When I started watching Boardwalk Empire in its first season, it was painfully aware that the show was male-driven, but the few female characters it did have showed promise. The Irish widow Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), the politician’s arm candy Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta), the beautiful entertainer Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) and the mother/aspiring artist Angela (Aleksa Palladino).
Angela, at the time, had yet to marry her son’s father, Jimmy (Michael Pitt) but she took care of their home and toddler while he was away at war. Upon his return, it becomes clear that she had spent her free time in a romance with the photographer’s wife, Mary Dittrich (Lisa Joyce).
Jimmy finds out Angela and Mary are planning to run away together to Paris, where Angela dreams of living her life as a painter, with her lover at her side. Unfortunately, Mary is nowhere to be found on the day of their journey, and Angela returns home, dejected, and Jimmy forgives her; not because he loves her, but he needs her.
When I talked with Aleska last year, she told me Angela and Jimmy aren’t in love, but they have a love for one another.
“I think that she was in love with him very much before he left, and then like I said, they had no communication for two year,” Aleska said. “During those two years, so much had changed for both of them. Like here, so much had changed for women, and for her in particular, when she dives into her art and all these things, she’s becoming more of her own person.”
And that person is a lesbian. In Season 2, Angela has been seen even less than Season 1, and I began to wonder if writers even knew what to do with her anymore. While the show’s other women were at least part of major plotlines, Angela stayed home with minor scenes featuring her now-husband and his cohorts — until the episode “Two Boats and a Lifeguard.”
Aleska told Fast Company that Angela just can’t find what she wants with her husband, so it’s natural that she seeks companionship elsewhere.
“You never see Angela and Jimmy just talking, sharing anything that’s going on in their actual lives,” she told the magazine. “And I think that’s an incredibly lonely place to be. With Mary there was a real relationship, two people going through life together. With Jimmy, I feel like the new house is the perfect metaphor, it’s just big and empty. That’s their life. On the outside, everything looks like it’s improved, but it’s not a warm house. They’re obviously not even physically intimate this year.”
So it was about time Angela find some intimacy. On a recent episode, Angela takes Tommy to the beach, where she meets a bohemian novelist from San Francisco named Louise (Kristen Sieh). Louise is being cited for wearing her swimsuit shorter than the legal requirement for it to “sit no more than 7 inches above the knee.” Angela steps in and says Louise is her cousin and it won’t happen again. The two women strike up a friendship and anyone with gaydar can see where this is going.
Angela attends a party with Louise, where they end up kissing. The relationship is only a subplot that isn’t explored again until this week’s episode, “Georgia Peaches,” and it wasn’t good.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is Boardwalk Empire after all. Things aren’t fair in Atlantic City. People are murdered or tragically maimed on a regular basis. This is how they “learn their lessons.” But I can’t help it. I am insanely upset that a man creeped into Angela’s house, woke her with a start and then shot Louise as she walked out of the bathroom, after showering. The man is surprised to have just killed a naked woman. He asks, “Where’s Jimmy?” Angela tearfully tells him her son isn’t there, as she touches the still warm body of her lover. “Please! I have a child,” she begs. “Do you want money? You can get it. Lot’s of it.” But that’s not what he wants. He tells her “Your husband did this to you” and shoots her three times. Angela dies on top of Louise.
Aleska told Fast Company that she, too, is in mourning over Angela.
“It was intense, because you just start to love this person. And she’s an interesting character because she’s easily misunderstood. People love her, people hate her, people don’t get her. She’s one of the emotional centers of that show. It’s like a death,” she said.
The actress says it was “devastating” in her last few days of playing Angela.
“I think I was in tears the whole time. It was brutal. From a storyteller’s perspective, I appreciate how brutal it is. It was intense, it was scary, it was all those things,” she said. And I understand that about this show. Boardwalk Empire thrives on the unexpected. Was Angela doomed to die because of her husband’s dirty dealings in the illegal liquor trade? Probably. But was it a major loss to the show like any of the other major characters’ deaths would be? Yes.
As one of the few women on the show, Angela’s exploration of herself as a woman, as an artist, as a lesbian, as a feminist was one of the most interesting and underdeveloped on the show. As a period piece, Boardwalk Empire had the opportunity to highlight the boho and gay underworld as it did with the behind-the-scenes looks at politics, the African American struggle, immigration and crooked police work. Among both the male female characters, Angela was a moral compass. She was a good person, someone who took her role as a mother seriously but also wanted more for herself. She died for no one’s sins but her husband’s, and that’s the sad truth.
I’m not sure if Angela had to die for Boardwalk Empire to continue on its current trajectory of Jimmy having to suffer some losses before he can truly find out what it’s like to be top dog, but I will forever wish they had chosen a different way.