Richard Harrow: Boardwalk Empire’s unlikely monster

Published October 31, 2012 by vfdpixie


One of my non-horror t.v. faves is Boardwalk Empire.  While not a blatant horror series, it has it’s fair share of old-timey murderers and psychopaths.  One of the show’s quiet heroes, war veteran Richard Harrow, has caught my attention and to me, has joined the ranks of infamous “monsters” such as the Elephant Man and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  He suffered a terrible injury during the war and due to the disfigurement of the left side of his face, wears a tin mask, a caricature of a once handsome man.

Richard is given a place in the gangster world by a key player, Jimmy Darmody.  Jimmy  befriends him before a psychiatric evaluation that they both wait on, but ultimately never go through with.  This might be a stretch, but I see a connection with Frankenstein’s monster.  In one episode, Al Capone callously refers to Harrow as Frankenstein. His intention is to hurt and ridicule, but Capone unconsciously picks up on his outcast status.  Richard is a product of his environment-made by the war he sacrificed himself for and shunned despite this.  His frontline actions results in his now fringe existence. He is a visible misfit and his deformity instills mistrust and fear from those who do not know him.    When he reveals that he is veteran, attitudes towards him shift from fear to pity.

In the gangster world, most of the characters are dangerous and twisted; their true intentions masked by a normal looking face and demeanour.  We learn that Richard is just as lethal with his marksman skills, but he wears his monster mask on the outside. When his sharpshooting skills come into play, reflex and confidence take centre stage.  We quickly learn that under the quiet, shy persona, he is not to be crossed.  What we also see is that he can reveal the ugly in those around him by just being present, perhaps because he is an unwitting mirror; held up to show people their true strength and integrity as they react to Harrow.

Actor Jack Huston is just plain brilliant.  His portrayal of Harrow’s understated power makes me root for the character, even during his most brutal moments.  His physicality shows his awkwardness in daily life as he tries to go unnoticed due to his deformity.  His face is like a cruel before and after; the after side showing physical and emotional scarring that Huston, as handsome as he is in real life, grasps with great sensitivity.  And there is also the fact that his uncle is Danny Huston who stole my heart when he played one of the scariest vampires I have ever seen in 30 Days of Night.  That, my friends, is a whole other 2 day love letter which I will tackle at another time.

We all want what we don’t have, and Richard yearns for a perfect life. In one touching scene, he refers to himself as the Tin Woodsman to make children more comfortable with his appearance.  This is so fitting: like the Tin Man who wants a heart, Richard keeps a scrapbook of an idyllic life complete with wife, child and white picket fence.  He is a regular man who became a reluctant Boogeyman with a gentle, broken and bruised heart.  I am intrigued with the character and can’t wait to see if he finds love and acceptance, or if he will be chased out of town by the locals.

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