Seeing Clearly the Road Ahead
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“My fellow citizens, we are at war. Not against a foreign potentate. Not against a bloodthirsty despot. We are at war against an army of hoodlums who have made our streets unsafe for decent people. Fear, intimidation, violence – these are the tools of this nefarious scoundrel known as the modern-day criminal. From the Lower East Side to Harlem, Brooklyn to New Jersey, stretching as far south as Atlantic City. Bloodshed and mayhem are the currency of these reprobates, thugs, and bootleggers as they struggle for control of our nation’s streets. Both Governor Roosevelt and I remain committed to this battle, which we must and will win.”
There are so many of us who are friendless children, whether literally or figuratively. But at some moment in all of our lives, we want to forego the world around us and just become children; when the world wasn’t as stifling and we felt so much freedom to just explore, to just be children. And there are times right when we want to become children or are that we don’t have someone in whom we can confide. We become alone and it is that isolation that utterly breaks us down, tearing us apart over and over and over again until there is absolutely nothing left, just our outer shell. And no matter how hard that shell tries, it cannot always hide the hollowness that grows inside without someone whom we know we can rely on to take this journey of life with us.
The episode begins with a montage accompanied with the same static radio sound that closed out last week’s sensationalist hour with public officials notifying the American public of the gangster wars that have taken over the streets with relentless pursuits of violent action after violent action. To us, who have been given a historical fiction narrative into this grimy world of Boardwalk Empire, it’s a different window into the lives of those Prohibition gangsters. But for the average citizens of the United States at that time, it was a terrifying experience to live through day in and day out. Out on the street, in the barber shop, in the telephone booth. Violence and chaos were the true kings and queens of the day, terrorizing their subjects with an unnervingly impressive cruelty. And as the camera turns towards the actual gangsters themselves, the drumming music becomes louder and louder and louder.
The gangster standoff begins with a beautiful shot of the darkened cars of Luciano & Co. contrasting with the lights of Nucky’s barricade. But the play out is anything but beautiful. It is a bloody one and undoubtedly it was a decisive win for the Luciano camp. Mickey Doyle meets his end at last with a bullet in his throat (the irony is palpable here), right after he had his sweetest moments with Nucky of perhaps the entire series. Archie bites it, his battlefield-like tendency to cut ears off of his victims no longer in play. And Nucky, perhaps in the most selfless thing he has ever done, gives away everything for the sake of his nephew, who was abducted in return for Nucky’s dirty play earlier. Atlantic City, anything in Chicago, Cuba, he gives it all with the promise of wanting twenty-four hours to kill Maranzano as per Luciano’s request. As if we needed more reminder of how far Nucky’s fallen, he gets on his knees, astutely parallel as to how he had forced Luciano to do the same in Season 1 & 4. As the feds find a warrant for tax evasion, the scene quickly cuts to Eli and his company, stabbing Maranzano to death right before he shoots him in the head. Nucky can, perhaps for the first time, clearly see the road ahead. Whether or not he actually sees anything at all is another question entirely.
The most heartbreaking shot of Boardwalk Empire may very well be thirteen-year-old Gillian Darmody, her wide eyes sunk with a sort of crushing depression. Gretchen Mol’s voiceover is phenomenal as she tries to implore her once savior Nucky to come back and rescue her from that hellhole of an asylum that has become a fate worse than death. A menacing shadow arises over her, perhaps a signal that the doctor who is attuned to harvesting organs is arriving. Gillian as a child is quiet, a poor orphan who escapes an abusive orphanage and finds refuge with Nucky and his beloved, kind wife Mabel. More than anything else in the universe, young Gillian wanted to build her library, beginning with Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, a possession that she was so, so proud to actually have bought with her own money. It’s heartbreaking to see the pride in her eyes when Nucky finds her signature on the inside of the book. While Nucky wants to send her back, Mabel argues that she should stay there, out of compassion if nothing else. “They tell you your whole life is sin,” young Gillian says mournfully about her orphanage, “that you can never wash it away.” Nucky feels uncomfortable about keeping her there, noting how they couldn’t save everyone and everything. “They why save anything at all?” Mabel thunders righteously and she has a point. If Nucky can’t even help this poor orphan girl who’s beyond an age when children are generally adopted, then what good is the sheriff’s badge he wears so proudly? Gillian runs away, much to the dismay of a distraught Mabel. And Nucky will find her assumedly in the series finale, giving her away to the Commodore and sealing their fates in the act of ascension.
And as the final curtains close, Nucky is more friendless than ever before. All he can do is stare out at the thundering waves crashing against the beaches of the Boardwalk, wondering perhaps at the end of it all what Mabel truly expected him to be. Perhaps she wanted a man who would at the end come to the aid of a poor orphan girl standing on the Boardwalk, the frigid sea wind willowing about her hair. Perhaps she wanted a man who would take a friendless child under his wing, a girl who wanted to build her own library because she wanted to travel around the world in eighty days with a friend in tow.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“We are playing a game of chess.” Aren’t we all?
+Nucky to Joe Harper, trying to help him escape the fate of Jimmy and the others: “Go be a plumber, a bookkeeper, or the President.”
+“Me and you together…”
+Margaret is great in every little scene. Is it too much to ask for her to get a spinoff of her own that primarily deals with Margaret and her taking on Wall Street or something?
+“It’s rude to ask personal questions.”
+The choice to pair Maranzano’s stabbing sequence with the throbbing music was outstanding.
+When Eli meets his son, he notes somberly that if William had achieved something in life, then it would all be worth it. This might be the finest Eli moment yet.
+The mural of American democracy behind Eli after he met his son is so palpable in its irony, it hurts.
Title: Friendless Child
Written By: Riccardo DiLoreto, Cristine Chambers, and Howard Korder
Directed By: Allen Coulter
Image Courtesy: HBO