‘Deadwood’ Rewind: Season 2, episodes 9 & 10

Senior Television Writer
08.03.12 40 Comments


We're continuing our summer trip back through David Milch's epic revisionist Western “Deadwood.”

Two notable changes with this review: 1)After surveying the crowd last week, I've concluded that I'm not going to keep the newbie reviews going for the rest of the season, since the reviews are identical and newbies (who haven't really commented, anyway) will be safe so long as they don't read the comments; and 2)As I did with the season premiere, I'm reviewing two episodes together, this time dealing with episode 9, “Amalgamation and Capital,” and episode 10, “Advances, None Miraculous,” all coming up just as soon as I secure my toast…

“He'll be judge on hisself, and jury too, just like the fuckin' most of us.” -Charlie

“There's no better about it. Is there?” -Martha

As with both parts of “A Lie Agreed Upon,” these two episodes take place over the course of a single day, and continue a variety of stories over the course of that day: Mose Manuel's guilt over murdering his brother leading to a bullet wound to the heart that Doc and Jane try to remove, Al convincing Miss Isringhausen to turn against her Pinkerton bosses, Al's continued attempt to outmaneuver Commissioner Jarry and the rest of Yankton, and, of course, the  accidental death of William Bullock.

It's that last part that dominates the two hours. Even before the General's horse bolts the livery to avoid being gelded, we've almost spent more time with William in this episode than we have in the previous eight combined. He and Seth finally have a real bonding moment at the start of “Amalgamation and Capital” as they discuss Seth's brother. It's a perfect moment shortened by the arrival of Charlie on police business, but there's a promise in that moment of a happier, less formal relationship between the two of them that will never be realized.

The great tragedy is that the formality does go away that day, but only because William is in his last minutes on this earth, and Seth and Martha are trying to be a comfort to both him and each other. For the first time, Martha refers to Seth as “father” in William's company, rather than “Mr. Bullock,” and Seth speaks of how proud he is of the boy – couching it in a discussion of his duck calls, because anything more open would have likely exploded Seth's heart at that point – and of how happy he's been to have William and Martha in his life. It's such an incredible, profoundly sad scene, and Timothy Olyphant and Anna Gunn unsurprisingly rise to the devastating occasion.

It's a horrible event that brings the three Bullocks truly together for the first (and last) time. It's also an event that gives purpose to so many in the camp who seemed to lack it in the first hour, gives a change in purpose to others, and in some cases crushes the spirit of those who had, for once, been doing okay.

Even Steve the drunk had reason to smile at the sight of William and Tom playing around with the bicycle, and Tom seemed finally separated from the darkness that tends to grip his bar. That's all gone now, because, even though it wasn't really their fault, they couldn't get William onto the bike before the damn horse got loose.

Sol had seemed to finally find a role in the camp worthy of his abilities with the arrival of the bank vault (which had also provided an opportunity for Martha and Alma to make a genuine peace), but the impending death of his best friend's son shakes him to his core. Though he resents it at first, Al's demand for information on the politics of Montana provides Sol a needed distraction, and a rare chance for the skinny Jew to take complete command of a room in this place.

Even with her new friendship with Joanie, Jane has been as drunk as we've ever seen her. Encountering a weeping Tom Nuttall in the alley seems to wake her up, and when Con and Leon deposit a wounded Mose at the Chez Ami, Jane rises to the occasion in the same way she did during the plague. Her dedication combines with Doc Cochran's desire to give the Bullock's some privacy in William's final hours to make him overcome his usual fear of watching another man die on the operating table.

Hostetler and the General ride out of town, in part to avoid the inevitable lynch mob for their own accidental role in William's death, but also because finding the damn horse seems the right thing to do under the circumstance. Hostetler is, like so many characters on “Deadwood,” almost superhumanly hard on himself, but the General's optimism about finding the horse, going to Oregon, etc., seems to temporarily lift his spirits.

It's a tragedy so deep, so obvious, and so one-sided that it shakes up everyone in the camp. Even E.B. has the sense to stop saying nasty things to Richardson for once in their horrible working relationship. And it's an event so bad that it brings Andy Cramed back to the camp, now in his new guise as a local minister.

Many times throughout the series, we've watched characters step out onto the thoroughfare to get a sense of what's happening in the camp. At other times, it's involved death – and note how the runaway horse sequence at the end of “Amalgamation and Capital” is shot, edited and scored in a style very similar to the death of Wild Bill and its aftermath – but never to one so young and innocent and, for the most part, beloved. (Even Al couldn't murder Seth when he got a look at the kid, and even Francis Wolcott seems concerned for the boy.)

We never hear Seth's conversation with Andy, nor do we witness the moment when William passes from this life into the next one. All we see is what the people on the thoroughfare – Al in particular – see, and that's Sol Starr, walking slowly away from Doc's cabin, a look on his face that tells us all that we need, or want, to know.

Some other thoughts:

* The one significant story that doesn't carry from one episode to the next is Charlie's explosion at the sight of Francis Wolcott and the way that his temporary possession of Bill's letter will always stain it in some way in Charlie's mind. Charlie has left the camp before, but the show rarely lets him stay gone for too long, because who would want “Deadwood” without Dayton Callie?

* I watched both of these episodes right in a row for this rewatch, and it's at least the third time I've watched each, counting their original airing, and I'll be honest with you: I still don't entirely follow Al's plan with Miss Isringhausen, even though I know he's right. Sometimes, Milch contorts things a bit too far past my understanding, but the actors usually sell it.

* Al's initial reluctance at using his glasses in front of Dan is a familiar gag (Milch used it on “NYPD Blue” with Sipowicz), but a good one, nonetheless.

* I should have noted in the last review, by the way, that Blazanov is played by Pasha Lychnikoff, who had guest-starred a few times on both “NYPD Blue” and “Brooklyn South” before landing a regular role on Milch's short-lived “Big Apple” (which is also where Milch and Kim Dickens worked together for the first time).

* Ian McShane isn't an actor of great physical stature, but Al's force of will, and the way scenes with him tend to be choreographed, tend to make him seem larger than he is. But the scene in “Amalgamation and Capital” where Al and Merrick argue over the over-seasoned lies in Merrick's article can't do anything to disguise just how much Jeffrey Jones dwarfs McShane.

* Jane is speaking tongue-in-cheek when she tells Joanie, “I get top fucking dollar” for turning tricks, but the real Calamity Jane worked as a prostitute at different points in her life.

* And speaking of prostitutes, I loved that, when asked for her last name on the first deposit slip of the new Deadwood bank, Trixie says, “The Whore.” Trixie also provides Sol with an outlet for his frustrations over William's injury when he finally calls her out on her ongoing loyalty to Al.

* There's a great scene in “Victor/Victoria” where Robert Preston is coming up with the identity that Julie Andrews will use as a man: a gay Polish aristocrat named Count Victor Grazinski. Preston explains that every lie needs a plausible diversion, and as if to prove the point, Andrews says the backstory is ridiculous, and “They'll know he's a phony,” to which he replies, “They'll know he's a phony!” In the case of the lie Adams tells Jarry about his adventures of Montana, the bag on the mystery man's head is playing the role of Count Victor Grazinski; by focusing so much on the bag detail, Jarry tricks himself into the rest of the lie.

What did everybody else think?

Coming up next: Our penultimate episode of season 2, “The Whores Can Come.” We may have to skip another week as I do some post-press tour adjustments, but I'll definitely be reviewing the final two episodes separately.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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