'Boardwalk Empire' Recap: Savage Justice

Richard Harrow goes on a life-changing hunting trip; Jimmy takes over the family business

boardwalk empire episode 5 richard harrow
Macall B. Polay
Jack Huston as Richard Harrow in HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire.'
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Thank heaven for gratuitous violence – otherwise "Gimcrack and Bunkum" would've been a pretty forgettable episode. In a development that surprised no one, the Commodore's scheme to take down Nucky is rapidly unraveling now that a stroke has put the aging mobster out of commission. But Nucky doesn't need his rivals to overthrow him – he's doing a hell of a job of that all on his own. His grand plan to have his election-fraud case turned into a federal charge has disintegrated into a flimsy mess. There was a silver lining to the stagnant plot lines though: The writers were able to turn their attention to one of Boardwalk Empire's more esoteric – but no less captivating – characters, the disfigured war veteran Richard Harrow.

A Grave Situation
Nucky succeeds in bringing Harry Daugherty to Atlantic City to assist with his now-federal suit, but his confidence is short-lived. The attorney general's plan is a gamble at best: He's brought in a young hotshot prosecutor, Charles "Chip" Thorogood, who intends to make Nucky's indictment so complex that the Justice Department, swamped with Volstead Act cases, won't want to bother with a little Mann Act violation – and they'll have it thrown out. Nucky doubts the whole operation when Daugherty refuses to give him a guarantee that it will even work. Not to mention the fact that Daugherty and Thorogood seem way more interested in partying and getting blow jobs.

Things aren't much better for Nucky back home. With the Commodore incapacitated, a terrified Eli has come crawling back to his older brother. But Nucky hasn't forgotten how easily Eli turned on him, despite the sheriff informing Nucky of the Commodore's condition (Has Nucky been living under a rock? Hasn't it been, like, a month?). The county treasurer may have kept his cool during the Babette's showdown two episodes ago, but he is in full-on intimidation mode now – and out for the kill. The two engage in a brutal smackdown in the conservatory, their hands on each other's throats. Just as Nucky's legs go lifeless, Eli pulls back – Margaret is holding a shotgun to his head. The younger Thompson leaves, but Nucky is visibly angry his brother didn't exit the house draped in a shroud: "If you're going to point a shotgun at someone, make sure it's loaded," Nucky chastises a trembling Margaret. He walks off without an embrace or a thank you. What a guy.

Eli continues his role as the world's worst gangster that evening when George O'Neill pays him a visit. George, one of the ward boss turncoats, has been hearing rumors about the Commodore's health. Eli plays off the rumors as just that, but his eyes give him away, and George panics – threatening to tell Nucky. Eli then sees fit to silence George by bludgeoning him to death. Although, I'm not quite sure why that was necessary – didn't Eli just tell Nucky the truth about the Commodore? In the episode's closing scene, Eli buries George's body near the ocean, literally and figuratively digging his own grave.

"These Woods Is for Living"
Richard Harrow has been lurking in the shadows for a while, but in this episode he was actually given some ample screen time – and it was a welcome break from Nucky's legal troubles. A skilled sniper who befriended Jimmy in Chicago last season, the silent, brooding Richard now works as Jimmy's right-hand man. Richard's depression has already been hinted at in a couple of earlier episodes: His scrapbook filled with pictures of happy families speaks volumes to his inner torment. He also opened up to Angela briefly in a touching scene last week about how he was too ashamed of his appearance to remain with his caring sister after he returned from the war. Considering he had half his face blown off and has to go through life wearing a mask, it's understandable he's a little insecure.

Instead of attending a Memorial Day dedication with the Darmodys, Richard goes to the woods, ostensibly to hunt. Alone, he removes his mask and lies on the ground, looking heavenward. After watching him in profile for most of the scene, the camera switches to a frontal shot, and we get the clearest vision yet of the extensive damage to his face (great CGI work here). And it's no less shocking: His left eye is an empty socket and half his mouth is obliterated. Then the tip of his shotgun comes into view. Just as Richard is about to pull the trigger, he hears a dog growl. The suicide attempt halted, it is postponed indefinitely when the pooch makes off with his mask.

The dog leads him to a makeshift camp where Richard not only retrieves his mask, but a newfound outlook courtesy of a grizzled local – and intuitive – hunter: "People come out here, they get up to all kinds of foolishness," he tells Richard. "That's not what these woods is for….These woods is for living."

Richard returns to the Darmody household that evening, where Jimmy asks if he's up for a job. Before Richard accepts, he asks his employer if he's willing to fight for him. Jimmy, looking into his friend's eyes, gives Richard the answer that he's longed for: "Right down to the last bullet." Dump Al Capone, Jimmy. Your bromance with Richard is way more stimulating.

A Slice of Life
Following the Memorial Day festivities, Jimmy meets with Atlantic City's elder statesmen, including Leander Whitlock (for all the hype over casting Dominic Chianese in this role, he's clocked in maybe 60 seconds of screen time so far). And they're pissed, because their investment of $70,000 went up in flames in the warehouse explosion. Wheelchairs and ear horns aren't going to stop these old fogies from holding the Commodore's son accountable, as one cruel bastard, Parkhurst, demonstrates by whacking Jimmy in the head with his cane. While Gillian tends to her son's wound, she galvanizes Jimmy to do what we've been waiting to see all along – take charge of his father's affairs. "You will not be disrespected," she tells him. It's clear that Gillian is the one pulling the strings here. Jimmy has regularly voiced a yearning for a simple life, but with his mother whispering reminders that John D. Rockefeller was born on a farm, those humble dreams may ultimately be replaced with ones of wealth and power.

Regardless, Jimmy doesn't take a beatdown from an old man lightly: That evening, Parkhurst is admiring a beaded Sioux breechcloth (and remarking how the Sioux were "savages"). In a bit of irony – and the goriest scene to date – Jimmy and Richard bust in and scalp the wheelchair-bound geezer. Well, Richard does the slicing while Jimmy looks away. It's satisfying to see Jimmy finally standing up to his father's cronies, but if he's too scared to actually watch what he's ordered up, then he may not have what it takes to be the next Nucky Thompson.

Wrap-Up: The only thing that wasn't "gimcrack" or "bunkum" about this episode was the Richard Harrow story line. Here's hoping the writers will continue to develop his supporting role to the point that he'll be sorely missed whenever he doesn't appear – like Chalky White.

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