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Main article: Nelson Van Alden

Nelson Van Alden is a major character in the first season. This article details their actions in each episode of the season.

Boardwalk Empire (pilot)[]

Main article: Boardwalk Empire

As Prohibition Agency Supervisor Elliot inducts a new class of recruits into service as prohibition agents Van Alden watches solemnly from the stage.

Later, Van Alden watches as Chicago crime boss Big Jim Colosimo and his second Johnny Torrio are welcomed to the Brighton Hotel by the manager. Torrio's driver Al Capone trails behind them. Torrio introduces Colosimo to New York crime boss Arnold Rothstein and his associate Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Van Alden recognises all of the men.

Van Alden and his partner Agent Sebso tail the group to a meeting at the Traymore Hotel. As they enter the lobby Van Alden and Sebso look on as they greet Atlantic County Treasurer Nucky Thompson. Sebso is confused while Van Alden can easily identify all of the party. Van Alden identifies Jimmy Darmody as Nucky's driver.

The next day Van Alden and Sebso pick Jimmy up and ask Jimmy to accompany them to their office. There, Supervisor Elliot has Jimmy's war record and is impressed by its content. Van Alden asks why Jimmy is working for Nucky given his criminal enterprises. They offer Jimmy a job despite his leg injury. Van Alden tries to convince Jimmy of the godliness of the profession. Jimmy tips them off about a moonshine operation run by Mickey Doyle, concealed under a funeral home. That night Van Alden raids the funeral home and arrests Doyle. Unbeknownst to Van Alden, Jimmy uses the window to hijack a shipment of liquor that Nucky has sold to Rothstein. Nucky later receives a share of the profits from Jimmy and arranges for Hans Schroeder to be killed and framed for the hijacking.

The Ivory Tower[]

Main article: The Ivory Tower

Van Alden goes to visit Nucky in his suite at the Ritz Carlton. When Nucky is finally out of bed Nucky's assistant Eddie Kessler enters and announces Van Alden. Frustrated, Van Alden bursts into the office as Eddie is still talking and introduces himself. Nucky offers Van Alden a shoe shine, coffee or something stronger. Van Alden does not laugh and Nucky jokes that it is nice that the prohibition agents have a sense of humour. Nucky pays Harlan, the man who has been shining his shoes, as Van Alden complains about having to wait to see Nucky. Nucky tells Van Alden that he is his own man and keeps unusual hours, like Atlantic City itself. Van Alden has come to discuss the murders in Hammonton. Nucky knows that the murders were committed by Al Capone and Jimmy Darmody during their botched hijacking of Arnold Rothstein's liquor shipment. Nucky did not know about the hijacking before it happened but nevertheless took a share of the profits and covered up the murders by framing Hans Schroeder. Nucky tells Van Alden that they can rest easy now that Schroeder is dead. Van Alden finds Schroeder an unlikely suspect as he worked as a baker's assistant for 11 years and has no criminal record beyond a citation for public drunkenness in 1912. Nucky remembers writing the summons himself when he was Sheriff. Nucky recommends that Van Alden speak to the current Sheriff and Van Alden points out that the Sheriff is Nucky's brother Elias Thompson. Nucky recommends the Hottentots show if Van Alden has spare time and offers to find him a date if he has no one to go with. Van Alden changes the subject to Hans's widow, Margaret Schroeder. He has been to her house but could not find her. He asks if Nucky knows where she is. Nucky, aware that Margaret is in hospital after being severely beaten by Hans, changes the subject and asks if Van Alden is working outside of his remit by investigating murders. Van Alden says he is also his own man and leaves.

At the Department of Prohibition’s New Jersey office Van Alden and his partner Agent Sebso submit a report on Nucky to Supervisor Elliot. They describe Nucky’s lifestyle including his suite at the Ritz Carlton, tailored suits and his chauffeur-driven blue Rolls Royce. Van Alden details Nucky’s involvement in protection rackets and payola for public jobs. Van Alden describes Nucky receiving payments from aldermen and the emergency services. Elliot is surprised that Nucky has managed to win re-election and Van Alden explains that he is popular, particularly among African Americans. Sebso tells Elliot that Nucky is involved in casinos, whorehouses and a wire service for racing results. Elliot asks his agents about alcohol and they tell them it is practically out in the open. Elliot reminds them that their original target in Atlantic City was Arnold Rothstein and asks about their progress on him. Van Alden believes that Nucky Thompson is a better target; Elliot looks doubtful.

Van Alden continues to wait for Margaret at the Schroeders' home. Margaret eventually returns home from the hospital, still bruised from Hans's assault. She takes off her hat and removes the ribbon from her hair. Van Alden knocks at the door seconds after she gets in. She lets him in and he asks if it is a bad time. She tells him that she has just been discharged from the hospital. She offers him a seat and clears the dishes from the table. Van Alden offers his condolences on Hans's death and tells her that he is sure that Hans was a good man. Van Alden tells her that he believes Hans was set up for the Hammonton hijacking. Margaret notices her ribbon is missing. Van Alden lights a cigarette and asks Margaret to explain her relationship to Nucky.

Van Alden composes a letter to his wife, Rose. He wishes her well and informs her that he is unsure how long he will be working in Atlantic City. He asks her to run their faucets twice daily during the winter, worried about the pipes. He takes Margaret’s ribbon out of a desk draw and winds it around his fingers before bringing it to his face and inhaling deeply.

Broadway Limited[]

Main article: Broadway Limited

Simon, a survivor of the Hammonton hijacking, is discovered in the woods and taken to hospital in Pennsylvania. Van Alden and Sebso go to the hospital to question Simon. When they arrive Eli Thompson pretends he was making Simon comfortable but was really attempting to silence him by suffocating him with a pillow. Van Alden flashes his badge and tries to question Simon. Eli claims Simon needs rest and refuses to let him be interviewed while in his custody. Van Alden claims that because Simon has been taken across the Pennsylvania border for treatment the case is now federal. Eli refuses to back down and Deputy Halloran shoos the agents away. Sebso accuses Eli of obstructing a federal investigation and Eli tells them to get a warrant. Van Alden asks Sebso to guard the witness and leaves.

Van Alden returns to the hospital with a group of men following him. He presents a piece of headed paper to Halloran claiming that it gives him custody of Simon. Halloran goes to make a phone call while Van Alden has Simon carried down to his car. Sebso complains about the risk of Van Alden using a falsified document. Van Alden gives the men cash; they are destitute and go straight to buy food. Sebso asks where they are going and Van Alden says they will take Simon to New York because he is one of Arnold Rothstein’s men.

As they drive North Van Alden has Sebso check Simon’s pulse – it is weak. Van Alden aims to get Simon to Bellevue in just over four hours but Sebso is doubtful Simon will survive that long. Van Alden instructs Sebso to keep Simon awake by slapping him and Sebso complies to no avail. They enter Raritan, New Jersey and resolve to find a doctor.

Van Alden and Sebso burst into the offices of a dentist, Dr Lissender, as he is treating a small boy. They carry Simon into the room and demand that the dentist revive him. Lissender sees that Simon is dying but offers to give cocaine (which he keeps as an anaesthetic) when Van Alden is insistent. He gives an injection into the only site he knows – the gums. Simon does not respond to the first dose and Van Alden impatiently instructs Lissender to give more. After a second injection Simon awakens. He speaks Yiddish in response to questioning and although Van Alden does not understand, the boy’s mother, Mrs. Fishbaum, is shocked. Van Alden forces her to translate and finds that he was being insulted. Sebso, also a Yiddish speaker, chimes in with a minor correction. Van Alden sits next to Simon and asks where he wants to die. Van Alden plunges his hand into the shotgun wound and Simon screams in agony; Lissender is horrified. Simon admits that there were two young men and that one was named Jimmy. Van Alden describes Jimmy Darmody and Simon confirms the identification moments before his death. Van Alden recites a passage from Revelations. Sebso points out that Simon was probably Jewish but Van Alden continues as Halloran and more deputies arrive. After completing his prayer Van Alden tells Halloran that Simon is all theirs.

At the post office Van Alden calls Supervisor Elliot. As Van Alden holds the line Sebso reads out a post card; Van Alden reprimands him for going through private correspondence. Elliot answers and asks where they are; Van Alden explains they are working out of the post office as it is the only federal building in Atlantic City. Van Alden reports Simon’s dying admission regarding Jimmy. Given Jimmy’s role as Nucky Thompson’s driver and Nucky’s brother’s position as the Sheriff, Van Alden wants permission to arrest Jimmy for murder personally. Elliot instructs Van Alden to wait until he has asked for clearance from Bodine (meaning Joseph Lamb Bodine, the US Attorney for the District of New Jersey). Elliot tells Van Alden to go home, see his wife, and rest for a few days but Van Alden insists on staying in Atlantic City. Elliot orders Van Alden to go home and then congratulates him on his work.

Van Alden compliments Rose on her cooking as they eat an otherwise quiet dinner. While Van Alden waits for confirmation Jimmy flees to Chicago.

Nights in Ballygran[]

Main article: Nights in Ballygran

At his ad hoc post office headquarters Van Alden reads off places and volumes of liquor while his partner Eric Sebso marks them on a map. Margaret Schroeder arrives and Van Alden stands to greet her and introduces Sebso. She lightheartedly asks if the post office runs prohibition, Van Alden does not see the humor. She reminds Van Alden that he asked her to come forward if she had information. He orders Sebso to make Margaret comfortable and then block the entrance so that they can talk in private; Sebso complies, slowly. Margaret explains that Hiawatha Garage at 2727 Caspian is being used to store a large quality of alcohol and asks Van Alden to close it down. Van Alden refers her to the map and says he lacks the resources to close even 10% of the businesses involved in alcohol. He goes on to elucidate that the role of Atlantic City as a port for illegally importing liquor is the greater problem. He says that there is a growing criminal class who see murder as a way of doing business and subtly mentions Hans’ death as being connected to bootlegging. She asks if he is trying to be cruel and he says he is just being honest. She asks about the law that creates these criminals and he says that it is the very law she asked him to enforce. She says that she has been lectured enough by men who do not act for one day and goes to leave. Van Alden has Sebso block her path and asks who else has lectured her. She says it is not his business and asks if she is to be arrested. He responds by wondering if she has committed a crime; she capitulates, naming Jim Neary. He asks her to confirm that she means James Neary, Alderman of the Fourth Ward. She says she does not know but that he works for Nucky Thompson.

Van Alden seizes control of the alcohol stored at the garage. Later, at the St. Patrick's Day dinner of the Order of Ancient Celts Van Alden and a team of agents burst in and announce a raid. Nucky and Eli Thompson are among those at the top table. An attorney from the crowd of Celts states that consumption of alcohol is not a crime. Van Alden knocks him out with a single punch and asks if there are further objections. Van Alden orders Sebso to shoot anyone that tries to flee and then announces an arrest warrant for Neary giving his address as 1222 Chelsea Avenue. He has men take Neary away, ignoring his protestations of innocence. He announces the end of the dinner and tells the Celts to leave.

Outside the press and members of the Women's Temperance League are waiting for the diners. The women sing a song in support of prohibition and attempt to shame the Celts as they exit. Nucky notices Margaret amongst the singers of the temperance league and meets her stare. Van Alden has his agents lock the doors of the assembly hall.

Family Limitation[]

Main article: Family Limitation

Supervisor Elliot conducts a surprise field office review of Van Alden’s team at their post office headquarters. Eric Sebso complains that his desk has been covered with bags of post and Van Alden instructs the postal workers to clear the room. Van Alden gives Elliot a recently completed report that he had planned to post. Agent Keener, one of Elliot’s team, jokes that Van Alden has plenty of stamps. Elliot leafs through the report and summarises its content. Van Alden details Nucky’s criminal organization throughout the County. Elliot wonders where Van Alden’s financial records and witnesses are and points out that they have no evidence to present to the district attorney. Van Alden says that he is requesting resources to build a case against Nucky. Elliot tells him to concentrate on seizing large quantities of alcohol, telling him that his performance will be judged by the numbers. Van Alden says that his file ties Nucky to a capital crime – the murders involved in the Hammonton hijacking and the use of Hans Schroeder as a scapegoat. Elliot observes that Van Alden is obsessed with the Schroeder family and notes that he requisitioned Margaret’s immigration file. Sebso looks away as Van Alden weakly offers that he is being thorough. Elliot reminds Van Alden that he is employed as a Prohibition Agent and not a private investigator like the fictional character Bulldog Drummond and again orders him to focus on numbers.

Van Alden goes to Margaret’s house in the Fourth Ward. Margaret has moved across town earlier that day. He knocks several times and eventually Edith Mauer emerges from the house next door. She tells him that Margaret has left. He asks where Margaret is and she speculates that she will be off drinking champagne. Van Alden wonders what she means and she explains that Margaret was working all hours for French people leaving Edith to care for the children. Van Alden mentions the Ritz and Edith says Margaret wanted the best. Sensing Edith’s animosity Van Alden comments that Margaret must have had a high opinion of herself. Edith agrees and comments on Hans’ recent death saying that he was a lovely man and brought them leftovers from the bakery. She tells him that Margaret left in a blue limousine. He confirms that it was a Rolls Royce, at first confusing her with the name. She guesses that Margaret has done something wrong. He does not respond but asks if there is any other information Edith has. Her final comment; “She’s a whore.”

At his boarding house Van Alden reads through Margaret’s immigration file. A card details the circumstances of her arrival; she came on the Haverford from Galway, her maiden name was Rohan and she lived in Templenoe before coming to America. The card is dated 27 September 1909 and the medical inspection section notes that Margaret was pregnant. A second sheet details the medical; on arrival in America Margaret was vomiting and suffering vaginal bleeding, a miscarriage was diagnosed. She was otherwise normal, 5’ 3” tall and weighed 115 lbs. Van Alden takes a photo of Margaret at the time out of the file and runs his fingers across the image. On the back her age is noted. He cracks his knuckles and stubs his cigarette in the ashtray repeatedly.

Van Alden takes off his shirt and turns his photo of Rose face down. He takes the leather strap from his suitcase and places the photo of Margaret on his bedside table. He removes his vest, revealing a scarred back. He ties a knot in the strap and then begins to whip himself with it while staring at the photo of Margaret. He continues, crying out in pain with each lash and eventually breaking the skin of his back.


Main article: Home

Van Alden and Eric Sebso meet with a Deputy State's Attorney in Tom’s River, New Jersey. He tells them that they have Billy Winslow in custody for the armed robbery of a jewellery store adding that he is caring for his sick mother and terrified of going to prison. Van Alden wonders how this relates to them and the prosecutor says that Winslow has asked to talk to a federal agent from Atlantic City. Sebso and Van Alden go in to question Winslow.

Winslow asks them who they are and Van Alden gives their credentials. Van Alden asks for Winslow’s story and Winslow asks why he should talk to them. Van Alden cautions that he is facing ten years of hard labour at Rahway Prison and is not in a position to bargain. Winslow shakes his head and then tells them of his involvement in the Hammonton hijacking in January. He explains that he acted as a decoy by blocking the road with his car so that his accomplices could steal a shipment of liquor on its way to New York. He truthfully claims not to have killed any of the five men murdered in the hijacking himself. He says that the hijacking was planned without violence and Van Alden asks how the murders came about. Winslow offers to tell them the name of the ringleader behind the hijacking if they give him a deal on his current charges. Van Alden promises to do what he can if Winslow will testify; Winslow names Jimmy. He adds that the third man was called Al.

Hold Me in Paradise[]

Main article: Hold Me in Paradise

A postal worker interrupts Van Alden as he pores over flag markers he has placed on a map of Atlantic City. He tells Van Alden they have intercepted another letter addressed to Angela at 4313 North California Avenue postmarked Chicago. Van Alden opens the letter and counts the cash Jimmy Darmody has enclosed before adding it to a pile of similar correspondence in his desk drawer.

Van Alden holds hands with his wife Rose and says grace before they share a meal. He comments on the untidiness of the garden and she bursts into tears. He asks what is wrong and then says that she puts herself through the same thing every month. Rose says that her inability to have children means that she is not fully a woman and refuses to accept his reassurances. He urges her to eat; she dries her eyes and does so. She tells him that her friend Naomi Ellsworth has told her that she might be able to get help to conceive. Van Alden is angry that she has discussed their private life and Rose says that her friend had difficulties of her own. Van Alden argues that God would have given them a child if he wanted them to have one. Rose counters that God would not have given them modern medicine if he didn’t intend them to make use of it. He believes that her friend has fed her this idea. She shakes her head and says that she needs $270 to see an obstetric surgeon in Manhattan. He complains that his salary is barely sufficient. She tearfully says that she wants to give him a son. He purses his lips and puts a hand on her shoulder. He says that he wants her to be happy and promises to do what he can. He again urges her to eat.

Van Alden opens a letter from Rose. She has enclosed a leaflet about corrective surgery for childless women. He takes the money from Jimmy’s letters to Angela. He sends the cash to Angela and writes a letter to Rose telling her to trust in God’s plan for them.

Belle Femme[]

Main article: Belle Femme

At his post office headquarters Van Alden ends a phone conversation and thanks the caller for bringing something to his attention. His partner agent Sebso enters the room backwards carrying a coffee and a pastry. Sebso complains that they only had plain ones and Van Alden slaps the pastry out of his hand. He tells Sebso that it was Western Union on the phone and that they have had a complaint from Eddie regarding their failure to deliver Jimmy’s telegram. They told Van Alden that the wire was passed on to Sebso. Sebso feigns confusion and Van Alden asks him to explain the meaning of his actions. Sebso initially claims to have forgotten, retrieving the telegram. Van Alden reads the telegram aloud; it says that Jimmy was due to arrive on the 11 a.m. train on Thursday, it is already Friday. He shouts that Sebso is either incompetent or corrupt and that he will not stand for it either way. He asks why the telegram was hidden and Sebso claims that he was concerned what Supervisor Elliot would say about their continued investigation of the Hans Schroeder murder given that he had previously described it as an obsession. Van Alden counters that they have a witness who can place Jimmy at the scene of the murders he committed during the Hammonton hijacking. Sebso shakes his head and says that he was not thinking. Van Alden nods and gestures for Sebso to pass him the coffee. Van Alden tells Sebso that the way to kill a snake is to remove its head. Sebso is shocked, assuming he means Elliot. Van Alden elucidates that he meant Nucky, irritated. He says that if they can convince Jimmy to give Nucky up then they can cleanse the city all at once, likening it to Sodom.

They track Jimmy to Gillian's place. Jimmy ushers Lucky Luciano down the stairs at gunpoint. As they round the corner at the bottom of the staircase they are met by Van Alden and Sebso with weapons drawn. Luciano ducks out of the way as Jimmy aims at the prohibition agents. Van Alden instructs Jimmy to drop the gun and Jimmy hesitates before complying. Luciano chuckles at his good fortune. Van Alden tells Jimmy that he is under arrest as Sebso wonders what Luciano is so happy about. Luciano says that the agents are a sight for sore eyes as Sebso and Van Alden frisk both of them.

At the Atlantic County Jail Van Alden questions Jimmy about his whereabouts on January 17, 1920, the night of the Hammonton hijacking. Jimmy claims to have been at the cinema watching ‘’Wagon Tracks’’. Van Alden asks Jimmy to summarise the plot and Jimmy wonders if Van Alden really wants the ending ruined. Jimmy continues to give smart responses to Van Alden’s enquiries. Van Alden details the alibi Jimmy has given reminding Jimmy that he claimed to have been in the cinema from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. He unfolds a slip of paper from Sebso and reads the running time of Wagon Tracks to Jimmy, it is just 78 minutes long. Jimmy claims to have fallen asleep in the cinema. Van Alden changes tack, noting that Jimmy has a child but is not married. He asks if Angela is unfit to marry. Jimmy smiles and says that is none of their business. Van Alden asks what the name of the character played by William S. Hart is in Wagon Tracks. Jimmy says that it was Buck something, perhaps Buckskin. Van Alden presses, wondering why Jimmy is unsure, and Jimmy says that he is engaged to Angela. Van Alden wonders if he aims to make her a respectable woman. Jimmy laughs. Van Alden asks how Jimmy knows Hans Schroeder and Jimmy says that he does not. Van Alden asks about Margaret and Jimmy says that he does not know her either. Van Alden tries Lucy telling Jimmy that she is a dancer for the Ziegfield follies. Jimmy admits that she is Nucky’s girlfriend. Van Alden raises his voice, asking Jimmy to describe the relationship between Margaret and Nucky. Jimmy goes to stand and they restrain him. Jimmy says that if they are interested in Nucky’s sex life then they should question him. Van Alden stands up and begins to ask about the hijacked shipment of alcohol that Nucky sold to Rothstein. Jimmy reminds him of his alibi. Van Alden asks how Jimmy knows “Al from Chicago” and Jimmy denies knowing anyone called Al. Jimmy says that Van Alden is mixed up. Van Alden stalks away from the desk and then turns back to Jimmy, pointing at him. He asks if Nucky had Hans murdered because he is in love with Margaret. Jimmy snorts derisively and Van Alden rushes forward and grabs him by the lapels. Van Alden asks how many of the men in the woods Jimmy killed and Jimmy repeats his alibi. Van Alden says that he thought that Jimmy might find satisfaction in living long enough to see Tommy grow up. Jimmy looks puzzled and asserts that they have no evidence. Van Alden states otherwise, glances at Sebso and then pushes Jimmy back into his seat. Sebso shows Jimmy back to his cell. The move is timed to coincide with Billy Winslow being moved by a guard so that they pass in the corridor.

Van Alden holds for Supervisor Elliot. Elliot comes on the line and says that he was in the middle of a command meeting. Van Alden explains that he has arrested Jimmy. Elliot is surprised and asks when, learning that it was the previous night. Elliot asks if Jimmy has confessed and Van Alden admits that he has not but reminds Elliot that they have his accomplice, Winslow, in custody so even without a confession he hopes to pin the hijacking on Nucky. Elliot says that it is wonderful news and will benefit the Bureau of Prohibition. Elliot says that it is good work, sighs and hangs up. Van Alden shares a smile with Sebso. Sebso asks what Elliot said and Van Alden says that he was pleased. Sebso congratulates Van Alden and Van Alden allows that he was not working alone. Sebso apologises about the telegram, saying that it was a foolish mistake. Van Alden leafs through his file on Nucky and tells Sebso that a man needs the courage of his convictions. He says that he knew they would get Darmody eventually, staring at Margaret’s photo. Sebso pauses and then asks about Winslow, wondering if it is safe to keep him in New Jersey. Sebso suggests moving him to federal jail in Manhattan and Van Alden agrees that it would prevent interference from Nucky.

Sebso shoots Winslow dead on the road to New York. He stages it to appear that he shot Winslow during an escape attempt.

The Emerald City[]

Main article: The Emerald City

See also[]