For an episode of Boardwalk Empire, and in fact pretty much anything that rolls in off the good ship HBO, this was a swift, snappy episode. Highlights include Operation: Overthrow Nucky, Harrow Is And Will Always Be The Very Best, Jimmy’s Home Life Is Somewhat Unsettling, and Murder Is Basically The Easiest Thing To Get Away With.
BUT FIRST! There’s a Memorial Day ceremony being hosted by Nucky and he is being all kinds of obsequious and gets the golf clap he deserves. He unexpectedly calls on Jimmy who delivers a genuinely moving speech about being a soldier, and reads the names of the Atlantic City citizens killed in the Great War. He gets as far as the ‘G’s and then…
Harrow, in his room, reading his unbearably melancholy scrapbook of happy families. This book, I tell you, it’s sitting right across the line between deeply unnerving and totally heartbreaking. This is the life he desperately wants but can never have, we get it, Boardwalk Empire, stop making me sad because of irretrievable misfortune. At the back is Angela’s drawing of him and a pre-war photo that is downright dashing. He packs up an apple and some cheese and a rifle, because he is going to kill himself. Wait, wha-
No time for that now, Nucky is networking! This is the only dull plotline in the show, and unsurprisingly the one with most exposition. Suffice to say it ends with Nucky throwing a booze and sex worker party for fat men who have things he wants.
So yes, Harrow. This guy is the heart and soul of the episode. In a leaf-littered wood full of game-birds, the morning sun falling through the branches, the overnight dew rising greyly, Richard Harrow takes off his mask, puts on his war medal, sits down on a rock and puts a gun to his head. I swear this is the most tension I’ve ever felt watching this show.
Then there’s a dog! The dog steals his mask and Harrow’s all like ‘forget this suicide malarkey I need my mask back’. And everyone who enjoys this show enjoys it ten times more because Harrow is still in it. He meets some kindly, eloquent and intuitive woodsmen, one of whom says ‘These woods are for hunting, fishing, seeing what the birds are up to. These woods are for living.’
Back at casa Nucky, Eli has come snivelling back now that he’s realised his chances of murdering his brother are pretty much a washout. Nucky makes him cry, toys with him and then tells him to kiss his (ahem) shoes. Great performances on both sides in this scene. They then have a good old-fashioned brotherly brawl to the death in the greenhouse until BAM MARGARET OUT OF NOWHERE POINTING A SHOTGUN AT ELI’S HEAD. Instead of saying thanks for the save Nucky tells her to make sure the gun is loaded next time. ‘Is this to be our life?’ asks Margaret.
Later Eli is being Dad of the Year by fixing his kid’s toy whilst plastered on medicinal alcohol. One of the ward bosses comes by asking about a rumour about the Commodore’s health, which Eli fails to cover because he is a drunk buffoon. When the boss doesn’t swallow it, Eli flips out and kills him with a spanner, because he is drawn magnetically to the worst possible outcome of any situation.
At Jimmy’s house, he is as usual confiding everything to his mother, who convinces him to be the best little sociopath he can be, and peddling Angela some passable guff about having a safe and well-fed home. In the middle of their ‘let’s not talk about our problems’ smooch-off Harrow comes back and asks Jimmy ‘would you fight for me?’ Jimmy replies ‘Right down to the last bullet,’ and it is impossible to tell if he means it. Largely because Jimmy is turning to the dark side, but also because they have a job tonight.
The job is to go to the house of the guy who disrespected Jimmy earlier at the meeting of Old Guys You Owe $70,000. He’s sitting at his desk, examining a Sioux loincloth, as one does, when Jimmy and Harrow show up and literally scalp him. They cut the scalp right off his skull. His screaming melds into…
A scream in Margaret’s house! It totally has nothing to do with Owen and Katy finally getting it on. Detective Margaret goes to check on the children, because no-one else is involved. Katy turns up to see if anything is amiss, because she is free of malfeasance. She goes back to her room and oh my goodness Owen is there because they’ve been signposting this for weeks. Also congrats Boardwalk Empire, you almost went an entire episode without anyone getting naked!
Anyway, this week was arguably the best of the season. Lots of character development, lots of amazing, tight-strung scenes, little chat about bootlegging deals and legal flimflams and the glittering life of bureaucrats. Bravo, Boardwalk Empire, I could not be more on board(walk) right now.
What will happen next on the Boardwalk? Give us your two cents in the comments!