Boardwalk Empire 205 — Gimcrack & Bunkum

Gratuitous nudity of the week.

For those who like me do not know the meaning of the title, a gimcrack is “a showy object of little use or value” and a bunkum is “insincere or foolish talk.” It is an apt title for aspects of this episode, but don’t be fooled into thinking nothing of value is said or done this week for there were certainly some significant moments.

In the “previously” clips we’re reminded not only of the events from last week’s episode but of Nucky giving Eli a chance to get out of his dealings with the Commodore and of Richard’s loneliness.

We open this week on the beach. It’s Memorial Day and Nucky’s speaking about remembering those lost in the Great War. It’s also a groundbreaking for a memorial to be built there. Nucky makes a nice little slam about the Commodore being the city’s “doting father,” recognizes the Attorney General in the audience, and mentions that President Harding is visiting Arlington Cemetery that day. All pretty normal speechifying, but then he does the unexpected. He turns the lectern over to Jimmy, asking him to be the one to read the names of the dead. Angela is surprised and so is Jimmy. This was not planned, at least not by all parties involved.

Jimmy: You think I can’t play this game?
Nucky: I don’t think you even know the rules.

At the lectern, Jimmy’s hands are shaking and for a moment I try to remember if we’ve ever seen him read. But he was attending Princeton before the war, so I don’t think illiteracy is the problem. He finally gets it together to say that he’s not a hero. He speaks well about what he and his fellow soldiers fought for — mothers, sons, wives. Freedom. “We fought for America. I believe it was worth it.” Everyone claps. He says, “These are the names of brave men” and then reads from the list and he’s clearly upset and nearly crying. There are men he knew, men he went to school with.

Meanwhile, Richard is in his room looking at the images in his scrapbook. It’s very artistic in spots. Photo collages, really, not just clippings. He’s created his own family scenes on some pages. And then he turns to a spread with Angela’s sketch of him on the left and a photo of him from “before” on the right. He gets up and packs food and other items into his messenger bag, gets his rifle from the closet, and puts his hat on very carefully. Everything has such order to it.

In the golf club locker room, Nucky tells AG Harry Daugherty about how Jimmy joined the army to run away. That he couldn’t handle Princeton so he ran off to war. Harry doesn’t seem all that interested as he’s too busy trying to fasten his pants which he’s outgrown while dining in Washington. He does, however, mention that he’s got a prosecutor lined up to handle Nucky’s case.

Before Nucky heads out to the links, another man approaches Nucky and asks if George Remus is a reliable businessman and can Nucky put in a good word for him. Nucky says Remus is a reliable bootlegger and that’s just what the man wants.

At the Commodore’s home, all the almost dead white men have gathered around. They commend Jimmy on his fine speech earlier and say they want everyone to know how proud they are of the young men who fought in Europe. One of the men — Mr. Parkhurst– brags about being the only one of them to ever actually be in the military. Parkhurst is quite proud of his involvement in a battle of “32 white men against 2,000 Sioux.” Jimmy calls it slaughter, and I appreciate that someone in the room sees it for what it was.

The conversation shifts to money and “recent setbacks.” We get confirmation that they took care of the “colored problem” and bought off the Coast Guard. They attack Jimmy for the loss of their money invested in booze. They want to talk to the Commodore. They want discretion and return on their capital. Jimmy says he speaks for the Commodore and they don’t believe it, they want proof. They want to know if he’s dead or just dying. Jimmy gives them a little lip — “you gonna draw me out of your yacht club — and Parkhurst whacks him on the brow with the handle of his cane. Parkhurst feels it’s time men of Jimmy’s generation learn some respect (ha ha!) and Jimmy gets up, says “you just taught me plenty,” then leaves. Eli, of course, is pissed (and terrified) about it. He wants Jimmy to do whatever the old men say because they’re financing things. Personally, I like Jimmy’s “fuck you” attitude with Eli.

Richard gets out of a truck in the middle of nowhere. He thanks the driver for the lift. He’s in a wooded area. The only sounds are his footsteps and birds chirping. There’s a pheasant or grouse (we are not birders in my house) on the ground. He looks up at birds overhead. We don’t know yet why he’s here, but he hasn’t previously struck me as a hunter.

Gillian cleans Jimmy’s wound and tells him no one is allowed to disrespect him. He says, “Alright, Mom.” She says “Alright leave me alone?” or “Alright I know what needs to be done.” He replies, “Both.” She knows all of these men and their histories. Her Jimmy can be just like them. She talks about John D. Rockefeller’s rise to wealth and puts a cigarette between Jimmy’s lips. This moment, like others before, creeps me out a little. But in a good way.

In the woods, Richard has taken a seat on a log. He loosens his shirt collar and tie then begins slicing the apple he had packed that morning. He takes off his mask and sits it on the log while he eats. It’s peaceful and quite. After a moment he puts a ribbon with two metal disks around his neck. A little Internet research confirms that these are likely his dog tags. He then lays back on the ground and puts his rifle in his mouth. He can just reach the trigger, but before he pulls it a stray dog comes up and growls. He tells him to go and the dog takes his mask and glasses in his mouth and runs off. “I need that back. I need that mask,” he says as he takes off after the dog. So much for a lovely Monday morning suicide. Instead, he’s chasing a dog through the woods, rifle in hand.

Nucky gets home and Margaret wants to know where Owen is. Eli is in the conservatory and she’s clearly distressed about it. When Nucky goes to meet him Eli asks him how many places he’s lived in since he left home. Nucky guesses eight or nine, uncertain where this is going. Eli’s only had his first little bungalow and the home his family has now. Then he switches topics to the last time they spoke, the offer, and Nucky says the offer is gone. Eli, as always, acts like he’s been unfairly treated. But in an attempt to offer something useful in exchange for Nucky’s help, he says he knows who’s going to testify. Nucky doesn’t care, though; he wants something he can actually use (after all, he’s got the attorney general in his pocket, he’s not worried anymore). So Eli confesses to the Commodore’s stroke and that “the kid and his mother” are trying to keep it covered up.

Eli says “that situation was never right” (meaning Nucky giving Gillian to the Commodore) and we learn that Nucky didn’t have much choice. He did it to take care of Eli, their Pop, and someone named Maybell.  You think everything is getting sorted out as Eli stands there in tears. Then Nucky tells him he needs something more; he wants Eli to get down on his knees and kiss his shoes. Because that’s a great way to mend a relationship. But he’s pissed off and Eli’s past his breaking point and suddenly the two are fighting, crashing through the greenhouse doors. It’s brilliant and the kind of scrambling, wrestling fight that only two brothers could have. There’s choking and rolling around, and finally Eli trying to go for his gun when Margaret comes in and puts a shotgun to Eli’s head and says, “Enough. Get out of this house.” Eli counters with “Pop” and Nucky says, “I don’t give a fuck.”

Margaret walks him to the door with the shotgun trained on him, then Nucky takes it from her and tells her next time to make sure it’s loaded, opening it up to show both barrels are empty. Didn’t really matter though because her belief that it was loaded convinced Eli that it was loaded.

Richard’s sitting on the ground in some leaves, looking resigned to having lost the dog (and his mask), when a man with a rifle comes up behind him and rouses him up. Before turning to face the man, Richard removes his dog tags and tucks them in his pocket. The man  leads him to where the dog is at a camp with another man. Rifleman says the noise Richard was making was scaring away the varmints. They’ve got strings of smoked animals hanging up with a couple more on a spit over the fire. They look like squirrels or maybe small rabbits. They’ve got Richard’s mask too, and kindly return it to him.

We get confirmation that they’re squirrels on the spit. The old guy waiting at the camp asks Richard if he’s a revenue agent. He says no and the man hands him a flask. Richard knocks back a good swig that he clearly needed. It’s shine and it’s strong. They introduce themselves. The rifleman who came and got him is Glenmore, the old man who makes moonshine is Pete. They shoot the shit a little and Glenmore asks what brings Richard out there. He says he was hunting and he left his things by a pond, but he doesn’t know which. They’re going to eat and suggest he probably should too. The moment is slow as molasses and you can tell the men know Richard’s not a hunter and something’s up but they don’t press him.

At Nucky’s office, he meets Chip Thoroughgood, the federal prosecutor Henry has hooked him up with. Chip is going to get the charges transferred to federal court and then they’ll get the charges dropped completely because the Department of Justice will find it isn’t worth their efforts. After all, they’re swamped with Volstead Act violations. Henry and Chip won’t give Nucky a guarantee though, which is never a good sign. But they’re more than happy to stay and drink Nucky’s booze all evening.

Back in the woods at the fire, we learn the dog doesn’t belong to either men, he just comes around. It’s a sign, I reckon, and I gather Richard sees it that way too. Old man Pete is going to head home, Glenmore’s sleeping out. Richard says he should get back to town, but he’s not sure how he’s going to actually get there. Glenmore says he’s in the woods a lot and people come out there to get up to foolishness. “That’s not what these woods are food. You understand me?… These woods are for living. Understand me there?” Richard says yes and you know he does. Today was hard for him, but he’s going home a changed man.

Eli’s drinking “medicine” for his “sore throat” and looking at his kid’s toy gun that needs fixing. Ward boss George O’Neill shows up and Eli sends his boy Brian across the street for some make believe item to fix the toy gun. George asks if they’re alone because Eli’s got a lot of kids. “I don’t store them in the garage,” Eli replies. I think that’s the first laugh of the episode and I fear it will also be the last.

George has heard rumors that the Commodore has apoplexy. Eli denies it, says he had breakfast with him just this morning. George wants to go over there now and confirm it.  George is clearly nervous that the Commodore can’t protect them from Nucky. And Eli sucks at convincing him otherwise. George wants out. Elis’s got him by the lapel and then whacks him with a wrench. George is gasping for breath and then Eli realizes he’s hurt him bad so he finishes the job with several brutal blows to the head with the wrench (I actually looked away because I can handle war movies, but not this kind of one-on-one beating to death). They’re in his garage. Where his kid comes back to moments later. Through the window, Eli tells Brian to go into the house, claiming he doesn’t want the kid to get his sore throat.

At the Darmody home, at the dinner table, Angela asks if Jimmy meant the things he said at the memorial service. It’s a quiet moment filled with a mysterious tension — I can never quite get a grasp on the relationship between these two — and then a knock at the door. Angela goes to answer while Jimmy stands around the corner with a pistol in hand. It’s Richard.  She asks if he’s all right, they missed him at the memorial. He needs to talk to Jimmy who clearly sees something’s off when Richard comes in.

Jimmy quietly asks if Richard is up for a job tonight and when he doesn’t answer, he asks if there’s a problem. “Would you fight for me?” Richard asks. A moment and then, “Of course I would. Right down to the last bullet.” Jimmy’s hand is in Richard’s hair and it’s the kind of intimacy Richard never gets from anyone. He nods and says, “Then let’s go to work.” Jimmy’s so delicate with him in this scene; it’s really lovely.

Back in Eli’s garage, things are far less delicate. It’s clear he’s been drinking all night. His drains the last of the bottle, grabs his coat, and walks out.

Mr. Parkhurst, the Sioux-killing, nearly dead, old white man from earlier is in his study examining the beadwork of a Sioux breechcloth. He tells his servant he’s wanted one for years and speaks of the foolish “savages” and their beliefs. He does, however, admire their fine beadwork. His servant asks if he wants his cocoa in his study or upstairs. Then after he leaves, Parkhurst hears something and thinks it’s his servant coming back. It’s not. It’s Jimmy and Richard, and they’re here to teach him a lesson in respect. And then Jimmy holds him while Richard scalps him. (This is the second time I look away for the screen. This time I wish for the naked ladies and drinking and laughing of last week.)

Margaret wakes in the night thinking she’s heard screaming. She encounters Kitty in the hallway and after a brief chat sends her back to bed. Kitty enters her room and we see a naked Owen on her bed. Margaret did hear a scream — Kitty’s scream. Kitty removes her robe and goes back to bed with him saying, “Please. Don’t get me into trouble.” I’m thinking she doesn’t just mean the trouble of getting caught in the act, but also the trouble of getting caught nine months later.

Eli returns to his garage with one of his officers to help him with the wrapped up body of George. He tells him it’s Mary Pickford and the officer is dumb enough that while not really believing it, he doesn’t necessarily not believe it either. Good choice, Eli.

At Nucky’s office, he’s in the side room drinking tea and working. Chip comes in asking for “cold Champagne, ice water, and oysters” while Henry’s in the background getting a blowjob from one whore (complete with his hand on her back to direct her speed) while fondling another. The party is going strong. Nucky’s disgusted and tells Chip to shut the door.


In the middle of nowhere Eli digs a grave by the headlights of his car and rolls George into it. The episode closes to him shoveling dirt to fill in the hole. It’s the beginning of a long tradition in Jersey (no offense intended, some of my favorite people live in New Jersey).

Next week: Less violence perhaps? Oh wait… Horvstein the butcher will be back along with his knives, so probably not. But there does seem to be a hot kiss between Jimmy and Angela.