It’s a shame in some ways that Boardwalk Empire has chosen to pair Richard Harrow and Van Alden together so much this season, because while those episodes pack an emotional punch, it leaves others lacking. I was trying to put my finger on what was making this season of Boardwalk so much better than last, and it seems to largely be the fact that Nucky has taken a sideline position. Sure, there’s never an episode that doesn’t feature him, and it’s still his story that drives the general plot. But this year has seen a calmer and more backseat Nucky, one who is putting family first and shady business alliances last, which has allowed for other, more compelling characters like Van Alden and Harrow to rightfully take center stage. Hit the jump for more.
Ever since Jimmy’s death, Boardwalk has been searching for a new focus. Though history provides the mile markers (the deaths of Frank Capone and Dean O’Banion, for example), what happens in between have been, for the most part, lovely character studies.
Van Alden became Van Alden again this week — the death of O’Banion set him free from that alias. Still, he did not prove his manliness / lack of cowardice by killing O’Banion for the ransom as he had promised the Capones. He instead shot his old co-workers/attackers — at least one in the back — something he received no commendation or reward for. In the wake of O’Banion’s slaying, he robbed the flower shop and stepped over the rotting corpses of those he did slay. Melding the two stories together, just like Van Alden / Mueller, he took the best parts from both, threw money at his wife, and they had sex. “Hear me roar!” Who is there to contradict him?
Gillian also provided her own narrative of the past to Roy, one that was truthful up until the description of Jimmy’s death. It’s the one she “knew,” because she manufactured it. She has always been deeply delusional, but that particular bit of substitution was one of her most grotesque fantasies (though not as grotesque as her initiating sex with her own son, of course, or his doppelganger). Her conviction of that truth and her own innocence played fairly well in court, despite her other antics, and it led to Julia asking Richard to marry her, which is one of the soapiest things the show has ever done.
Not that it wasn’t lovely, though. Richard’s story this year has been pretty soapy, and who can say they’ve minded when he turned his broken face to the sun, or told stories to Tommy, or made a joke at his shotgun wedding to Julia? He’s always been a beautiful, tragic character who is actually getting — in a patchwork no one could have predicted — the family he dreamt of for so long. When almost everything else is violent and unhappy on the show, Richard’s ray of sunshine has been a very necessary component of what would otherwise be another very bleak season.
Elsewhere on the show though, things are stacking up for a final battle, just like Boardwalk does every year. Things are simmering with Rothstein and his debts, Narcisse getting in touch with Masseria (and continuing to piss Chalky and Nucky off), the heroin trade finding its way into Nucky’s supply of booze, and of course Eli working for Knox to protect his family. In the next three episodes, these will all reach a, likely, bloody crescendo, but it will be the quieter moments like the ones in “Marriage and Hunting,” this time spent with the characters we have chosen to care about, that are the season’s true lasting legacy.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I do feel for Van Alden’s wife, who doesn’t understand what’s going on (or sarcasm), and is reasonably frustrated. She’s been his greatest ally for a long time, but I think he recognizes that on some level.
— Didn’t Sally’s porch look like a cozy place to sleep? Also, her breasts are huge!
— Narcisse’s beating of Daughter was horrifying. See, we didn’t need to watch the beating. The aftermath was enough to tell us all we needed to know. It was a nice show of restraint for Boardwalk in that moment.
— Interesting to hear Gillian talk about her first kiss being “James,” who she then named her son after, following her rape by that pedophile the Commodore. She looked really beautiful out on the boardwalk, and it was a big moment for her to tell such truths to Roy, even though they were just a version of them. He is not to be trusted, though — who was he talking to on the phone?
— Chalky’s family is really suspicious of him, and now his daughter has “proof” of his infidelity. He’s been acting really weird around them though, so he shouldn’t he surprised that they are wary of him. He had his own “version” of the truth in this episode too with the story about Purnsley. Lots of dual sides, here.
— Eli, try to be a little more suave when pumping Nucky for business info.
— How hilarious was it that Rothstein wanted to kill Mickey Doyle for insurance money? He also looked more waxen than usual in this episode.
— “Pay you? To not kill him? How about a plug nickel?” – Nucky.
— Richard Harrow making a joke is one of the best things about the show these days. “It’s just a hunting license, isn’t it?
— “Don’t get lost in the fog now” – Sally.