Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Boardwalk Empire," Season 3, Episodes 6-7

The machinations between Nucky Thompson and Gyp Rosetti continued, while Gillian Darmody went even crazier during episodes 6 and 7 of “Boardwalk Empire’s” third season.  However, I’m going to examine the intersections between Richard Harwood and significant historical events during these two hours.

Harwood met Jimmy Darmody in Chicago during season 1.  Like Darmody, Harwood was a World War I veteran and while Jimmy suffered life-altering psychological damage from his tour in Europe, Harwood was physically disfigured while serving as a sharpshooter.  He came back with Jimmy to Atlantic City and is now helping take care of Darmody’s son following his death at Nucky’s hands in the season 2 finale.

In episode 6, “Ging Gang Goolie,” Harwood spends time with other veterans at an American Legion hall.  Veterans formed the Legion, which would become one of the most important veteran’s groups on the 20th century, following their return from Europe.  After an older veteran of the Philippines fights in an amateur boxing match at the hall, Harwood assist him.  The older vet has been unable to go on after his son’s death in the Great War.

Striking up a friendship (or perhaps something more) with the older veteran’s daughter, he spends Easter at their home with other former soldiers in episode 7, “Sunday Best.”  The older vet criticizes the Harding Administration, telling the others that he voted for Eugene Debs in the 1920 election.  Another vet retorts, “You voted for a Bolshevik!”  “Debs is a socialist,” corrects Harwood.

Indeed, Debs was the leader of the American Socialist Party throughout the peak of its electoral clout in the first two decades of the 20th century.  Running for president five times under its banner, Debs won a high of nearly one million votes, including six percent of the popular vote, in the 1912 election.  He strongly opposed American entry into the First World War, believing the country was fighting on behalf of the large banks that had loaned significant sums to the Allied Powers. 

He continued to be outspoken during the war, urging young men to resist the draft.  As a result, Woodrow Wilson’s administration prosecuted him under the Espionage Act, one of the draconian measures the federal government used to crack down on dissent during the war.  Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Debs ran for president for a final time from jail in 1920.  It’s likely the older vet supported Debs because of his strong opposition to a conflict that led to his son’s death.  President Harding commuted Deb’s sentence and he was released in 1921. 

After a slow start, the pace of the season is picking up a bit.  Still, the emotional resonance of the conflicts between Eli and Jimmy during the first two seasons is still missed.

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