We’re continuing our summer trip back through David Milch’s epic revisionist Western “Deadwood.” As always with this project, we’re going to have two parallel discussions going at once: identical reviews, but one where the comments section is just for people who are new to the series and don’t want to be spoiled on anything past the events of the episode being discussed, and one for people who know “Deadwood” backwards and forwards, and want to be able to discuss it all at once. This is the veteran-friendly version; click here for the newbie-safe one.
After taking some time off from the project due to Comic-Con, I’ve got a review of episode 8, “Childish Things,” coming up just as soon as I both reject and repudiate the offering…
“Our moment permits interest in one question only: will we of Deadwood be more than target for ass-fucking?” -Al
“Deadwood” is about the forming of community and order out of chaos. As a result, the forging of alliances – sometimes for the betterment of the community, sometimes just for the betterment of the people in the alliance – is a constant element of the series. Rarely, though, is it as prominent as it is in an episode like “Childish Things,” where many of the camp’s most prominent citizens reach out to others, trying – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to form a new bond.
We open with Seth reluctantly agreeing to team up with Al in a plan to use his Montana connections to frighten Yankton. As the hour moves along, we see Al exploiting his friendship with Merrick – and his proximity to Merrick’s own new pal, the Russian-born telegraph operator Blazanov – to get this whisper campaign moving.
Martha Bullock attempts to reach out to Alma about the idea of replacing the departed Miss Stokes as teacher to the camp’s children. But though each woman does her best to put their carnal knowledge of Mr. Bullock aside for the moment, it’s too difficult, and the conversation turns ugly with Alma’s mistaken assumption that Martha wants to take Sophia away from her. Each woman attempts to take out her frustration with the other elsewhere, but Miss Isringhausen gets the better of Alma on both a physical and verbal level, and Seth won’t rise to Martha’s bait about leaving her to go back to Alma. (Though matters between the two of them are strained enough that they have this conversation with their backs turned to one another.)
In a scene that may feature the best work to date on the series by both Molly Parker and Jim Beaver, Ellsworth decides to follow Trixie’s advice and make an honest woman of his boss. We already know just how humble and decent and self-loathing Ellsworth is, well before he monologued to his dog about the difficulty of this approach, but the way he contorts himself in talking to Mrs. Garret, and then the way she is simultaneously stunned, flattered and grateful for the offer is a lovely moment for both performers.
In perhaps our most interesting new alliance in an episode dominated by the show’s female characters, Charlie seizes upon the idea of having Jane and Joanie become friends to fix what’s broken in each of them. Jane needs a reason to stay sober; Joanie needs a reason to stay alive. And I think Charlie realizes he’s not enough for either one of them. Robin Weigert and Kim Dickens are both outstanding and funny and touching in the scene where a very drunk Jane tries incredibly hard (“Yes – but my opening position is no”) to do what Charlie has asked of her, while Joanie just has to make sense of what this strange woman is doing inside the Chez Ami, when the only visitor she’s been expecting is Mr. W.
And the moment she’s been dreading – or possibly hoping for – comes at the episode’s end. Had she not had that strange but lively visit from Martha Jane Canary, would Joanie have found the inner strength to attack Wolcott and barricade herself in her room? Or would she have given into the darkness that even the very, very drunk Jane could sense around her? Whatever her reasons, Joanie fights back, Wolcott takes his second beating in as many episodes, and the women of Deadwood all live to fight – whether men, each other, or their own demons – another day.
Some other thoughts:
* Unrelated to the alliance theme, but among the episode’s most memorable moments – and one of the series’ most joyful – is Tom Nuttall’s bicycle ride through the thoroughfare, which offers the camp something to look forward to amidst the usual, dread, betrayal and violence. Of course, it’s not all joyful, as in the midst of Tom’s ride, Mose Manuel (played by character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince) murders his brother so he can sell their joint mine operation to Cy and Wolcott for 200 grand.
* We’re in the middle of a stretch of episodes taking place on consecutive days, but Al is already showing virtually no physical effects from his health crisis.
* The show has previously used personal correspondence as voiceover narration, with Seth’s letter to Martha or the famous Wild Bill letter. That said, the use of Wolcott’s letter to George Hearst to connect a montage of scenes at the mining operation (which itself has come together awfully quickly in only a handful of days) feels like a departure from how the show usually tells its stories. Not bad; just different.
* The mining montage also features the first appearance of Hearst’s chief muscle, Captain Turner.
* Loved Dan’s petrified reaction to finding out that Al has been talking to the severed Indian head. So funny.
* Again, it goes without saying how every actor on this show is doing some of the best work of their careers, but wow is Dayton Callie good as Charlie expresses his fears about Jane to Wild Bill’s grave.
* For that matter, an excellent episode for Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran finally decides to take a stand against Cy on behalf of the Chinese whores.
Couple of housekeeping notes. First, I missed the chance to say hi to Jim Beaver at Comic-Con, and with his work gearing up, I don’t know how much time he’ll have to comment on the stretch run of season 2. But as usual, I offer advance thanks to him, Keone Young and anyone else from the show who happens to turn up to offer their comments, and remind you again that Jim’s selling personalized copies of his memoir “Life’s That Way” through his website.
Second, I had to skip last week due to Comic-Con, and now I’m about to go into the craziness of the TV critics’ press tour, so I can’t promise when the next review will get done. We only have four episodes to go, so even if I have to take several weeks off consecutively, we’ll still be able to wrap things up well before the network TV season starts in late September. But hopefully we won’t be interrupted too much. Given the craziness of the press tour schedule, if I’m able to complete a review during my time in LA, I may just publish it as soon as it’s done, rather than waiting until Friday morning. You know the drill about the many ways to know if/when it’s been posted.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org