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 7, “Unauthorized Cinnamon,” coming up just as soon as I interrupt your sleep with this beard…
“No one gets out alive, Doc!” -Al
“Unauthorized Cinnamon” picks up only moments after the end of last week’s episode, and almost everyone’s problem remains one that is both incredibly simple to identify and impossible to solve: George Hearst.
Aunt Lou tries and tries to get through to Odell (who claims, interestingly, that there is gold in Liberia, and it’s not a hustle), but instead her son agrees to ride off to New York in the hopes that Hearst is telling the truth about his intentions. The town elders, meanwhile, gather(*) for canned peaches and a lot of big ideas for dealing with the Hearst mess, before everyone is completely thrown by the reading of Seth’s letter to Pasco’s kin. Where once there were plans for war, or subterfuge, this reminder of the crimes Hearst has already perpetrated – and how even a “parp”-speaking Cornishman like Pasco is a human being whose loss has meaning to both those who knew him and those who were part of his larger community – defuses the tension, but leaves no one with any idea of what to do next. Al suggests publishing the letter for reasons even he can’t understand at the time, and everyone spends their time after the meeting trying to figure out exactly what’s been accomplished, and why.
(*) And one of Al’s whores makes an excellent point: even when you factor in her recent difficulties with dope, it’s absurd that some of these men are at the table but Alma isn’t. After Mr. Hearst, Mr. Swearengen and maybe Sheriff Bullock, she’s the most powerful and important person in the camp. Given the mores of the times, I understand why she’s not there, but I’m also glad that Milch had one of his characters acknowledge it.
What’s confusing them, of course, is not just the unexpected feeling of guilt that Seth’s letter(**) makes them feel about Pasco, but the enormity of the threat Hearst poses. Despite all the talk of Wild Bill, of Dan’s gun and Al’s knife, Hearst is a giant. He can bury them under the weight of the gold that he insists drives humanity to greatness, with more guns, more money, more men and more of anything that the people of Deadwood – even with Al and Cy and Seth all working together – can do. This is not a conventional war, because the locals will be destroyed in one. This is now a war of hearts and minds, and if they can’t fight Hearst, perhaps they can at least shame him and break the fever for revenge that started when the sheriff tugged on his ear.
(**) It’s a message also skimpy with the details (Seth didn’t know the man well), but still conveys more emotion than the last of the sheriff’s letters that we heard read aloud.
What’s most interesting here is seeing just how out sorts Al is by this situation. As a man who can see all the angles, it’s not easy to be in a fight where every angle is a bad one. He’s been maimed by Hearst, and the visit by Gustav – “NYPD Blue” alum Gordon Clapp reprising his cameo from the season 2 finale with a hilarious sing-song delivery – and his swatches only makes Al feel more lost. (His eagerness to answer the knock at the door is among Ian McShane’s single funniest moments in the series.) But the swatches ultimately are part of what shakes Al out of his stupor – and, he hopes, what will do the same for Doc Cochran. Al doesn’t want to learn a new doctor’s habits, but he’s also come to care for Cochran, in the same way he’s taken a paternal feeling towards most of this camp’s strange residents. This is his community, and these are his people – this fight has even pulled a fairly marginal figure like Blazanov into things, as the telegraph operator breaks his code of secrecy to stop a man who reminds him of the ones responsible for his parents’ deaths – and Al will surprisingly fight for them by any means necessary, whether with a very public letter or a “get busy living or get busy dying” lecture to one of the camp’s most essential citizens.
Can they stop Hearst? History gives us some guideposts – and though Milch has deviated from fact in small details like Bullock’s family situation, “Deadwood” as a whole doesn’t try to rewrite the history books – and we know that many of the characters we care about have a tremendous capacity for self-destruction. Aunt Lou tells Odell, “We all get our portion. We don’t need to draw it to us!” A lot of these people, unfortunately, choose to do just that. But for a few brief moments around the long table at the Gem, they at least feel like they have a plan, even if it’s a plan none of them can quite explain even moments after it’s been agreed upon.
Some other thoughts:
* I know Trixie said 10 days passed in between episodes 2 (when Al was maimed by Hearst) and 3, and several more have passed since then, but would that really be enough time for someone in the camp to send a note to Gustav in New York telling him about Al’s injury, and for Gustav to then make it all the way back from New York to the Dakotas? Or are we better off not thinking too closely about the timeline, where parts of some episodes have to take place on consecutive days (or, like this one, on the same night), while others require more time to have passed?
* God, the interplay between Dan and Jewel about the cinnamon makes me laugh every single time, and the fact that neither of them knows what the stuff did to poor Harry Manning only makes it funnier. Dan was right, even if it was for completely ridiculous, paranoid reasons.
* A few weeks ago, I noted that Steve and the General share the same last name. Here, Rutherford starts giving Steve grief about the width of his nose. Though that’s just a joke to get under Steve’s racist skin, I wonder if Milch was considering at some point doing a storyline where the two men were horrified to discover they were distant relations. Either way, we see here that Steve’s loneliness is ultimately more powerful than his bigotry, as he tries to get the General to stay on and work with him at the livery – an offer the General quite sensibly declines.
* The Richardson/Aunt Lou bond has grown so quickly, and sweetly. Richardson telling Lou that Odell was “holding his fucking own” is perhaps the most animated we’ve heard Farnum’s punching bag to this point.
* Lovely little moment where Trixie basks in the full meaning of Sol’s suggestion that the two of them could take in Sophia if Alma’s problems worsened.
* Another small but beautiful scene: Jane lets Joanie give her a bath, and the two terribly damaged women – Joanie’s brief discussion of her sisters, and what she did with them, was the latest heartbreaking detail about one of the series’ saddest characters – try to find comfort in each other.
* Jack Langrishe’s contempt for Bellegarde is a glorious and terrifying thing to behold, is it not?
* Thanks, as always, to Jim Beaver (whose double-length comment last week was a beaut) and any other alums like Keone Young and W. Earl Brown who might happen to drop by with their own memories of the set.
Up next: “Leviathan Smiles,” in which a couple of fellas by the name of Earp ride into town. I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll be getting that review done by next Friday, as I’ll be taking a few days off between Comic-Con and press tour, and then will be busy with press tour. With some luck, it’ll get done. But I suspect I may wind up doing a double review of episodes 8 and 9 (which function as something of a two-parter) the following week to try to maintain the schedule.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com