Boardwalk Empire Recap: Every Mother’s Son

HBO Boardwalk Empire

So first of all, AGHHHHHH. More on that tip (AGHHH) later. Jimmy wakes up in an unfamiliar room, curled up in a nice clean bed with Angela. Her hair is longer and they appear sex-drunk and hungover without looking worse for wear, so this must be college. She sketches him the worst-ever drawing of his beautiful face, which makes him look like Al Pacino’s character in Dick Tracy. Sometimes Boardwalk Empire slides into Dick Tracy territory for me, usually via broad accents and overly beautiful sets. But when it’s great, it can be perfect. This was up there with last year’s baptism gone wrong (“Paris Green”) for series highs. Breathless shocks and crazy payoffs and red herrings and a thrilling continuation of the whole world being set off-kilter by last week’s double death.

In the attic of the stately marble dorms, Jimmy’s Princeton buddies have helped him get a quick one in while the RA’s away. “How come you and not me?” one of Jimmy’s bespectacled intellectual college chums asks plaintively, the lifelong plight of the average-looking man that chooses handsome friends. Nucky’s slick new lawyer, Fallon (Nucky only deals with Jimmys), is defenseless against the even-slicker Esther Randolph. The normally Teflon Nucky is no match for an ambitious young woman on the make. The news that Van Alden is taking the stand has leaked. Nucky takes his rage out on his black butler dusting the curtains and demands a Scotch. The butler brings up that he has been working during the strikes, and Nucky condescendingly says there’s no need to thank him.

The butler saw Van Alden drown the agent at the baptism last year. I was wondering when that would come back up! Much like if Agent Sebso ever would (nope). Meanwhile, Van Alden answers more personal questions from his nanny. His mother and father don’t enjoy him. Do you think he was a baby with an adult Michael Shannon face? Nothing could be scarier than that, so I wouldn’t blame them. They parted over religious differences, as his parents are even more fundamentalist than he is. So, estranged family that lives in a tent. Van Alden is either a circus performer or Don Draper. He hates personal questions. The nursemaid comforts Van Alden, as naive women sometimes do to vicious men. At the hospital Emily Schroeder is trying out her new leg braces and stumbles. The doctor gives Emily a lollipop and warns Margaret that her daughter will be tempted to start crawling. The priest tells Margaret a parable about heaven and hell (“their frustration was their torment”) to comfort her.

The cops come to question Jimmy’s psycho MILF, Gillian. She specifically requested Nucky’s brother, Eli, but they sent a random dude. She is entertaining Richard in the living room, and covers for him by suggesting he is an idiot they have taken in charitably. The double murder of Angela and her lover has been tacked on Jimmy, just as you’d think it would. He is MIA and not answering the phone. Richard goes up to the bedroom and surveys the blood spot where Angela died. He touches the red gummy tissue remains of her love and sweetness, and probably cries under the mask on half of his face.

Jimmy in the past is in class at Princeton bandying high-minded ideas about. “It’s a corrupt society, so you can’t help but be corrupt in it.” Oh, this is one of THOSE sequences (where the lesson in the classroom just so happens to exactly sum up the larger themes of the show). Next week they are reading The Revenger’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton. I see somebody else took a contemporaries-of-Shakespeare class in college, Terence Winter. The Revenger’s Tragedy is an awesome play. It’s like Quentin Tarantino remixed Hamlet to be less about being a sensitive emo who thinks too much and even more about killing your dad and fucking your mom, with 300 percent more weird violence (and Hamlet is not without weird violence). There is a subplot about an amoral woman who sells her own daughter for gold. I wonder if Gillian has read it.

The roguish professor takes Jimmy aside after class to tell him his life story and explain that Jimmy can’t beat the hyper-privileged rich boys with his fists; he has to win some other way. There sure is a lot of sexual tension between innocent schoolboy Jimmy Darmody and the swarthy Sterling Cooperish professor. If this were pornography, I would buy a million billion free downloads of it. Lucky Luciano and Al Capone are divvying up the remains of Jimmy’s new empire and discussing the lesbian double murder. “He didn’t ice her,” says Doyle in the back, Manny the Butcher did. With Jimmy gone the boys are going gorillas. They pressure Doyle to donate his whiskey to Jimmy, lest they bring him back to Rothstein for punishment. Nucky attacks the preacher’s faulty parable and Margaret questions his men in the boat. She wonders after his atheism and its relation to his selfishness.

Eli Thompson is in jail being charged with the murder of Hans Schroeder. His lawyer begs him to take a plea bargain and cop to the killing to avoid the electric chair. Jimmy’s mother has come to visit him at Princeton and rag on the bohemian waitress (Angela) he’s been dating. Jimmy asks about his mom’s most recent boyfriend, whom she has just learned is “married and mortgaged.” He apologizes for what sounds like a common occurrence. Jimmy doesn’t want to drink because he has to write an essay. Gillian wants to party. BAD IDEA JEANS, JIMMY. Jimmy, don’t you take your hot mom to the clubs.

Esther Randolph and Van Alden discuss the forthcoming trial. Back in the flashback, Angela meets up with Jimmy at a mixer. He introduces her to Gillian, who calls Angela “simple, restrained” with a bitchy jealous smile. The Princeton party is a rager. People are standing on the stage and shit. They meet a Jewish guy (speculating) who attaches himself to them. Gillian is drinking in the ambient testosterone and relishing the young male attention on her, and Jimmy doesn’t like it one bit. Angela confesses she is pregnant and then apologizes. Jimmy turns his ambivalent look into a false one of happiness. He proposes with a semi-hostile quip. They agree that they don’t know each other at all. That’ll work out.

Nucky tells Margaret the truth. He is up for jail and possibly the chair. Margaret wants to know how he sleeps at night. He brusquely informs her how the money is going to be moved around while she closes her eyes and tries to tune out the world. Jimmy and Angela are having a moment in the gothic archways when his flustered drunken mother runs out into the hallway with her blue silk dress half-off. The professor who gave Jimmy advice condescendingly now smugly agrees to “apologize in a convincingly chivalrous fashion” for mistaking Jimmy’s mom for a whore. Jimmy punches him convincingly in the face. Back in Atlantic City, Doyle pours a drink for Van Alden and tells him the details of the oncoming money flow. Doyle wants federal agents to break up the party, in exchange for a large cut. Van Alden repeats “I’d prefer not to,” because somebody also read Bartleby, the Scrivener in his Herman Melville 101 class at Princeton.

Jimmy carries his mother up into his room. His tie is undone, which is how we know he is shitfaced. He takes his shirt off and asks his mom why she showed up. “I’m just the loneliest person on earth” she says, with utterly sad conviction. She asks Jimmy if he loves Angela, and he says, “No. I don’t know.” She starts taking her stockings off slowly and purposefully, the same way she’s done for strangers in rooms many Jacobean times before. “I hate for you to see me like this” says Gillian, who loves for him to see her like this. He throws her down on the bed and hovers over her (TOTALLY NORMAL). “You know how to take care of me,” she says. That’s right, because you trained him to do it, creep lady. A train goes into the tunnel, the tunnel where it was forged. Gillian kisses Jimmy on the mouth while saying, “There’s nothing wrong baby. There’s nothing wrong with any of it.” If you have to say it, you know damn well it isn’t true.

Jimmy wakes up and looks out the window into a world where he has now fucked his mom (Degrassi: It goes there). He sees the army marching outside and is given to a sudden fantasy of getting as far away from his mother as humanly possible. He enlists and gives Angela as his only contact information and a classmate’s origin story. He says he’s enlisting because he wants to stick a bayonet in the Kaiser’s gut, but we all know it’s because he wishes he hadn’t run up in his mom-Kaiser’s guts with his own bayonet on a bender. Margaret tools with her daughter’s leg braces. Owen Sleater offers to help, lending the caring companionship to Margaret’s anxiety that Nucky could or would not. “Do you think about me?” he asks nonchalantly while she looks away, “‘Cause I think about you.” Are you quoting my favorite Mariah Carey song, Owen Sleater? She tells him to stop and he warns, “I can’t.” Katy, the maid he pumped and dumped earlier this season, overhears, of course, and runs out.

Jimmy is blacking-out drunk in a New Jersey hotel room somewhere, talking to his wretched evil mother on the phone. He crawls around on the floor snorting heroin, reminding us that the theme of this episode is the absolute baseness of most human tendencies. Van Alden returns to the firm to meet with Nucky’s new attorney, learns he will be charged with Sebso’s murder, shoots Agent Cliff in the foot, and makes a break for it. Nucky finds Margaret drinking alone having found herself subpoenaed. She asks Nucky how he can act so carefree when his house is on fire. Perhaps she has realized that Nucky’s paternalistic reassuring manner is a lie. Margaret says she is culpable for her sins. He asks the big questions and she confesses a few of the obvious ones, without mentioning that whole Owen Sleater thing. Her eyes say that she’s thinking about it and decides not to. Nucky becomes enraged, asking if she intends to testify. She suggests that it is her duty.

If the world is corrupt, then someone must be at fault. That it could just be corrupt and entirely out of our control is too horrifying to consider, hence the need for spiritualism. Someone must pacify the terrified, the victims of random acts of cruelty. Emily Schroeder’s polio must have been caused by Margaret’s own sins, her Irish-Catholic mother figures. Gillian molests Jimmy because she was molested by the Commodore. We don’t know if the Commodore was also molested or whether his psychotically intense need for dominance just stems from a brutal genetic misfire, the sort that turns sociopaths into CEOs.

Jimmy stares into the distance while his mother embroiders and discusses the gossipy details of the double murder, sounding super turned-on at the idea of gay-bashing Angela and replacing her. Gillian is such a fucking monster — what an awesome character she has turned out to be. Either everyone on The Sopranos‘ writing staff had a nutso mom or everyone in the world just has an Oedipus complex and requires an RX for 100 mg of OTK spankings from Michael Fassbender to be filmed by David Cronenberg and posted in the Internet’s sex dungeon.

Jimmy crosses the room and strangles her, overcome with hatred at her for having ruined his childhood and adult life. Poor miserable, beautiful Jimmy, destined for a life of financial rewards but spiritually depleting crime when he has the makings of a talented, miserable unrecognized playwright who spends all his time writing historical plays about intelligent, morally bankrupt criminals. The Commodore comes to Gillian’s rescue, attacking Jimmy with a wooden spear. Jimmy summons his endless anger and turns on the Commodore, thrusting the bayonet (I think it’s a harpoon) straight into his own gut, as foreshadowed. Gillian demands that Jimmy “finish it.” He parries and jams in the stake, then collapses.

Jimmy wakes up in a haze with a bandaged wing. Richard is now his wife. Rich scrubs the floor and closes the curtains so Jimmy doesn’t have to watch. Jimmy hears Angela’s voice in his head again. Is killing Angela a classic Women In Refrigerators move? She had become one of of my favorite characters. Jimmy’s son says he had a bad dream, and wants to know where his mom is. Gillian has replaced Angela, just as she always dreamed. She talks sweetly to Tommy because she is GROOMING HIM. AGHHHHHH. Her fondest dream is Jimmy’s worst nightmare. You can’t just birth yourself a fine-ass husband like that, Gillian Whackjobbody, or everyone would go around doing it. The penultimate episode leading up to next week’s season finale, this was the best one for me so far. I was disappointed when Martin Scorsese’s PG-rated family film Hugo didn’t put any heads in vices, so I am counting on the Boardwalk Empire finale to fulfill all my holiday-season heads-in-vices needs.

Sex Scenes: 1 horrible train wreck of a mother-son campus bonding session
Body Count: 1 evil father murdered by his son in front of the son’s evil mother
Ragtime: 1 “ironic” chirpy song at the end about making believe you are glad when you’re sorry

Previously: Boardwalk Empire Recap: Not the Dip!
Boardwalk Empire Recap: Gaelic Shots

Filed Under: Boardwalk Empire, HBO, Recaps, TV

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert