Boardwalk Empire season 2 pours its penultimate drink with Sunday’s ‘Under God’s Power, She Flourishes,’which sees Jimmy Darmody struggling to cope with the loss of Angela by drowning himself in memories and heroin, Van Alden’s sins come back to haunt him, and Margaret faces a difficult decision about Nucky’s impending trial. “Under God’s Power, She Flourishes” brings just about every skeleton under the closet, an intense and conflict packed hour that more than primes for the second season finale.
As I did a marathon catch-up of the first season of Boardwalk Empire to prepare myself for the second season premiere, I remember feeling that there hadn’t been much of a climax. Sure Jimmy drunkenly laid it all on the line for Nucky, the Commodore revealed his plans against the Atlantic City treasurer, and Van Alden’s indiscretion came back to haunt him, but there wasn’t much in the way of fireworks, leading many to level a lack of action against the series. To its credit, Boardwalk Empire carries the clout of Martin Scorcese, Steve Buscemi and The Sopranos‘Terrence Winter behind it, making it near impervious to critiques of lacking excitement, but truthfully I felt underwhelmed.
‘Under God’s Power, She Flourishes’will likely annihilate any viewer’s fears of the series lacking payoff, one of Boardwalk Empire‘s most intense hours to date. I can hardly keep track of all the historic moments in Boardwalk Empire significance, be they Jimmy’s history at Princeton, his (brief) affair with his own mother, the death of the Commodore at a heroin-soaked Jimmy’s hands, Van Alden’s murder of Agent Sebso coming to light, making him a fugitive from the law, or even Margaret nearly spilling to Nucky her affair with Owen Sleater, which thanks to Katy may come out sooner rather than later anyway. One always expects secrets to come out and conflicts boling over toward the end of the season, but ‘Under God’s Grace” packs a great deal into a lone hour, even if its delivery method feels somewhat hampered.
Perhaps series like LOST have spoiled viewers on the flashback as a narrative device, usually employing some kind of alert or non-diegetic shift to separate present from past sequences. Boardwalk Empire takes a different approach to intercutting scenes of Jimmy’s Princeton days with present-day Atlantic City, cutting back and forth between them unannounced. I can appreciate Boardwalk Empire‘s boldness in forgoing such a device, and even the message sent that the Princeton scenes pose such significance to modern day that they needn’t be separate at all, but will admit to the initial confusion somewhat hampering the episode’s effectiveness, if only at first.
The scenes provide an incredible window into who Jimmy has been since that one night with his mother, and subsequent enlistment in the war, and for that the story is well-worth a bit of confusion. The entire series we’ve seen Jimmy Darmody struggle to become someone he isn’t, and here we see that his self-loathing and disgust goes all the way back to his school days, wherein he tries to literally become someone else by stealing family stories in lieu of his own.
Few stones go unturned by the end of ‘Under God’s Power, She Flourishes,” and I’d expect that Angela Darmody and The Commodore won’t be the only casualties by season’s end. One must wonder what fate could befall Michael Shannon, with Van Alden’s authority all but destroyed over the course of the season. Shannon has been in increased demand in Hollywood over the past few years, with no signs of slowing down, so it’s very possible we won’t see Van Alden as a fugitive from justice next season, promising an idea as it sounds. Thematically it might be interesting to see Van Alden reduced to his same standings as childhood, forced to give up everything, and hiding out in a tent somewhere until a figurative ‘second coming.’
Religion, as it always has been with Boardwalk Empire, offers up one of the more prevalent themes of the night, specifically that of divine retribution and inevitability. Much as Peg remains convinced that Emily’s affliction arrived as a form of punishment for her own moral bankruptcy with Nucky, so too do Van Alden’s missteps with faith come back to haunt him, and even Jimmy plays his inevitable Oedipal part by finally taking his father’s life, many years after having lain with his mother. We all have our parts to play, it seems, in this deep-seated tale of woe.
Truthfully, I had never expected an episode as dense or revelatory as ‘Under God’s Power She Flourishes,’and I can understand HBO’s move in not releasing the final two Boardwalk Empire episodes to critics. What then, could we be in store for in next week’s ‘To the Lost?’We might all need a drink if these conflicts keep boiling over the way they do.
What do you think? Any guesses on who’s for the chopping block?
And Another Thing…
- An altogether sweet, if cruel way to reuse Angela’s reading of ‘I have to go, Jimmy’at both episode’s beginning and end.
- ‘Why couldn’t they just hold the spoons higher on the handle?’
- Great, great understated work from Jack Huston as Richard Harrow this week, in his reactions to Angela’s death.
- Does Gillian really have the right to describe another woman as ‘underfed?’
- So, I’ve seen differing opinions on the subject, but do we know exactly how far Jimmy went with his mother? Should we assume all the way, or only what we were shown?
- I still maintain the flashback device served to confuse a bit, but I did like the stream of consciousness fading in and out of scenes from a strung-out Jimmy’s perspective.
What did YOU think?