Holy shit, you guys. Last night’s season finale of Boardwalk Empire was such a game-changer, I don’t even know where to begin. But did it change the game for the better? (SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVIOUSLY.)
Last night saw the long foreshadowed death of Jimmy Darmody, who for many was the heart and soul of the show. Before he went, we saw Jimmy humanized in ways that earned him true tragic hero status, perhaps a little too literally. Aristotle defined a tragic hero as someone “who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.” Jimmy’s “frailty” might have been his devotion to his monstrous mother, whose love for him often looked a lot like abuse. But unlike Jocasta in Oedipus Rex, she was not a passive or unwitting pawn; deformed by her own traumas, Gillian seems to be starring in a tragedy of her own (Medea, perhaps?). When we finally found out Why Jimmy Dropped Out Of Princeton To Fight In A War, it turned out to be a reason so horrible that we had to cut him some slack. But just when we’d gotten that payoff episode about why Jimmy turned out the way he did, it was curtains for him. This was tragic but understandable in the framework of this kind of story; from Jimmy’s point of view, he had exhausted every possible source of redemption, and his last glimmer of hope died with Angela (who let’s be honest, wasn’t doing him many favors before). Still, I thought his love for his son might save him; if Jimmy really gave a shit, he wouldn’t have left Tommy with Medea to potentially repeat the same cycle of abuse that killed him. Hence, his death was doubly tragic in that he gave up on not one life, but two. Cursed is the house of Darmody.
And Jimmy wasn’t the only great character we lost. Once a beacon of savvy, morally conflicted womanhood, Margaret
Schroeder Thompson has drifted dangerously close to being the uneducated, abused, and superstitious woman she appeared to be at the beginning of the series. (And which she pretended to be once in order to help Nucky out of a jam.) Only this time, the damage her husband does to her is spiritual. She’s fallen into the very Catholic rut of helplessly repeating the same wrongdoings, then giving money to a corrupt church in the hopes that her magical priest friend will squeegee that shit off her soul. I hoped she’d take that land deed and “the cheeldren” and run, but she’s now doomed herself to staying with yet another monstrous man because she’s afraid of what might happen if she leaves him. Does she think this will be a sustainable way of life? My takeaway from this is “never have children, because you will choose to be an accessory to murder before you take away their father figure and/or let them be poor again.”
Another potentially great character lost is Angela Darmody, who, in a world brimming with historically accurate misogyny, showed glimmers of a better way in her nascent lesbian bohemianism. Oh well! Lawyer Esther Randolph is another breath of fresh air in this arena, which makes me seriously fear for her life. The only positive development for women so far has been the writing off of Paz de la Huerta, whose whiny woman-child courtesan Lucy Danziger (and I’m not convinced she was acting) was enough to undo the progress made by a hundred Esther Randolphs.
And then, of course, there’s Nucky. For a while now, we’ve sympathized with him because he seemed so affable and well mannered compared to the other gangsters on the show, but as TV and movies constantly remind us, those are the ones you really need to watch out for. As Jimmy told him in season one in a line lifted straight from The Wire, “you can’t be half a gangster,” and he’s spent both seasons gradually fulfilling that maxim. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, he’s become a monster in ways we can no longer ignore, which begs the question: where do we go from here? Who is there left to root for on this show? Personally, I would not be opposed to a third season which casts plucky lady lawyer Esther Randolph as the protagonist as she pursues an ever more devious Nucky Thompson, fighting sexism as she goes.