Gillian Darmody: Victim, Temptress or Survivor?

By Eleonora Iafano on Oct 24, 2012 to Boardwalk Empire

There are a lot of words that could easily describe Gillian Darmody. Floosy. Whore. Single parent. Opportunist. Flighty. Evil. Monster. Feminist. Business woman.

During the first season of Boardwalk Empire I found myself thinking about how tough it must have been for Gillian, raising Jimmy as a single mother, back in the 1900’s. After all, the way society judged women was based on their marital status and/or social standing. Gillian had a child, out of wedlock when she was a teenager, so you can just imagine the stigma that had been attached to her at such a tender age.

She is a stunning woman to be sure and I am certain that many men found her desirable. Audience members are made aware with each passing episode that Gillian is somewhat of a free spirit, that she enjoys the company of men and gets in her pleasure where she can. It’s a man’s world, in Atlantic City, New Jersey and Gillian tries to beat the system by taking on lovers, using them to get what she wants and then casually moving on all without a second glance. I’m sure she did what she had to in order to make ends meet and survive back then. I started to think, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh, after all she was just a teenager herself when she had Jimmy. It must have been very difficult to be 14 years old with a baby at your side. She was probably forced to grow up very quickly as she was now responsible for someone else in her life.” However, it becomes known to us that Nucky Thompson also helped out by basically raising Jimmy as a surrogate son when Gillian was off on her madcap adventures. Another underlying theme that I picked up on with regards to Gillian was that she was very conscious of appearances. Whenever we saw Gillian, she was always carefully made up, dressed very elegantly and always trying to give off airs of genteel breeding.

When I found out that Commodore Louis Kaestner, was Jimmy Darmody’s biological father I felt squeamish. It also made me think: if Gillian had been with an older gentlemen how many other powerful, wealthy men had she had relations with just to get by?

What started off as feelings of pity and sympathy quickly turned into something else. In the second season of Boardwalk Empire, I found myself thinking that there was something very wrong with Gillian especially in the way she interacted with her son, Jimmy. It just didn’t look or feel right. You wonder why Jimmy was a very troubled man. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Gillian begins to seize power in the second season of Boardwalk Empire. In a way, I didn’t blame her for taking advantage of the fact that the Commodore had a stroke. She had been the victim of rape. And out of that rape, a child had been born. Years of pent up fury and seething were unleashed the night she was feeding the Commodore. Audience members must have been rooting her on with every harsh slap that she delivered to Louis. I didn’t cast blame one bit. I wanted her to throw a chair at him. It’s funny how karma came back. She was victimized by him as a teenager and after his stroke was totally dependent on her for dressing, feeding and assistance. I can see why she wanted to seize the reins of power because when you’ve been powerless your entire life and you acquire a taste of it, you don’t want it to slip through your fingers.

Gillian, it seems, has had very complicated relationships with most of the men in her life. Nucky Thompson was the one who brought her to the Commodore all those years ago. The Commodore, for assaulting, impregnating and casting her aside. And all the men who she danced for and slept with to get by. Her son, Jimmy, whom she didn’t know how to raise and gave up trying at an early age. She lacked many of the mothering skills it took to raise a child, especially since she was still growing up herself.  Lucky Luciano, who she beds down and has a business arrangement with, operating one of the finest brothels in Atlantic City. Richard Harrow, who she tries desperately to keep on a leash by constantly reminding him that her ‘son’ Tommy is never to learn the real truth about his parents.

I think the worst moment for all Boardwalk Empire fans was towards at the end of season two. We all saw, with disgust and shock what ended up happening that terrible night back at Princeton University. We come to see just how inappropriate the mother – son relationship was. With the revelation that Angela was pregnant with Jimmy’s baby and the horrendous act that transpired between Jimmy and Gillian it’s no wonder that Jimmy quit Princeton and ran off to enlist. He needed to leave and the sooner, the better. You wonder why Jimmy Darmody always had a vacant, tormented look about him. I think anyone in his position would too. To be molested by your mother (“When Jimmy was a baby and I changed his diaper, I used to kiss his little winky”) as an infant and then to have had committed incest is abominable to say the least. I can truly say that I felt loathing and disgust for Gillian Darmody. All feelings of pity and sympathy instantly disappeared once I was done watching that particular episode.

I honestly believe that Gillian is a sociopath. I don’t think she believes she has done anything wrong. What totally creeps me out is how she calls her grandson, Tommy, her “son.” In some regards, I think that Gillian is frustrated with the way her life turned out and she is upset that her station in life as a woman has been dictated by men. She wants to be an independent, powerful woman in her own right. Hence, why she has turned the Commodore’s mansion into a high-class brothel. Appearances and high standards matter to this woman. A new gangster has taken an interest in her. Gyp Rosetti has an eye for fine women and bootlegging. I wonder if their relationship will be strictly platonic, or will there be an underlying flirtation between the two? I think Gillian needs to be in control of her life and her station. We will see just how successful she turns out in the third season. What’s that saying about a woman?

“Hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned…”

  • Befan012

    I read your article ,and I couldn’t agree with you more about Gillian being a sociopath. If I can quote from another article she lives in a moral vacuum. To see her be so dismissive about her sons anguish over his wife’s death was heartbreaking. We watch in the next episode( to the lost) Jimmy knows his life is coming to an end. His mother acts distant and dismissive of his plight. In these moments Jimmy relizes she is toxic, and trying to make her, and his father happy has brought him to this tragic end. Even after he gone to meet his end Gillian does not griev, or plead to save him. Instead she picks up her grandson Tommy, tells him he’s going to be a great man already grooming him to take over. Another heartbreaking moment.

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