For the third summer in a row, we’re revisiting David Milch’s classic revisionist HBO Western “Deadwood,” this time discussing the third season.
While I once upon a time posted two separate reviews so people who hadn’t watched the whole series would have a safe place to comment, almost no one bothered commenting on the newbie reviews last year, and they’ve been ditched. If you haven’t finished the series, just avoid the comments of this review and you’ll be fine.
Thoughts on episode 4, “Full Faith and Credit,” coming up just as soon as I have the delightful surprise of meeting your identical twin…
“Well, bless you for a fuckin’ fibber.” -Al
The improvisational way in which David Milch and company (including this week’s writer, Ted Mann) wrote “Deadwood” means that episodes only sometimes function as complete entities until themselves. And it’s not the “chapters in a book” model that was happening concurrently on “The Wire,” but rather pieces of a mosaic that the artist hasn’t entirely decided on yet.
“Full Faith and Credit” has more of a transitional feeling than most episodes, though. It’s not exactly part 1 of a 2-parter, like some season 2 episodes (or else I’d have reviewed it together with “A Two-Headed Beast”), but the closest thing it has to a complete story is the negotiation between Seth, Hostetler and Steve the Drunk, and even that’s left to be resolved later due to the stubborn pride and paranoia of the two men Seth is trying to help.
Almost everything else is minor gambits or incremental progress in bigger games. Some things get accomplished, like Jack convincing Joanie to sell him the Chez Ami, and the Deadwood bank finally opening, but more of it feels like what’s happening with the stable: a lot of people talking in circles, confusing each other’s intentions, and not certain what’s going to happen next.
Now, when it’s this company of actors delivering this caliber of dialogue, I don’t so much mind a piece-mover episode like this. But it does feel a bit lacking compared to what the series is capable of, and especially when so much time is devoted to Steve.
Michael Harney was part of the stable of recurring players Milch used on “NYPD Blue,” playing alcoholic night shift detective Mike Roberts. I liked him a lot on that show, and at times here, but a little of Steve goes a long way. That he is so unbearable with his self-pitying, racist invective is supposed to be the point, especially in this episode as poor Sheriff Bullock tries to do a good deed to honor William’s memory. But the hugeness of the performance becomes problematic under such a spotlight, and in such a dramatic context. “Deadwood” has no shortage of stylized, exaggerated performances, but they tend to come in a comic context (like Farnum in this very episode wondering when he’ll have the courage to search the mystery woman’s room, or any of the scenes between Con and one of Langrishe’s actresses). Watching the spittle fly out of Harney’s mouth as he hurls out disgusting epithets seems too much, especially since Richard Gant(*) is able to portray Hostetler’s own frustration and fury at the situation without going so over the top. The scenes with Hostetler and Seth, or Hostetler and the General (like the General’s despairing repetition of the N-word after Hostetler refuses to sign the document first) are terrific; after a while, I just want to take a page from Tom Nuttall and tell Steve to shut up.
(*) Gant also had a recurring “NYPD Blue” role as a cop with a drinking problem – a popular theme for cop dramas in general and Milch ones in particular.
I do like the reprise of all the grief about William’s death, even if Martha only appears briefly at the end to speak in favor of saving the horse. And Seth’s frustration at getting these two mulish men to do what’s in everyone’s best interest does fit nicely into an hour – and series – where so many characters resist what makes sense because they’re trapped inside their own preconceptions of themselves and those around them.
Trixie, as usual, spends her time on screen getting preemptively angry with everyone around her for not being able to read her mind, rather than simply talking straight with them. Alma is shaken by being in the company of Leon (and, no doubt, by her recent medical ordeal) and seems to be going out to rendezvous with our friendly neighborhood dope peddler. Joanie needs to be talked and talked through the idea of selling to Jack, even though everyone agrees that Martha would rather have a brand-new schoolhouse than continue teaching in a converted brothel. Dan once again pouts when Al seems to be favoring Adams, even though Al has very logical reasons for sending Adams as his go-between with Cy and Hearst.
And Al in turn ties himself up in knots in trying to figure out Hearst’s angle, before ultimately deciding he can’t be in the same room with the man who maimed him. With Trixie now splitting her time between the hardware store and bank, poor Dolly has taken her place as Al’s personal prostitute, and also as his confessor. He opens up to her about how much it hurt, physically and emotionally, for Hearst to attack him the way that he did, and delivers another another bit of tragic oral sexposition while revisiting his days in the orphanage. Of course, after her sweet, masochistic explanation for why she supports Harry Manning for sheriff (“Bullock yells at you”), you can understand why Al might start to look kindly on her, even as he blames her technique for his ongoing problems below the waist.
Any sort of concluding McShane monologue forgives a lot of sins in an episode, but most of “Full Faith and Credit” feels like it’s laying the ground for things that may be coming later.
Some other thoughts:
* I’ve always meant to ask Milch about the General and Steve both having the last name Fields, but the opportunity has never come up. (David’s answers tend to be long, and there are always more important subjects to raise in our limited time). On some other shows, this would be one of those things where it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, but at minimum a thematic link between the two men. On a Milch-written show, though, I would not be surprised in the slightest if he simply liked how the name “Fields” sounded next to “Steve,” and either forgot or didn’t care that it was also the General’s last name.
* For the second week in a row, Doc Cochran spends what little time we see him coughing, leading first Cy and then Al to conclude he’s “a lunger.” Certainly not a promising development for our favorite twitchy physician.
* I don’t know if the real Hearst suffered from back troubles, but the real David Milch absolutely does. He often will “write” (as in, dictate) while lying on the floor with his feet elevated to alleviate the discomfort.
* Boy, oh, boy, do Dan and Capt. Turner hate each other.
* Love Leon Rippy’s delivery of “And two fuckin’ firehats!” after Tom and Harry have agreed to start a Deadwood fire company together.
* I always laugh at Joanie and Jane’s confusion about where Jack would place his stage in the Chez Ami building.
* While asking Alma for the loan so Steve can buy the stables, Seth uses the phrase “That’s what the money’s for,” which now has a very different connotation than it did back in 2006.
* Once again, I’d like to thank Jim Beaver and Keone Young for their continued presence in these discussions. Both of them added a lot of insight to the previous review, and while Wu is absent here and Ellsworth appears only briefly, their stories of life on the set are always welcome.
Coming up next: “A Two-Headed Beast,” which features one of the best fight scenes ever recorded on film. I assume many of you have a long weekend, but I’ll endeavor to post it on Friday anyway, simply so we don’t fall further behind in the project.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org