“Ging Gang Goolie” is what many would deem a “slow” episode of Boardwalk Empire. No one gets whacked or even almost whacked. Our main antagonist, Gyp Rosetti, does not appear in this episode. A number of our common mobsters like Arnold Rothstein are quiet and Luciano only shows up in one scene. In other words, this was not an episode for those who were looking for mobster dealings.
However, if you were looking for incest fantasies, well, boy, this episode really delivered for you. Gillian Darmody, mother of her son and lover Jimmy Darmody, was in poor state this episode. We’ve seen in previous weeks that she keeps a pleasant face in public but privately she still seems to think her son is alive. To add to her already heavy load of mental issues, her brothel is not doing nearly as well as it should be and her partner, Luciano, is trying to sell heroin there. Poor Gillian just can’t keep it together and decides to go out and blow off some steam by having a one night stand. Good for her! Well, until she picks someone who looks like her son and she begins calling him James.
Gillian is one of Boardwalk Empire’s more interesting characters but she’s also one that could be unfairly demonized. She is by no means a good person but let’s remember how she became who she was. Nucky’s predecessor, the Commodore, had Nucky “acquire” Gillian and he proceeded to get her pregnant at 13. She became a mother at 14 and her son, Jimmy, was her only friend. This is not to excuse what a horrible, evil mother Gillian was but the show has done ample service to show us that she’s not the only one to blame for what’s gone on. Gillian was treated like filth so it’s no surprise she’s ended up as she has. I consider her to be a tragic hero in the same vein as many of Shakespeare’s tragic “heroes” who were evil to some extent (MacBeth, Caesar, Lear); fascinating but ultimately a destructive force.
On the other side of the episode we have Nucky who has learned his friend, the United States Attorney General Harry Daugherty (a real person), is not really his friend at all. Daugherty is under investigation and he’s ready to throw Nucky to the wolves if it’ll get him off the hook. At no point did I doubt that something like this actually happened. Last spring I was teaching The Great Gatsby to a group of eleventh graders and I went through some 1920s history. Perhaps one of the most interesting nuggets I learned was that the Harding administration was not only one of the most corrupt administrations of our time but it also allowed for some of the most corrupt state governments, too. For instance, it was not at all strange to have members of the KKK, a group we saw a bit of during the first two seasons of Boardwalk Empire, in key positions of leadership in the states. Nucky is practically a saint and his deals are small time compared to many of the others that went down during the Harding administration. It’s not surprise that Ether Randolph, the woman who attempted to convict Nucky last season, appears ready to leap in bed (figuratively as opposed to literally in this case) with Nucky in order to go after Daugherty.
This is the halfway point of the season and I find it intriguing to see that many of Boardwalk Empire’s plots act more as short stories as opposed to interlocking narratives. I find this to be pretty interesting but I’ve noticed that some critics are not fans. Personally, I think it’s unique and don’t particularly care if Gillian’s story integrates with Nucky’s this season. They’re both interesting and say something about today and the time period the show is set in. It’s in stark contrast to, say, Breaking Bad, but that’s not a bad thing.
Line of the night: “Can you break a hundred?”- Nucky, when he owes five dollars.
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.