[This is a review of Boardwalk Empire season 4, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
New beginnings don’t come easy, and they come that much harder for the characters of Boardwalk Empire; on this is series, making plans for changing your future is tantamount to inviting the Grim Reaper into your home. But sometimes the opportunity presents itself and when faced with the possibility of starting over somewhere new – a place where the events of the past can stay buried – most of the inhabitants of the series take pause and consider.
Then, in the case of Gillian Darmody, there’s the utter possibility of renewal and rebirth with Piggly Wiggly exec Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston) somewhere new, like California. In addition, after some soul-searching and coming upon the realization that she’s not in any place to raise a child, Gillian willingly gives up the fight to continue the battle for her grandson Tommy. Such a change of course was an immediate sign (along with Roy’s cryptic phone call from last week) that something wasn’t quite right, and that an unpleasant fate would befall the former Madame.
Roy has been little more than a symbol for unease all season long; his appearance and dealings having been only with Gillian made it difficult to pin him down, as the Darmody-centric storyline only occasionally crossed over with Richard Harrow and no one else. But by the time she said her goodbyes to Tommy, it was clear Boardwalk Empire was preparing to write an exit for Gillian, by first offering her a chance to start over, and then pulling the rug out from under her with the reveal that Leander Whitlock (Dominic Chianese) had colluded with Roy and his fellow Pinkerton detectives to extract a confession of murder from the beleaguered woman.
Endings that don’t come via the business end of a handgun, knife, or some bludgeoning device are hard to come by on this series, so, in that sense, what appears to be the last we’ll see of Gillian Darmody (and Gretchen Mol) can either be seen as the series easing back on the violence, or going full throttle on a character who has been incessantly wronged by men, and ultimately became a nasty product of that horrific, sustained mistreatment. And somehow, Roy calling her “courageous” only served to underline Gillian’s dark journey since making the acquaintance of the Commodore.
Of course, Gillian’s not the only one presented with an exit strategy not to their liking. Chalky White and Daughter Maitland find themselves in the company of Chalky’s former mentor Oscar Boneau (played by Louis Gossett Jr.). While there, the opportunity to start anew down in South Carolina presents itself, but that winds up being upset by all the loose ends back in Atlantic City – which sets Chalky on a collision course with Narcisse and Nucky, who he understandably believes betrayed him.
But the end of ‘Harve de Grace’ belongs to Nucky, who sets up the season finale by telling Sally Wheet he wants out of the game. Of course, with an hour left, Boardwalk Empire won’t just let Nucky Thompson go quietly into retirement – especially since Agent Tolliver has so much riding on Eli and the big meeting he’s about to set up. Chances are, with all those people coming to the table, season 5 will look a little different, cast-wise.
Boardwalk Empire will conclude season 4 next Sunday with ‘Farewell Daddy Blues’ @9pm on HBO.