Cultural Devastation

Warning: This post will spoil the season 4 finale of Boardwalk Empire.

The past few Sunday nights have been tough. It is always rough when a show that I love and respect as much as Boardwalk Empire comes to a screeching halt without any new episodes for a year. However, while each season tends to grip me and cause me undue anxiety, rarely has an hour of television emotionally devastated me to the extent the season 4 finale managed to.

When asked by other fans of the show to name my favorite character, I never miss a beat: Eli. Nucky’s complicated, broken and completely amazing brother has always been the most compelling character on the show in my opinion. I went into the finale completely confident we would lose him. To my surprise, Eli faced the threat of death strong-willed and ready–he was completely broken, everything he found important in the world was gone or to some degree of warped and unintelligible, and yet, Eli survived the finale. That isn’t to say he is safe. The scene in which he brutally kills a federal agent was one of the most violent and agonizing things I’ve ever seen put to screen. The loss of his dignity, family and safety net (Nuck) started my whirlwind of devastation, but, little did I realize what was just around the corner.

We knew. I just want to say that. My husband and I both knew what was going to happen. However, as with the infamous “Red Wedding” on Game of Thrones there was just nothing we could do to stop the inevitable. Even though we knew, there was no way we could ever imagine how horrible the death of Richard Harrow would be. He finally got everything: Tommy, a loving wife, a fellow soldier who forced him to choose between family and war. And yet, in order to protect all of that, he had one last job. Of course, being a killer with a heart will never end well. As Richard missed and hit Maybelle, I cringed and yelped. Chalky was now broken. But, it was watching one of the most compelling, captivating and entertaining characters in the history of television stagger to the boardwalk; seeing his last images of hope and joy and a world where he doesn’t have to hide behind a mask–where he can be who he needs and wants to be juxtaposed with the bloody mask falling into the sand. Devastating.

Why? Why did Richard’s death devastate me? Certainly he was a great, beautifully broken character, but, as I’ve mentioned before–I’m an Eli girl. Why did this death stick with me and cut at me? Why do any fictional deaths destroy us? We watch fiction to forget reality. Even though fiction can be brutal, violent, terrifying–it is about worlds we aren’t a part of but are morbidly curious about. However, Richard was always so perfectly human. He was pure and real–he cared deeply and loved fully. He was the humanity in this violent, horrible world ruled over by worse men. So when he died, he reminded the viewer of the loss of humanity, the threat of mortality, and the devastation of purity. His death, though beautiful, was tragic because it was so perfect.

Has a fictional death ever cut you deeply? (Please add spoiler tags if you reveal).

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