Can I get a precursory round of applause for Boardwalk Empire's women in Season 5? Well, except for Gillian Darmody because that woman is everything that's wrong is this world. The series beefed up its female roles in Season 4 with the introduction of Sally Wheet and the establishment of Margaret Schroeder as an independent woman that can wheel and deal with the best of them. And in Boardwalk Empire 's Season 5 premiere, the series continued on the course of finally making its women more than minor players in a man's storyline, with Patricia Arquette's Sally Wheet taking a major role in Nucky's negotiations in Cuba.
There's been a representation problem with women on Boardwalk starting with its introduction of Margaret Schroeder in Season 1. Looking back and seeing how far she's come, her initial entrance was disappointing even if she exhibited strong self-preservation skills. Boardwalk's biggest female roles have consistently been presented as weak, liabilities to the world they live in. Until Margaret was finally able to stand strong against Nucky's bullshit and walk out the door on yet another husband, except this time she did it without needing rich, open arms as a safety net.
Since Boardwalk's premiere, we've seen the rise and fall of the crazy, drug-addicted, male-dependent, incest-loving Gillian Darmody. Actually, I don't know if we can ever say that she rose, except for maybe turning being a teenage mother into a profitable, yet degrading business. And, while Boardwalk spent a lot of time on her character in Season 4, with the custody battle over Tommy, Gillian never did anything to give the series a boost when it came to female representation.
Aside from that, the series was full of club performers and prostitutes that flitted in and out of the series as footnotes to the bigger, male storyline (like Lucy, Nucky's girlfriend before Margaret) and blissfully ignorant yet emotionally weak wives like Eli's, who essentially existed to stand in a doorway and cry every time there was a challenge with her family. The series even attempted to reduce Margaret into a woman that was satisfied living in the dark about her husband's activities outside of the home, whether they be work or infidelity-related. (Though it ultimately failed because Kelly Macdonald is a badass.)
So, when Season 4 introduced Patricia Arquette as Sally Wheet, reintroduced Macdonald's Margaret, and introduced us to Christiane Seidel's Sigrid Mueller, Boardwalk all of a sudden had three women that each carried a commanding presence in its male-centered world. And Arquette's Wheet, marked the first time a woman ran with the "big boys" in the sale of illegal booze. She owned a speakeasy in Tampa and Nucky marked her as a equal, whether it be as a result of his struggle to turn Margaret into a happy housewife or not.
And now, in the premiere of Season 5, Boardwalk's final season, Sally Wheet's interest in Cuba and its opportunities has carried on — she's moved her business from Tampa to Cuba full time. Wheet and Nucky are both in Cuba together where Season 5 starts off and no, she's not there on vacation while he deals with the Bacardi family and politics — she's right there in the trenches with him, holding her own as a force to be reckoned with with her own club. And it's refreshing that, even though she and Nucky have a romantic relationship of sorts, they're also partners. It's a huge shift for Boardwalk, as the series has consistently pushed women far away from the business world, especially when it comes to alcohol and yet here she is, in meetings with Nucky where she's not only seen, but also heard on the same level as the men in the conversation.
Yes, Wheet and Nucky carried on this type of relationship last season for a bit, but what's impressive is that it's stuck and it's been deemed important and valuable enough to have a place in the final season. It's obvious that women aren't just a subplot and side story on this series anymore, they're in the middle of everything — Wheet with Nucky's plans for Cuba and Margaret in the future of Rothstein's life on Boardwalk. The HBO series is finally giving these women the attention they deserve, it's just a shame that they didn't do it sooner.
Images: Macall B. Polay/HBO (2)