The women of Boardwalk Empire employ different survival strategies to keep themselves safe.
It’s easy to dismiss Lucy and Gillian because they use their sexuality and are upfront about that. It’s easy to loathe Gillian because of how she handles men.
Spoilers and more under the cut, discussing Season 1 and the first half of Season 2.
But Gillian isn’t weak. Damaged, perhaps, a realist, yes, but not weak.
It takes a lot of willpower to confront a stalker.
Seriously. A strange man comes to her son’s home, calling him a name that no one calls him. So she knows straightaway this stranger is not a friend, and he’s lying, and he’s probably a criminal because that’s the element her son works for/with.
Then he keeps showing up where she works, night after night.
Weird. Creepy. Dangerous. And clearly, she’s in trouble, in physical peril, if she doesn’t do something.
So she gives him what she wants–her body.
And it’s easy to justify that she did it all for her son, but honestly? I think that was a side effect, a bonus because she handled the situation. First and foremost, I believe that Gillian was preserving her own life.
In Season 2, she throws her support behind Jimmy, but I still see survival strategies in play. For years, she relied on Nucky to help take care of Jimmy. As Nucky fell from power and people around him started getting hurt or killed, she abandoned that sinking ship and swam with the rising tide–propelling her son with her.
For a few episodes, Gillian’s blithe dismissal of her painful past was hard to watch. I understood why she was doing it — survival. Her abuser became the most powerful man in town, and so she feigned forgiveness and even acceptance to secure her safety. She smiled at him and helped him.
It’s only after the abuser loses his speech that we see Gillian’s teeth. Her son is primed to inherit the empire, so she moves from survival to expressing her emotions.
In my mind, everything up until that moment is survival. The world of this story isn’t safe for her–she knows it, and every choice she makes, she makes to survive.