TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire: "Havre de Grace," or Gillian Darmody's Day of Fun by Donald McCarthy

Gretchen Mol is the show’s must underrated actor (with Buscemi right behind her because some people still inexplicably think he’s wrong for the part). She knocks it out of the park in every single scene, creating sympathy for a character for whom we should feel none. Gillian’s psychosis could easily turn her into a nasty, hate-able character, yet Mol gives every line a dose of tragedy, constantly reminding us of the rapes she went through at the hands of the Commodore (back in season two when she slapped the immobile Commodore across the face again and again is one of the most disturbing and upsetting moments of the entire show). This meant that tonight’s reversal, while completely deserved, also made me cringe. Roy turning out to be not who he claimed wasn’t exactly a huge revelation, but I was surprised that he ended up being an investigator looking into the drowning of the boy Gillian used as Jimmy’s body last season. Mol’s screams as the men took her down were heart wrenching no matter how much Gillian deserved it. Her life has been so fucking awful and this can’t possibly improve it. Was I the only one feeling bad for her?

I can’t imagine this means Mol is out of the show. We don’t have a huge cast of female characters (no Margaret tonight either but we do get a brief appearance by Patricia Arquette- more on that in a bit) so I can’t see them getting rid of one of them. Still, I don’t know how Gillian can conceivably get out of this unless she can make a deal with Leander Whitlock (I still think of him as Uncle Junior). With everything that’s going on, I’m guessing her plot will be resolved in season five as next week’s finale is sure to be packed with other developments. Then again, last season I couldn’t figure out how Gaston Means and Mellon would fit into the finale and lo and behold they played a key part despite appearing only momentarily (one of my favorite moments of the finale).

Before she’s arrested, we do get an interesting look into how Gillian goes on in life after all the shit that she’s done and experienced. She tells Roy that you can live with anything, but considering Gillian looks like she’s going to have a breakdown in almost every scene, I’m not sure how much she even believes it. I’m reminded of Don Draper in Mad Men saying how easy it is to forget something but that show tells us again and again it’s simply not as easy as Don says. Boardwalk Empire seems to have the same opinion.

Gillian’s end nicely goes with our other two plots this week which are also concerned with endings. Nucky reveals to Sally Wheet that he wants out of the business. He’s mentioned before this season that he’s getting tired of the man he’s become (making him a little more self-aware than the aforementioned Don Draper) but now he’s convinced it’s time for him to get out. Is this because he knows Eli has turned on him? I don’t know, but I tend to think that does play into it. There’s no way Nucky is unaware Eli is up to something but exactly what he suspects is still a little unclear (this ambiguity is a good thing). He seems to put together that the so called “insurance agent” who visited Eli’s home was Agent Knox but what does this tell Nucky? Combined with Gaston Means revealing there’s a “skunk” in Nucky’s operation, Nucky is likely putting together an ugly picture in his mind. I do wonder what actions he’ll take if he doesn’t get enough evidence. Could the finale’s showdown be between Nucky and Eli instead of Dr. Narcisse?

Just to hit us in the gut, the show gives us a touching moment between Nucky and Eli when Nucky tells him he was jealous of the female attention Eli received when they were younger and that’s why he used to give him a hard time (oddly enough, unless I’m forgetting something with Eli, Eli is one of the few characters who hasn’t had an affair). The tumultuous relationship between the brothers has always been one of my favorite aspects, making last year’s “Sunday Best” a highlight of the show for, so I’d be upset if Eli kicks it next week, especially since we’d be losing one of the show’s best actors: Shea Wigham. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a point against the show as I’m sure the writers will make it work, but I’d miss that character, just as I miss Jimmy.

So while Nucky contemplates his end, so, too, does Chalky White. Chalky’s plotline tonight was… odd. We’re introduced to a ton of new characters, one of whom, played by Louis Gosset Jr, is dead by the end of tonight, and I’m left scratching my head a little at why we spent so much time in this new locale. Boardwalk Empire has paid off plots before in inventive ways and it may well do so next week, but I have to say that it killed the pacing a little. As we’re heading to the season finale, I’d have expected a little more urgency to Chalky’s plot, but instead we had him among people he knew but we didn’t and he mostly sat around. There’s some interesting looks at the ill will Gosset holds towards blacks who work with whites, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. I’m still not sure what to make of this plot; perhaps we’ll find out its relevance next week. See you guys then.


Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.