“Sunday Best” is likely to be a polarizing episode of Boardwalk Empire — if you liked the characters that were focused on so closely, you’ll love it. Otherwise, it probably felt like a largely useless hour of television. No extreme violence or politics or excessively complicated plotting, just family and lots of emotion. Many of you have commented this season that the series has felt adrift because of That Big Decision that ended last season, really rerouting the course of the series. Since then, Boardwalk has struggled mightily to find itself again, and give us a clear picture of where things are headed. Though “Sunday Best” was languid in its pace, it did outline a turn for the rest of the season that portends well. For more on this and why, if women can’t be politicians, does England have a Queen? Hit the jump.
The scope narrowed mightily this week, with four distinct stories (one had minor overlap – Gillian and Harrow’s) about family and making sense of one’s place in the world. I’ll start with Gillian, who had the creepiest plot — just in time for Halloween! Unable to have witnessed Jimmy’s death or at least have had the ability to bury him, Gillian has apparently devised a ploy to not only have sex with the ghost of her son made flesh (on Easter Sunday, no less), but to then send him sweetly off to a dream world (if being forced heroin and drowned is considered sweet) so that through his surrogate’s death she can truly mourn him and accept his death, saying it out loud to Harrow at the end of the hour.
The story would be chilling enough, like some kind of Twilight Zone or Hitchcock twist, had it truly been about, say, a widow … but we are never really able to forget that Gillian is talking about her son like her husband, and then seducing, multiple times, his surrogate. It’s completely disgusting. Who does Boardwalk think it is, Game of Thrones?? Let us pray that we can move away from this story now. I don’t know what purpose Gillian will serve moving forward, but as long as we can let this incest plot go I don’t even care.
In less horrifying but still strange happenings, Richard Harrow takes Tommy with him to Easter lunch at the Sargorsky’s house, where he and a few other veterans are treated by old mean drunk horse’s ass Sargorsky’s daughter Julia while the pater familias makes everyone uncomfortable, and eventually has a breakdown in his dead son’s room, in a parallel scene to Gillian’s, where he is forced to acknowledge his own son is never coming back.
Julia is exceptionally sweet to Harrow and fixes him a special plate to eat comfortably away from the others, which was a Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose moment (are almost all of his scenes that way, though?) Harrow’s interactions with Julia also made me realize we’ve almost never seen him in an extended conversation with anyone. He spoke to Angela once about his sister, and he said more than a few words to Jimmy once, maybe twice, but never to the extent of his exchange with Gillian (which was kind of like an old married couple uninterested in each other any more) as well as Julia. Harrow is already an awkward personality, and because of his injury and his life since the war, he has lost any social skills he may have before had (you don’t just go around telling people you’re going to kill them, no matter how heroic and probably true).
We got to know more about the half-faced man in “Sunday Best” than ever before, which was lovely, and a nice addition to the “there’s not such thing as a ‘normal’ family theme,” shown particularly clearly in the “family portrait” with Harrow, his dead friend/boss’ son and a woman he just met taking a photo together (which he scrap-booked, naturally. My heart is breaking as I type). Harrow’s day also mirrored Nucky and Margaret’s in his statement to Gillian about how “it had its ups and downs, but in the end it was all ok.”
Nucky and Margaret probably had the best day of anyone, with a Norman Rockwell painting of an afternoon with Eli and his brood. Again the heart strings were tugged with little Emily struggling on her crutches, her cousin helping her up the steps and then later helping her find eggs that Eli had so carefully placed “in the same places he does ever year.” The most unexpected delight was of course Nucky’s juggling routine and jokes, along with the moment when it seemed like perhaps reconciliation was really possible between Nucky and Margaret. Their iciness to each other is too exhausting, but Margaret saying “it’s too late” regarding the juggling (but really of course their relationship) was a damning moment. She poured her heart out to June, who couldn’t really say much, but Margaret realized perhaps in the moment that there was too much wrong to be fixed just by one lovely afternoon.
The other big moment came out of Nucky and Eli’s confrontation, and Nucky later allowing Eli slowly back into the fold. Eli has been so upstanding this season it’s hard to remember what a complete div he’s been for most of our time with him, not to mention his plot against Nucky (I can imagine why that would be hard to get over, but can Nucky not see what drove Eli to take up against him like that?), but seeing them come back together was rewarding.
Then there was Gyp, and what can he said? He’s messed up but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for him in the least. He’s a petulant bore with his family, his friends and even with God, who cares? He saves his life by assuring The Boss that he cane bring him Nucky, Rothstein and Lucky. We know historically this isn’t true, but I will enjoy seeing him go down in flames nevertheless.
A lush, emotionally tricky episode with lots to recommend it. Not the most essential episode plot-wise, but absolutely essential as a character study.
Episode Rating: A-
— If you could kill off (or “disappear”) up to 3 characters, who would they be? Mine: Gyp, possibly Gillian, and Mickey Doyle.
— I’ve devised a spin-off series starring Owen, Chalky and Harrow called “Shotgun Swagger.” Dig?
— “Keep us ever mindful of the needs of others” – Harrow’s prayer.
— “Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it isn’t true” – Harrow
— “Show some leg!” Eli’s kids were really great, I loved how funny they were.
— I really, really want that bathroom that Gillian has.
— I feel like Gyp’s accent this week, particularly in his end rant, wavered a lot and got Jamaican at one point.