In less than 20 episodes, “Boardwalk Empire” bureaucrat Nelson Van Alden, played by Oscar nominee and current “Take Shelter” star Michael Shannon, has plummeted from righteous faith into the hedonism of drinking and prostitution. Atlantic City has taken him and turned him, and as of this Sunday’s episode, “Age of Reason,” he’s all but abandoned his manhunt for Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). After all, Agent Van Alden is about to be a daddy—with Thompson’s former mistress, and now his, Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta).
Shannon, on the phone straight from dropping his daughter off at school, acknowledges that Van Alden’s chickens are about to roost far as those indiscretions are concerned. He also confirms that a combination of storytelling pragmatism (how many factions can Nucky evade at once?) and his character’s utter reconciliation have all but assured he’s abandoned his quest to thwart Thompson’s bootlegging ring.
“It’s a crowded intersection [around Nucky] for sure,” says Shannon. “But I think Van Alden really just gave up. I mean, Van Alden really tried in Season 1. He knew what happened and he knew who was guilty and he knew what should be done and he couldn’t do it. He simply couldn’t do it…. And he descended into this really dark place where he started drinking and knocked up Lucy. So for me this season is about Van Alden really trying to accept what he’s done and redeem himself.”
Ultimately, Shannon explains, the person whom Van Alden needs vindication from isn’t Nucky Thompson, but his wife Rose. “I think honestly, right now, Van Alden can kind of really give a flying rat’s butt about alcohol,” he says. “I think he’s a lot more concerned about this baby he’s about to have…. Because I believe that Van Alden really loves Rose. I think that’s why the first episode [of Season 2] was Rose coming to visit him in Atlantic City, because I think in an ideal world for Van Alden he would be able to get back to Rose and to just go back to the life he had before all this started in the first place…. I think he’s very frightened for himself and his soul. He knows that he’s sinned a great deal and that he’s probably not in God’s good graces anymore. So he would like to rectify that somehow.”
Catch Up On Last Week’s Episode Of “Boardwalk Empire”: