Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Jimmy, Boardwalks and Backstory

I'm so late today with my promised post and I suspect it will be short.  But this week's Boardwalk Empire got me thinking about the calculated timing of the backstory reveal once again.

Whether you're writing a novel, or a TV series that might go over several seasons, timing is everything when it comes to revealing backstory. And if you've thought up cool, dark backstories for your characters, the temptation is to make sure the reader/viewer knows and sees all that great stuff. But holding it back is so, so much better. They did this well on Battlestar Galactica. And really well in the movie Shame, to the point where they never really did reveal the backstory, and now Boardwalk Empire.

I loved how they revealed the stuff about Nucky's childhood in the first season, and how Margaret got to America in this season (although frankly, that was a bit of a letdown) but the reveal of Jimmy's backstory was perfect for me.

Yes, with hindsight, we've known some of that all along, and we knew a few details... We knew he'd been at Princeton, but never finished (but didn't know why). We knew he'd been in the war, so I assumed his enlisting had been what cut his University career short. But no... We knew he'd gone to war when  his girlfriend was pregnant. We knew his mother is super young and super pretty and there was some  super creepy sexual energy between them, but wow. What great timing to explain some of the missing pieces in Jimmy's background.

And to add layers to his already very complicated relationship with his mother. Not to mention his wife.

When things like that get revealed in second or third seasons I often wonder when the writers knew... Is this something they thought of after the fact or knew all along and held back. And in this case, I think it's deliciously obvious that they knew all along. And that the director told the actors from the start. Every look between Jimmy and his mother.... The awkwardness between Jimmy and his girlfriend/wife once he comes back from war.. That, I assumed, was just due to the time they'd been apart, (and then the fact they reveal she's a lesbian). But no. So much more delicious. They barely freaking knew each other.

And his mother got him kicked out of Princeton. Or he did because he was freaking jealous of a professor hitting on his Mom. Wow.

All of it delicious. One of my favourite episodes yet.


Molly O'Keefe said...

I loved it too - for a couple of reasons.

1. We knew it - sort of. And with this kind of story the specifics are key - yes, there was weird sexual tension, but how far did it go. We had to know exactly how far it went before the question had to be answered definitvely and it was.

2. The scene was awful. Truly agonizing to watch - you knew something was coming, but you didn't know what or when he would stop it and then OH MY GOD - he didn't stop it. Adam couldn't actually watch the screen.

3. It's the reveal that keeps on revealing. It wasn't until talking with you Maureen about it the next day that the penny dropped that this wasn't the only time they'd done this. the look on his face the next morning wasn't as horrified as one would expect. It was wounded and deeply deeply sad. Which then changes the way I view a lot of moments not only in that episode but in the show. Why the hell was he unpacking her stuff? Remember when mom told wife "when he was little I used to kiss his winkie?"

Jimmy is abused by his mom. Probably has been his whole life. that reveal changes everything.

So good.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, it was just perfect. And I'd forgotten about the kiss his winkie thing until now. Yes. I was pretty sure it wasn't the first time when it happened, but you're right, that cements it. His whole life... And the way he looked at her when the professor was flirting was not just the concern of a son...

And I love that he went off to war to escape. And stole that other kid's backstory to tell the army guy when he enlisted. No wonder he was so freaking uncomfortable with all the war hero stuff when he got back. I want to watch the series from the start again. I remember all this tension between the two of them when he came back, and didn't go to see her first... And of course, during that pilot you think she's another girlfriend... Then you find out it's his mom... I need to watch again. :)

Stephanie Doyle said...

And that's what we talked about at the lunch table... was that first scene where we meet the "mom" the first time he's scene her since he's been back from the war? If so - then yes I want to go back and watch that again.

Interesting that you think they did it before. See to me the energy has always been there - the desire - but it was the actual act that necessitated him going to war. I saw it more like a ... I want to die. How do I make that happen? War.

And yes it does reveal so much of the awkwardness that existed between him an Angela.

Loved it. Loved it almost as much as watching Mom wail on her attacker when she realized he couldn't defend himself.

She was a sexually abused child. She turned around and abused her child.

Maybe it had been happening since he hit puberty.

Good stuff.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I didn't think it was the first time initially - but his face that next day - not enough horror - and what she said while kissing him "there's nothing wrong with what we do?"

I think he thought war was the only way to stop it from happening - he hated himself, hated her. Initally I think he thought a baby - a wife, that will stop this...but no.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched any of Boardwalk this season, but this episode I'll watch, sounds amazing,

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