Steve Buscemi turns in another compelling performance as the shrewd Atlantic City gangster Nucky Thompson in the second season of HBO’s Prohibition-era gangster drama. The Blu-ray presentation is also impressive, though the presentation of the special features takes a noticeable step back compared to the previous release. Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Release Date: August 28, 2012 Studio: HBO Home Entertainment Packaging/Materials: Five-disc DigiPack with slipcase Year: 2011 Rating: TV-MA Running Time: Approximately 12 hours MSRP: $79.98 THE EPISODES SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 1.78:1 Standard and high definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / DTS: French 5.1, Spanish 2.0, Castellano 5.1 Various Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish, Castellano, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish Various The Episodes: 4.5/5 In the second season of HBO’s Prohibition-era gangster drama, Atlantic City Treasurer and crime boss “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) will learn how lonely it is at the top. His former friends and allies, tired of being relegated to the sidelines, will conspire against him for control over the city and the money making bootlegging business. Leading the charge is his old mentor the Commodore (Dabney Coleman), who has managed to persuade Nucky’s own brother Eli (Shea Wigham) and Nucky’s former protegé Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) to join him. When the coalition makes its move, bringing in the authorities to investigate Nucky for elections fraud, the few people still on his side include his unassuming female companion Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald) and the black community’s underworld leader Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams). Though Nucky will wind up calling on resources both foreign and domestic to fight his new enemies, it’s the most underestimated individuals who will prove critical in Nucky regaining his Atlantic City throne. Meanwhile, the once intrepid Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) has lost his way. Having impregnated Nucky’s ex-lover Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta) in a drunken, one night stand, much of the energy he spent cracking down on bootleggers has been diverted to keeping Lucy and his forthcoming child a secret. What he plans to do after Lucy gives birth is unclear, but his own web of lies, going as far back as his initial work as a Prohibition agent, will eventually catch up with him, giving Nucky one more point of leverage out of his troubles. Boasting uniformly great performances, “Empire’s” second season continues to be as engrossing as its first, though at first viewers may be fuzzy on how Nucky managed to piss off so many people so quickly. By the fourth episode those exact details won’t matter much as Buscemi delivers another riveting performance, earning sympathy as a man betrayed by those he once trusted, but also reminding us of the ruthlessness that led to such animosity. Pitt also proves compelling as Nucky’s estranged friend/brother/son, driven to surpass his former mentor and guardian, but seldom without signs of regret. The complexity of their relationship will ultimately be the most intriguing aspect of the season, sustaining interest when the predictable kill-or-be-killed gangster dynamics begin to wear thin. That Buscemi features so prominently in the coming season’s advertising is no surprise; though the series is rife with compelling characters – from Gretchen Mol’s scheming Gillian Darmody to Jack Huston’s haunted Richard Harrow – the ever-intriguing Nucky Thompson has clearly established his place in the pantheon of fictionalized gangster figures. "Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season" on Blu-ray includes all 12 episodes that aired on HBO between September and December 2011. 21 (53:53) Ourselves Alone (58:09) A Dangerous Maid (55:44) What Does the Bee Do? (57:26) Gimcrack and Bunkum (50:00) The Age of Reason (58:20) Peg of Old (58:16) Two Boats and a Lifeguard (59:35) Battle of the Century (48:54) Georgia Peaches (58:33) Under God’s Power She Flourishes (58:38) To the Lost (57:07) ”Boardwalk Empire” begins its third season on HBO on September 16, 2012. Video Quality: 4.5/5 The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer features strong contrast and deep color, with a palette that tends toward the earthy and desaturated, with some rich spots of color. Black levels are uniformly inky, an improvement from the first season. Detail and sharpness are also excellent, looking especially impressive in close-ups. Ringing along high contrast edges shows up on occasion, but is brief and infrequent enough to not be a distraction. Audio Quality: 4/5 Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear, detailed and intelligible. Surround activity tends to be on the more subtle side, providing nicely balanced environmental effects for scenes on the boardwalk and other public areas, as well as support for the score and music cues. LFE is infrequent given the nature of the show, but the consistent use of period music and spots of intense action exhibit very good depth and fullness. Special Features: 4/5 The extras take a step back from the first season release, but not in terms of depth but execution. The last season set had a spectacular enhanced picture-in-picture feature for every episode, aggregating interviews, behind-the-scenes material, character biographies and historical information into an accessible interface. The same kind of information is available in this latest release, but without the enhanced viewing interface (although there is a similar feature solely for Episode 11). As a result, the presentation is much more conventional in nature, even though the material is just as in-depth. Recaps and Previews: Episodes include the "previously on" and "next on" video pieces that originally aired with them. Character Dossier: Available on all 12 episodes, textual biographies for the panoply of characters can be accessed through a menu overlay. Audio Commentaries Episode 1 - 21: Commentary by Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter, Director/Writer/Executive Producer Tim Van Patten, and Michael K. Williams (Chalky White) Episode 5 - Gimcrack and Bunkum: Commentary by Co-Executive Producer Howard Korder and Jack Huston (Richard Harrow) Episode 7 - Peg of Old: Commentary by Co-Executive Producer Howard Korder, Co-Producer/Writer Steve Kornacki, Director Allen Coulter, and Charlie Cox (Owen Sleater) Episode 8 - Two Boats and a Lifeguard: Commentary by Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter and Director/Writer/Executive Producer Tim Van Patten, and Steve Buscemi (Nucky Thompson) Episode 11 - Under God’s Power She Flourishes: Commentary by Co-Executive Producer Howard Korder, Director Allen Coulter, and Gretchen Mol (Gillian Darmody) Episode 12 - To the Lost: Commentary by Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter and Director/Writer/Executive Producer Tim Van Patten Back to the Boardwalk (14:32, HD): Creator and Executive Producer Terence Winter provides a nearly breathless recap of the first season. Secrets of the Past: Storytelling in Episode 11 (59:53, HD): The picture-in-picture enhanced viewing mode features writers, cast and crew discussing details of the production, character motivations and the plot of the penultimate episode. Given the interview format with the participants, there’s a tendency toward scene description, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile track given the content. Living in 1921: The combination of textual information and 24 video featurettes covers the topics of history, people, culture, trends and arts of the period. The depth of material is impressive, though incorporating it alongside the season’s episodes would have given it that extra appeal. New Characters (3:35, HD): The actors playing Owen Slater (Charlie Cox) and Manny Horvitz (Wiliam Forsythe) talk about their respective roles. Updates to the Boardwalk (3:14, HD): A look at the changes and additions to the detailed and expansive sets. The Money Decade (24:33, HD): Historians and writers discuss the defining characteristics of the 1920s, from fashion to politics. Season Two Promo Spot (1:37, HD): In which everybody is looking at Nucky. DVDs: All 12 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic video and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Digital Copy: Download offer expires on August 28, 2014. Recap The Episodes: 4.5/5 Video Quality: 4.5/5 Audio Quality: 4/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5 HBO Home Entertainment turns in another fine presentation for its engrossing Prohibition-era gangster drama starring Steve Buscemi as the calculating Nucky Thompson. The special features take a step back in execution compared to the previous release, but offers a similar depth in content.