Those who follow the show certainly know what happened to Jimmy Darmody on this season’s finale. There’s also a pretty good chance he was one of your favourites. Now, Jimmy was played by Michael Pitt, so I write this article on no innocent time: today is Pitt’s birthday, how suitable is that. Another reason for writing this now is that I re-watched the two latest episodes of Boardwalk Empire earlier this week, and I still got mesmerised, not only with the final scene, but with everything that happens in, and since, Under God’s Power She Flourishes. So let’s start with that; the episode that reveals most about this fascinating character’s past.
Like any great gangster story, Boardwalk Empire struggles with the recurring theme of the righteous path versus the path everyone in the series seems to follow. Its characters live both moments of proud in their crime achievements and of sorrow for all they suddenly see as sins. In Under God’s Power this subject takes centre stage, and is cleverly summed by a discussion between Nucky and Margaret: in a parable about how generosity can save your life, Nucky seemed to think that such a virtue is the weaker path of those who lack cleverness.
And if there is anyone who suffers above all from divine retribution is Jimmy Darmody. In the previous episode we gasped as his wife, Angela, was murdered by Manny Horvitz in an act of cold revenge. Now we get valuable insight into their relationship, through flashbacks that dominate a great part of the episode – a proper move, but a nice one too, for she was a lovely character that we were just now starting to understand. So Jimmy lost his wife, and with a fresh dose of heroine at hand, he lets himself go in an anonymous hotel room, dwelling in past memories.
It is through these trips to his past that the not so shocking truth about his relationship with Gillian, his mother, is revealed. Their strange dynamics are noted in a subtle way throughout the series, even pointed out by other characters, but it was hard to foresee the depth of the sickness between the two – we’re talking incest, of course. However, from the moment mother and son walk into a bedroom after a social gathering, and Jimmy starts “taking care” of a drunk Gillian, it’s hard to picture a different outcome for that scene.
As writer Howard Korder points out, neither of them where forced to do anything, it was something that had been cooking for years; she had him at age 13, and formed the closest bond she has ever had with anyone, one she started to twist from the moment he was born.
Add this to having Nucky Thompson as a father figure, and it’s easy to get Jimmy’s own words: I’m what time and circumstance has made me. And time and circumstance made him the kind of man who would and did try to kill his own mother, and succeeded at killing his own father. He confessed the torment and secret wish to do this to Nucky before, regretting not having done it yet, to which Nucky replies that it’s only natural that he couldn’t harm his own father, for it was family – a judgement that will later resonate in Nucky’s actions, and Jimmy’s outcome.
But the most shocking element of this murder is how Gillian, after nearly being killed by Jimmy due to her cold reaction to Angela’s death, sides with him against the Commodore when he tries to kill Jimmy, inciting her son to kill his own father. A strikingly intense scene backed-up by powerful performances, that manages to go from failed matricide to failed infanticide to actual patricide, in one successful tragic climax.
The sudden destruction of Jimmy’s world could only culminate in his own fall. The final episode’s title, To the Lost, comes from a recurring ad lib by Michael Pitt himself – a drinking salutation to the soldiers who died in the war. This was a category he explicitly included himself in, when saying to Nucky upon facing his very death: I died in the trenches, years back. I thought you knew that. But despite considering himself as good as dead, Jimmy knows his actual end is near, and so he tries to make things right, or as right as he can. The only possible outcome was as clear to him and it was inevitable to the storyline: not sure of what Nucky would do, he held a pistol when receiving him; and too sure of what Nucky would do, he brought no arm to their late night meeting in the rain.
As said by the show’s main character, blood runs thicker than water, and so Nucky pulls the trigger, twice, but not before delivering the final, brilliant words that made him a full-on gangster: I’m not seeking forgiveness.
Jimmy Darmody was one of the most compelling characters of the show,
product of magnificent character building work.
And in the hands of Michael Pitt,
it was the very thing we all excitingly looked for in every episode.