Bath time will just never be the same on “Boardwalk Empire,” after Gillian Darmody’s (Gretchen Mol) craziness crested to a new high in tonight’s episode. But what motivated her shocking act of violence, and where will she go from here?
*WARNING: Spoilers ahead*
First of all, we know that Gillian has never been a pillar of morals or mental health. She lies about almost everything, runs a whore house, forces her grandson to call her “mommy” and calls her younger lover “James — because he was a king.” Oh — and then there’s the whole incestuous relationship with her own son, which culminated in Gillian encouraging Jimmy to murder his own father. Which he did.
But by killing Roger, it becomes clear that without Jimmy in her life to be the object of her sick obsessions, Gillian is heading into a tailspin. From the moment she met him on the boardwalk, she seems to enjoy playing games with Roger and asking probing questions about his life, dreams and his future — all the while planning to destroy him.
Gillian spends a great deal of her time with Roger musing on dreams and reality. “Dreams are where we should live,” she says to him when they first meet. “But we have to live in life.” When she’s ready to kill him, she injects the heroin and advises him to “Enjoy it. Have a new adventure.”
She premeditates the entire thing, giving all the brothel employees the day off, and sending Richard Harrow and Tommy to have Easter dinner elsewhere. Gillian acts out a fantasy all day long: Feeding Roger his last meal and sleeping with him several times. She plays the part of a lonely, young widow with nothing to lose — when in reality, she’s a predatory loose cannon. She toys with him for hours and lavishes in his attraction to her, before coaxing the young man into the mansion’s ornate spa room, where she calmly drowns him in the tub. She stages the scene to look like a drug overdose, dresses his body in Jimmy’s dog tags, lights a cigarette, and then she’s on her way.
Roger is just a disposable means to an end to Gillian. While there are hints that he might have his own, gold-digging agenda (“You put this mausoleum up on the block, we hit the road with the stash and have us a fine old time”) he has no idea who he’s dealing with. At first, she enjoys sleeping with him and listening to the details of his own life (while she rewrites Jimmy’s traits and experiences into many of Roger’s narratives). But Gillian has an inner fury as a result of Jimmy’s death — and she’s desperate to keep her business afloat (pun intended).
Indeed, the murder is seemingly motivated not only by anger over her son’s permanent disappearance, but also by the need to declare Jimmy officially dead for tax and property purposes. And certainly, she harbors a massive resentment for men that has accumulated over the years. Gillian has experienced innumerable abusive and disappointing encounters with the opposite sex: Raped and impregnated by the Commodore as a teen, let down by Nucky Thompson and challenged by her business partner, Luciano, to cite a few.
The Easter Sunday symbolism wasn’t lost on the viewers, either — except in this twisted version, the Mary Magdalene-esque “whore” seems to be clawing for a way to revive the man she worships (Jimmy) by killing another.
At episode’s end, Gillian sits and cries as Roger’s body is discovered by screaming Artemis Club employees. “My son is dead,” she says to Harrow. “And nothing on earth will ever bring him back.”
Gillian staged the scene to look like a suicide or accidental death — but will the cover-up work? It’s likely that she plans on using Roger’s body as some sort of replacement for Jimmy’s, in order to claim ownership of the Commodore’s estate. After all, the physical similarities are there, and she put the dog tags on his corpse. But surely Harrow and some of her other staff will know that it’s a lie. Will they play along? And what will Nucky Thompson have to say about the news?
Ultimately, the more important fallout from tonight’s death is Gillian’s inevitable unraveling. Her specific brand of craziness has been showcased for some time, but now that she can add murder to her list of sins, the stakes are raised. After the bath scene, Gillian Darmody has become even scarier, and certainly more evil, than the many of the plain old, regular BE gangsters who orbit around her.