If there were one word I would use to describe Boardwalk Empire’s most recent episode, ‘Gimcrack and Bunkum,’ it would be “heavy.” If there were a second word, it would be “whoa.” Between the unflinching violence and unsettling tension, this episode was full of shocking moments and grisly acts of rage and revenge. Somehow, in the midst of it all, there was even a small glimmer of hope for one of the most hopeless characters on the show.
It’s Memorial Day, and Atlantic City is honoring the recently returned veterans of WWI, as well as the deceased. Nucky is heading up the ceremony, making it a point to mention the Commodore’s absence, although he has no idea what’s actually going on with the Commodore. He then attempts to take Jimmy down a peg by unexpectedly inviting Jimmy to speak on stage. Although it seems as though Jimmy is on the verge of buckling under the pressure, he manages to not only deliver an exceptional speech, but also show Nucky that he’s far from a mere pushover.
Throughout the episode, both Nucky and Jimmy find themselves surrounded by disrespectful people. Nucky is entertaining the visiting Attorney General and his young prosecutor that he’s assigned to Nucky’s case to help get it thrown out. Both men, especially the young man, are taking advantage of Nucky’s hospitality, much to Nucky’s chagrin.
Meanwhile, Jimmy is in some hot water with the town elders. They are outraged over the money lost from the warehouse explosion and they are growing impatient with having to deal with Jimmy and Eli instead of the Commodore, whom they have no idea is incapacitated. After a small wisecrack one of the elders takes his cane to Jimmy’s head, demanding he and his generation learn some respect.
Noticeably absent from the Memorial Day service is everyone’s favorite former soldier, Richard Harrow. After a quick scene of him going through his slightly odd scrapbook, including the new addition of the portrait Angela drew of him, Richard gets dropped off in the woods. Thus begins a heartbreaking scene of a man that feels he has nothing giving in to his sadness and ready to loosen himself the mortal coil.
This scene plays out so slow and meticulous. It is beyond intense and fills the viewer with dread, especially for such a beloved character as Richard is. The removal of his glasses and face plate, the displaying of his dog tags, and the ever so slow way he brings his rifle up to his face and ever so slightly just keeps missing pulling the trigger.
His end seems imminent, but lo and behold, fate steps in the form of a mangy dog and two woodsmen who not only end up inadvertently saving Richard’s life, but also remind Richard that no matter how bad things are, it’s a life worth living. I’ve praised him before, but Jack Huston’s portrayal of Richard is just phenomenal and is one of the few characters on the show with a sense of heart, and I’m glad he’ll be around a bit longer.
Back in Atlantic City, Eli seems to be spinning further and further out of control. With the Commodore out of commission and the elders not taking Jimmy and himself seriously, Eli turns to Nucky, hoping for some brotherly love and forgiveness. What he gets is not only a complete lack of care and concern, but he and Nucky have a full-on fistfight, which almost escalates further until Margaret steps in with a shotgun to Eli’s face, demanding that he leave.
Later that night, Eli is working on a project with one of his sons when George O’Neil pays him a visit. George is very worried about what’s going on with the Commodore, and after seeing through Eli’s poor attempts to cover up the Commodore’s illness, George begins to panic. Eli tries to calm him, but it just makes thing escalate and the next thing you know Eli take a wrench to George’s throat.
Realizing what he’s just done, and possibly because he needs to vent some frustration, Eli lays George on the ground and begins pummeling him in the head until there’s not very much of him left. A truly grisly scene that now leaves Eli in an even bigger hole that he can’t seem to get out of.
The violence doesn’t end there, though. After returning from his trip to the woods, Richard stops by Jimmy’s, where Jimmy immediately asks him if he’s up for a “job.” Richard, seeming a bit off put by the request, asks Jimmy if the roles were reversed, would he fight for him. Jimmy assures him he would, and it comes across rather believable and sincere.
The pair are then off to the home of the old man that racked Jimmy across the head earlier in the day. As the elder is looking over a newly obtained Native American trinket, Jimmy and Richard surprise him in his home, with Jimmy claiming it’s his turn to teach him something. He then holds the old man to his seat as Richard begins slowly scalping the old man.
This is possibly a rash move on Jimmy’s part. The elder council are already feeling odd about their partnership and now he’s gone and mutilated one of their own. On the other hand, this serve as a message that he is not to be taken lightly, and maybe they will fall in line. Only time will tell.
Overall, this was just an incredible episode from start to finish. The stellar acting and writing continues to shine and each week leaves me eagerly awaiting what comes next.
– Matt Hardeman