S2E11: Well, it happened. That weird thing that everybody always knew was going to happen, but nobody wanted to believe might really happen on Boardwalk Empire, happened. But we’ll get to that.
Basically, just about everything, for everyone, goes to hell this week—whatever hook a character has to hang his hat on is torn from his walls. Nucky loses the devotion of Margaret. Van Alden loses the safety in the secrecy of his Season 1 malfeasance. And Jimmy…poor, twisted, doomed Jimmy.
“We began in sin. We’ll end in sin. Unless we change.” – Margaret
These people and their parables. As her daughter struggles to build the strength to walk (with the aid of leg braces), Margaret is offered some enigmatic words by Father Brennan: the story regards two sets of dining tables, one in Heaven and one in Hell, at which the diners feast and starve, respectively, due to their handling of particularly long spoons. Brennan explains that the Heavenly diners can eat because they use the long spoons to feed one another, rather than feeding themselves. And somehow, this makes Margaret realize that she hasn’t been a very good person ever since she met ol’ Nucky.
And this starts to lead her to wondering: has she cemented her daughter’s fate with her wrongdoings, and will she continue to condemn herself and her children by standing by Nucky’s side? Margaret is an interesting character in that she has evolved a great ways from when we first met her. She has developed confidence, irascibility and guile where there once was just timidity and reservation. And although the Margaret we see now is not much like the Margaret from the pilot, she is still rooted in this self. Nucky is, at the core, the man we see week by week. He is not an amoral man, but his practices are very much a part of him. Margaret, on the other hand, has strayed from her core nature—and this episode proves that, as she realizes that she must revisit her morality in order to save herself and her children.
Of course, this comes as a shock and an affront to Nucky. When Margaret is subpoenaed by Esther Randolph, Nucky is appalled to realize that she considers actually testifying against him—and considering the torrential fight the two have as a result of this, it seems as though Margaret just may be taking the stand against Nucky soon.
“He will still come. Jesus.” – Sigrid
“Doesn’t that worry you?” – Van Alden
The day starts out pretty nicely for good ol’ Nelson Van Alden. In fact, when his hired nanny Sigrid tells him that she thinks he is a good man, he even cracks a rare smile. In fact, Van Alden is feeling so good about himself this week, that he even decides to cut off all of his illicit ties to Mickey Doyle, deciding that he no longer needs back-alley funds and can lead his life nobly. And why shouldn’t he feel so good? He’s involved in a strong case against Nucky Thompson. He has a healthy baby daughter. Sure, he and his wife are divorcing (he finally signs the papers this week), but what does Van Alden really have to get him worrying?
Maybe that time he maniacally murdered his partner in front of dozens of able-bodied witnesses? Yeah. Remember that? Well, someone is FINALLY willing to talk about it!
Has anyone else noticed the increased prevalence of Nucky’s servant Harlan lately? Here’s the deal with that: Harlan has been infused into our conscious with a few quick, unimportant scenes, so that his revelation this week might seem a bit less out-of-nowhere and convenient: Harlan tells Nucky and his lawyer Bill Fallon that he, along with many others, witnessed Van Alden murder Agent Sebso last season.
Fallon brings this to the attention of Esther and her team, who confront Van Alden about it when he comes into work. As if to cement his guilt even further, Van Alden shoots Cliff (non-fatally, it seems) with his own gun and flees the office. So…things’ll probably be heading due south for him from this point forward.
“You know what I was thinking on the train? I can’t ever get too sad, because no matter what, I have you.” – Gillian
And here it is. The dark, demented elephant in the room on every episode of Boardwalk Empire, finally revealed. A quick summation: Jimmy’s storyline throughout the episode is a flashback to his college days, when he met, began dating and impregnated Angela. But more importantly than that—Jimmy has sex with his mother, Gillian.
I don’t know how to tactfully address a subject like that, so forgive the abruptness. Basically, Gillian shows up at Princeton to visit Jimmy. She offers kempt hostility to Angela (their first meeting), and then subtly badmouths her when she is absent. Gillian flirts openly with Jimmy’s much-admired professor, and then retreats to Jimmy when he gets fresh—or so she says. We do not see the duo interact at all, but only a “frazzled” Gillian running to the comfort of her son, who then imparts a physical beating onto the professor, which Gillian watches, unblinkingly and, apparently, amorously.
And then, a drunken Jimmy delivers his drunken mother to her hotel room, and she seduces him. I could go on for a few hundred paragraphs about how horrifyingly weird this is, but it all goes without saying. What’s more interesting is that everything Gillian does is part of this grand machination. She seduces her son (which happened long before we met either character, prior to the inception of the series). And this is what killed him, so long ago. This is what sent him from college to the army, and what robbed of him any capability to feel like or accept himself as a human being.
Back in the present, she attempts to usurp the role of Angela in the lives of Jimmy and his son, Tommy. Now that Angela is dead, Gillian explains to Jimmy that she will “be there” for them, gradually phasing Angela out of Tommy’s memory altogether. When this triggers a rage in Jimmy, he is attacked by his now more mobile father, the Commodore…but, of course, Jimmy has a bit of strength on him. And, at the behest of his mother, Jimmy kills the Commodore.
Oedipus Rex, anyone?
When he wakes up from a pretty understandable fainting spell, Jimmy watches a silent Richard cleaning up his dead father’s body. Afterwards, Gillian almost literally tells Tommy that she is his mother now, puts him to bed, and informs Jimmy that she will be waiting for him upstairs.
In all fairness and honesty, Jimmy’s/Gillian’s storyline feels a hell of a lot more dense than the usual Boardwalk material. Gillian has been playing the demonic, almost Shakespearean puppet-master to her son for years, and her plan is nearly complete: she can have the life and family she never did—a son (her grandson), a “husband” (her son), and, perhaps, a kingdom to rule over. Now that Angela, the Commodore, and, potentially, Nucky are out of the way, the only question is whether or not Jimmy will fall victim to her spell.