For Nucky (Steve Buscemi), abused as boy by his father and forced to take a severe beating over a baseball mitt, those roots could be found in his childhood home. But no amount of fresh paint would ever be enough to cover up the loss of that scared child. Instead, Nucky believes he can burn his past away completely. He’s unable to see that everything he does in the present is a direct result of the fear and powerlessness he felt inside those walls. It’s one of the first lessons Maggie (Kelly Macdonald) receives in the art of being a concubine: never let Nucky open up to you or else you’ll serve as a constant reminder of how weak he really is (a mistake that may cost her later). External power is what we seek to compensate for the lack of that same power inside us. It’s the same “dull ache” Jimmy (Michael Pitt) says he has inside.
While Nucky searches to replace his own feelings of impotence with material pursuits, Jimmy turns to books to try to find the connection to other human beings he lost in the war. But perhaps it’s like his new best sniper Richard (Jack Huston) says: any connections between us are an act of fiction. Much like the large Venereal Diseases sign that stood above the two men as they met, the spread of violence begins with a simple lie. Richard is a fascinating figure, not only because he’s so visually stunning, but his quiet, raspy, beaten demeanor tells us all we need to know about the kind of pain that violence calls home.
Much like the earlier torture scene with Chalky (Michael K. Williams) a few episodes back, Jimmy’s speech to Liam (Sean Weil) about the German soldier on the barbed wire had a Pulp Fiction hypnotic effect. War is a “living, waking nightmare” Jimmy tells him, with an emphasis on the idea that it’s still living and walking with every step Jimmy continues to take. As the beautiful transition to Jekyll and Hyde tells us (with a beautiful allegory of Richard as Jekyll), the evil inside our characters awakens when they give into their baser natures. And what is war but a reduction to the basest nature of all? (Perhaps the most frightening scene of “Home” was Lucy (Paz de la Huerta), scorned and alone, being told to ‘yield to every evil impulse.’ Watch out Maggie!)
In addition to the continuation of its brilliant symbolism and subtext, 1.07 also continued to tighten the future noose as a witness identified Jimmy and Capone at the booze heist murders and Luciano (Vincent Piazza) made a deal with Mickey’s (Paul Doyle) posse to increase the hits on Nucky’s cash supply to further their own liquor business. Like any gangster drama worth its salt, we can’t approve of the actions Nucky or Jimmy take to get what they want, but we can empathize with the reasons why they do the things they do and worry about their future. We want them to be healed and spared, even if we know it’s not possible, and no matter the cruelty or violence they commit. “Home” was a master class in showing us how such empathy is created. As Nucky said last week, he tries to be a good man. But unlike Richard, both he and Jimmy don’t see the masks they wear on the outside.