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Monday, December 5, 2011

"Boardwalk Empire," Season 2, Episode 11

THE COLLEGE MATING CALL: IM SO DRUUUUNK. Gretchen Mol and Michael Pitt
  • Courtesy of HBO
  • THE COLLEGE MATING CALL: "I'M SO DRUUUUNK." Gretchen Mol and Michael Pitt
Some chickens come home to roost this week, and they’re some pissed off specimens of poultry.

We first hear Angela’s voice saying, “Jimmy, I have to go.” But wait, didn’t she die in a pool of blood and lesbianism last week? Ah, we’ve flashed back to Jimmy’s days as a Princeton undergrad, for our knowledge of her death to lend pathos to the scenes of their relationship’s beginning. Jimmy bundles her off, since his mother’s coming up later that day.

Present-day Nucky holds a meeting with new lawyer, Fallon, who confesses that the judge seems unresponsive to bribes and confirms to the audience that Halloran fingered Eli for Hans Schroder’s murder. Eddie Kessler’s not around, but Jimmy’s servant wants to say something. Nucky assumes he’s awkwardly attempting to express gratitude, but at Fallon’s behest, Harlan reveals … that he saw Nelson Van Alden drown Agent Sedsoe last season!

Speak of the devil, Van Alden chats with Sigrid about his family and reveals that his father was a religious nutter who got caught up in a failed doomsday sect. So Van Alden’s piety provides him not with just a substitute father, but shows up his dad by worshipping a better Almighty. Sigrid expresses her faith that Jesus will come again: “You are a good man, Mr. Van Alden. There is nothing to be frightened of.”

After the painfully sad scene of Emily trying to stand in her new leg braces, Margaret talks with Father Brennan. The priest shares a parable of heaven and hell, both consisting of people at tables with spoons too long to feed themselves. In hell souls starve in anguish, but in heaven they contentedly feed each other. The priest mentions that Margaret’s donation has led to construction of new parish hall. “Now we need a roof,” he mentions — but shockingly, he doesn’t hit Margaret up for more money.

At the crime scene that was Jimmy’s house, Gillian takes charge. In lieu of the incarcerated Eli, a kiddie cop asks questions and Gillian coolly remarks, “My son’s wife was being intimate with another woman, I doubt for the first time.” The officer asks a shell-shocked Harrow if he knows Jimmy’s whereabouts, and Gillian cuts interjects, “Can’t you see this man is a simpleton?” preventing Harrow from revealing her son’s whereabouts. A profoundly sad Harrow walks down the hall and looks at gazes down on the bloodstained floor, his mask out of alignment with his face.

Back at Princeton, Jimmy participates in a seminar about John Webster’s famously violent play The White Devils, and makes a point about a mother’s inadequate education of her son in a corrupt society. After class, Jimmy offends a pair of students eager to go fight the Kaiser: “My brother died on the Lusitania,” says one. Jimmy’s professor, Mr. Pearson, gives advises Jimmy that, compared to scions of rich families, “People like us, we need to be clever.” What a nice guy!

The young gangsters meet again at the booze warehouse: Capone, Luciano and Lansky must have Frequent Driver Miles. They talk about Jimmy’s disappearance after wife’s death, and Doyle volunteers, “He didn’t ice her.” “The who did?” “Manny Horowitz.” So the word’s definitely out. The others jeeringly suggest Doyle should pay Jimmy out of own pocket, lest they collect on a bounty Rothstein has on Doyle’s head. You expect someone to tell Doyle, “I am altering the deal —pray I do not alter it further.”

Nucky and Margaret dispute the value of the “spoons” story vs. Nucky’s “two boats and a lifeguard” story, i.e., helping others vs. helping yourself. Nucky declares, “I know what I don’t believe in, and that’s divine retribution.” Guilt and anxiety is turning Margaret kind of dippy. Later, Nucky explains that he’s trying to put his affairs in order in case he gets sent up the river, but Margaret tunes out his details of land stock.

In the next “Lost”-style flashback, Gillian arrives at Princeton and teases Jimmy for “kissing underfed waitresses.” She mentions that she had affair with married man, and shrugs “I had my pleasures, that’s all that matters.” (Hey, another philosophy of life!) That night Angela meets Jimmy at a fancy mixer, and says she got away because, “My aunt wanted me to clean out the stove with Borax and a wife brush.” So Angela equals Cinderella, who meets Gillian, her new Wicked Stepmother. “Let me drink you in: simple, restrained, I like it,” Gillian condescends. While Jimmy’s beloved professor flirts with his mother, who’s like the sweetheart of Sigma Chi, Angela waits until they’re in the middle of a crowded room to reveal that she’s pregnant.

Eli’s lawyer advises him to cooperate with the feds or face the death penalty trial. Van Alden meets with a disgruntled Doyle, who offers to give up partners at a big meet-up in exchange a portion of money they’d seize. Van Alden quotes Bartleby the Scrivener: “I’d prefer not to” and refuses to play ball.

Outside the college party, Jimmy discovers that the professor has been less than gentlemanly with Gillian. Jimmy confronts the professor, who offers a snide apology, until Jimmy punches the smile off his face. Jimmy brings Gillian back to her hotel room and they boozily undress. They flop on the bed practically in the missionary position as a train roars by, and Gillian kisses her son, assuring him: “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

The next morning, a deeply distraught Jimmy looks out the window where he notices some collegiate douchebags in a jalopy and, past them, some drilling ROTC types. Next thing we know, he’s enlisting in the army. Although he’s abandoning the mother of their expected child, he lists Angela as his next of kin. Why is he signing up? Jimmy says, “I lost a brother on the Lusitania.” Which is easier than saying “Last night I got kicked out of Princeton, knocked up my girlfriend and slept with my Mom, so war would be easier to deal with.”

At the A.C., Owen comes across Margaret as she tries to adjust Emily’s new leg-braces. Owen says that a grommet needs smoothing out. And hey, does Margaret ever think about the time he smoothed out her grommet? She deflects his flirtation, but whoops! A jealous Katy overheard them.

We see Jimmy in Princeton, swigging from a bottle, but it’s now present day and he’s grieving. He also snorts heroin that Luciano gave him, so he drifts in and out of consciousness. (A little like Robert De Niro’s opium dream/framing device from Once Upon a Time in America.)

Van Alden shows up at the office to find Fallon and an African-American Deacon there. Busted! The feds attempt to arrest Van Alden but he bolts, shooting Agent Curtis in leg before fleeing out doors. I wonder how Van Alden feels about judgment day now?

At Nucky’s house, Margaret just got a subpoena, which hasn’t improved her mood at all. “We began in sin. We’ll end in it unless you change.” “All I care about is now.” Margaret describes her sinful behaviors, leaving out her tryst with Owen, and indicates that she might testify. Nucky’s eyes practically turn radioactive and he says he won’t allow her to do that.

Jimmy awakens back at the Commodore’s mansion. Gillian assures him that despite Angela’s death, everything will be okay, and eventually Jimmy’s son will forget about his birth mother. Jimmy starts throttling his mother: “I’ll remember!” But he stops thanks to the minor impediment of the Commodore jabbing a spear in his shoulder. Jimmy grapples with his father, who’s surprisingly spry given his stroke, but Jimmy jams his brass-knuckle knife into his dead. “Finish it, Goddamn you! Finish it!” his mother shouts. Which Jimmy does.

Jimmy wakes up to see Harrow cleaning up and passes out again. He hears Angela’s voice echo from the past, “Jimmy, I have to leave,” Jimmy gets to his feet, the camera swaying. Gillian brings Jimmy his son (perhaps as a human shield/potential witness). She assures Jimmy that he didn’t mean it when he was strangling her, and takes his son upstairs, remarking “One day soon he won’t be a little boy any more. It just happens like that.”

Notes
SHUDDER. Gillian’s last scene with Jimmy’s son reminded me of the end of Chinatown, with Noah Cross and his “granddaughter.” It’s like Gillian’s perversity will continue with the next generation.

I honestly thought that Gillian would take advantage of Jimmy and sleep with him after Angela’s death, and did not imagine that they’d already done it. But that explains why Jimmy shipped off to World War I.

The Princeton scenes allude to Jacobean plays like The White Devils and The Revenger’s Tragedy, but the big final scene particularly resonates with Oedipus Rex.

This episode’s title, “Under God’s Power She Flourishes,” refers to Princeton’s motto. Does it also refer to one of the regulars? Well, Angela’s clearly not flourishing, being dead. Margaret’s preoccupied with God but hardly flourishing. Gillian, however, has gotten everything she wanted, or at least think she wants. Certainly Gretchen Mol flourishes this week.

Will fugitive Van Alden take Doyle up on his offer to bust the big meeting, in a chance to redeem himself?

Season finale next week. There's a preview here.

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