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Richard Harrow, the Masked Man on Boardwalk Empire, Should Star in Every Show

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This past Sunday saw the fourth-season premiere of HBO’s mobster drama Boardwalk Empire, and with it came the return of one of the greatest characters on TV today: Richard Harrow.

For those unfamiliar with Boardwalk Empire, the show follows the wheelings, dealings, trials and tribulations of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by the always great Steve Buscemi, who, in recent years, has become internet-famous for his eyes and how things look with them), a semi-fictional politician living in Prohibition-era Atlantic City during the 1920s. Thompson is a lot of things: a crooked county politician, a mid-to-upper level gangster who controls much of the bootlegging trade through Atlantic City, a philandering husband, a rightfully wary but ultimately loyal brother. He’s also the center of the show’s universe around whom revolves a collection of murderers, con men, flappers, politicos and government agents. As the show is loosely based on actual historical events, Boardwalk Empire features a supporting cast comprised of some pretty notorious baddies, including New York mobster and alleged-fixer of the 1919 World Series Arnold Rothstein, the “organizer of organized crime” in the U.S. Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, prominent illegal gambling kingpin Meyer Lansky, and the original Scarface himself, Al Capone.

But even among that murderers row of legendary mobsters, thieves and thugs, Richard Harrow stands out as the most mesmerizing, intriguing and downright badass character on the show. Played by British actor Jack Huston (nephew of Anjelica Huston), Harrow is a World War I vet who is handy with a rifle (and a pistol and a shotgun and a knife) who entered the story in the show’s first season as a friend of Nucky’s protégé, Jimmy Darmody. Harrow is probably best known for his distinct physical appearance — after suffering an injury during the war that robbed him of most of the left side of his face including his eye, Harrow sports a tin mask that is painted to match the rest of his grill. The mask is intimidating, frightening, off-putting and heart breaking all at the same time. And it clearly reinforces the Phantom-of-the-Opera vibe that Harrow gives off whenever he’s onscreen, constantly reminding viewers that this is a dangerous man whose mask covers not only his physical deformities, but his psychological ones as well.

Although Nucky is the focal point of the series, I’d argue that Harrow has emerged as the anti-hero you most want to root for and Boardwalk’s true moral compass — a man caught in a dark world doing bad things for (mostly) good reasons. Over the course of three seasons, we’ve seen Harrow serve as a bodyguard, a suicidal basket case, a boy’s protector, and an assassin. He is a stone-cold killer who the audience has seen commit numerous atrocities, from laying waste to a brothel-full of a mobster’s henchmen to literally scalping a friend’s former business associate. But beneath the terrifying exterior, Harrow is a fiercely loyal friend, a protector of the innocent, and a catastrophically damaged human being who longs for a small slice of the normalcy that was violently taken from him while in service to his country. At the end of the day, Harrow wants for nothing more than a house, a wife and a family of his own (he even keeps a notebook that is the 1920s-equivalent of a “My Dream Life” Pinterest board, where he collects magazine clippings featuring loving families going about their perfect, white-picket-fenced, everyday lives).

The only bad thing about Richard Harrow is that he appears on a show that is filled to the brim with interesting and complex individuals, so much so that key characters often have to sit out an episode or two so the writers can get us caught up with everyone. That means Richard, his mask and his guns are often relegated to B- or C-level storylines, giving him only a few minutes of screen time each episode. In my mind, he’s a character that is more than capable of carrying an entire show and worthy of the lead slot. And I think there are plenty of people who agree with me.

So, in hopes that the Kings and Queens of Hollywood happen to read KSR’s Funkhouser blog or are secretly among the 29 followers I currently have on Twitter, I have come up with pitches to have Richard Harrow join the casts of four current TV shows where he could be seamlessly dropped into the storylines and quickly become the shows’ most fascinating character. You can have these ideas for free, Hollywood. All I ask is for a mention in the credits:

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Current Title: Mike & Molly
New Title: Mike & Molly & Richard Harrow
In 1924, Richard Harrow travels to the Windy City to try to murder Al Capone. While there, Richard Harrow takes a wrong turn down an alleyway, stumbles into a time machine that is disguised as a trash can, and is suddenly transported to modern-day Chicago. Unfortunately, he materializes in front of Wrigley Field during a day game against the St. Louis Cardinals. After receiving hundreds of calls describing “a masked man in wool clothing brandishing a shotgun,” the Chicago Police Department dispatches Officer Mike Biggs (get it? He’s fat, so they named him Biggs.) to find out whether there really is a threat to public safety or if a few knuckleheads just got served one too many Old Styles during the game (which the Cubs lost 17-1, or course). Mike arrives on the scene to find Richard Harrow asking passersby if they know where “Mr. Capone’s residence is located.” Mike calls out to get Richard Harrow’s attention, but Richard Harrow misinterprets Mike’s bulk and theatrically comical Chicago accent as a sign that he is part of Capone’s crew sent on a preemptive strike. The two men lock eyes and Richard Harrow flashes a blood-chilling half-smile, letting Mike know that the hunter has just become the hunted. Mike jumps into his police cruiser and high-tails it home, bursting in the door and collapsing into Molly’s arms as, between sobs, he recants the tale of the tin-faced man in old-timey clothes that marked him for death. The next three seasons depict a tense game of cat-and-mouse as Richard Harrow pursues Mike, leaving countless bodies and immeasurable collateral damage in his wake. In the series finale, Richard Harrow finally catches Mike with his guard down (he has his head buried in the fridge, rummaging for fixins to make a special sandwich out of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers), and smothers him to death with a handful of Molly’s famous extra-thick mashed ‘taters.

 

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Current Title: The Bachelor
New Title: The Bachelor with Richard Harrow
In 1924, on a hunting trip into the nearby woods where he once contemplated suicide, Richard Harrow falls into a ditch and passes out after hitting his head on some rocks. He wakes to find that a well-coifed gentleman named Chris Harrison discovered him and brought him back to his mansion where 20 lucky bachelorettes will compete for his affections. At first, Richard Harrow is unsure about what to make of the situation, but he soon realizes that this may finally be his chance to find true love, allowing him to obtain the normal, fulfilling life of which he dreams. Over the course of the next several episodes, Richard Harrow slowly winnows down the contestants, and although it is difficult for him to eliminate any of them, knowing all too well the heartbreak and suffering that accompanies such public rejection, he admits to Chris that this experience is the first instance in which he can remember being truly happy since that time his friend Jimmy Darmody arranged for him to spend the evening with Odette the Prostitute. When the finale arrives, Richard Harrow has to choose between Mercedes, the curvy blonde who works as a “professional model” on Instagram, or Angela, the smart brunette librarian with a lyrical soul and a passion for fostering rescue animals who is able to look past Richard Harrow’s damaged exterior and love him for the kind-hearted man he is on the inside. After a surprisingly brief moment of contemplation, Richard Harrow chooses Mercedes. Within minutes of Mercedes reluctantly accepting Richard Harrow’s marriage proposal — during which she not so subtly mouths the words, “Oh…oh, no. Oh, it’s so gross,” when he removes his mask in hopes of finally stealing a kiss — Richard Harrow is asked to step into a room to sign a few final papers for the show’s producers. When he enters the room, he finds it is nothing but soundless, infinite darkness, at which time it’s revealed that the entire season was just a fevered death-dream that occurred as Richard Harrow’s life flashed before his mind’s eye. He actually died a quiet and relatively painless death when his head smashed against the rocks, finally releasing his soul from the crushing pain and loneliness of his tortured life.

 

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Current Title: The History Channel’s Top Shot All-Stars
New Title: Richard Harrow’s Top Shot All-Stars
In 1924, while cleaning his weapon collection on the beach just north of the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, Richard Harrow is struck by lightning, inexplicably transporting him to the set of The History Channel’s target shooting reality show (no, seriously!) Top Shot. Richard Harrow walks up to the Top Shot Mansion (because that is a real thing that exists on this show) and knocks on the door. Colby Donaldson, a former contestant on the CBS show Survivor who now hosts Top Shot for The History Channel, answers the door and invites Richard Harrow in, believing him to be a late-arriving contestant. Because the cast of Top Shot is made up of a motley crew of former members of the military, backwoods archers, and civil war re-enactors, no one thinks for one moment that Richard Harrow is anything other than another eccentric competitor, much less a time-travelling World War I veteran and ruthless murderer. The competition begins and Richard Harrow quickly establishes himself as the best marksman of the cast, routinely making seemingly impossible shots and totally nailing bulls-eyes on targets from, like, super-far away. The final competition pits Richard Harrow against Phil Morden, a 26-year old from Michigan who has proven himself to be a terrifyingly accurate shot with a variety of weapons. Colby announces that the last challenge will give each shooter one shot to hit a tiny head-shaped target from approximately 1,000 yards using the M1917 Enfield rifle, a weapon made popular following its use by U.S. soldiers during World War I. Without letting the non-masked side of his face show any inkling of the excitement he feels inside, Richard Harrow quietly walks to the podium, loads and readies the rifle, and effortlessly puts a bullet through the place on the target where the left eye would be if it were really a head. Phil is up next and, after struggling to load the weapon for what seems like 10 minutes, he fires high and hits a big pile of dirt behind the target. Richard Harrow is crowned the Top Shot champion and the producers are so taken with his matter-of-fact delivery and encyclopedic knowledge of 1920s weaponry that they fire Colby on the spot and make Richard Harrow the new host of Top Shot. Richard Harrow goes on to host 15 more seasons of the show and wins 8 Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program.

 

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Current Title: Game of Thrones
New Title: Game of Thrones

In 1924, Richard Harrow is on his way to the unemployment office, finally ready to put his murderous past behind him and move on with his life while attempting to earn an honest living, when he accidentally enters the wrong door and is somehow sent hurtling through space and time to the ancient continent of Westeros. Richard Harrow appears, bewildered, in a crowd of frightened villagers. Believing him to be some sort of sorcerer or a demon servant sent by the White Walkers, the villagers quickly beat him to death with stones, sticks and other makeshift weapons. Sadly, Richard Harrow appears on screen for less than three minutes.

 

@TheSEShepherd

Article written by S.E. Shepherd

I'm a writer from out West living in the South.