Boardwalk Empire season 2 episode 11 review: Under God’s Power She Flourishes

Is Under God's Power She Flourishes about as odd as Boardwalk Empire gets, wonders Michael?

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

2.11 Under God’s Power She Flourishes

We’ve now seen twenty-two hours of Boardwalk Empire, so we could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve got a firm grasp on how it all works. And then comes Under God’s Power She Flourishes, an episode that features as its central narrative device a lengthy, episodic flashback. That the structure is not the weirdest, or indeed most disturbing aspect of the episode tells you something.

Yes, it gets odder. Much odder.

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But first, the flashback. We’re catapulted immediately back to Jimmy’s Princeton years, studying Jacobean literature under a Mr. Pearson. It’s where he first meets Angela, who comes to his dorm room at night for a cheeky visit.

The flashback is a fairly common device, unremarkable in itself, but an opportunity for actors to show a bit of range and to add to their interpretation of the character. However, most of what we learn about young Jimmy comes from the writing, rather than Michael Pitt’s performance.

We see him being flippant in class, getting to know Angela, and finding out that he is to become a father, but aside from some laughter he’s still presented as the same old Jimmy we have known since the war. It’s a shame, as given what we later know about the character, it seems a wasted opportunity to have a little bit of fun with the performance.

However, the writing is good only in the minor sense. We’re talking the little comments and hints –Jimmy’s mockery of his classmate’s patriotism, his insistence that he’ll provide for the baby, the mirroring of his and Gillian’s behaviour. Watch him stare at his mother flirting with Pearson, then see her staring at him return, as he gives the same Mr. Pearson a sound thrashing. It’s a neat hint of the closeness of their relationship and a foreshadowing of the nasty, drunken and regrettable consummation to come.

Despite this, the wider conceit of the episode is a little more simplistic, almost facile. Of course we learn that it wasn’t the war that screwed Jimmy up, he was like that even before he got on the boat. That the several events that set him on this course all occur in the same twenty-four hour period is a little much. The beating of his tutor, Angela discovering that she is pregnant, sleeping with is mother, even the idea of joining up, are all presented together. When he wakes up with the mother of all hangovers and looks out of the window the smart viewer can guess that he will see drilling soldiers.

A more generous take would be that these events did not necessarily happen all together, but in recalling them, Jimmy’s addled brain associates them with one another. It is, under this view, Jimmy’s own narrative, his personal understanding of how he ended up where he did. This would make the flashback entirely justified since it is the only way to tell this story. Other characters, Nucky, Chalky, Margaret, even the zipped-up Van Alden are able to tell vignettes from their lives but not Jimmy, and not this.

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Way back in the very first episode he told Nucky of his war experiences saying simply ‘I seen some things’. This would have been perfect, not to reveal what he had seen, but to leave it unsaid, informing his characterization without blowing it all. Sadly, he was given a mouthful of dialogue explaining it all. It was ill-disciplined writing, lacking in confidence. In the context of what we know now, it is doubly disappointing. It would have added an air of mystery to be resolved now. It is, one of the hazards of fiction. We know, for example, what is to become of Al Capone. Jimmy, on the other hand, is being made up season by season.

Talking of seasons, this current one is getting progressively worse for Jimmy. With one more episode to go, his shallow alliance is falling apart. His wife is dead, his gangster confederates seem to be getting on just fine without him, Eli Thompson is getting dangerously desperate and his father, the Commodore is now dead at his son’s own hands. It is an act of heightened emotion, the denouement of years of confusion, regret and pain. When he delivers the coup de grace, at the bitter insistence of his mother, it is as though he has completed the circle begun in Princeton all those years ago.

Oedipus, you’re a complex one, so you are.

Read our review of the last episode, here.