TV Marathon: Deadwood (Season 1)
After years of rumors and speculation, HBO has released the long-awaited Deadwood film (at the end of May 2019). In honor of this film’s release, it seemed like a good time to go back, binge, and review what many people (myself included) think is one of the very best TV shows of all time.
We’ll start with Season 1 below. If you’re interested, keep an eye out for reviews of Season 2 and Season 3 eventually. Lastly…*SPOILERS* below, although I don’t feel too bad about it because Deadwood is 15-years-old at this point — if you’ve not seen it by now, what are you waiting for? Enjoy!
Season 1.1 – “Deadwood”
“No law at all in Deadwood. Is that true?”
Written by: David Milch
Directed by: Walter Hill
Episode Synopsis: The year is 1876. Deadwood is an illegal, lawless town with potential wealth due to a recent gold strike. Many arrive in Deadwood — including Seth Bullock and Sol Star, who wish to open a hardware store, and famed gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok and his handlers: Charlie Utter and Jane Canary. Local owner/operator of The Gem Saloon, Al Swearengen talks with a prospector, Ellsworth, when a gunshot rings out from the back room — revealing that prostitute Trixie has killed an abusive client in self-defense, much to Swearengen’s annoyance. The corpse is examined by Doc Cochran and then given to Mr. Wu’s pigs for disposal. Swearengen, The Gem bouncer Dan Dority, hotelier E.B. Farnum, and local drunkard Tim Driscoll conspire to swindle New York socialite Brom Garret into purchasing a worthless land claim; however, Driscoll and Farnum miscalculate the con, which puts the entire plan at risk. Brom informs his wife Alma, an opium addict, that they now own a gold claim, though it was purchased for more than he’d hoped. Wild Bill and Charlie visit Tom Nuttall’s No. 10 Saloon, meet newspaperman A.W. Merrick, and are quickly appraised by ne’er-do-well Jack McCall. When a stranger (Ned Mason) rides into town claiming to have witnessed a brutal massacre supposedly committed by Native Americans, Bullock is suspicious and recruits Star, Wild Bill, Charlie, and Merrick to ride out with him (along with Ned) to examine the scene. Meanwhile, Swearengen believes that this massacre was likely conducted by road-agents in his employ and argues for his customers staying put, promising a bounty for every Native American head brought to him the next day. Arriving at The Gem, Jane learns about the massacre, rides out after Wild Bill and Charlie, and brings back a girl (Sofia Metz) discovered at the scene for treatment from Doc Cochran. On instructions from Swearengen, Dan murders Tim Driscoll in Farnum’s hotel. Still suspicious of Ned’s story, Bullock and Wild Bill work together and kill Ned during a brief standoff. Witnessing this gunfight from her window, Alma takes more laudanum; and, at The Gem, Trixie forfeits her gun to Swearengen in an act of compliance.
1. “I don’t drink where I’m the only one with fucking balls!” (Jane)
2. “I may have fucked my life up flatter than hammered shit, but I stand before you today beholden to no human cocksucker and working a paying fucking gold claim.” (Ellsworth)
3. “Nobody’s drinking, nobody’s gambling, nobody’s chasing tail. I have to deal with that!” (Swearengen)
1. Opening Scene – For a show called Deadwood, it’s a bit jarring to begin NOT in Deadwood but, rather, in Montana. Perhaps by starting elsewhere, the opening scene introduces the idea of Deadwood before the physical space of the town. As such, Deadwood takes on a kind of mythic quality — a place where one can seek fortune without legal consequence (for better or worse). Importantly, this scene effectively introduces us to one of our main characters…
2. Character Intros – The main character that we meet in the opening scene is Seth Bullock. From this opening scene, we discern many characteristics that will define Bullock throughout the show — his stubborn streak, his pent-up anger and rigid principles, and his loathing for bullies. [This last quality is one that Otis Russell comments on in the final episode of Season 1.] But my favorite moment of character in this opening scene: The first action that we see from Bullock — in fact, the first action that we see from any character — is him writing in his journal; and as we move through the show, there will be several other instances in which Bullock, despite his anxiety at verbal communication, proves to be eloquent and effective with the written word. [One wonders if Bullock is meant to be a kind of Romantic Western ideal here — a man defined by the work of his hands: a gunfighter, the owner of a hardware store, and a writer.] Furthermore, this episode is impressive in the sheer number of character introductions that occur and what these introductions portend. When we first meet Wild Bill Hickok, he is lying in the back of a wagon — reminiscent of a body lying in state, which of course foreshadows his fate (and introduces an image that we’ll see again in Episode 5). When we first encounter Al Swearengen, the saloon keeper is tallying the conversion rates of gold to cash; and, of course, this is perhaps Swearengen’s most defining trait: He is a man of calculations, economically and politically. The list goes on.
3. Soap With a Prize Inside! – An underrated dimension of Deadwood is the background characters (many of whom appear throughout the show) who add texture to the town. One such background character, whose real name we never learn despite his many appearances throughout the show’s entire run, is the “Soap With a Prize Inside!” Huckster, who serves as a kind of minor annoyance to Bullock again and again. I like to imagine where this character (and the other background characters like him) comes from, what will become of him, and how he secured a seemingly never-ending supply of soap.
1. Clell Watson – execution via hanging by Seth Bullock.
2. Abusive John – shot in head in self-defense by Trixie.
3. Tim Driscoll – stabbed by Dan Dority.
4. Papa Metz – butchered by Persimmon Phil and Tom Mason.
5. Mama Metz – butchered by Persimmon Phil and Tom Mason.
6. Marta Metz – butchered by Persimmon Phil and Tom Mason.
7. Ingrid Metz – butchered by Persimmon Phil and Tom Mason.
8. Ned Mason – shot in eye by Seth Bullock and/or Wild Bill Hickok.
Season 1.2 – “Deep Water”
“If she was to live, wouldn’t she have a story to tell?”
Written by: Malcolm MacRury
Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Episode Synopsis: Swearengen’s suspicions are confirmed that the Metz Family was killed by road-agents in his employment, and paranoia grows regarding the teamwork between Bullock and Wild Bill. Caring for Sofia and fearing that the road-agents who killed her family might attempt to murder the only witness to the crime, Doc Cochran and Jane conspire to keep the girl’s medical status a mystery, but Swearengen sees through the ruse. Unsuccessful at his newly purchased gold-claim and rebuffed in his attempts to sell the claim to Farnum, Brom suspects he might have been duped. Attempting to buy a plot for their hardware business, Bullock and Star’s negotiations with Swearengen go poorly. Reverend Smith buries Ned Mason; shortly thereafter, Ned’s co-conspirators, Persimmon Phil and Tom Mason, arrive in Deadwood — leading Swearengen to plan a cover-up: first by instructing Tom to murder Wild Bill, then by instructing Dan to murder Sofia Metz. Charlie worries about Wild Bill’s mental/physical health, poker addiction, and inability to care for himself. Meanwhile, Wild Bill defends himself by killing the revenge-seeking Tom Mason. Anxious about his task of killing a little girl, Dan instead secretly collaborates with Doc Cochran, Jane, and Charlie to remove Sofia from camp for her own safety. Realizing that the girl is now untouchable, Swearengen severs his connection to the massacre by killing Persimmon Phil.
1. “Here’s my counter-offer to your counter-offer: Go fuck yourself.” (Swearengen)
2. “Don’t we need all the generosity we can get?” (Reverend Smith)
3. “I see as much misery outta them moving to justify theirselves as them that set out to do harm.” (Doc Cochran)
1. Shaky Hands – One of my favorite small moments in this episode: While getting his breakfast in Farnum’s hotel, we see Wild Bill’s hand shake as he tries to pour himself coffee. Later, when Alma comes downstairs to get her breakfast, her hand also shakes as she pours the coffee — something that Wild Bill notices. [Of course, whereas Wild Bill’s shakes likely allude to the slow physical deterioration of the aging gunfighter, Alma’s shaking hands are the result of her laudanum addiction.] This small moment, seemingly insignificant is, I believe, one of the reasons why Wild Bill agrees to help Alma in Episode 4 — he feels empathy for and connection with her here. This is just a good example of subtle, longterm visual storytelling.
2. Ron Swanson in the Nude – For those Parks and Recreation and craft-woodworking fans, a familiar face appears in Episode 2 — namely Nick Offerman in the role of Tom Mason, brother of the deceased Ned Mason. Offerman isn’t in this episode all that much — he mostly runs around The Gem naked and drunk, shouting things like “That snatch is branded!” etc. before getting killed by Wild Bill Hickok. A bizarre, if amusing, cameo.
3. Bill Shot First! – Speaking of ‘ol Tom Mason, one of the few things that he does in this episode is attempt to kill Wild Bill. But Wild Bill has presumably survived many murder attempts because he senses Tom’s intention pretty quickly. And like a notable Star Wars character (let us not consider changes made in subsequent remakes), Wild Bill shoots his would-be assassin first — no regrets. Wild Bill’s decisiveness in dealing with perceived threats will be referenced again in Season 3, when, during a town meeting, Charlie argues for killing George Hearst first and without warning, “as Wild Bill would’ve done.”
1. Tom Mason – shot by Wild Bill Hickok.
2. Persimmon Phil – stabbed by Al Swearengen.
Season 1.3 – “Reconnoitering the Rim”
“I’m the simple type cocksucker that when he sees lightning, readies for thunder. And takes the thunder if it comes from the same fucking storm.”
Written by: Jody Worth
Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Episode Synopsis: A new gambling saloon — The Bella Union — arrives in Deadwood, operated by Cy Tolliver and Joanie Stubbs. Paranoid that all the newcomers may be working together, Swearengen’s land negotiations with Bullock and Star go poorly. Wild Bill and Jack McCall continue their poker-fueled antagonism. Brom attempts to enlist Wild Bill to recover his money from Swearengen, but Wild Bill declines. Swearengen visits The Bella Union to scope out the competition, meeting Tolliver, Joanie, and card-shark Eddie Sawyer. Swearengen’s employee, opium-addict Jimmy Irons, is tasked with befriending an opium-addict employee at The Bella Union named Leon for the purposes of spying; however, Tolliver has already predicted this move and instructed Leon to run interference. Charlie arranges dinner between himself, Wild Bill, Bullock, and Star; however, when Swearengen finally agrees to sell the land to Bullock and Star, plans change and the four work together to build the store. Unfortunately, a loudmouth depresses Wild Bill, who retires to drink and play more poker. Brom threatens Swearengen with the Pinkertons if reparations are not made. Swearengen encourages Brom to reconnoiter the rim of his claim one last time; then he instructs Dan to kill Brom and to make it look like an accident. Alma attempts to get Brom to drop his attempts at recovering the money so that they can leave Deadwood forever. Farnum confesses to Swearengen that he was a minor go-between responsible for the arrival of The Bella Union. At the claim, Dan kills Brom — an act witnessed by Ellsworth. After murdering Brom, Dan discovers that the claim does, surprisingly, have a significant amount of gold.
1. “If you’re gonna murder me, I’d appreciate a quick dying. And not getting ate by the pigs, in case there is resurrection of the flesh.” (Farnum)
2. “The game’s all between you and getting called a cunt. That dropped eye of yours looks like the hood of a cunt to me, Jack. When you talk, your mouth looks like a cunt moving.” (Wild Bill)
3. “I wanna know who cut the cheese. I’ll tell you this for openers — we are gonna set off an area on the balcony. And God helps whoever doesn’t use it, because the next stink I have to smell in this office, and whoever doesn’t admit to it is going out the window, into the muck, onto their fucking heads, and we’ll see how they like farting from that position. Okay?” (Swearengen)
1. Dinner Plans – A recurring interest in this season is how strangers — and especially strangers in an illegal town without formal structure — might try to form a kind of community together. Charlie’s attempt to schedule dinner with Bullock, Star, Wild Bill, and himself is an early example of community forming. [They’re clearly NOT eating at Farnum’s hotel for the food quality.] The show — and particularly this season — seems to argue that community will happen, even in the most unexpected places and even among the most unexpected people. After all, who doesn’t want to sit occasionally with folks who aren’t trying to kill us or beat us at cards?
2. Farnum’s Redundancy – William Sanderson’s work in Deadwood as the nervous lackey and hotelier Farnum is a real delight and a performance that gets better and better with multiple viewings. A fun recurring gag is Farnum’s tendency to simply repeat what other characters have said back to them in slightly different words — a quirk that annoys Swearengen to no end. [A nice detail later in Episode 6, when Merrick is discussing a possible repetition in his newspaper article: It’s Farnum who knows the dictionary definition of “redundancy.” Ha ha! After all, Farnum is the camp expert on redundancy and repetition.]
3. Trust & Paranoia – In correlation with the previously mentioned issue of “community” in Deadwood is the importance of trust — Who can one trust? Why is it important to trust others? Etc. etc. With the arrival of The Bella Union as competition, Swearengen’s perceptions of trust and paranoia are put to the test; and he begins to see all coincidences (notably the arrival of Bullock & Star, the arrival of Wild Bill, the arrival of Cy Tolliver) all as signs of some grand conspiracy to remove him of power in Deadwood. With great power comes greater paranoia? Perhaps. At the very least, it demonstrates how Swearengen’s capacity for calculation can also be a weakness — that he sees signs and patterns in every action, even when they aren’t really there.
1. Brom Garret – thrown off a cliff and bashed with a rock by Dan Dority.
Season 1.4 – “Here Was a Man”
“He, too, is God’s handiwork.”
Written by: Elizabeth Sarnoff
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Episode Synopsis: At The Bella Union, Wild Bill beats Jack McCall at poker, humiliating Jack. In an act of kindness, Wild Bill gives Jack a dollar so that he can buy himself breakfast. Bullock works overnight on constructing the hardware store and talks with Wild Bill — the two men exchanging stories about their past, their families, and their goals. Charlie expresses concern for Wild Bill, while Wild Bill confesses his exhaustion from living. Charlie leaves for Cheyenne to establish a mail-route. Dan returns to camp in the morning with Brom’s corpse, which Alma asks that Doc Cochran examine for signs of foul play. Swearengen instructs Farnum to buy the claim from Alma, as she is the new owner. Doc Cochran can confirm the cause of death but cannot confirm foul play, angering Alma and causing her to destroy her supply of laudanum. Alma seeks Wild Bill’s advice about her situation, and Wild Bill agrees to talk with Swearengen. Caring for Sofia Metz, Jane talks to Alma about the massacre and how Sofia was found, and Alma tells Jane that she only married Brom so that his family would pay off her father’s debts. A sickly Andy Cramed arrives in Deadwood looking to work with his former partner-in-crime Tolliver on a con. After talking with Swearengen, Wild Bill suggests that Alma get someone else to look at the claim and recommends Bullock, who agrees to serve as proxy for Alma. Ellsworth confides to Dan that he witnessed Brom’s untimely death but promises to keep quiet. Joanie visits Andy, who is increasingly sick; and, upon examination, Doc Cochran believes that Andy has smallpox. Wild Bill writes a letter to his wife and returns to the No. 10 to play more poker. Jack McCall arrives at the No. 10 and shoots Wild Bill in the back of the head but is captured before he can escape town. Hearing the commotion, Jane leaves Sofia with Alma in order to investigate. A man rides into town with a decapitated Native American head, presumably to collect Swearengen’s promised bounty. Bullock and Jane discover Wild Bill’s corpse.
1. “I don’t want to fight it anymore. Do you understand me, Charlie? And I don’t want you pissing in my ear about it. Can you let me go to hell the way I want to?” (Wild Bill)
2. “You know the sound of thunder, don’t you, Mrs. Garret? Can you imagine that sound if I asked you to? Your husband and me had this talk. And I told him to head home to avoid a dark result, but I didn’t say it in thunder. Ma’am, listen to the thunder.” (Wild Bill)
3. “Double fucking solitaire! Where’s your fucking ballgowns?” (Tom Nuttall)
1. Names Among Friends – Nice relationship-development scene occurs in this episode when Bullock and Wild Bill exchange pleasantries and formally decide that they will informally address each other — “Mr. Hickok” becomes just “Bill,” while “Bullock” becomes “Montana.” They even share with each other their earlier nicknames that were bestowed upon them by others (i.e. “Sloth” for Bullock and “Kite” for Wild Bill). This highlights how important the act of naming is within human relationships. [Later, in Episode 7, Andy Cramed will give Jane the nickname of “Calamity.”] If Episode 3 illustrates how name-calling can be antagonistic (e.g. Wild Bill’s calling Jack McCall a “cunt” repeatedly), Episode 4 demonstrates how name-calling can also be a sign of affection and camaraderie, as we see with this episode’s exchange of nicknames (or even later in the season with Swearengen’s playful ribbing of Silas Adams and his “monkey mother,” due to his bad haircut). Essentially, it seems that language is both a means of escalating violence and defusing it.
2. Wild Bill’s Letter – In this episode, shortly before he dies, Wild Bill pens a letter to his new wife; however, we don’t find out the contents of the letter until considerably later in the show. Surprisingly, the letter becomes a sort of commodity — first for Farnum (who obtains the letter in Episode 9), then for Francis Walcott (in Season 2), and finally for Charlie (also in Season 2) — though it will mean different things for different characters. For Farnum, it represents an economic opportunity; for Walcott, it represents opportunity for blackmail and coercion; for Charlie, it represents friendship and grief. Appropriate, it seems, that the letter should end up with the town mailman.
3. A Series (Not a Turn) of Events – Upon rewatching the show, I’m amazed how much the writers foreshadow Wild Bill’s death throughout the first few episodes. As mentioned earlier, our first encounter with Wild Bill has him lying in state in the back of a wagon. Subsequently, many things happen — most of which quite minor — that lead us to what feels like an inevitability. After all, what if Wild Bill hadn’t encountered the Loudmouth Drunk during Episode 3? Perhaps he would’ve finished the hardware store and taken the advice of his friends to become a prospector. What would have happened if Bullock hadn’t tossed a drunken Jack McCall out of his hardware store and embarrassed him in front of the whole camp? Perhaps Jack would’ve really bought that sifting cradle and left the poker tables behind. What would’ve happened if Wild Bill didn’t win his last hand at The Bella Union, if he didn’t give Jack McCall a dollar, if Jack didn’t take offense, if Wild Bill didn’t sit in the No. 10 with his back to the door, etc. etc.? If the killing of Ned Mason was, as Bullock suggests, a simple “turn of events,” the killing of Wild Bill feels more like the slow, unstoppable, and serial progress of fate.
1. Wild Bill Hickok – shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall.
2. “Chief” – decapitated by unnamed man looking to collect bounty.
Season 1.5 – “The Trial of Jack McCall”
“If the foot shall say, ‘Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, ‘Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not?”
Written by: John Belluso
Directed by: Ed Bianchi
Episode Synopsis: Merrick organizes the trial of Jack McCall. Confiding to Tolliver his concerns about how this event (in an illegal town) might look, Swearengen offers to host the trial at The Gem. Still caring for Sofia, Alma decides to stop taking laudanum. Trixie is volunteered to help Alma with childcare in the hopes she will get Alma high enough to convince her to sell the claim. However, Trixie decides to secretly help Alma detox. Tolliver has Andy thrown in the woods to die; upon learning this, Doc Cochran demands Tolliver send someone to secure the vaccine. Farnum realizes there is gold on the Garret claim, and Swearengen has concealed this from him. During trial, Jack falsely claims that Wild Bill killed Jack’s brother; thus, Wild Bill’s death was an act of revenge (which was culturally acceptable). Swearengen expresses his concerns about the trial with the presiding judge, Magistrate Claggett — that a guilty verdict is dangerous for the town’s future. Claggett informs the jury that, because there is no law in Deadwood, they have no legal standing to convict apart from whatever is customary — that is, if they believe it was a revenge-killing, they must find Jack not-guilty. A drunken Jane finds the sick Andy Cramed in the woods and cares for him. The jury returns a not-guilty verdict, and Jack is released. Wild Bill is buried next to Ned and Tom Mason — two brothers whom he killed — and Reverend Smith reminds attendees that everyone is important, and suffering is a communal act. Gathering water for Andy, Jane hears the funeral hymns and witnesses the event from afar before returning to her patient. Merrick tells Bullock that Jack has been released. Reverend Smith asks Bullock if he knows what part he will play in camp, suggesting that God commanded him to inquire. Swearengen gives Jack a horse and a warning to leave Deadwood before he is also murdered — advice that Jack heeds. While Reverend Smith suffers a seizure, elsewhere Bullock and Star argue about the meaning behind the reverend’s words and what Bullock should do. Ultimately, Bullock decides to pursue Jack McCall.
1. “I apologize!” (Andy Cramed)
2. “Now there’s a bird I ain’t never seen before.” (Jane)
3. “Rules of the court: No nonsense.” (Magistrate Claggett)
1. Richardson Sighting – Earlier, I mentioned the background characters who help to add texture to the town (e.g. the “Soap With a Prize Inside!” Huckster). Another such character is Richardson — the cook at Farnum’s hotel. To the best of my knowledge, this episode is the first time we see Richardson in Deadwood. He plays a very minor role in Season 1, but he becomes more of a regular in Season 2 and even gets a small storyline in Season 3 with the arrival of Aunt Lou Marchbanks.
2. Members of the Body – Perhaps THE most important idea of Season 1 occurs in this episode with Reverend Smith’s reading of 1 Corinthians 12, which explores the importance of the various parts of the body, even the parts that seem insignificant. Indeed, much of this season explores how these various characters (parts) find their purpose/role within the larger community (the body). While some of the characters seem to know and embrace their identity, other characters — notably Bullock — struggle for much of this season, attempting to reject themselves and resisting their purpose in the camp. In this way, Season 1 represents a kind of spiritual quest for Bullock towards self-acceptance, as we see in Episode 12 when finally accepting the office (sheriff) that he has attempted to avoid.
3. Visions & Voices – This is the episode where Reverend Smith — played wonderfully by Ray McKinnon — experiences his first seizure, which will become a recurring issue throughout the rest of Season 1 with his tumor causing both physical suffering and the collapse of his mental state. If the smallpox outbreak is an opportunity to consider how/why an illegal town full of misfits might care for one another, Reverend Smith’s slow, drastic deterioration is heartbreaking because it asks us: Who will care for the caretaker?
Season 1.6 – “Plague”
“Prescribe this malingerer a can of peaches and show him the fucking door.”
Written by: Malcolm MacRury
Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Episode Synopsis: On Jack’s trail, Bullock is attacked by a Native American. He kills his assailant but suffers significant injuries. Doc Cochran examines a customer at The Gem for smallpox and informs Swearengen that this isn’t the first case he’s seen in camp. While Joanie teaches Ellsworth how to play craps, Joey (the man sent to retrieve the vaccine) returns to The Bella Union sick and without the vaccine. Trixie and Alma attempt to conceal the detox from Farnum and to avoid detection by Swearengen. Swearengen arranges a meeting at The Gem to inform others about the smallpox, to raise money for the vaccine, and to make preparations for an outbreak. Expressing his doubts about Alma’s intoxication, Swearengen interrogates Trixie, though Alma later successfully fools Farnum. Jane returns to camp and inquires about Sofia’s well-being, informing Doc Cochran that she has nursed Andy Cramed back to health; seeing that Jane must be immune to the smallpox, Doc Cochran asks her to help during the outbreak. Returning from his trip to Cheyenne, Charlie finds an unconscious Bullock on the trail and teaches him about the markings on the Native American’s horse. Bullock informs Charlie that Wild Bill is dead. Bullock and Charlie perform funeral rites for the dead Native American by leaving him on a burial scaffold with his dead friend — the headless “Chief” killed earlier for Swearengen’s bounty. During the smallpox meeting, Reverend Smith suffers a seizure, and Swearengen reveals that he once had a brother had had seizures. Afterwards, Tolliver confronts Joanie about her depression and expresses his affection for her. Swearengen helps Merrick write a newspaper article about smallpox. Doc Cochran, Jane, and Reverend Smith begin caring for the infected. Bragging to Dan about his contributions to the article, Swearengen admits, if his life had been a bit different, he might’ve chosen a different profession.
1. “Be fucked!” (Jane)
2. “You’re here to create a fucking atmosphere. Fucking atmosphere you create lately, ‘I’m sad.’ Then, on your bad days, ‘Oh…I’m so sad.'” (Tolliver)
3. “Merrick wanted to put here: ‘gratis.’ Now, is the idea to inform your reader or to make him feel like a fucking dunce? I had him put ‘free.'” (Swearengen)
1. Ad-Hoc Get-Togethers – As mentioned earlier, a recurring thought in this season (and, really, the entire show) revolves around the issue of communal life. What does “community” really mean? How does “community” happen? Who gets to be a part of a “community”? Is “community” inevitable? Etc. etc. We’ve already seen how little things like planning a friend dinner, chatting with someone in the street, establishing nicknames and playful ribbing, etc. can cultivate relationships. In this episode, we see a humorous example of how people establish communal rituals — in this case, that apparently all important meetings will be accompanied by canned peaches. What could have easily been a throwaway detail becomes a recurring feature. Tasked with providing fruit for the meeting about the smallpox, Johnny Burns is subsequently expected to provide peaches at all future meetings (e.g. the government-formation meeting in Episode 9) and without any alterations (as we see in Season 3 with Johnny’s addition of “unauthorized cinnamon”).
2. Music & Connection – Another recurring thing in Season 1 oddly enough is the song “Row Row Row Your Boat.” The song first occurs in Episode 2, as Jane and Charlie sing the song together to a sick and frightened Sofia. Later, despite not knowing English, Sofia sings this song to a recovering Alma, and Alma returns the favor by singing Sofia to sleep with the song. Interestingly enough, we don’t get that much music in the plot of Deadwood, aside from one episode in Season 3 when Jack Langrishe hosts a talent show (where we hear someone perform “Amazing Grace” and later hear Swearengen sing by himself in The Gem). We also get some music in Episode 5 with “How Firm a Foundation” — a hymn that is sung at Wild Bill’s funeral and, again, by Jane for the ailing Andy Cramed. Lastly, we get the music from The Gem’s piano later in Season 1, which soothes Reverend Smith’s headaches. Depending on the example, music seems to serve either a leisure / entertainment role (as in the talent show) or a comfort / caregiving role (as in the other instances).
3. Honoring the Dead – One of the more memorable aspects of this episode for me is how the living honor the dead through various funeral rites. This is something we see throughout this season — lots and lots of funerals (e.g. Ned Mason, Tom Mason, Wild Bill Hickok, Brom Garret, a Native American, etc.). One of my critiques of Deadwood is that we don’t really see much of the Native American population — we only hear about them as “savages” or “dirt-worshippers.” [They really seem only to exist as either boogeymen or objects of blame / hatred, although perhaps that portrayal is an attempt at historical accuracy via the populace’s stereotypes and prejudices?] The only Native American that we actually see (and I’m not counting “Chief” here) is in this episode. Somewhat surprisingly, Charlie seems to know the funeral traditions for this particular Native American’s tribe — which involves not being buried underground but, rather, being raised above ground, facing a particular direction. This seems like another instance of the show’s writers illustrating Bullock’s heroism — even after his violent altercation with the Native American, he chooses to respect the man’s remains and his culture.
1. Chief’s Friend – skull bashed with a rock by Seth Bullock.
Season 1.7 – “Bullock Returns to the Camp”
“Hereafter in calamity, I’ll be sure to call for Jane.”
Written by: Jody Worth
Directed by: Michael Engler
Episode Synopsis: Bullock and Charlie apprehend Jack and deliver him to Yankton for a real trial. Two siblings, Flora and Miles Anderson, arrive in Deadwood looking for their father — Miles takes a job at The Gem, while Flora finds work at The Bella Union. Upon his full recovery, Andy Cramed bestows a nickname upon Jane. Believing that Alma isn’t high, Swearengen realizes Trixie’s deception; Farnum, meanwhile, reveals that he knows that there’s gold on the claim and negotiates for a percentage from Swearengen. At Brom Garret’s funeral, Sofia names her family and symbolically buries them with Trixie. Bullock and Charlie arrive back in town, complicating Farnum’s efforts to purchase the claim. Dan expresses romantic interest toward Flora, while Swearengen talks to Miles about specialty customers. Flora confides to Joanie that she’s not a virgin and that her ex-boyfriend was violent towards her. Andy returns to The Bella Union for his things, only to realize that Tolliver has destroyed them. Threatened, Trixie tells Swearengen that she helped Alma get clean. Charlie visits Tom Nuttall’s saloon and learns how Wild Bill died. Bullock tells Star about his deadly confrontation with the Native American and of the fight’s consequences. Flora and Miles secretly debate which of their workplaces that they should rob, and Dan warns a loudmouth drunk at The Gem not to stare at Flora. Bullock confronts Swearengen about his plots to steal Alma’s claim and demands that the Swearengen recommend someone to honestly assay the claim’s worth. Their confrontational meeting is interrupted, however, when Dan murders the loudmouth drunk. Charlie visits Wild Bill’s grave, finding Jane already there recounting the day’s events. Trixie reveals to Alma that their deception has been uncovered and that she cannot lie to Swearengen anymore without being killed. Alma tells Trixie that she could send Trixie and Sofia back to New York City, if necessary — news that angers Trixie.
1. “You wanna feel a damp palm, Al? Select either of these hands.” (Farnum)
2. “She’s about to say her name, you know. She named her sisters and her folks. Think of selling. If you took her away, you could hear her say it.” (Trixie)
3. “And out the door he’ll go and prompt as a Swiss fucking timepiece three big-tittied whores will now emerge from behind that screen. He lines ’em up at two-foot intervals, smock tops down, and all but sprints past ’em, giving their titties a lick. And if he misses a titty, he does not let himself retrace his steps.” (Swearengen)
1. Who Can You Trust? – Much like Episode 3, much of the plot of Episode 7 involves the tension between trust and deception. Here, we see the arrival of two young con-artists (Flora and Miles). We see Swearengen’s realization that his confidant (Trixie) has been lying to him. We see Farnum’s anger at realizing his hoped-for colleague (Swearengen) has kept him uninformed of the claim’s true value. Etc. Conversely, we see how being trustworthy might develop other relationships — e.g. Alma’s reliance upon Trixie to overcome her laudanum addiction, Charlie and Jane’s mutual reliance upon the other to process their grief about Wild Bill’s death, and so on.
2. Love Clouds the Mind – Throughout the show, Dan Dority is mostly used as a kind of plot-device, a physical force that occasionally enacts murders on behalf of his employer. [There are a few exceptions to this, of course, as we see his friendship with Johnny Burns and Ellsworth, his love of baseball, and most notably his PTSD in Season 3.] But this episode provides us with a human side to Dan via his attraction to Flora Anderson. Now, the degree to which this attraction is romantic or sexual or some combination of different types of “love” is debatable; however, it’s still interesting to see a different emotional dimension to the show’s muscle.
3. Fellow Feeling – As mentioned above, one of the more interesting scenes from Season 1 of Deadwood is the physical confrontation between Bullock and the Native American in Episode 6, resulting in the former’s injury and the latter’s death. In the aftermath, we learn that this Native American was not merely attacking Bullock at random; rather, he likely suspected Bullock as the man who’d murdered his friend (which we learn was the beheaded “Chief,” who returns throughout the rest of the show) and that he believed Bullock’s death was not only necessary but that it must be done honorably (“counting coup”). It’s in Episode 7, however, that Bullock verbalizes these feelings to Star — that he felt an empathy with / for this Native American man, as both were simply trying to do right by their friends by punishing their (actual or perceived) killers. If, as some believe, empathy is primarily an imaginative practice, Bullock proves himself to have imagination enough to see the humanity of the region’s maligned Native Americans population.
1. Joey – dies of smallpox.
2. Loudmouth Drunk – stabbed to death by Dan Dority.
Season 1.8 – “Suffer the Little Children”
“I wouldn’t trust a man that didn’t try to steal a little.”
Written by: Elizabeth Sarnoff
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
Episode Synopsis: While Farnum argues with Swearengen that Bullock and Alma should be murdered and the claim stolen, riders return to Deadwood with the smallpox vaccine and news of a Sioux treaty. After witnessing the killing of the loudmouth drunk at The Gem, Flora seeks solace with Joanie. Doc Cochran inoculates the town against smallpox. Alma has decided to sell the claim to Farnum and leave for New York; however, Bullock argues that she wait until the claim’s evaluation — Swearengen recommends Ellsworth for the task. Doc Cochran finds Trixie unconscious in his cabin, where she’s attempted suicide. Doc offers to help Trixie kill herself if she wants, but he believes that she has other options to improve her life. Dan and Ellsworth lead Bullock to the gold. Flora has decided to rob The Bella Union, but Miles expresses doubts — believing that she wants to see people get hurt or killed. Bullock brings some gold to Alma, urging her not to sell. Accepting the news that the claim is unavailable, Swearengen promises to leave Alma alone and argues that the Sioux treaty necessitates that he and Bullock work together for Deadwood, despite their differences. Alma apologies to the recovering Trixie, giving her some gold found on the claim, and Sofia comforts Trixie by finally revealing her name. Flora attempts to steal Joanie’s belongings; Joanie is willing to let Flora escape but warns her that Tolliver will kill her. During the escape attempt, Tolliver is injured; however, both of the young con-artists are apprehended and severely beaten and tortured. Tolliver kills Miles and coerces Joanie into killing Flora. When Joanie tries to kill herself, Tolliver stops her and later promises to help Joanie start her own business. Trixie returns to Swearengen and gives him the gold that she received from Alma. Alma sings “Row Row Row Your Boat” to Sofia to her her sleep.
1. “There! Now that’s how you scrub a fucking bloodstain!” (Swearengen)
2. “You can help your delicate sensibilities by turning the fuck away.” (Tolliver)
3. “Is the technical term ‘bonanza’? It’s a ‘bonanza,’ Mr. Farnum.” (Alma)
1. Forgoing Luxury – In this episode, two criminals take two very different paths with two very different results. On one hand, Flora Anderson plays her con quickly — despite Miles’s warnings — with disastrous results. On the other hand, Swearengen plays a long game, arguing that Alma’s claim is a luxury to forego compared to the possible money that might be made (with her economic security and with Bullock’s help as the “face” of the town) if Deadwood becomes legal. So much of Deadwood is gambling — characters are constantly playing poker, faro, craps. Here, we see the consequences of making the wrong play with these high stakes.
2. Fears of Abandonment – Considerable abandonment issues in Episode 8 — notably seen through Trixie, who is nervous to leave Deadwood (and The Gem / Swearengen) behind for New York City — anxiety she later describes as the familiarity that a whore might feel for her pimp. Tolliver also shows concern that Joanie might kill herself and, instead, suggests that she leave The Bella Union to start her own business. Swearengen also shows concern and/or bewilderment about Trixie’s disappearance, as he has abandonment issues all his own stemming from his childhood (which we’ll see in Episode 11). From a writing perspective, it seems intentional that both of the show’s most prominent and character-developed prostitutes — Trixie and Joanie — attempt suicide in the same episode. Despite the visual differences between The Gem and The Bella Union, it may suggest that the two businesses (and their respective owners, employees, and clientele) are more mirrored than we might initially expect.
3. Exchanges – Deadwood suggests that much of human interaction is, at its core, transactional. Characters trade in promises (e.g. Doc Cochran’s offer to help Trixie commit suicide), comfort (e.g. Sofia’s sharing of her real name to Trixie or Alma’s singing to Sofia), ridicule (e.g. Alma’s mocking of Farnum), and punishment (e.g. Tolliver’s torturing and murder of Flora and Miles). The most literal exchange that occurs in this episode is a piece of gold from the claim, which passes from Bullock to Alma to Trixie to Swearengen — all within the span of one episode. Surely, Bullock never intended for this gold to go to Swearengen, but that’s where it winds up nonetheless. Can we ever be sure where our transactions will end and who will benefit from them?
1. Miles Anderson – shot in the head by Cy Tolliver.
2. Flora Anderson – shot in the head by Joanie Stubbs.
Season 1.9 – “No Other Sons or Daughters”
“What do you think of this frock-coat?”
Written by: George Putnam
Directed by: Ed Bianchi
Episode Synopsis: Swearengen asks Trixie not to attempt suicide again. Bullock introduces Alma to Ellsworth, hoping that they can decide whether the prospector might be a good overseer to the claim. Farnum obtains the letter that Wild Bill Hickok wrote to his wife shortly before his death. For the opening of his new freight-and-postal service, Charlie buys a frock coat but is unsure if it’s right for him. Magistrate Claggett arrives in Deadwood and gives Swearengen an update about the town’s status, recommending that the camp set up an informal governing body to prove its organization. Claggett also informs him that there’s a murder warrant for Swearengen’s arrest and blackmails him to have the warrant destroyed. Reverend Smith’s condition continues to worsen, and Jane admonishes him to consult with Doc Cochran. Eddie Sawyer feels remorse for the torturing of Flora and Miles Anderson, and cracks show in his working relationship with Tolliver. While scouting for a site for her new business, Joanie meets Charlie, who inquires her opinion about his new frock coat. Charlie offers Jane a job at his new business in order to help her stop drinking as much; Jane refuses the job offer. Swearengen calls a meeting with a few folks in Deadwood in order to set up an ad-hoc government and to raise money to pay the bribes for Yankton legislators. Farnum volunteers to be mayor much to everyone’s annoyance. Fearing that he’d be nominated for sheriff, Bullock volunteers to serve as health-inspector. Later, Star visits The Gem to talk with Trixie. Doc Cochran examines Reverend Smith and the two men argue whether pain and illness can be part of God’s plan. Tolliver and Eddie Sawyer argue over what happened to Flora and Miles. Jane informs Charlie that she’s decided to leave Deadwood because she can’t stop drinking and she won’t be a drunk where Wild Bill is buried. Bullock visits Alma late at night; he reveals that his wife is his dead brother’s widow and his son is his dead brother’s child.
1. “What do they pay you to hold that building up?” (Charlie)
2. “Al, I have hoped for this conversation ever since you give me that Indian head to hide!” (Johnny)
3. “I will not be a drunk where he’s buried, and I cannot stay fucking sober. So you and every human being on earth — past, present, and future — can drink mare’s piss.” (Jane)
1. The Future – Early in this episode, Swearengen muses out loud on the future and the nature of change. Presumably, he’s speaking to Trixie and perhaps trying to encourage her not to attempt suicide again. However, there’s always a significant degree — especially in these monologues — to which Swearengen is really lecturing himself. After all, no one in town seems to worry as much about the future than Swearengen. And, as we witness in the first episode of Season 2, no one is more fearful of change. Here, it seems Swearengen is trying to persuade himself.
2. Sticks & Stones – One of my favorite moments in Season 1 occurs in this episode, when Charlie offers the drunken Jane a job with his new business, leading the two to exchange a series of (verbal) jabs and insults. As noted above, the importance of “name-calling” — both literally and figuratively — in Deadwood suggests that words can be a way of heightening tension but also alleviating it. Here, it’s clear that Charlie’s insults of Jane are borne out of justified concern for her well-being; he jokes about her because he cares about her. In fact, the evolution of their relationship is a fascinating aspect of the show’s run — i.e. from codependents for the same central figure (Wild Bill) to lost mourners united in grief and finally to autonomous individuals with unique friendships all their own (Charlie with Bullock & Star and Jane with Joanie).
3. Sickness & Affliction – I keep coming back to Ray McKinnon’s masterful depiction as the increasingly ill Reverend Smith; it’s an aspect of the show that I appreciated upon first viewing but have since grown to see as maybe the most important development of Season 1. [After all, Reverend Smith’s allusions to the disparate “parts” within a community is probably the idea of this first season, and his physical and mental deterioration tragically and ironically inverses Deadwood’s legal and economic growth. The reverend’s condition is made even more disturbing, as it’s clear that his character tries to make some sense from his own sickness — whether suffering can be part of an omniscient but mysterious God’s plan, something that Doc Cochran (a man of science) acknowledges as possibility even if it argues for such a God as being ultimately careless and cruel.
Season 1.10 – “Mr. Wu”
Written by: Bryan McDonald
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
Episode Synopsis: Mr. Wu enters The Gem via the front door, demanding a meeting with Swearengen. During their meeting, Wu communicates that two white men killed his courier and stole the opium that was intended for Swearengen. Shortly thereafter, as Swearengen and Farnum are preparing the bribes for Yankton’s legislature, Magistrate Claggett’s employees — Silas Adams and Hawkeye — arrive to collect the bribes and deliver a letter from Claggett that attempts to extort more money from Swearengen to quash the outstanding murder warrant. At breakfast, Merrick suggests unsuccessfully that he, Bullock, Star, and Charlie form a club committed to regular walks and chats: “The Ambulators.” Swearengen interrogates Jimmy Irons and learns that Jimmy and Leon killed Wu’s courier and stole the dope. Eddie Sawyer offers to fund Joanie’s new brothel with money stolen from Tolliver. Swearengen tells Wu that he’s found the missing dope and offers to kill one of the thieves as recompense; however, Tolliver makes it clear that he won’t allow Leon to be killed to appease Wu. Reverend Smith’s repeated visits to The Gem’s new piano angers Swearengen, though Reverend Smith cannot remember their earlier conversations about the matter. Bullock laments that he’s moved to Deadwood, only to once again become stuck in public service (as “health inspector”). Star assures Bullock that he’s a good man for taking care of his dead brother’s wife and child, though Bullock has doubts. Despite a rocky start, Swearengen and Adams bond over a mutual dislike for Claggett before going to the bathhouse to deal with Jimmy and Leon, who have been getting high. Swearengen makes the two men draw straws to see who must apologize to Wu, but during the drawing, he kills Jimmy. Reverend Smith visits Bullock & Star Hardware and confesses that he’s unsure if the two men are his friends or masquerading demons — finally admitting that he’s losing his mind. Bullock and Star reassure Reverend Smith and walk him home. Swearengen and Dan deliver Jimmy’s corpse to Wu’s pigs, and the matter of the dead courier and stolen dope is settled.
1. “Neither of us would have reached our present comfortable position freezing our balls off, if we didn’t understand you can’t cut the throat of every cocksucker whose character it would improve.” (Swearengen)
2. “You’ve been lying, Jimmy. Smell of cat’s piss in this room is so bad, I want to burn down the fucking building. Nervousness don’t cause that. Lying causes cat-piss smell. I want to tear this entire fucking structure down.” (Swearengen)
3. “August commencement to my administration, stand stymied outside a saloon beside a degenerate tit licker!” (Farnum)
1. Words & Pictures – Despite its title, Episode 10 is about two characters — Mr. Wu and Swearengen — and their mutually beneficial relationship, one that is sometimes rocky but ultimately battle-tested (as we’ll see in Season Two with the arrival of Mr. Lee). Complicating this relationship is that Mr. Wu and Swearengen don’t speak the same (literal) language, although both speak the language of power and influence. [“Nice meat!” Dan exclaims, in an attempt to (re)affirm Mr. Wu’s status among his peers.] The fact that Mr. Wu and Swearengen communicate via a mixture of limited words, symbols, and hand-gestures is often used within the show for humor but also serves to underscore the larger theme of making communication happen, and we learn that both men teach the other certain words from their own language. [On a side-note, I am struck by how much Swearengen prides himself as a teacher of sorts — whether teaching Wu the word “cocksucker” or teaching Johnny Burns how to suffocate a man or teaching Dan how to run a saloon, etc.] In fact, Swearengen’s ability to communicate with Mr. Wu becomes a selling point late in Season 2 for his importance in the camp, as Swearengen claims to be the only person capable of understanding — though, of course, in Season 3, it’s Johnny Burns who surprisingly interprets Mr. Wu’s pictoral meaning.
2. The Ambulators – Another community-building exercise that occurs in Season 1 is the attempt to form the most informal of clubs: Mr. Merrick’s “The Ambulators” — i.e. men of character (Merrick, Bullock, Star, & Charlie) committed to the idea of taking walks together and having conversations. While Merrick’s idea doesn’t actually happen, the desire to create a club — even as one as simple as getting folks together to just talk — demonstrates the very human desire for connection, to share something with others.
3. Demonstrations – There are several instances here where characters in camp demonstrate their mettle and/or their commitment to a position or a principle. Whether it’s Mr. Wu asserting his position in Deadwood by going through the front door of The Gem, Eddie Sawyer stealing Joanie’s watch to prove himself a capable thief, Bullock marrying his dead brother’s wife out of feelings of familial responsibility, or Swearengen murdering Jimmy Irons to prove his allegiance to Wu (and to subvert Tolliver’s machinations), this episode argues that talk isn’t always enough; sometimes action is required.
1. Jimmy Irons – drowned in a bathtub by Swearengen.
Season 1.11 – “Jewel’s Boot Is Made for Walking”
“Cold enough world without getting gone against by your own.”
Written by: Ricky Jay
Directed by: Steve Shill
Episode Synopsis: Jewel visits Doc Cochran and asks him to build her a brace for her leg. Ellsworth informs Alma that she’ll need to hire people and equipment to mine her claim, and she asks Ellsworth to supervise diggings. Alma’s father, Otis Russell, arrives in camp unexpectedly. Adams returns to town with news that Magistrate Claggett is the only person in Yankton that cares about the warrant; Swearengen makes Adams an offer to kill Claggett. Angered that the new fire marshall, Charlie Utter, has written up his saloon, Tom Nuttall advocates for Con Stapleton as sheriff — something Swearengen reluctantly agrees to. Leon tells Tolliver about the death of Jimmy Irons and receives new orders, which will involve spreading ill will towards Chinese townsfolk. During a visit to Bullock & Star Hardware, Trixie and Star have sex, and Bullock — annoyed that Stapleton is the new sheriff — reveals what Trixie and Star are doing to Swearengen. Reverend Smith preaches to oxen. Russell invites Bullock to dinner at Farnum’s hotel so that they can discuss Alma’s claim; meanwhile, at the dinner, Farnum expresses to Richardson his belief that Russell is nothing but a charlatan looking to steal from Alma. Doc Cochran agrees to build Jewel a boot-brace but only if she will report any negative effects. Swearengen confronts Star and demands that he pay for the sex with Trixie; Star initially refuses but ultimately relents when Trixie is threatened. Eddie Sawyer returns to work at The Bella Union and begins stealing money to fund Joanie’s business. Bullock tells Star that he suspects Russell is only in Deadwood to steal Alma’s money. After banishing Trixie to the whore’s quarters, Swearengen spends the night with Dolly and tells her about his childhood, growing up in an orphanage.
1. “Where the fuck is Jewel going?” (Swearengen)
2. “Don’t think I don’t understand. I mean, what can any one of us ever really fucking hope for, except for a moment here and there with a person who doesn’t want to rob, steal, or murder us? At night, it may happen; sun-up, one person against the fucking wall, the other may hop on the fucking bed, trusting each other enough to tell half the fucking truth. Everybody needs that. It becomes precious to them. They don’t want to see it fucked with.” (Swearengen)
3. “Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved…and the rest, I forget.” (Reverend Smith)
1. Disability – Although she is a recurring character in the background of earlier episodes, Episode 11 is the first time that Jewel is given significant narrative importance and character development. People more informed than me can comment more insightfully about portrayals of disability in popular media. Speaking only for myself, I’ve always found Jewel to be developed pretty interestingly because she’s presented as a complicated character instead of an easy stereotype. She is tough-minded and funny, capable of squaring-off verbally against Swearengen (with whom she has an affectionate, sibling-like relationship) and commanding others (as we witness in Season 2, when her exclamation results in Dan breaking down the office door). But, like many other inhabitants of Deadwood, she’s also racist — as we see in her reference to Aunt Lou. In the last two episodes of Season 1, Jewel’s disability is a relatively minor but nonetheless important sub-narrative because it raises the issue of the physical body and even the role that technology and medicine might play. As a simple viewer, I enjoy these final two episodes in large part because of the interactions between Jewel and Doc Cochran — which show off the talents of actors Geri Jewell and Brad Dourif, respectively, and their on-screen chemistry.
2. Reformed & Otherwise – From Deadwood‘s opening scene when Clell Watson expresses the belief that the town represents an opportunity for people to change their life, many characters in the who wrestle with this prospect of change. Interestingly there are two examples in this episode, two men with similar backgrounds but who opt for two different paths: con-men Andy Cramed and Otis Russell. Andy returns to Deadwood after surviving the smallpox and, although he has fallen back into gambling in the other camps, seeks to reform himself by serving others stricken with smallpox. [Later, in Season 2, we learn that Andy ultimately adopts a title and occupation change, dedicated to serving others.] Otis Russell, on the other hand, arrives in Deadwood with the intent to steal money from his daughter, despite the fact that Alma has already paid-off his debts once before via her marriage to Brom. Whereas Andy seeks reformation and redemption, Russell incurs more debt and is unapologetic about his acts. The consequences for both men — how they leave Deadwood in the end — will be very different.
3. Blowjob Monologue – Episode 11 is the first occurrence of the “blowjob monologue” that Deadwood became semi-(in)famous for. Apart from how the monologue is delivered, this scene is interesting in terms of character development, as we finally learn a little about Swearengen’s past — that he was an orphan abandoned by his mother, raised in a boy’s home where the headmistress (Mrs. Anderson) was abusive and a pimp for child prostitutes. Here, we gain some measure of understanding (not necessarily condoning) of Swearengen’s subsequent actions and a source of his anger and violence, especially towards women and what they represent — e.g. his mother (fears of abandonment) and Mrs. Anderson (anxiety about lack of power).
Season 1.12 – “Sold Under Sin”
“Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.”
Written by: Ted Mann
Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Episode Synopsis: Reverend Smith is completely hysterical and bedridden. Magistrate Claggett arives in town with General Crook and his cavarly. After receiving more extortion threats, Swearengen decides Claggett must die. Doc Cochran delivers the boot-brace to Jewel and tells Swearengen about Reverend Smith’s condition, and Swearengen agrees to accommodate the reverend. On Tolliver’s orders, Leon argues with a Chinese launder, which results in Sheriff Con Stapleton killing the innocent Chinese man without any reason. Admitting to Alma that he wants gold to pay off his debts, Alma (with Sofia) escape to inform Bullock. Subsequently, when Russell reaffirms the threat towards Alma, Bullock brutally beats him. During the parade for the cavalry, Bullock witnesses Stapleton’s corruption as sheriff and strips him of his badge, before warning Dan that Russell poses a risk to Alma and Swearengen. Tolliver attempts to buy troops from Crook so that he can gain power over the camp, but Crook refuses the offer. Regretting that his words might result in Russell’s death, Bullock visits Crook, tells him about his dead brother’s service, and successfully requests that Crook protect Russell. Soon after, learning his men are deserting, Crook gathers his troops and leaves the town, taking a still-unconscious Russell with them and leaving Claggett. Joanie takes Russell’s teeth to Alma and talks about her own abusive father. Bullock visits Alma; the two embrace passionately and have sex. Arriving in Deadwood on Claggett’s trail, Adams and Hawkeye consider Swearengen’s offer. Doc Cochran prays that Reverend Smith will die quickly; meanwhile, Swearengen kills the reverend in an act of mercy. Claggett visits The Gem to extort Swearengen and is murdered by Adams. Doc Cochran learns about Reverend Smith’s passing. Bullock tells Swearengen that he’ll be the sheriff, which Swearengen approves. Jewel shows Doc Cochran how much her new boot has helped her, and the two dance to The Gem’s piano.
1. “I’m as nimble as a forest creature.” (Jewel & Doc Cochran)
2. “Fuck the cavalry and the committee that receives ’em!” (Doc Cochran)
3. “That devious fucknut!” (Farnum)
1. Healthcare – Doc Cochran plays a more centralized role in these last two episodes. Here, particularly, we see the doctor successfully treat one patient (Jewel) and lose another (Reverend Smith). We also learn a little more about Doc Cochran’s background in the Civil War and how those horrors affected his generally pessimistic but still compassionate demeanor. He is essentially a humanist in spirit and a misanthrope through experience. Reviewing the series again, I’m struck by the consistency and commitment of Brad Dourif in this role — one of the more underrated performances of “prestige TV.”
2. Requests – As the community of Deadwood grows and becomes more and more “official,” so to do the relationships between its citizens. One way that we witness the taming of the town is the reliance that the characters place increasingly in each other. In Episode 12, this often takes form in requests or intercession — e.g. Doc Cochran’s request to Swearengen that he care for Reverend Smith, Alma’s request to Lila that she care for the beaten Russell, Bullock’s request to General Crook that he protect Russell, etc. Even though Mr. Wu’s request that Swearengen avenge the death of the Chinese launder cannot be fulfilled, that the request is made at all points to an increasingly reliant relationship between the two men. Of course, not all intercession is noble in motivation, as both Russell and Magistrate Claggett’s requests are for the purposes of selfish financial gain. Still, Season 1’s conclusion shows that the characters see themselves less-and-less as isolated individuals and more-and-more as parts within a larger community, their lives and success and happiness tethered to one another. Little wonder the season ends with two friends dancing together.
3. Community Service – Episode 12 marks Bullock’s acceptance of his fate (or, if you like, his inclination) to be sheriff of Deadwood — a role that he’ll keep for the remainder of the show’s three seasons. Bullock’s return to his protective nature serves as frame for the entire season, as this story begins with him resigning as sheriff in Montana and concludes with him becoming sheriff of Deadwood. General Crook’s words seem to play an important role in Bullock’s acceptance — i.e. Crook reassures him that they all have “bloody thoughts,” that perhaps someone self-reflexive and aware of his/her deficits and weaknesses is best positioned to be a servant to others. And as the town grows over the next two seasons, Bullock’s abilities will be put to the test.
1. The Chinese Launder – shot by Con Stapleton.
2. Reverend Smith – suffocated by Swearengen.
3. Magistrate Claggett – throat slit by Silas Adams.
Overall, Deadwood Season 1 is simply phenomenal television. Populated by complex and memorable characters against an intriguing historical setting, the show never shies away from exploring difficult subject-matter, all while boldly producing the most poetic dialogue that I’ve ever seen on television — beautiful in its mixture of the highly ornate and the highly profane. While I do think that there are “dips” in the season (i.e. Episodes 2-3 & Episodes 7-8 don’t stick with me quite as much), there are no “bad” episodes, with every performer given a chance to shine in some way. A must-watch for anyone interested in anti-Westerns, anti-heroes, poetry, or prestige television.
Season 1 Episode Rankings:
1. “The Trial of Jack McCall” (1.5)
2. “Here was a Man” (1.4)
3. “Sold Under Sin” (1.12)
4. “Deadwood” (1.1)
5. “Plague” (1.6)
6. “Mr. Wu” (1.10)
7. “Jewel’s Boot is Made for Walking” (1.11)
8. “No Other Sons or Daughters” (1.9)
9. “Deep Water” (1.2)
10. “Reconnoitering the Rim” (1.3)
11. “Bullock Returns to Camp” (1.7)
12. “Suffer the Little Children” (1.8)