.
- Accidental Murder: Eli really did not mean to crush that guy's windpipe with the wrench.
- Advertised Extra: Michael K. Williams' character, Chalky White, was deliberately written as one in the first season. Once Chalky proved to be popular, it was announced that he would get a more prominent role in Season 2 (along with another minor character that the audience loved, Richard Harrow).
- Affably Evil:
- Nucky is quite polite and charming. Until you cross him. This is in stark contrast to Rothstein, who is polite but absolutely ruthless beneath it.
- Chalky White is the closest thing to the black community's version of Santa Claus.
- Meyer Lansky is excruciatingly polite, even with a gun pointed to his head. Or while pointing guns at other people's heads.
- Alcohol Is Poison: Averted thanks to Values Dissonance; Eddie Cantor brings a heavily pregnant Lucy a bottle of hooch to cheer her up.
- All Crimes Are Equal: Every side does this at some point.
- Alter Kocker: Manny Horvitz, when he isn't murdering people.
- American Dream: Referenced several times.
- Amoral Attorney:
- Rothstein has one, Fallon, who is very impressed by his client's eloquence and ability to commit perjury with a straight face- so much so that he comments that Rothstein would be a great lawyer. Rothstein replies that he's chosen an honest profession. As of "Georgia Peaches", Rothstein's decided to loan Fallon to Nucky for his election-rigging trial.
- Thorogood Junior is a weaselly little prosecutor just out of law school, living in Daddy's shadow and more than willing to live on bribes. He's in on the deal to get an easy trial for Nucky, but quickly gets booted from the case.
- Nucky himself has Isaac Ginsburg, although he isn't really competent and does little beyond bailing him and his underlings out of jail.
- And George Remus, as in Real Life, is an attorney so amoral that he has decided to cast off the attorney job altogether and become a bootlegger instead - while using his knowledge of law to find the correct loopholes, of course.
- Anachronism Stew: Usually avoided on a show where the writers obviously Did The Research, but there are some exceptions.
- In "Anastasia", Margaret reads newspaper accounts of pretender Anna Anderson's claim to be Anastasia Romanov a good two years before those claims actually became public.
- "Georgia Peaches" features a painting of the Divine Mercy by Hyla that wasn't made until 1943.
- 1943 is also the year in which the lullaby sung by van Alden's nanny in "Two Boats and a Lifeguard" was released.
- And Call Him George: In "Paris Green", Van Alden gets a bit too zealous in teaching Sebso a lesson during a river baptism. Sebso drowns.
"Do you accept Jesus as your savior???"
- And That Little Girl Was Me: Nucky's address to the Temperance League. He claims that it's a lie, but the way he reacts to the abusive husband later on might imply that the story wasn't completely fictional, possibly making it a Double Subversion.
- Anti-Villain: Nucky is a self-interested criminal and corrupt politician, but he's not without his humanity.
- Anyone Can Die: Angela, The Commodore, and Jimmy meet their ends in consecutive episodes at the end of Season 2.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: While reviewing the profiles of a pair of killers who shot Eli. Paraphrased:
Halloran: The D’Alessio brothers. A family of dagos out of Philly. Second story men who graduated to stickups. They once robbed Bookbinder's. Killed two customers, shot a waiter in the face.
- Art Imitates Art: The first shot of "21" (the second-season premiere) shows a bottle of liquor washed up on the beach, a nod to the opening credits.
- Asshole Victim: Hans Schroeder, one hundred percent. He is a violent, abusive bastard who hits and mistreats his children and beats his wife so viciously she suffers a miscarriage. Really He's more of a Complete Monster.
- Badass: More than a few.
- Jimmy Darmody has demonstrated himself to be fairly badass, probably best exemplified when he takes out Sheridan and his men.
- Harrow also qualifies, considering that sniper shot in "Home" and the shooting of two of the D'Alessio Brothers.
- In "The Emerald City", Meyer Lansky keeps his calm and is the one guy with the brains to keep his mouth shut and walk away from Nucky's vengeance for the hit against him.
- Chalky much of the time, especially his confrontation with the Klansman, his revenge on the D'Alessios for lynching his driver, and his lengthy confrontation with Dunn Purnsley.
- Manny Horvitz, who manages to take a shotgun blast to the shoulder and just doesn't care.
- Badass Boast: A quick two sentences from Nucky from "A Dangerous Maid" are all he needs.
Nucky: I will ruin you. All of you.
- Badass Grandpa: The Commodore is still able to lift a giant elephant tusk over his head, which a man half his age couldn't do.
- Bad Boss: Van Alden to Sebso, Nucky to Eddie, Madame Jeunet to Margaret, Margaret to Katy and the other girls, Eli to Halloran...
- Bad Guys Play Pool:
- Arnold Rothstein is quite the expert. In reality, Rothstein's pool hall exploits inspired the film The Hustler.
- Lucky Luciano's a pretty decent pool player, apparently having picked it up from Rothstein.
- Bait and Switch:
- An interesting one in "The Ivory Tower". Near the beginning of the episode, Jimmy buys a necklace. Later on, he gives his wife an also expensive bracelet instead of that necklace, so it's already fishy. Then, he can't have sex with her because his son is napping in the same room. He looks frustrated, so he goes to a Broadway rehearsal. Backstage, a great-looking woman is jumping with joy when he sees her, so the audience assumes it's an old flame and Jimmy's there for a booty call. He gives her the necklace from the beginning of the episode. And then it turns out it's his mother and the necklace is just a similar one to the one she sold to provide for her family.
- In "21", Mrs. Van Alden is visibly aroused after watching Nelson perform a raid of a restaurant selling illegal liquor. We cut to a shot of a headboard rhythmically pounding--but it's Nelson testing out the springs by pressing with his hand.
- In "The Age of Reason", Lucy's water has broken, and we see Van Alden in the hospital, looking like he's shitting a brick with nerves. He's allowed into a hospital room, but it's not Lucy's, it's the Prohibition agent who was burned in the explosion.
- Nucky, Eli, and Manny Horvitz pull it on Jimmy in "To the Lost": Manny isn't a prisoner and Eli's really on Nucky's side. Unfortunately, Jimmy doesn't care.
- Battle Butler: Despite his usual clumsiness, Nucky's German butler, Eddie Kessler, can act fast when needed, like say, shooting a would-be assassin targeting his boss.
- Battle in the Rain: The finale of Season 2.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
- Averted when Pearl the hooker gets her face slashed by rival gangsters out to get Jimmy.
- And also with Richard Harrow, who was very handsome as we see in a dream sequence, but has already suffered a horrific facial disfigurement by the time we meet him.
- Bedmate Reveal:
- Angela and Mary, the photographer's wife in "Home".
- Lucy and Van Alden at the end of "The Emerald City".
- Owen and Katy in "Gimcrack & Bunkum". Apparently, she's a screamer.
- Berserk Button:
- Chalky normally has a calm, very collected exterior. However, insult his lynched driver, and expect him to slowly choke you to death with his bare hands in a bout of Tranquil Fury.
- Insulting or harming Jimmy's family is a very bad idea.
- It doesn't take much to set Lucky Luciano off. Or Al Capone. Especially when they're around each other.
- Abuse Your wife or kids when in Atlantic City and Nucky will personally see to it that You suffer a horrific death.
- Betty and Veronica: Margaret and Lucy for Nucky in Season 1.
- Beware the Nice Ones: The Commodore's Maid in "Paris Green".
- Margaret in early Season Two ("Ourselves Alone" and "Gimcrack and Bunkum" in particular).
- Big Applesauce: While most of the action takes place in Atlantic City, New York is a major part of the show. Gangsters Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky make their home in NYC.
- Big Bad Ensemble: There are a number of character who seem to step in and out of the Big Bad role.
- Arnold Rothstein, as Nucky's chief competitor and the man behind the majority of the crime-based threats to his empire in Season 1, before deciding to set aside their differences and pay off Nucky to use his connections to stop Rothstein's gambling trial. Now Rothstein is an ally, of sorts.
- Nelson Van Alden, head of the Prohibition department trying to take Nucky down, who becomes mostly a Knight Templar and even has what may be a Hazy Feel Turn to team up with Nucky in exchange for assistance with Lucy and Abigail.
- The Commodore, though he's really more of an Anticlimax Boss, since he has a stroke just as he becomes a threat.
- Dragon Ascendant: Jimmy Darmody, who becomes the real threat to Nucky in Season 2.
- Then there's the Wild Cards of Eli Thompson, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky (the latter three of which history tells us will become major threats).
- Bilingual Dialogue: During a business meeting, Lucky Luciano mutters a side-hand comment in Yiddish to Meyer Lanksy, who responds in Italian, showing their close relationship in spite of their different ethnic backgrounds.
- Bi the Way: Angela. She seems to be genuinely attracted to Jimmy, but only pursues women when cheating on him.
- Black and Gray Morality: Nucky is a corrupt politician and "half a gangster", but he has generally progressive attitudes. Van Alden is a federal agent enforcing the law, but he is clearly deranged. Prohibition, the law Nucky's flaunting and Van Alden is enforcing, is seen by posterity as a terrible idea. The conflict between these two would normally give this series Grey and Gray Morality. However, certain characters such as Arnold Rothstein serve to remind us that gangsters can certainly get a hell of a lot worse and a hell of a lot more unscrupulous than Nucky, significantly darkening this particular shade of conflict. The only "good" main character is Margaret, but her close association with Nucky and the power-by-proxy she gets a chance to wield send her on her own trip towards the middle of the morality scale.
Nucky: We all have to decide how much sin we can live with.
- Blonde Guys Are Evil: Jimmy is an antihero gangster and Deputy Halloran is a sadsack Mook.
- Bond One-Liner: A truly groanworthy one courtesy of Chalky White, following a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Dunn B. Purnsley.
Chalky: Purnsley be done.
- Brainless Beauty: Lucy.
- Brand X: Heavily averted.
- Break the Haughty: Dunn Purnsley. It works, too, considering that in "Battle of the Century", Purnsley has teamed up with Chalky to lead strikes.
- Brick Joke: See Not Quite Dead below.
- Brooklyn Rage: Al Capone is one of the most famous examples of this trope.
- The Brute:
- Bullying a Dragon:
- Dunn Purnsley to Chalky White when they're locked up together.
- Jimmy knows how brutal and unforgiving Manny Horovitz can be, but he still reneges on a debt he owes Manny and then betrays Manny to Waxxy Gordon. Jimmy should have known better but Manny kept treating Jimmy like a kid and the lecturing got on Jimmy's nerves.
- The Butcher: Manny Horovitz is literally a kosher butcher, but he's also a vicious gangster. He's shown combining the two when he beats up a treacherous subordinate and leaves him tied upside down to a meat hook for further interrogation. He doesn't kill the guy himself though, since that wouldn't be kosher.
- The Butler Did It: Played completely straight with Louanne's slow poisoning of the Commodore. Being that this is a Dead Unicorn Trope (and suspicion thrown on Gillian), it plays more like a subversion of expectation.
- Butt Monkey:
- Call Back:
- In Season 2's "Ourselves Alone", Margaret borrows a maid's clothes, dresses much like she did in the pilot, and coaxes her way into Nucky's office with a story much like the one she told in the pilot. She does this to rescue some cash and incriminating documents from the cops that are rifling through Nucky's things.
- In Season 1, Nucky tells Margaret the story of how he lost his baseball glove as a boy to illustrate what a monster his father was. In Season 2's "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", the episode in which Papa Thompson dies, Nucky has a disturbing dream that features the glove. He also says the line, "Daddy eats first", the same his father said him when he scarred his hand as a child.
- The scene where people discover Jim Neary's "suicide" in Season 2 is strongly reminiscent of the one where people discovered Pearl's in Season 1, screaming woman and all.
- Early in Season 1, there are several moments where Jimmy looks distressed as the audience hears sounds of an oncoming train. In "Under God's Power She Flourishes", this is explained as the remembering of a very traumatic event, for a nearby train shook the room when a drunken Jimmy was seduced by his mother.
- Call Forward: From "Hold Me in Paradise": "A fortune-teller told me he would die in office."
- Camera Abuse: Blood spatters the screen more than once in the pilot.
- The Cast Showoff: Anthony Laciura, who plays Eddie, is an opera singer, and in "What Does the Bee Do?", Eddie sings beautifully at a birthday party, although given what else was going on, the guests probably weren't paying too much attention.
- The Chains of Commanding
- Charge Into Combat Cut: Jimmy's Blackadder-style flashback to going over the top. Except, of course, he survives.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Jimmy's combat knife, which we see early in "Family Limitation" as he slides it into a special holster in his boot, is a Chekhov's Boomerang. He later sneaks it into a meeting with local crime boss Sheridan, but it's discovered as he's reaching for it. Then it turns out this was just a distraction from the real plan to take out Sheridan. It also appears again in "A Return to Normalcy", when Jimmy uses it to pull a Sweeney Todd on the eldest of the D'Alessios. It appears again in "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", when Jimmy and Richard scalp Parkhurst, and finally in "Under God's Power She Flourishes", when Jimmy uses it to kill the Commodore.
- In "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", Nucky visits a National Guard armory and is told that they have three thousand surplus Thompson sub-machine guns stored in the basement. At the end of the episode Nucky is making deals with the IRA.
- Van Alden's murder of Agent Sebso in "Paris Green" wasn't a case of Karma Houdini after all: it turns out that Harlan, one of Nucky's employees, was a member of the congregation, witnessed the murder, and prompted by Nucky's impending trial and Van Alden's testimony, decides to divulge the murder to Nucky and Bill Fallon.
- The Commodore was apparently practicing with Chekhov's Spear; the pike he is seen using in "21" comes back with a vengeance in "Under God's Power She Flourishes", when he defends Gillian against Jimmy with it, stabbing him in the back of his shoulder. Jimmy gains control of it and uses his army knife to kill him.
- The insurance policies that Rothstein had the D'Alessio Brothers, and more importantly, Mickey Doyle, sign are also used in "Under God's Power She Flourishes". Luciano reminds Doyle that there is very little reason to keep Doyle alive, as dead, Luciano and Rothstein can split the half-million. Doyle begins to plot accordingly.
- In "Battle of the Century", there is a long, lingering shot of Manny Horvitz's meat cleaver collection, conveniently embedded in a chopping block near the door.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Several characters, but Mickey Doyle in particular.
- Click. "Hello.": Margaret, of all people, in "Gimcrack & Bunkum". With a shotgun.
- Closest Thing We Got: Not used in dialogue, but otherwise played straight when the feds burst through a dentist's door, in order to wake up and interrogate a dying, unconscious man.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Nearly every character seems to really fuckin' enjoy their blue language, but the fuckin' Commodore takes the fuckin' cake.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Chalky dishes out some Fingore on a KKK wizard, Van Alden is not above performing some Open-Heart Dentistry, and Manny Horvitz likes to hang traitors upside down in his meat locker.
- Cold Sniper: Jimmy's friend Richard Harrow. Made a Cold Sniper and a Shell-Shocked Veteran as well by his horrific experiences in The Great War.
Richard (discussing possible ways to locate and eliminate the d'Alessio brothers): I could kill their mother. The sisters. And the dentist [a civilian brother]. That would make them stick their heads up.
- Composite Character:
- In Season 1, we meet Nan Britton, most famous for her delusional relationship with US President Warren G Harding which probably existed only in her head. The show, however, portrays their affair as real, and at some point she reads a poem that Harding actually wrote for one of his mistresses, Carrie Phillips. Also like Phillips, the character is quietly moved out of town in order to avoid a scandal until the presidential election is over.
- Season 2 brings IRA big-shot John McGarrigle. While his name and eventual fate indicate a loose inspiration in Real Life Irish leader Seán McGarry, his introduction as a funding collector in the States and his mannerisms and strict Catholic doctrine remind more of Éamon de Valera, to whom actor Ted Rooney also happens to have some physical resemblance too.
- Confessional: Margaret uses them in "The Age of Reason" and "To the Lost".
- The Consigliere: Jimmy seeks the advice and counsel of the Commodore's old lawyer Leander Whitlock.
- Continuity Porn: "Under God's Power She Flourishes". It's as if the entire episode was written to brush aside the headscratchers collected since the first season.
- Cool Old Guy: Whitlock. Helps that he's played by Dominic "Uncle Junior" Chianese.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: It's lampshaded that it cost a lot of money to get the coroner to put down "natural causes" for the Commodore. Understandably, since he had two knife wounds in his chest.
- Corrupt Politician: The series is built on these.
- Country Matters: Margaret resorts to it after Lucy can't comprehend her analogy to a piano-playing rooster.
- Courtroom Episode: "To the Lost". Cut incredibly short by the metric ton of Courtroom Antics dropped at the very start of the trial - one witness having "committed suicide", one on the run for murder, and one suddenly married to the defendant.
- Cowboy Cop: Van Alden. However, this is not out of a sense of moral righteousness, but out of a personal vendetta against Thompson.
- Crazy Prepared:
- Rothstein has his employees take out life insurance policies with himself as the beneficiary, causing him to profit from their actions no matter what happens.
- There's also Rothstein's lawyer, who has a drawer full of baseballs signed by Ty Cobb, in case any clients show an interest.
- Creator Thumbprint: Producer Terrence Winter wrote and Steve Buscemi directed one of the most acclaimed episodes of The Sopranos, "Pine Barrens". You can definitely see this reflected in all of the scenes of intrigue that this series features in the same location. The very first episode seems particularly reflective of the influence, as it similarly features a criminal who against all odds, remains Not Quite Dead.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Eddie Kessler, Nucky's bumbling assistant is often treated as a Butt Monkey by Nucky and the other gangsters. When an assassin comes after Nucky, he tackles the assassin so he misses his shot, takes the assassin's gun away and then coldly shoots the guy in the back as he is trying to run away. These feats go into Eddie's head a bit, but Nucky doesn't really change his attitude towards him:
Eddie: You want me to frisk him down?
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!
- The Dead Have Names:
- Jimmy reads off the names of Atlantic County's WWI fallen at a memorial dedication ceremony in "Gimcrack & Bunkum".
- In Season 1, Jimmy is visibly pissed when people refer to Pearl as "the whore".
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Nucky has a clever quip for just about any situation.
- The new Federal prosecutor assigned to Nucky's case, Esther Randolph.
- Margaret also has her moments.
- Rothstein has them too, usually at the expense of one of his employees.
- Death by Disfigurement: Pearl shoots herself after getting her face cut.
- Death by Flashback: We suddenly get a lot of insight into Jimmy's backstory in the couple of episodes before his death.
- Death by Racism: In "Gimcrack & Bunkum", one of the Atlantic City bigwigs who insulted Jimmy and hit him with his cane also is shown bragging about his military experience which consisted of slaughtering Native Americans (about whom he makes racist comments). At the end of the episode, Jimmy has Richard scalp him.
- The Klansmen who shoot up Chalky's distillery and kill three of his people in the Season 2 premiere meet an ugly end in the season finale.
- Deceased Fall Guy Gambit: Done in the pilot, and numerous times afterward.
- Decoy Protagonist: Jimmy turns out to be this after two seasons as the show's co-lead along with Nucky.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Dunn Purnsley is given a severe beat-down for taunting Chalky in jail. Episodes later, he makes a surprising comeback as Chalky's right hand man.
- Description Cut:
Eddie Kessler: (to Margaret) Nucky is a very nice man.
- Dirty Cop:
- Everyone in the Atlantic City PD, apparently, including Sheriff Eli Thompson.
- Agent Sebso is a Dirty Prohibition Agent.
- Dirty Old Man: The Commodore, who is known to have a taste for underage girls. Just about every other older man in the show also qualifies.
- The Ditz:
- Nan Britton actually thinks that President-elect Harding will divorce his wife and bring her and their love child to the White House. Truth in Television, as the real Britton really was that obsessed with Harding and continued to believe that he loved her until her death in 1991.
- Deputy Halloran is rather thick.
- The Dog Bites Back:
- Deputy Halloran betrays Eli to the feds after Eli has him beaten. Ironically, Eli had him beaten because he incorrectly thought that Halloran had talked to the feds.
- Mickey Doyle attempts to work out a deal with Van Alden after getting pushed around once too many times by his criminal associates.
- After being raped by the Commodore at the age of thirteen, Gillian Darmody gets her revenge years later after the Commodore has a stroke. She beats him mercilessly and eventually goads Jimmy into killing him.
- Rose Van Alden is not pleased with her husband impregnating Lucy Danzinger and intending to pass off the child to Rose as abandoned. She slaps and bites him before storming out. Two episodes later, she serves him with divorce papers.
- Domestic Abuse:
- Margaret loses her baby due to a particularly brutal beating.
- It's strongly implied Eli beats his wife.
- Don't Explain the Joke:
- "Big Jim" Colosimo is never going to get it.
- Happens a few times with Al Capone as well.
Torrio: (discussing a meeting with George Remus) Romulus couldn't make it.
- Driven to Suicide:
- Drop-Dead Gorgeous: In the premiere episode, a gang of bootleggers put their distillery beneath a morgue to hide the smell. The only body we see is a fully nude young woman.
- Dumbass Has a Point: In "What Does the Bee Do?" Eli comments about Jimmy's weird relationship with his mother. This is the first time anyone in the series has noted it out loud (although Angela obviously notices it too).
- Dumb Muscle: Eli is widely seen as this for Nucky, something he despises. And then there is Deputy Halloran, who is Eli's Dumb Muscle... and seems totally OK with that.
- Equal Opportunity Evil: Nucky, in stark contrast to pretty much everyone else. He relies particularly on his control of the black population through an alliance with Chalky White.
- Et Tu, Brute?: Hilariously lampshaded in Season 2 finale "To the Lost".
- Even Evil Has Standards: Nucky clearly takes pity on Margaret Schroeder and is enraged enough by her husband's abuse that he has him killed, though he also uses the husband as a fall-guy in the process.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Commodore.
- Eye Scream:
- Richard Harrow lost an eye in the war, and is introduced with a startling closeup of the wound.
- Big Jim getting shot through the back of his head and out his eye, causing gore to splatter over the camera.
- Face Death with Dignity:
- Jimmy goes to his execution pretty calmly. He doesn't even take a gun with him.
- Facial Horror: Richard Harrow.
- Fake-Out Make-Out: Jimmy does this on the boardwalk with Angela when he spots Nucky walking with Waxey Gordon and Herman.
- Family Theme Naming: The D'Alessios are named after popes, and the names of all the Thompson men begin with an 'E'.
- Fan Disservice:
- Pearl, high on laudanum, comes downstairs in her lingerie to strut her stuff for the johns, while sporting a ghastly facial wound full of stitches.
- Despite there being no overtly nasty images, Van Alden and Lucy having sex will still likely just make you feel dirty.
- Gillian sharing that she used to kiss Jimmy's "little winky" while changing his diapers. Good luck finding her sexy after that. Made closer to Squickier in Hindsight as it's a major hint that she has actually had sex with her son...
- A naked, heavily pregnant, loudly sobbing Lucy in "A Dangerous Maid".
- Fan Service:
- Chock full of naked ladies. Pretty much every female character has shown at least her breasts at least once.
- And for the ladies, Lucky Luciano goes full frontal. Not to mention all the men in gorgeous period clothes and states of undress.
- Fanservice Extra: Many, many hookers.
- Faux Affably Evil:
- Chalky unrolls some intimidating carpenter's tools in front of the local Ku Klux Klan leader, and after some unspecified torture (which he kept going for ten minutes after getting the information he wanted) he leaves the man's finger and ring with the police.
- Owen Sleater's victim in "Peg of Old" attempts to stop a garrotte. It goes about as well as expected when his fingers get sliced off.
- Finish Him!: "Under God's Power She Flourishes".
Gillian: Finish it, goddamn you!
- Foregone Conclusion: The fate of the historical characters is pretty much sealed. Also becomes It Was His Sled.
- Fortune Teller: Gillian and Harding's wife are assiduous of them, and so far they have always been right.
- The Gambler: Arnold Rothstein is a consummate high-stakes gambler and approaches life like a game.
- The Gambling Addict: Margaret's husband.
- Going by the Matchbook: How Manny finds out his attempted hitman is from Atlantic City.
- Gold Digger: Margaret, arguably, although she's a fairly sympathetic variant. She gets along with Nucky well enough but doesn't really seem to love him all that much, and the Season 1 finale makes clear that she goes back to Nucky because he's rich.
- Lucy follows the trope pretty closely in Season 1. She's only with Nucky because he buys her pretty things and pays her for it, and throws fits when he takes up with Margaret.
- Annabelle, like Lucy, is another gold-digging serial mistress.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: The setting makes sure that everyone gets their share of this, but Margaret really ices the cake.
- Gorn: Many grisly murders throughout the run of the show.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Averted constantly. There are, however, a few straight uses scattered about.
- Grammar Nazi: Nucky.
- Guttural Growler: Richard Harrow, presumably as a result of injuries inflicted during the war (check the scar on his throat). Serves to emphasize his both dangerous and shy nature. Actor Jack Huston came up with the voice by stuffing his mouth with cotton balls, not unlike a certain famous Method actor did for a certain mobster movie.
- Handicapped Badass: Richard Harrow.
- Have a Gay Old Time: The result of using period music.
- "For weeks I have him worried / but now he's feeling gay"
- "I'm going to Cuba / where everything's gay"
- Hazy Feel Turn: Eli and Jimmy, conspiring with the Commodore to overthrow Nucky. But especially Eli, who flips back and forth between Jimmy and Nucky constantly in Season 2.
- Van Alden may be conspiring with Nucky in exchange for supporting Lucy and their daughter, and he turns his back on the feds after being exposed as Sebso's murderer.
- Heat Wave: The Season 2 finale, with the unspoken implication that A Storm Is Coming... sure enough, it ends with a Battle in the Rain.
- Hero Antagonist: Van Alden starts out as one, but his insane Knight Templar streak and growing moral corruption dump him from Hero status. In the second season, Assistant US Attorney Esther Randolph is a more straight example.
- He Who Fights Monsters: WWI turned Richard and Jimmy into this. Van Alden was sliding towards it before his daughter was born.
- Historical Domain Character: Loaded with them. In fact, almost every politician and many of the criminals the main characters interact with are Historical Domain Characters, as are other minor characters like Eddie Cantor and Theodore "Houdini's brother" Hardeen. However, most of the main characters are aversions. Nucky Thompson and the Commodore were loosely inspired by real people and the other main characters--Margaret, Van Alden, Eli, Jimmy--are entirely fictional.
- Historical In-Joke:
- Al Capone claims to have served in the famous "Lost Battalion" and says he got his facial scars in the war. Jimmy later calls him on it. In reality, Capone did not serve, but did indeed pass his scars off as war wounds.
- Arnold Rothstein's first establishing scene has him being accused of cheating in Nucky's casino and walking away due to his connections. It's ultimately left ambiguous as to whether he was really cheating. The real Rothstein's murder is largely believed to be retaliation for his ducking a gambling debt after he accused the other man of cheating.
- Capone also dismisses the Irish mafia as a threat - something that turns out to be a very, very bad idea later both in the show and in Real Life (considering his later conflict with Bugs Moran).
- Van Alden moves to Cicero at the end of Season 2, which historically savvy viewers will know will soon be the place where Al Capone first makes a name for himself.
- Blink and you'll miss it, but the poker chips on Rothstein's desk in "To the Lost" are from The Brook, his infamous high-stakes casino.
- Hitman with a Heart: Richard Harrow. Kind of, anyway. He dreams of love with a prostitute, makes a genuine connection with Margaret and her children, and keeps a scrapbook of happy families, but at other times is quite the sociopathic murderer.
- Hobos: A pair of wise, understanding ones and their tough dog makes Richard reconsider killing himself in the woods.
- Holier Than Thou: The fact that Agent Van Alden is very religious only serves to make him that much more menacing.
- Hollywood History: Mostly averted, but not completely.
- Much of the first season's plot is driven by the election of 1920 and Nucky's anxiety over the GOP's prospects. In reality, 1920 was a strongly Republican year both nationally and in New Jersey, and Atlantic City was a Republican one-party town both in 1920 and for decades thereafter.
- Al Capone's son is portrayed as completely deaf from birth, when he actually went partially deaf at age 7.
- The Klan was not as strong in New Jersey as is portrayed. Certainly there weren't lynchings in New Jersey.
- Hookers and Blow: Pearl introduces Jimmy to opium.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Pearl.
- Hot-Blooded: Lucky Luciano, in contrast to the unflappable Arnold Rothstein.
- Hot Dad: Jimmy.
- Hot Mom:
- Jimmy's mom, Gillian, is a showgirl who gave birth at fourteen. Lucky Luciano sleeps with her under the mistaken belief that she's Jimmy's wife.
- Margaret and Angela also qualify.
- How We Got Here: The pilot.
- The Hyena:
- Capone surely likes to laugh a lot.
- Michael "Mickey Doyle" Kozik's high-pitched giggle is hard to miss, especially since he is often the only one laughing.
- Ignored Epiphany: Nucky, lampshaded by Lucy: "They raised him to be a good Catholic boy. And sometimes he starts thinking he should change or he's going to go to hell. But all I have to do is this" *spreads her legs* "and he comes right back to me."
- I Have a Family: Invoked by Angela when facing a loaded gun. It starts to work until she offers money, which hardens her attacker back up.
- I Have Many Names: Salvatore "Sal" "Charlie" "Lucky" Luciano - born Lucania. Lampshaded by Jimmy in "Georgia Peaches".
- Margaret Catherine Sheillah Rohan Schroeder, alias "Peg".
- Impaled Palm: Nucky gets this in the second season after he blocks an assassin's bullet with his hand. This was the same hand that his abusive father had deliberately burnt him on as a child, injuring the other side of the hand at that time. When receiving treatment, Nucky acknowledges the symbolism, calling it "stigmata".
- Incoming Ham: Michael K. Williams as Chalky White in the pilot episode. He even gets special camera work for his one appearance and his one line.
Chalky: Tell Nucky I ain't got all day!
- Incredibly Lame Pun: "I'm a little short!" The little person rolls his eyes after being forced to deliver this line.
- Indirect Kiss: Gillian and Jimmy get a creepy one in "Gimcrack and Bunkum" in which she takes a cigarette out of her mouth and puts it in his. This is a gesture which would generally be in a romantic/sexual context and not between a parent and child, which is probably underscored by the fact that other characters have Smoking Hot Sex in the same episode
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Eli, in Season 1. He becomes pretty reprehensible in Season 2.
- I Never Got Any Letters: Angela's relation with Jimmy strains while he is in Chicago because Van Alden is intercepting their mail.
- Interrupted Suicide: Richard Harrow is about to shoot himself but is interrupted and does not go through with it.
- Irish Revolution: Being fought during the time frame of Seasons 1 and 2. IRA leader McGarrigle solicits financial support from Nucky, and Owen Sleater hunts down an IRA traitor in Atlantic City. The June 1921 ceasefire threatens an arms deal Nucky is trying to set up with the IRA.
- Iris Out: Last shot of the pilot, in a nod to early silent films.
- Ironic Nickname: As if Albert White wasn't ironic enough already, everyone calls him "Chalky".
- It Gets Easier: Jimmy's last words, talking to his own killer.
- It Works Better with Bullets: Nucky's rather ungrateful response to Margaret after she chases Eli off with an unloaded shotgun before he can throttle Nucky to death.
- I Will Fight No More Forever: Nucky tells Jimmy and the rest of the plotters this in "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", announcing that he's stepping down and out of the way. It seems less than sincere, as he starts plotting with Chalky White and the IRA afterwards.
- Jerkass: Nucky, Van Alden, the Commodore, Mickey Doyle, Lucky Luciano... it's Black and Gray Morality, what do you expect?
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nucky can be quite abrasive towards the people around him, but he gets a few Pet the Dog moments to show that he's not that bad of a guy.
- Jumping Out of a Cake: Lucy does this for Nucky at Nucky's birthday party.
- Kansas City Shuffle: Torrio, Capone, and Jimmy pull one in "Family Limitation". While Jimmy makes sure that Sheridan and his men find the combat knife he snuck past them, they replace the coat-check girl with one of their hookers. She slips them their guns, and they take out Sheridan and his men in one fell swoop, complete with an excellent Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner from Jimmy.
- Karma Houdini: Nucky, Eli, Manny and, just barely, Van Alden get this status to various degrees at the end of Season 2.
- Karmic Death: Hans Schroeder being beaten to death after abusing his kids and inflicting such extreme abuse on his wife that she miscarried.
- Kick the Dog:
- When Van Alden kidnaps and tortures a hospitalized man to get information he makes it quite clear that no, he isn't the good guy in this story either.
- Van Alden drowning Agent Sebso during a baptism in front of a church full of witnesses.
- Rothstein once forced a man to choke to death on a cue ball for his own amusement.
- Richard Harrow volunteering to murder an innocent family without blinking, then actually murdering a twelve-year-old boy without blinking.
- Manny's response to Jimmy ducking his debt, murdering Jimmy's wife and her lover.
- Eli unabashedly endorsing Nucky's assassination and later letting one of his deputies get beaten to a pulp by some thugs for talking to the prosecutor, even though the deputy didn't actually give them anything.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch:
- In "What Does the Bee Do?", it might seem cruel to brutally and continually slap an 80 year old man who's suffered a stroke. When the man is the Commodore and the attacker is Gillian Darmody, finally enacting revenge for his rape of her twenty-odd years previously, it's hard to find much fault.
- Nucky's beatdown of Eli in "Gimcrack & Bunkum".
- Jimmy throwing Mickey Doyle off the balcony of Babette's.
- Nucky arranging the brutal murder of Hans Schroeder. It was brutal but given that how despicable Schroeder was, its difficult to see his beat-down as anything other than Karma.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Jimmy - reassuring his assailant that It Gets Easier, for added awesome points.
- Killed Off for Real: After largely avoiding this despite being a show about violent gangsters, one main character is killed off in each of the last three episodes of Season 2.
- Knight Templar: Van Alden, who cares more about catching Nucky than about enforcing the law for good if we look at his treatment of the dying, bleeding witness.
- Lady Macbeth:
- Laser-Guided Karma:
- Liam, the Mook that slashed Pearl's face is shot in the face by a facially disfigured veteran.
- Hans Schroeder, who beats Margaret so badly she miscarries, being beaten to death himself also counts.
- Parkhurst in "Gimcrack & Bunkum". Disrespects Jimmy and bludgeons him with his cane, but is reverent of Native American artifacts. Gets scalped by Jimmy and Harrow.
- Lawful Stupid: Van Alden. He believes that by getting rid of Nucky, the only gangster boss in the series who actually has a decent side to him, that "This Sodom will be cleansed", Sodom being Atlantic City. However, in Season 2 he starts learning hard lessons about corruption and unenforceable laws.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Mrs. Van Alden wants desperately to get pregnant but can't. Meanwhile, Nelson knocks up Lucy with one unfortunate encounter.
- Let Me Tell You a Story: Occurs a lot.
- The journalists waiting for Nucky outside jail in "Ourselves Alone" Lampshade his tendency toward this.
- Libation for the Dead: In "To the Lost". This doubles as a Title Drop as well as Throw It In.
- Light Is Not Good: The scene in which Van Alden drowns Agent Sebso is filled with much light and Christian-based imagery. Van Alden's fundamentalist religious views and severe self-righteousness also play into the trope.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: As of the second season, sixteen actors are series regulars and a few dozen more make up the recurring characters. No HBO show since The Wire has had a cast this sprawling.
- Lonely at the Top: Nucky is without family other than a father and brother that hate him, and he doesn't even seem to have many friends. Margaret is the only person he has an emotional connection with.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: The Wild Mass Guessing wasn't so far off the mark - the Commodore is Jimmy's father.
- Male Frontal Nudity: Lucky Luciano, briefly.
- The Man Behind the Man: Nucky is this in-universe. His only official position is Treasurer of Atlantic County, New Jersey, but he controls not just the city but the entire New Jersey Republican Party.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Jimmy makes sure to get Richard Harrow laid as soon as possible.
- Meaningful Background Event: McGarrigle's murder.
- Meet Cute: In "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", while on the beach, Angela sees a woman arguing with a police officer who tells her to cover up because she's showing too much leg. As the conversation grows heated, Angela intervenes, and hits it off with the woman. Apparently Angela's gaydar was pretty good...
- Melee a Trois:
- Season 1 is Nucky vs. Rothstein vs. the U.S. Prohibition Agents.
- Season 2 is Nucky vs. Jimmy vs. the U.S. Attorney's office.
- Mexican Standoff: In "The Age of Reason", it's Luciano and Lansky against Jimmy, Richard, and Horovitz.
- The Mistress: Nan Britton is Warren Harding's.
- Margaret would be this if Nucky were married, but instead she's just a kept woman. That is, until he marries her in the Season 2 finale in order to prevent her from testifying against him at his trial.
- Lucy is Van Alden's.
- Modesty Bedsheet: Margaret wears a nightie for sex with Nucky in numerous episodes.
- Esther has the bedsheet version in "Battle of the Century" when she's talking to Clifford post-coital.
- Moe Greene Special: Considering Terence Winter's love of all things Godfather, it's unsurprising that this trope pops up a number of times. The preeminent example is probably Jim Colosimo's death in the pilot - shot through the eye so that the blood spatters the camera.
- The Mole:
- Agent Sebso.
- Herman was one for Waxey Gordon. Emphasis on was.
- Moral Guardians: The Woman's Temperance League.
- Morality Pet: Margaret is debatably one for Nucky, depending upon how moral you think she is.
- Al Capone has his deaf son.
- Jimmy has Richard Harrow, a disfigured and awkward veteran, who Jimmy got laid and introduced into gang life.
- More Gun: The Klansmen use a truck-mounted heavy machine gun to shoot up Chalky's warehouse.
- Mother F-Bomb:
Nucky (puzzled): What's "motherfucker" mean...?
- Mr. Fanservice: Jimmy Darmody, Lucky Luciano, Richard Harrow, Owen Sleater, Meyer Lansky, and for those who like slightly older guys, Chalky White.
- Ms. Fanservice: Lucy seems to have difficulty keeping clothes on. Then there's Gillian Darmody and her topless revue.
- Mugging the Monster: Happens with both Chalky and Jimmy (literally mugged, in the case of the latter) in "Ourselves Alone", although the former might be closer to Bullying a Dragon.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: Pretty much all of the gangsters who Jimmy associates with in the second season endorse this, and it borders on a life philosophy for Al Capone and Manny Horvitz. Well showcased when they all recommend killing Nucky, whereas Jimmy wants him imprisoned (and Richard categorically refuses to kill him).
- My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Jimmy has a Flash Back to the war when he's shot.
- National Stereotypes: In universe, Nucky takes advantage of Hans Schroeder's German origins to use him as a fall guy for the massacre in the woods. Use of slurs about any ethnic group and their mother is rampant.
- Never Learned to Read: Chalky, who was born a poor, black working man, in contrast to his classically educated family. Dunn Purnsley is also illiterate. He insinuates that Chalky can't read, but can't actually prove it by pointing out that Chalky gives the wrong title for the book he's "reading".
- Nice Hat: Both Jimmy and Capone ditch their working-class caps for fedoras as a metaphor for their maturation as gangsters.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
- Jimmy dishes one out to a photographer after misunderstanding his son and thinking that the photographer was having an affair with Angela. In reality, Angela was with the photographer's wife, although the photographer did suggest a threesome.
- Dunn Purnsley gets one after picking a fight with Chalky in a cell full of guys who owe him a favor.
- Gillian dishes one out on the Commodore after his stroke.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: McGarrigle, the Sinn Féin big shot in "Ourselves Alone" is a transparent Expy of Éamon de Valera. However, he's somewhat older at this point in history than his historical counterpart was, and diverges from him in "The Battle of the Century" where the real de Valera is mentioned and McGarrigle is murdered by his colleagues for seeking to make peace with Britain.
- Not Now, Kiddo: Nucky's servant Harlan overheard him talking to his lawyer about Van Alden, and Nucky snaps at him for eavesdropping. When he starts to say he's worked for Nucky for years, Nucky cuts him off with a thank you for not joining the strike. When he mentions his church, Nucky curtly thanks him for his prayers. Just as he's leaving the room, Fallon asks him what he wanted to say, and he finally gets a chance to reveal that he and his entire congregation witnessed Van Alden drown his partner.
- Not Quite Dead: Hey, remember those drivers Jimmy and Capone massacred at the end of the pilot? Turns out one of 'em ain't dead yet.
- Obfuscating Stupidity:
- Agent Sebso seems extremely incompetent, but he is actually The Mole. He uses the fact that people think he is an idiot to get away with murder.
- Mickey Doyle is not as stupid as the others think. When his Italian partners are laughing and talking about him behind his back, he knows that it is time to switch sides and set them up to be killed.
- After Nucky is arrested, Margaret goes to his office pretending to be a poor, pregnant woman who needs Mr Thompson's help and is utterly confused by the fact that he is not there. The state policemen searching his office are completely fooled by this and take pity on her. She uses the opportunity to retrieve incriminating evidence.
- Odd Friendship: Hotheaded and loud-mouthed Lucky Luciano with impeccably-polite businessman Meyer Lansky. Truth in Television.
- Oedipus Complex: Jimmy and Gillian's relationship is shown to be increasingly Oedipal as the show goes on until "Under God's Power She Flourishes", when it's revealed that they already had sex years ago. In the same episode, Jimmy takes it to its logical conclusion by killing his father, the Commodore.
- Oireland: Discussed in-universe. Eli and Nucky are Irish-Americans who idealize their homeland and buy into Oirish stereotypes, and have been called on it by actual Irish people.
- Ominous Pipe Organ: The classic Tocatta plays after Richard Harrow does his first assassination. A definite Visual Pun given Harrow's resemblance to The Phantom of the Opera.
- Ominous Walk:
- The show seems to like giving them to Richard and Jimmy, who both have notable ones in "A Return to Normalcy" and "To the Lost".
- Nucky has one in "The Emerald City" and another in "Ourselves Alone".
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In "Two Boats and a Lifeguard", Nucky takes Owen aside to demand to know what Owen was doing during a time he was supposed to be on duty and when Owen gives the excuse he was visiting an old friend, Nucky pointedly asks if that friend was from Ireland. Owen has an Oh Crap reaction, as while he did visit with (and kill) an acquaintance from Ireland that day, he also had sex with Margaret later and thinks Nucky knows about it. Luckily for Owen, Nucky was referring to the assassination and Owen gives a sigh of relief when Nucky brings up approaching the IRA for a business deal.
- Only Sane Man: Nucky, at times. Meyer Lansky, at others.
- Open-Heart Dentistry: Although in this case, Van Alden only needs the dentist's cocaine to keep his witness alive long enough to give him a name.
- Parental Incest: Jimmy and Gillian, with Gillian initiating. Alcohol was involved, but there were hints of attraction on both sides even before the reveal...
- Passed Over Inheritance: The Commodore never changed his will after finding out his faithful maid had been poisoning him. Jimmy tears up the will, after checking that it all goes to him/his son if the will isn't found.
- Pay Evil Unto Evil: Chalky and his father's carpentry tools are set loose on a Ku Klux Klan leader to see if the Klan was involved in his friend's lynching. Eventually Chalky is satisfied that they weren't... and keeps going for another ten minutes.
- When the Klan attack Chalky's business in "21" and an entire season goes by with Nucky refusing to allow Chalky vengeance, Jimmy and Richard deliver the three Klansmen to Chalky in "To the Lost".
- Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: In "Peg of Old", Jimmy most likely would not have ordered Nucky's death if Al, Eli, Lansky, Luciano, and Gillian hadn't been pressuring him to do so. Overlaps with The Chains of Commanding, as he discusses with Gillian how he had to be seen to be decisive.
- Perfect Poison: Averted. Jimmy eats a cookie poisoned with arsenic and it causes him to vomit. The Commodore is being poisoned with the arsenic for much longer, but it also just makes him really sick. The poison is discovered before it has a chance to kill him.
- Pet the Dog:
- Nucky with Margaret, especially when he visits her at the hospital at the end of the pilot.
- Van Alden buys Lucy a record player after she becomes suicidally depressed due to months of isolation (at his insistence) while she's pregnant. It's actually an equally humanizing moment for both of them.
- Al has a soft spot for kids, both his own son and Jimmy's son Tommy.
- Phony Veteran: Al Capone, although he stops making such claims after Jimmy calls him on it.
- Police Are Useless: Unless you are the Villain Protagonist, then they're excellent tools. The Prohibition Agents are just as prone to corruption, many are incompetent and they are prevented from pursuing non-alcohol related crimes.
- Politically-Correct History: Averts it just as much as Mad Men. Casual domestic abuse, racial slurs, midget boxing, and a band in blackface feature just in the pilot. A black man shooting a white one in self defense still faces a lynching no matter how well connected he might be.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Pretty much everyone (with the exception of Nucky), especially the Commodore and Senator Edge.
- Ponzi: An excellent Historical In-Joke--one of Nucky's friends in the first season is a client/victim of the Trope Namer, the infamous Charles Ponzi, seller of "international reply coupons".
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Chalky ain't building no damn bookcase.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: When Jimmy and Al Capone assassinate Charlie Sheridan and his men.
Jimmy: I think you'd agree that Greek Town belongs to us now.
- Also, from "Paris Green".
Lucien: (While Jimmy is loading his gun.) Oh, oh fuckin' tough guy. Are you gonna shoot me for mouthin' off?
- Owen's got one in "Peg of Old":
"Lead me on a merry chase these five months, you traitorous fuck!"
- Richard and Jimmy get a tandem one before Richard blows Neary's brains out:
Jimmy: It's not a confession.
- Nucky, of all people, before finishing off Jimmy.
"I am not seeking forgiveness."
- Precision F-Strike:
- Margaret goes from zero to Country Matters when she's finally had enough of Lucy.
- She also drops an F-bomb to Nucky when she's finally had enough of his patronization.
- Richard, who rarely swears, says "I don't fuckin' believe this!" when it's revealed they've caught Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano (and by proxy, Arnold Rothstein) working with Nucky.
- Preemptive Declaration: In "Belle Femme", Agent Sebso tells a mook that he had to shoot the mook because he tried to commandeer Sebso's gun. As the mook is trying to puzzle this out, Sebso shoots him.
- Pretty Little Headshots: Averted big time.
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Gretchen Mol (Gillian) and Jack Huston (Richard Harrow) for Season 2. Mol also gets the "with" credit.
- Psycho for Hire: The D'Alessio Brothers seem to enjoy killing a little too much.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Al Capone, before getting called on it.
- Punny Name: Albert "Chalky" White, the black mobster, has three names meaning "white".
- Put on a Bus: Lucy blows town in Season 2 after popping out Van Alden's baby.
- Quizzical Tilt: Harrow will do this in reaction to violence, showing his detachment. He does it as he regards a crying, panicky twelve-year-old boy, right before shooting him as well as when Al callously suggests that he kill Nucky.
- Raised Catholic: Margaret Schroeder. Nucky and Eli too, actually, but far more prominently with Margaret, who starts feeling guilty about living the good life as Nucky's kept woman and has a Catholic relapse in Season 2.
- Rant-Inducing Slight: In "A Dangerous Maid", Nucky is shown as largely successful at containing his rage at the Commodore for betraying him (as well as encouraging others to to do so). He is even able to keep his temper when he sees the Commodore at the same restaurant he had chosen, eating with Nucky's former cronies. However, when the Commodore orders a dish Margaret had wanted, and the restaurant was consequently out of it, Nucky lets the Commodore have it (and throws his dinner on the floor).
- Reality Ensues: No matter how Badass and well connected Chalky White is, in the 1920s a black man killing a white Klansman will cause a shitstorm of trouble. No one cares that it might have been self defense or that the Klansman just murdered four black men.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: This may be an explanation for the appearance of Harrow's facial prosthetic. They looked much more true to the wearer's face in reality than what's seen on the show.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni:
- Al Capone's hotheadedness compared with Jimmy's rationale.
- Luciano and Rothstein, as well as Luciano and Lansky. Luciano's always the Red.
- Richard is the Blue to Jimmy's Red.
- Refuge in Audacity: Al executing the last of the D'Alessio brothers, stepping over the corpse, picking up an apple from the dropped bag of groceries, and biting into it.
- Returning War Vet: Jimmy and Richard.
- Revealing Hug: In the first-season finale, Jimmy makes a tearful plea to Angela to rebuild their relationship. She agrees, but her empty stare when they hug reveals mixed emotions. Later in the episode she confirms it by getting an Important Haircut referencing her departed lover.
- The Roaring Twenties
- Rousing Speech: Jimmy pulls one out of nowhere in "Gimcrack & Bunkum" during a Memorial Day ceremony.
'"'Mr. Thompson just said some impressive things about me, but they're not true. I'm no one's idea of a hero, least of all mine. When people ask me what I did over there, what I tell them is 'I made it back'. We fought for the idea that democracy was worth saving. We fought for our mothers, for our sons, for our wives. We fought for America, and I believe it was worth it. (pauses for applause, then holds up the list of names) These are all brave men."
- Rule of Three: Three main characters, Angela, the Commodore, and Jimmy die at the end of Season 2 in just as many episodes in a row.
- Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The crooks from out of town are all more ruthless than the local Atlantic City hoods. Arnold Rothstein is the most dangerous.
- Scary Black Man: Chalky and Purnsley both know how to play it.
- Scenery Porn: The incredible recreation of the Atlantic City boardwalk.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Nucky, Rothstein, and Lansky are prone to it.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jimmy is not the same guy since he volunteered to serve in The Great War. Richard Harrow is even more messed up.
- In Season 1, Jimmy takes his family to watch a Fatty Arbuckle movie and Lucy goes alone to see John Barrymore in the 1920 edition of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. Later, Eli and his buddies watch a vintage porno.
- The Season 1 finale does two in the same scene; the deaths of the remaining D'Alessio brothers resembles the deaths of the rival dons at the end of The Godfather in how they're shown during the midst of the main character doing something seemingly benign (Nucky is giving a speech on crime, Michael at the christening). Furthermore, one of the D'Alessio's deaths (the one killed by Al Capone) is very reminiscent of the death of Steve Buscemi's character in The Sopranos.
- In the second episode, the Commodore humiliates his servant, by asking her opinion about politics and finance, just to prove his point: women shouldn't be allowed to vote. There is a very similar scene in The Remains of the Day.
- Margaret's family watches The Kid early in Season 2.
- Margaret reads The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to the children, and Richard Harrow compares himself to the Tin Woodsman.
- Molly Parker, who starred as Alma Garrett in HBO's drama Deadwood, is shown in a framed photograph as Nucky's deceased wife.
- Shown Their Work: The producers spent millions painstakingly recreating 1920 Atlantic City in modern-day Brooklyn. As with HBO's earlier series Carnivale, the writers have put much time and effort into creating an entire world in the show and doing the proper research into real life figures.
- Eli has a book on public speaking by "Dale Carnagey", who not long after changed his name's spelling and is now remembered as Dale Carnegie.
- Michael Stuhlbarg researched Arnold Rothstein so thoroughly that writers often asked him how Rothstein would handle a situation.
- The conversation between Nucky and Harry Daugherty about how Warren Harding would take the nomination at the 1920 Republican convention is almost exactly what the real Daugherty actually said at the time.
- The play Eddie Cantor gives to Lucy to read, which gives its title to the episode "A Dangerous Maid", was the first play by George and Ira Gershwin.
- Shut UP, Hannibal: Margaret's response to Lucy's attempts at a Hannibal Lecture.
- Shut Up, Kirk: Nucky to Margaret in "Paris Green". He points out Margaret never said "no" when he was helping her and reveals his knowledge about trying anti-conception. He also refuses to feel guilty about the death of Hans Schroder, who was beating her, the children, made her miscarry and did all of that with a smile.
- Sibling Rivalry: Eli is jealous of Nucky, his Aloof Big Brother, and wishes people would bow to him the same way they do to Nucky. To Eli's exasperation, most just ignore or outright mock him.
- Siblings in Crime: Nucky and Eli, the D'Alessio Brothers gang.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Nucky is single and a womanizer (at least initially), Equal Opportunity Evil, and is pretty much a Non-Action Guy relying on intellect and charm; Eli is married with a large family, is a Politically-Incorrect Villain, and relies more on brute force than smarts.
- Sickbed Slaying: Nucky arranges for the hospitalized gangster who survived the first episode's massacre to be silenced, but this is prevented by federal agents, although the gangster still ends up dying.
- Signed Up for the Dental: Nucky thinks that Jimmy joined the Army because he "couldn't hack it at Princeton." As "Under God's Power She Flourishes" reveals that while he actually was kicked out of Princeton, he was also running away from his mother, whom he had recently slept with.
- Single Mom Stripper: Gillian.
- Sir Swearsalot: Many, but in particular the Commodore and Chalky, to the extent where Chalky can be jarring, considering the actor previously played Omar Little, who made it a point not to swear.
- Slashed Throat: A lot. It seems to be Jimmy's calling card.
- Sleazy Politician: All of them.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Like Gangs of New York, 1920 Atlantic City is surprisingly clean. Along with generous helpings of Living in a Furniture Store and Gorgeous Period Dress, the show is dripping with elegant Roaring Twentiesness.
- Smug Snake:
- Mickey Doyle, a smirking schemer prone to giggling.
- Thorogood Junior likes to bring up his powerful father and is rather too pleased with himself, despite the fact that his part in Nucky's plan involves his convincingly seeming like a total incompetent (which doesn't really require any acting from him).
- The Sociopath: Most of the gangsters, frankly.
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- Almost all the final act of the pilot, first with a comedic number by Eddie Cantor taking place while a gang of bootleggers attack the members of a rival gang, and later with an opera playing as Jim Colosimo is shot in the head and a pair of corrupt cops beat Margaret's husband to death.
- Cheery music interupts Lucy's screaming as she gives birth.
- Considering that the show's theme music is "Straight Up and Down" by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the soundtrack is (historically) pretty damn dissonant from the get-go...
- Spiritual Successor: To other HBO period dramas such as Deadwood and Carnivale, with its lavish production values, use of foul language, and nudity; and other mob themed shows, most notably The Sopranos.
- Spousal Privilege: One of the many Courtroom Antics Nucky plays to get his case dismissed.
- Stalker with a Crush: Agent Van Alden to Margaret Schroeder. He steals her hair ribbon for some late-night ribbon sniffing and requisitions her immigration file to peruse in his free time. Even after his boss calls him out on his seeming obsession with the Schroeders, Van Alden still stops by Margaret's house and uses the opportunity to get details about her from her neighbor. Let's not forget about the time he whipped himself while staring at a picture of her in which she was only 16 years old.
- Stating the Simple Solution: Eli, of all people, suggests that killing is how the new coalition of gangsters deals with Nucky.
- Stepford Smiler: Jimmy's mother has acted cheerful and nice to the Commodore and even tried to bring him together with his son, but after he has a stroke she drops the act and tells him how much she loathes him for raping her as a child.
- The Stoic:
- The unflappable Arnold Rothstein, who tends to smile when he's annoyed.
- Van Alden, until you hit his Berserk Buttons of duty, religion, or imply he isn't doing his job.
- Harrow has aspects of this.
- Meyer Lansky as well (who also picked up the smiling habit from his boss), in contrast to Luciano's hotheaded ways.
- Straight Edge Evil: Rothstein doesn't drink or womanize and uses some of the least profane language in the series. Van Alden could probably also be seen as this/Family Values Villain with a dose of religious fanaticism and hypocrisy.
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Angela Darmody.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Rothstein's reaction after the D'Alessio brothers fail to kill Nucky.
- Sympathetic Criminal/Sympathetic Murderer: Liking pretty much any of these characters (and the audience does) is a side effect of Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster! and the sliding scale of Black and Grey Morality.
- Tarot Motifs: Gillian gets a reading in Episode 3, including the High Priestess (a woman with significant power), the Moon (mystery and danger), and the Knight of Swords (a hot-tempered man). The tarot deck used as the prop, however, was first published in 1985.
- A Taste of the Lash: Self-inflicted by the pious agent Van Alden: the most obvious reason are his <a-hem> impure thoughts caused by a 16-old Margaret's photo. He keeps staring at the photo while he flogs himself, though.
- The Teetotaler:
- Margaret is one when the series starts but begins to drink as she is corrupted by "the good life".
- The Temperance League, of course, is a legion of teetotalers.
- As was true historically, Arnold Rothstein is one, drinking tea or milk when others imbibe, allowing him to be sharp when engaged in gambling or other activities.
- As expected, given his values and dedication to his job, Van Alden starts out as one, but "gives into temptation" in this and other aspects toward the end of the first season.
- Thicker Than Water: The Commodore uses this to tempt Jimmy into betraying Nucky. Averted by Eli, who joins the Commodore against his own brother.
- Jimmy finds this axiom out the hard way when Eli and Nucky put their differences aside long enough to kill him.
- Third Person Person: George Remus.
- Throwing the Fight: Rothstein is worried that he'll be exposed as the fixer behind the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
- Too Dumb to Live: One of the D’Alessio brothers taunts the mobsters that have them tied up. Lansky winces, expecting the inevitable result, and does not make the same mistake.
- Twisted Echo Cut: In "21", Nucky is delivering an impassioned speech to a black church congregation promising to protect them from Klansmen--then, after a cleverly disguised cut, Nucky is shown in a near-identical setting telling a racist white church congregation that the "coloreds" will be taught a lesson.
- Two-Faced: Richard Harrow. And Agent Clarkson, because of the explosion of Mickey Doyle's bootlegging warehouse, courtesy of Owen.
- The Unfavorite: Both Thompson brothers believe themselves to be. "Home" reveals that their father is quite disapproving of the successful but Lonely at the Top Nucky, seeming to prefer his younger and more traditional family-man son, Eli. Later however, Eli learns that their father believes that he's incompetent and needs Nucky to look after him.
- Villain Ball: Played with in "21". The KKK member who has Chalky at gunpoint talks and gives someone else time to shoot him. Chalky watches the klansmen fleeing, then just before they get into cover aims and shoots one in the neck.
- Villain Protagonist: Nucky and Jimmy.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot:
- Eli violently expelling his stomach contents after a St. Patrick's Day dinner.
- The Commodore, after drinking medication and being unable to eat breakfast.
- Jimmy after eating a poisoned cookie.
- Vorpal Pillow: Averted. Eli attempts to murder a semiconscious, hospitalized witness with a pillow, but it takes forever, it wakes up a patient in an adjoining bed (separated by a curtain), and he eventually has to quit with the witness still alive when Van Alden comes in.
- Vote Early, Vote Often: We don't see this in Season 1, even as Nucky gets more and more anxious over the local 1920 elections, but in Season 2, Nucky is charged with election fraud. In jail, he and Chalky discuss how they spent election night giving out money to anyone who would vote for their candidates.
- We Can Rule Together: Lansky talks his way out of a hail of bullets by proposing this to Jimmy, Harrow, and Horowitz; he and Luciano, along with them, will team up against both Nucky and Rothstein, and take over.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Prohibition agents- one even says specifically that he doesn't care about all the graft and corruption Nucky is responsible for; just that he gets nailed for trafficking liquor.
- Wham! Episode: The last three episodes of Season 2.
- In "Georgia Peaches", having survived an assassination attempt that Jimmy encouraged to avoid paying him back, Manny goes to Jimmy's house to take care of Jimmy, only to find Angela and her lover present and ends up murdering both of them.
- In "Under God's Power She Flourishes", we find out in a flashback that Jimmy slept with his mother and that's why he enlisted in the army. In the present storyline, Jimmy murders the Commodore (Oedipus Complex much?). Also Van Alden's murder of Agent Sesbo is discovered and he goes on the run.
- The season finale "To the Lost" tops it all off when Jimmy tries to make amends with Nucky and when that fails, goes on a suicide run, Nucky allies himself with Manny Horvitz and kills Jimmy and Margaret marries Nucky, then signs over the deeds of land to the church.
- When Elders Attack:
- Jackson Parkhurst, the handicapped racist investor who whacks Jimmy across the skull with his cane, bloodying him up for apparent disrespect.
- Even at his advanced age and suffering from partial paralysis, the Commodore manages to skewer Jimmy with a spear.
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: A grateful Margaret announces her intention to name her unborn child Enoch, to which Nucky replies that he can't think of something more cruel.
- Who's on First?: The scene in the pilot where all the major gangsters are arriving at the hotel. Sebso doesn't know who anyone is and mistakes "Nucky" for "Lucky", Rothstein for Colosimo ("does that man look big to you?") and doesn't know what a concierge is.
- World War I: Barely fifteen months in the past when the show starts, and frequently referenced. Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow are veterans with PTSD, Al Capone lies about being in the Lost Battalion, and Nucky reminds his German valet of how Nucky stood up for him during the recent wave of anti-German sentiment.
- In "To the Lost", we get a brief flashback of Jimmy in a trench in France, going over the top.
- Worthy Opponent: Richard seems to regard Owen Sleater as this in "A Dangerous Maid".
Owen: Why did you not shoot me?
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Due to the location and time period, there are many Jewish characters who speak Yiddish as either a secondary or primary language. Some of Rothstein's gangsters, Agent Sebso and Manny Horvitz are all examples. Lucky Luciano also reveals that he can speak Yiddish, apparently from doing business with Jews like Rothstein and Lanksy.
- You Have 48 Hours: Nucky delivers this ultimatum to Jimmy in "The Ivory Tower".
- Young Future Famous People:
- In the pilot, Nucky meets the crime dons of Atlantic City, New York and Chicago at a restaurant while Jimmy waits outside with one of Jim Colosimo's thugs. After a rather long conversation, the thug identifies himself as Al Capone.
- Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky start out the show as young upstarts still in the service of Arnold Rothstein.
- Meyer Lansky's yelping assistant who irritates Jimmy in "Ourselves Alone" is Bugsy Siegel.
- Your Head Asplode:
- An unfortunate rum-runner who takes a shotgun to the face in the pilot.
- To a lesser extent, Sheridan, who had one of his Mooks cut up Jimmy's squeeze at the time as a warning regarding Torrio's move into Greek Town. Jimmy's response? Blasting Sheridan's brains all over the wall in his hotel's lobby.
- You Shall Not Pass: Dunn Purnsley bellows for the striking restaurant workers to "hold the line!" against strikebreakers. It's a valiant effort, but the strikebreakers have bats.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Lucien to Jimmy. His response: "I wasn't going to, but you kinda talked me into it."