This post contains spoilers through the Dec. 4 episode of Boardwalk Empire. And are there ever spoilers!
As Benjamin Freed said on the Twitters at the conclusion of last night’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, “so much for the all-Darmody spinoff.”
It’s actually fascinating to compare the approach that Boardwalk Empire and Shame take to incest narratives. While the latter shows us a brother and sister between whom the appropriate behavioral boundaries clearly and disastrously were shattered long ago, it never confirms the means of their destruction, or shows us the immediate aftermath of the breach. By contrast, Boardwalk Empire has been building up to the revelation that, while he was at Princeton, Jimmy had sex with his mother at her initiation, telling him, “There’s nothing wrong, baby. There’s nothing wrong with any of it.” Whether she’s been telling Angela that she used to kiss Jimmy’s penis when he was an infant; or her smooth slotting of him into the Commodore’s role; building his sympathy for her by discussing her sexual abuse at the Commodore’s hands; or in flashbacks tonight showing us Gillian trying to simultaneously destroy Angela’s budding relationship with Jimmy while forcing him to transfer his affections from his lover to his mother by telling him “Oh, baby. I’m just the loneliest person on earth. Do you love that skinny girl?” Boardwalk Empire isn’t really showing us the day-to-day routine between two people who have violated sexual norms. It’s been telling us that it’s going to tell us something even more shocking than what we’re seeing on screen so far. And so it’s not particularly shocking when we see the inevitable happen, when we learn the real reason Jimmy ran off to join the Army. Oversignaling is a problem in this show generally, and this isn’t the only plotline where that’s a problem tonight. The only genuinely shocking moment in this plotline was the implication that Gillian might target Jimmy’s son next, telling Jimmy that “One day soon, he won’t be a little boy anymore. It happens, just like that. I’ll put him to bed. And I’ll be upstairs.”
I’m actually much more interested in the prospect of Jimmy falling into heroin addiction. He’s always been a weak personality, shaped by Nucky, manipulated by his mother, eager for the Commodore’s affections when the old man reemerges to offer them. But this would be a weakness of his own choosing, to a certain extent. And if this is a story less about Prohibition than about the transition from alcohol to drugs in the role of public menace, it would be interesting to see Jimmy personify it. Certainly, had his confrontation with Gillian and the Commodore not fallen short of double murder, it would have had the flair of a crime of the century — the beautiful young mother, the spear, the old man, the blood on the brocaded wallpaper.