S02E04: Tonight’s episode of Boardwalk Empire does make some headway in the realm of plot forwarding, but where it really wins is the look at three of its best characters: Gillian, Chalky and Richard. I’ll quickly recount the steps the storyline took before I focus on the awesome character development.
Nucky’s lawyer figures out that Nucky has illegally transported prostitutes across state lines. This makes the case a federal issue, which means Nucky can seek the help of the Attorney General, who owes him many a favor.Nucky makes a deal with Rothstein for a port in Philadelphia so that he may import alcohol (Jersey is more or less closed off to him).Jimmy makes a deal with Philly indepdenent criminal Manny Horvitz, who is both lovable and threatening.Owen Slater builds a bomb for Nucky to plant beneath Mickey Doyle’s storage shed; the bomb goes off when two FBI agents investigate the shed, having spied on Van Alden, who they think is a crooked cop.
“You could have married me.” – Gillian
“I had a city to run.” – The Commodore
Gillian uses her exotic dancing to entertain the Commodore…and, unwittingly, to give him a stroke. The Commodore becomes immobile and unable to speak, which frustrates Eli and worries him about the retention of power. Gillian chastises Eli for his coldness, and reassures Jimmy that things will be all right. She then kisses Jimmy daintily, laying another pebble in the foundation of their strange relationship.
The very end of the episode sees Gillian tending to the bedridden Commodore. She begins to reminisce about their first night together. Initially, the memory is sweet and poetic; she calmly recalls the waves crashing on the beach that morning, and the Commodore carrying her to bed. But then, the mood shifts abruptly. She begins descibing their first act of sex as a horrifying, tragic attack on her by the Commodore. She recounts the details of him holding her mouth shut and manhandling her, and then asks him if he remembers that night. When he cannot answer, she slaps him, demanding he do so. She slaps him over and over, eventually graduating to beating him violently until the episode closes.
Perhaps it is his reduced power that allows Gillian to be honest (she must realize that while Eli is cold, he’s is correct that the Commodore will no longer be viewed as the pinnacle of strength and power). Now that he is no longer valuable to her and her son, she can attack him with the feelings she has had all along. It is the first time we see real humanity and pain in Gillian, and it is very refreshing, although chilling.
“I’ve been sitting tight. My ass is sore.” – Chalky
Chalky is out of jail, but his troubles are not over. In fact, he finds solace no place: not in his community, not in Nucky’s office, not even in his own home. Chalky visits with the black community, to whom he has considered himself a hero and leader, but receives a good deal of anger from those who have lost family members to the KKK as a result of Chalky’s alcohol business. He promises to take care of the issue, but no one is satisfied, and no one thinks of him as much of a hero anymore.
He takes this issue to Nucky, but Nucky will hear nothing of it. He tells Chalky he needs to wait longer for justice, but Chalky and his community are frustrated by this.
But of course, the most interesting part about Chalky is the man behind the community figure. The man who holds a secret shame for his illiteracy and (suggested) humble upbringings. He’s wealthy now, and his children are very educated, but this makes him feel inferior. When his daughter brings a young medical student to dinner, Chalky (drunkenly) asserts that the man thinks he is superior. His anger with the boy escalates quickly, earning tears from his daughter and scorn from his wife. Chalky heads out to his shed to carve wood, while the others stay inside enjoying music together. Last time we got a look at him, he came out the victor. In jail, he was looked at by his antagonist as a pompous, elitist man. But he then proved he was a man of the people. This situation is an interesting twist on the matter: Chalky learns he is no longer the people’s man, and in turn feels “lower” and “inferior,” and thinks everyone views him as such.
Richard is far and beyond the most interesting character on Boardwalk Empire. That’s sort of an easy claim: he’s the mysterious, faceless man drenched in pain. He’s almost literally the Phantom of the Opera. But who cares? He pulls it off well. Tonight’s episode puts Richard with the only other character who is nearly as lonely as he is: Angela, Jimmy’s wife. As we know, Angela is a painter. She askes Richard, who she seems to sense is on her wavelength, to pose for one of her paintings.
He does. And it might be my favorite scene that I can remember in all of Boardwalk Empire. Richard professes to Angela that Jimmy loves her. I’m not even certain that he believes it as much as he just wants it to be true. He wants the idea of a perfect, loving family to exist in his presence. When she asks him if he has ever loved anyone, he recounts a happy, very close childhood with his twin sister. However, after the war, he was unable to feel any love for her, even though she treated him no different (despite his disfigurement). Richard removes his mask, prompting Angela to paint a picture of Richard’s whole exposed face. He asks to buy the painting, but she gives it to him.
Each of the characers’ storylines are dark, sad and revealing of inner turmoil we hadn’t entirely seen before. While Gillian’s is the most surprising, Richard’s is the most haunting and painful (it comes with the territory of his character). Not all episodes of this sort BE can be like this, but the ones that are turn out to be the real reasons to keep on watching.