Sunday, October 23, 2011

 

Boardwalk Empire No. 17: Gimcrack & Bunkum: Richard's Tale

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.


By Edward Copeland
"Gimcrack & Bunkum" (by the way, gimcrack can be used as an adjective meaning cheap tasteless or gaudy or a noun referring to a showy trinket of little value; bunkum is another word for nonsense) was written by Howard Korder, who wrote this season's "Ourselves Alone" and last season's "Family Limitation" and "Paris Green." The director is Executive Producer Tim Van Patten, their most frequent director, who is helming his sixth installment (and already has directed his seventh, which hasn't aired). One of the six he directed actually was "Family Limitation," which Korder also wrote. The pacing of this outing proves quite remarkable, considering the portions devoted to the more leisurely paced tale of Richard in the woods. In a way, I almost wish it could have aired as a single unit but since it covers quite a bit of time, I understand the need for breaking off to other storylines to evoke the passage of time. Though it couldn't be more dissimilar, the change-of-pace story of one of the characters out in some woods reminded me of the classic Sopranos outing "Pine Barrens," which Van Patten co-wrote the story for with Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter, who wrote the teleplay, and which was directed by Nucky himself, Steve Buscemi. If somehow you missed the recap of the majority of this episode, click here.


Richard Harrow's story tonight was far enough removed from what was going on elsewhere and didn't involve any other regular characters, so I felt that this really was the only appropriate way to go. The only exception will be at the very end, which will take place back in Atlantic City and involve some other regulars because it gives the story a resolution of sorts that the final woods scene doesn't. Jimmy's reading of the names of those from the area who sacrificed their lives serving in World War I (or The Great War as it still was called then) can be heard through the window of the small room where Richard Harrow lives in a boardinghouse as his tale begins. As Jimmy's reading leaks in, Richard sits on his bed, wearing a full suit and looking through that scrapbook that he has been making with cutouts from newspapers and magazines. He has added Angela's sketch of his disfigured visage and placed it on a page opposite a photo of himself before he was injured. After he closes the scrapbook, he goes to the window and straps a large hunting knife in his belt. He then places an apple on top of a large block of cheese and wraps both in a handkerchief and puts them in a bag he carries on his shoulder. From his closet, he removes a covered rifle and slings it over his shoulder. He stops at a mirror and adjusts a hunting cap on his head and leaves the apartment.

Later, Richard climbs out of the passenger seat of a truck driving on a path in the woods. He thanks the driver for the lift. The truck drives on and Harrow surveys his surroundings. The trees where he had the truck let him off aren't very thick — in fact, parts look barren. Richard walks around, checking the area out. He stops when he spots a very colorful bird standing on the large branch that appears to have broken off from a tree and fell to the ground. If Harrow has come to hunt, he's not interested in this bird since he makes no move to retrieve his rifle from its satchel. Instead, he just cocks his head and stares at the bird. He might be smiling, but since that mask makes up half his face, it's always difficult to ascertain his true facial expression. He hears more birds and looks up to see more of the flying creatures making semi-circles in the sky above that tree.

Some more time passes and Richard gives his feet a break, sitting on what appears to be the large root of a tree, removing his cap and loosening his tie. He takes out that big blade he placed in his belt in his room that morning and begins to slice the apple he brought with him. He carefully places each piece of the fruit on the handkerchief that once wrapped it but which now lies spread out beside him. When finished, he returns the knife to its sheath and removes his mask, placing it on the ground so he can eat. Richard takes a drink from the metal canister he's brought with him. With his mask off, his facial expressions become easier to read. Harrow's mind definitely has traveled somewhere else. Richard looks down and puts his military dog tags around his neck, which were round in World War I unlike the oblong shape that has been used ever since World War II. Harrow grimaces, as if he's in some sort of pain, then lies flat on his back on the ground. He stares up at the sky, though some limbs obscure the somewhat overcast view. In profile, he almost looks to be smiling now. Perhaps it's because he's happy to greet the barrel of the rifle that enters the frame and that he places in his mouth. It's sad enough when we see Richard's disfigured face, but its tragedy multiplies when we view its damage from above with the addition of a deadly weapon protruding from his lips. With as much of his face that's still not there despite his surgeries, it seems as if he almost can't wrap his mouth around the rifle barrel easily. We see that he's holding the weapon upside down, his left hand firmly gripping the middle of the rifle while his right places a finger on its trigger. Harrow closes his remaining eye and his finger prepares to fire when he hears a growl. He reopens the eye and looks to his right to see a dog. Richard removes the rifle and rises slightly. "Go on now," he tells the mutt. "Go." The dog grabs Richard's mask with his teeth and holds it in his mouth. Harrow sits at full attention now. "Hey dumdum!" The dog keeps growling, but stands his ground. Richard brings the rifle around as if he intends to shoot him. "Come on now. Good boy," he says. The canine growls some more, then turns and runs. "Hey! I need that back!" Richard yells. Harrow looks as if he curses to himself, then gets up and chases after the dog shouting in that raspy voice, "I need that back!" The dog has a big head start as Richard runs through the leaf-covered woods, rifle in hand.

When it becomes clear that he’ll never catch the dog, Richard takes a break, slumping against a tree to catch his breath. “Hey,” a voice says from out of nowhere. Richard looks to his left and sees a man in a hat standing on higher ground holding a rifle. Harrow tries to shield himself the best he can but the man tells him, “Don’t be hidin’ there." Richard stuffs his dog tags into his shirt where they can’t be seen and stands up. The man must think he’s planning to make a run for it because he says to him, “No no. Come on now. This way” and motions to his right. Harrow brushes the dirt and leaves off his clothes as best he can and follows the stranger, As they walk, he hears a dog barking. They approach a camp where the dog and another man await. "Hush yourself," the other man shouts at the dog. "Don't hit him. It's quiet now. Pantin' around an awful lot out there. Trappin' a varmint." Richard stares at the dog who growls at him. "Sit on down now before you chase 'em all off," the man who brought Harrow to the camp tells him. Richard sits on a log, trying his best to hide the left side of his face as much as possible. "Go on now and give it to him," the second man says to the first, who brings out Richard's mask and returns it to him. Harrow puts it back on, then he faces the men. "Does it itch?" the second man asks. "Sometimes," Richard answers. "I don't half-doubt it. Tree rat?" the second man offers pointing to the animal cooking on the spit. "He means squirrel," the other man explains. Harrow politely declines. "You a revenue agent?" the second man inquires. Richard shakes his head no and the man hands him a flask. "That's very strong," Richard says. "Made it myself. Have some more," the second man tells him. Richard takes another swig. "I'm Glenmore, this is Pete," the man (Bill Camp) who brought him to camp introduces. Richard tells them his name and Glenmore asks where he's from. "I live in Atlantic City," Harrow answers. "That's a sight to see I'm told," Glenmore responds. "You've never been?" Richard says. "Must be thirty miles," Glenmore gives as his excuse for not having ventured there. "I was once. Saw a flying horse," Pete (Jon DeVries) tells them. Glenmore tells Pete it had to be some kind of trick. "Well, it looked real to me," Pete insists. Odds are Pete refers to the city's famous diving horses, not an actual flying one. "You are an easily bamboozled individual," Glenmore tells Pete. "Ah, lay off your pontificating," Pete replies. With these two strangers in the woods speaking this way, it's almost as if Richard somehow wandered onto the set of Deadwood. Richard returns the flask to Pete. "What brings you out here, Richard?" Glenmore asks. "I was hunting," Richard says, struggling to get the words out. "Left my things by a pond." Glenmore inquires as to which pond it was, but Richard tells him he's not sure. "That's how one mistake leads to another," Glenmore says to Richard as if he's alluding to something else. The dog begins his growling again and Pete turns to hush him. Glenmore takes off his hat, "Well, we're gonna eat something. You probably should too," he suggests. Pete raises his flask. "Here's to flying horses," he emotes before taking a drink. Glenmore begins slicing off pieces of squirrel meat.


The sun has pretty much set on the campsite as Richard and his new friends have finished their meal. Harrow asks what he should do with the bones from what they ate and Glenmore warns him not to give them to the dog because he'll choke on them. Not knowing what else to do, Richard puts the bones in his pocket while the dog watches him and Pete gives Glenmore a funny look. "What's his name?" Richard inquires about the dog, "He's not mine. He just comes around," Glenmore says. "He knows who he is," Pete insists. "He's an old soldier. Just keeps on fightin'. Don't ya, boy?" Glenmore assesses about the canine. "For what?" Richard inquires. "How's that?" Glenmore says, seeking clarification. "What did he fight for?" Harrow asks. "You're gonna have to ask him," Glenmore replies as he tosses a snack to the dog who gobbles it down. "Now what's your pleasure Glenmore?" Pete wonders. "I wouldn't mind sleeping out tonight," he answers. "I'm goin' home I guess," Pete decides. Glenmore tells Pete he's getting soft. "What about you, Richard?" Glenmore asks while he lights a smoke. "I should get back to town," Harrow says. Glenmore inquires how Richard plans to do that and Richard admits he doesn't know. "I've got the Ford parked not a hundred yards away," Pete offers. "Say Richard," Glenmore begins, takes a puff, then continues, "I'm out in these woods a lot. People come out here — they get up to all kinds of foolishness. That's not what these woods are for. You understand me?" It seems pretty clear that Glenmore knows what Richard's intention had been that day and that Harrow knows Glenmore is aware of it too. Pete looks back as if he has picked up on something as well. "These woods are for hunting and fishing, seeing what the birds get up to," Glenpool pauses to for another hit from his cigarette. "These woods are for living. Understand me, now?" Richard looks Glenmore in the eye and says, "Yes." Glenmore replies, "Alright then."

Someone knocks late at the Darmody home, but Jimmy hesitates to answer the door. "Is there any reason not to answer it?" Angela asks. "I don't think so," Jimmy answers. Angela walks to the door, but Jimmy gets his gun out — just in case. Angela looks through the curtain first before she opens the door since the visitor is Richard. "Richard, I missed you this morning at the dedication of the memorial," Angela tells him. "I wasn't interested in that," he says. "You alright?" she asks. "I should talk to Jimmy," Harrow tells her. She lets him in and heads into the other room as he takes a seat at the table. Jimmy puts down his gun. "Where were you today?" Jimmy inquires. "I needed to take a walk," Richard replies. "I should have gone with you," Jimmy says. "We're both back now," Richard declares. "You up for a job tonight?" Jimmy wants to know. Richard looks up at Jimmy, but doesn't answer. "Is there a problem, Richard?" Richard's throat makes some contortions, though it's difficult to tell if it's from the usual difficulty he has speaking or if he was about to get choked up, considering what he asks Jimmy. "Would you fight for me?" Jimmy doesn't look as if he's sure what to make of it, but he crosses over to Harrow. "Of course, I would," Jimmy replies. "Right down to the last bullet." Richard looks down for a moment, then back up to Jimmy. "Then let's go to work," he says. Jimmy nods his head and places his hand gently on the back of Richard's head, almost with as much intimacy as he did with Angela. This seems to be a recurring theme or phrase, said and unsaid, this season on Boardwalk Empire: The question of who or what one is willing to fight for.

Through a window we can see the wealthy Jackson Parkhurst examining items on a table. He looks at a piece of Indian craft through a large magnifying glass. He glances out the window when hears a noise but then goes back to what he was doing. His butler Alexander (Todd Davis) enters and asks Parkhurst if he'd like his cocoa in there. "Upstairs — as usual. Half an hour," Parkhurst replies. "Yes, sir," Alexander says and starts to depart. Parkhurst spreads out the Indian fabric. "Do you know what this is, Alexander? A Sioux Indian breechcloth. I've been hunting one down for years," Parkhurst tells his butler. "It doesn't cover much, does it?" Alexander comments. "They come charging at you practically bare-assed," Parkhurst laughs, "waving one of those clubs. They thought that they could stop bullets with magic. Foolish. Fine beadwork though. Damn fool savages." Alexander tells his employer that he'll fetch him in 30 minutes and leaves while Parkhurst continues intently examining the breechcloth. "Alexander, on second thought I will have the cocoa," Parkhurst shouts when someone suddenly spins his wheelchair around. Parkhurst goes speechless as he sees it is Jimmy. "I'm gonna teach you something now," Jimmy tells Parkhurst as he takes the old man's cane and cracks it against his legs, Richard comes into the room. "Who the hell are you?" Parkhurst yells. "I'm a soldier," Richard answers as he begins scalping Parkhurst while Jimmy shoves the breechcloth in his mouth. Did they kill Parkhurst or merely disfigure him? I hope the latter because it's always great to watch Richard Easton give a performance.


THE END


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Comments:
I absolutely loved this episode of Boardwalk Empire. Richard has been a wonderfully rich addition to the cast. It's too bad that he only appears on a semi-episodic basis and often his appearances are far too short. I love the interaction between him and Jimmy. Excellent recap.
 
And the show's creator claims Richard will remain part of the show when it returns but I don't see how that fragile a character can when the only two characters he has related to (Jimmy and Angela) have both been murdered, one by Nucky's hand. They've made a terrible mistake storywise.
 
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