Monday, December 12, 2011

Boardwalk Empire, Subtitled “My Fucking Feelings, HBO.”



I think I just quit Boardwalk Empire.

Before I go on, I have to give the usual warnings. There be spoilers from this point on, and I am not sorry for them. So, if you haven’t watched this season and you don’t want to be caught up in some spoiler-filled ranting, crying, and raving, you may wish to leave this space right about now. Go on; I’ll wait.

I love history, and I am a sucker for the retelling of historical events like this show. HBO really knows their stuff when it comes to television shows, movies, and mini-series in this genre. I’ve been watching this show since the beginning, but while I enjoy the show, I’ve never really been compelled to write about it beyond what I’ve said in general discussions about it on sites such as Twitter and Google+ with friends.

With that being said, HBO, why did you do this to my feelings? A day later and my feelings are still completely wrecked after last night’s episode. This season started with the KKK attacking Chalky White, an African-American bootlegger (and unofficial speaker for the African-American community) aligned with Nucky, and killing a few people in Chalky’s crew, and even though I didn’t think it could be done, the season ended on an even bigger bang.

While some thought this season was slow at times, I thought it was wonderful. They slowed down the pace just a little to give us time to learn more about some of the leading players by really pushing some characters past their boundaries and showing the true machinations behind some of them, a prime example is Jimmy’s mom,  Gillian Darmody. A few characters I thought really benefited from this were Jimmy Darmody, Richard Harrow, and Margaret Schroeder.

Jimmy found himself way in over his head, trying to head an organization of thugs after opposing Nucky. Jimmy was never really cut out for the life of a crime boss even though his father had a hand in many underhanded political dealings, and once upon a time, Nucky had hoped that Jimmy would be the heir to his crime empire. Jimmy is hot-tempered and rash, but this season showed that he was not able to deal with the stress and deceit that came along with being a major player in the crime world. Jimmy wasn’t really a “bad guy,” in my opinion. He was just trying to play the role of one, mostly to impress his surrogate father, Nucky, and sadly, it backfired on him. He also has a fair bit of “mommy issues” that were touched on this season.

Richard Harrow
Richard Harrow, I love him. I have some weakness for tortured, tragic characters, and no one encompasses that more than Richard. Like Jimmy, Richard is ex-military, but has suffered terrible facial injuries from an attack during the war. He hides part of his face behind a flesh-colored tin mask. Richard only wants normalcy in his life, but after being exposed to the horrors of war, he’s disconnected from reality a bit and sees himself as a monster. Most people shrink away from Richard, but Jimmy and Angela (Jimmy’s wife) accept him as he is with Angela going as far as to draw his “real” face.

A pivotal episode for his character shows him looking through a book where he’s collected “fantasies.” These fantasies are made up of normal things like a house, a wife, and children. Richard goes on to attempt suicide in the forest, but after talking with hunters who tell him “the forest is for the living,” Richard returns to Jimmy and asks, “Would you die for me?” To which Jimmy responds, “Of course I would, right down to the last bullet,” cementing probably the truest friendship Jimmy ever had on the show.

Yes, I said “had.” I’m getting there.

Margaret
Margaret started the series as the abused wife of a baker’s assistant. After Nucky had her husband killed, gave her a job, and eventually made her his girlfriend, Margaret is extremely grateful for everything he’s done for her until she starts learning just how much he’s involved in. Margaret also loses herself a little bit at the beginning of this season, forgetting where she started from and becoming a bit of the domineering, snooty housewife, becoming a bit of a cunning character.

She’s only snapped back to reality when she sees her family for the first time after running away years prior and after her daughter is struck with polio. She begins to believe that God is punishing her for being in cahoots with Nucky, and Kelly MacDonald does a great job in portraying a troubled Margaret who is struggling with her faith and her lifestyle, trying desperately to make amends to God while holding on to what she has.

There were some other notable power shifts, of course. Eli Thompson changed alliances in light of Nucky’s legal troubles and joined the forces that opposed his brother. However, he tried to make amends with Nucky, but ultimately finds himself locked in a physical fight with his brother that ends with Nucky sending him away. Eli is pushed over this edge this season and desperation tempers many of his decisions, including the decision to attempt to have his brother murdered.

Creepy motherfucker, Van Alden
At the beginning of the season, Agent Van Alden is in a weird relationship with Nucky’s ex-girlfriend who is contractually obligated to birth him (Van Alden) a baby for him to give to his wife, a wife who knows nothing about this arrangement and ultimately files for divorce when she finds out about it. His whole word is turned upside down when federal agents horn in on his operation to bring Nucky down, cutting him out of the process until he relinquishes the files he’s compiled on Nucky. Van Alden is a strange character who has secrets of his own, secrets that cause him to flee from Atlantic City. I do think that he really believes that what he’s doing is for the greater good, but he is so strange in a creepy way.

Anyhow, on to this finale that caused me so much anguish.

First, I hate Horvitz with every ounce of my being. I have never cared for him much since he started showing his stupid face. Whenever he’s in a scene someone is going to die by his hand whether they deserve it or not. After he killed Angela, I really disliked him and wanted nothing more than for him to disappear as quickly as possible. I thought for sure that Jimmy was going to go berserk after Angela’s death, but he was calm. Terribly upset for sure, but he didn’t go on the blood rage that I was expecting. He did some things in a moment of heat, but he was mostly in control of himself. I guess that should’ve been my first sign that things were only going to get ugly.

Things seemed to be going so well, too well maybe. Jimmy did right by Chalky by personally handing him the three Klan members that attacked his operation, paying more “restitution” than Chalky had demanded, and getting Chalky’s murder charges dropped. He only asked that Chalky get in touch with Nucky to let him know that he wanted to talk to him. Nucky meets with Jimmy, and it’s understood that  Jimmy needed to make things right with Nucky making a weak promise to tell Jimmy about Horvitz’s whereabouts if he should hear anything. 

He met with Horvitz at the beginning of the episode, but I figured he’d drop the information on Jimmy a little later in the episode. Then, Nucky calls up Jimmy and lets him know that he knows where Horvitz is, and… it was a fucking setup! Nucky’s coming up roses at this point in the show. Jimmy has pretty much helped Nucky beat his charges (along with Nucky marrying Margaret to keep her quiet). Of course I’m thinking that things may not be all well and fine between them, but Nucky was at least willing to give Jimmy a chance.

WRONG, WRONG, and WRONG. GODDAMMIT!

To take a Kanye West phrase and completely turn it inside out to suit my purposes: “Jimmy gone, my dude is dead.”

Jimmy and Nucky
Even though Nucky came out in full force, he executed Jimmy personally. Was this to establish his dominance? Was it because he couldn’t let anyone else do it? Or some combination of both? In any case, it was the most heart-rending scene.  Nucky has never killed anyone personally from what I’ve seen on the show. Jimmy talks Nucky through the process. He doesn’t plead for his life. He’s at peace with his decision. He tells Nucky that he died in the trenches while he was still a soldier. He tells Nucky not to be scared. The scene ends with Nucky killing Jimmy and telling him that he isn’t seeking forgiveness while a flashback or memory of Jimmy’s time in the trenches plays.

And then I realize that throughout the episode Jimmy had put his affairs in order. He knew this would happen. All the signs were there, but this is Jimmy! Jimmy wasn’t supposed to die. I was so sure that that scene would end with Nucky turning on Horvitz and shooting him or having his brother Eli (who Nucky made amends with somewhat) shoot him. I gasped audibly in true shock when Nucky did shoot Jimmy. That tied my emotions all up.

And though I said I quit Boardwalk Empire at the beginning of this, truth is, this is the mark of good storytelling. To be able to confuse and stomp on the feelings of so many fans—because I’m not the only person who feels like this—is a remarkable thing. They’re not afraid to take risks with their main characters. Honestly, I can’t wait to see what next season brings. How will they fill this hole that Jimmy has left? Where do they go from here?

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This blog is a mishmash of thoughts, pictures, and rantings among other things about games I've played, games I will play, and games I am currently playing. From time to time, I may post book reviews that I've written that are about different games and/or game worlds. Feel free to recommend games or add me on the platforms I've listed. I don't do competitive multiplayer much anymore, but I'm always down for some co-op these days. I'm usually DigitalTempest everywhere unless otherwise specified.

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