The pilot episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire follows the path of several characters at the start of the Prohibition era in Atlantic City.
The newly outlawed alcohol causes problems and opportunities for Atlantic City Treasurer Enoch (Nucky) Thompson, a local semi-honest businessman with connections to gangsters from New York and Chicago.
After convincing his equally corrupted fellow city councilmen that trafficking and bootlegging liquor will be extremely lucrative at this time, Nucky invites notorious mobsters like Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, and Johnny Torrio to his hotels and casinos to arrange working relationships. His business arrangement goes awry when Rothstein’s shipment of liquor is hijacked en route to New York and all of his men are brutally shot.
Nucky’s driver, Jimmy Darmody, has recently returned from war (after leaving Princeton behind) and is anxious for a more rewarding job with Thompson. Disregarding his boss’ advice to take it slow, he and Torrio’s goon Al Capone are responsible for the theft of Rothstein’s loot and the massacre of his men. Jimmy also artfully distracts federal Agent Van Alden by tipping him off about local gangster Mickey Doyle’s bootlegging operation. Although angered by his impudence, Nucky accepts his cut from the job and Jimmy’s new position in the gangster world.
Also, Nucky’s speech at a Woman’s Temperance League meeting inspires the pregnant Mrs. Margaret Schroeder to seek him out and request a job for her drunken, gambler husband, Hans. Nucky obliges her and sends her away with money, which her husband finds and promptly tries to gamble away. After being confronted and booted from the casino by Nucky, Hans savagely beats Margaret and she loses her baby.
Upon hearing the news, Nucky pins the murders of Rothstein’s men on Hans, and then has him killed and dumped in the ocean.