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Deadwood: Deep Water

"I'd rather be lucky than smart."

In which Al tries to murder his problems away, but only halfway succeeds.

There aren't many shows that devote their second episode to the attempted murder of a child, but Deadwood doesn't pull punches. We saw characters mobilize to either harm or protect little Sofia, and it made for tense viewing.

We opened, however, with Eustace Bailey Farnum, more commonly known as EB. Deadwood is very good at establishing characters, and EB is no exception. We saw him last episode, where he clasped clammy hands with Charlie Utter and stooged for Al, but here we were really hit over the head with what kind of person he is. EB was racist and condescending toward Wu, who couldn't understand his words, and topped off his basic jerkassery by ordering the death of a dog. He's a bitter, scheming coward whose very voice makes my skin crawl and I am enormously fond of him. I know, I know, but I just can't help it. He's so wretched and vile that there's something morbidly fascinating about him. He's a wonderful source of comedy (and Deadwood is, surprisingly, a very funny show) and I like watching him slime his way from one scene to another, seemingly aware of his own lack of charm yet compelled to try and ingratiate himself with others. I don't think I've ever seen a character before or since who so capably oozes up the screen, and William Sanderson (of Blade Runner fame) is perfection in the role.

But enough gushing about Sanderson and EB. We also got a more thorough introduction to the local newspaper man, AW Merrick. He’s a critical character for the show. He knows what’s going on in camp, and is so nosy that he’ll ferret out any information that may slip by the viewers...which on this show, is likely. He’s a pompous talker, but he’s smarter than he looks. He quickly figured out the fate of Tim Driscoll, and was able to slyly convey as much to Bullock, who in turn began to suspect the kind of person Al might be.

It seems likely that Merrick's hint to Bullock was part of the reason that Bullock and Al's relationship became so immediately antagonistic, although I doubt it was the sole reason. Bullock seems to have a natural ability to sniff out deceit, making him immune to Al's charms. It's a skill he might have learned during his days as a lawman, but I think it's more innate than that. I think Bullock was a lawman because he can so easily spy the snakes in the grass. He's also a sensitive soul, despite his quick temper and uneasy manner with people. He doesn’t like that he (or maybe Wild Bill) killed Ned Mason, even if Ned was a dim-witted murderer of entire families. The good Rev. Smith said as much: Bullock paid for Ned’s funeral, and even went on to solemnly attend. Bullock will kill a man without hesitation, but he’ll bury him afterwards and carry the memory. Charlie drew a connection between Bullock and Wild Bill. Both men need help to navigate the world, but their noble natures have drawn support in the form of truly good people like Charlie, Jane and Sol.

Al carries the memories of those he kills too. Not out of guilt, but because he knows the devil is in the details. The moment he heard about the shoot-out with Ned Mason, he started to think about how it might threaten him, and landed on the idea that Wild Bill and Bullock are in cahoots. Like most corrupt people, Al assumes everyone else is as corrupt as him (or that they can be corrupted). For all his vicious paranoia (or perhaps because of it) Al is still a man of immense power. It was interesting to see how others reacted to him. It’s little surprise that Persimmon Phil is afraid of him and Tom Mason is easily manipulated by him, but Doc shows no fear of Al for himself, knowing that his status as a doctor makes him invaluable. He was only afraid when he thought Al might hurt others. As cynical and grumpy as he is (and he was pretty unforgiving toward Alma) Doc is a truly good man. It took some serious guts to face down Dan Dority, all for the sake of a little girl he doesn't know.

But it’s Jane’s reaction to Al that stood out to me the most. We got a terrific insight into Jane, Al and Jane’s trauma in the space of a fairly short scene. From the start, Jane has been a brash, tough-talking woman and in a lesser show, she would have spewed some typical badass line reflective of that. It would have been condescending and faux-feminist, much like Game of Thrones with its endless line of "badass" women with few examples of well-written women. Instead, we saw a brand new side of Jane: the scared little girl. She resorted to past behaviour, watching helplessly and assuming that someone is going to be raped. It was like she’d forgotten entirely about Al’s motivations. What an utterly terrifying, surprising and tightly written scene.

I believe Al could have killed Sofia right there and then, and Jane wouldn’t have moved an inch. Somehow, I can't blame her for that. The show itself doesn't want us to consider her a coward, but as a human being with flaws. Besides, Al is a seriously scary dude. The way he strode on in, treating Jane like she wasn’t even there? It gave me chills. And coupled with the implication that he reminds Jane of her past abuser, who could blame her for crumbling? It isn’t easy to stand up to someone who carries even the faintest resemblance to your abuser. But, even paralysed with fear and crying her eyes out, Jane was still doing what she could to protect Sofia. She offered herself up to be raped, decided she was willing to relive the abuse that has been present in her life from her earliest memories. That’s quite a sacrifice and speaks to Jane's strength.

Al is the biggest fish in the Deadwood pond, but he fears outside influence and the camp growing out of his control. He could’ve stood to make a good bundle of money and cleared things up with our hardware guys, but he sensed what kind of person Bullock was, didn’t he? He doesn’t want a rival, in any sense of the word. It’s little wonder Wild Bill’s presence has him so concerned. Did he intend for Tom to succeed in killing Wild Bill, or was it more of a ‘whoever loses, I win’ scenario? Whatever the outcome, he’d be free of a problem.

And speaking of Wild Bill, he seems set on a course for self-destruction. He's not in town to prospect, that's for sure. He's depressive and irritable, chafing at even the slightest hint of control. Wild Bill hates his own celebrity. He'd probably like nothing more than to walk into a joint where nobody knows him and lose all his money. Poor Charlie just wants to help, but he can't help Bill, not in the way his friend needs. Charlie's frustration was palpable, and I felt for him even more than I felt for Bill. Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone had a friend like Charlie? It warmed my heart to see him welcome Jane into his arms without judgement, despite how mean she is to him, and continue to help her without question.

Bits & Bobs

- Alma Garrett made herself known, and Bullock took immediate notice. Then again, so did every man in the room. Hell, I wanted to stand up and take off my hat, but I wasn't wearing one. I suppose I could have mimed.

- Bullock really needs Sol, doesn't he? I can't imagine Bullock getting any kind of retail business off the ground without Sol's smarts, patience and diplomacy.

- I love Jewel, and I love that Al's utter viciousness never gets to her. I get the feeling she knows him better than most, and maybe better than he realizes.

- I said it above, but it bears repeating: Deadwood is a shockingly funny show. When Nick Offerman burst in on Al and Phil, I almost fell over even though I knew it was coming.

- I wish I could quote the look of tired disdain Charlie gave EB.

- I could spend every review every week talking about Ian McShane's delivery of dialogue.

Justified Watch

Scant viewings, sadly, but hey, we got Nick Offerman. And damn, wouldn't Walton Goggins have made so much sense in this show?


- Main: Even with Ian McShane in the cast, this week it couldn't be anyone but Robin Weigert. She gives such a raw, powerfully emotional performance that it's downright hard to watch.

- Recurring: I don't really want to give the MVP to consecutive appearances, but Timothy Omundson was great again. I loved seeing the gears in Brom's head turn as he realized he'd been conned.

- Guest: As much as I want to give it to Nick Offerman for being Nick Offerman, Joe Chrest deserves applause just for that scene in Al's office, having the truth gradually pulled from him. I was right there with him, growing increasingly more afraid. Phil truly was a moron, though. Did he really think he could put anything past Al? C'mon.


Bullock: I don't like that son of a bitch.
Sol: Thank God you didn't let him see it.

Jane: Think I'm scared of you?
Al: Sure you are. If I take a knife to you, you'll be scared worse and a long time dying.

Brom: I'm beginning to feel we've been duped. Our gold claim may be worthless. I'm beginning to think that even Swearengen's name should be added to the conspirators' list.
You don't say.

Charlie: What's your secret, Bullock?
Bullock: What do you mean?
Charlie: You got some of Bill's qualities but then you got something he's missing. Get along with people, turn a dollar, look out for yourself.
Sol: He don't know how to do that.

Wild Bill: What are you in the game for, Jack?
Jack: What am I in it for?
Wild Bill: If irritating me's the jackpot, you've got the job done.

Four out of four chamber pots.

1 comment:

  1. That photo of Doc you chose for the top looks like a Rembrandt painting. Lovely.

    I haven't started a rewatch yet, but I think I'll have to. Lovely review, Jonny.


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