Is it wrong that I want to see Al Swearengen get a finger chopped off with a pick-axe every week? Am I a sadist if I love watching reruns of the kidney stone arc from last season? Or am I a masochist for the way I love watching Ian McShane portray the repeated passions of the Swearengen? Honestly, I'm not sure I've ever seen an actor do a better job of conveying physical pain than McShane does in moments like tonight's closing scene; whenever Al suffers, I wince.
While Al may insist "I'm having mine served cold" (who knew Klingon proverbs were so popular in the Old West?), I'm damned curious to see how the show deals with this conflict. While Milch has introduced some fictional characters like Alma and fiddled with the personal details of real ones like Bullock (Martha was never married to his brother, and they had a daughter who never got horse-trampled), he's not going to make a radical break with history by having Al or Dan execute George Hearst. Since I've seen the next three episodes, I won't speculate too much, but Hearst is the first opponent who's dramatically won the upper hand over Al. Al was so confident that Hearst and the Captain wouldn't try anything -- or that, if they did, he could stab his way out -- that he went over there solo, and didn't even attempt to signal to Dan and the guys when they forced him inside at gunpoint. And if Al is going to win even some small measure of revenge over Hearst, he's going to have to follow his own advice to Dan -- "Change calls the tune we dance to." -- and stop thinking like he can out-think and out-tough anyone.
Maybe he can learn a lesson or two from Calamity Jane, who for one afternoon was able to dry out, clean up her body (that's a nude scene I never expected) and her language, and be an effective, entertaining guest lecturer for the schoolkids. Just a fun, sweet sequence all around, especially the revsiting of her bond with Sofia and her brief compliment to Martha. ("I know another brave person her, too... several.") History (both real and the show's) says this isn't going to last, but it was a nice moment.
Like many fans, I've never really warmed to Alma, and Seth's ring of fire love for her is my least favorite element of his character (he really is the Ryan Atwood of the Black Hills), so I wasn't too caught up in the drama over whether Alma or the baby might survive -- until, that is, she went and passed over Ellsworth in favor of Seth as Sofia's legal and financial guardian. Jim Beaver was so good in that moment. Ellsworth has no illusions about this "marriage," but he's been there for Alma and Sofia when Seth has chosen (with defensible reasons) not to be. For Alma to say, essentially, that his only value was as a beard and that she'd rather turn Sofia's care over to another man was a major slap in the face to one of the most stand-up men in the camp.
Some other random thoughts:
- Does Charlie understand that Joanie's a lesbian? Does he have a libido? I know he's a good guy -- like Sol and Ellsworth, one of the least complicated, most altruistic man in the camp -- but does he really expect nothing out of this but friendship? Whatever his motives, the scene where he recalled Wild Bill's own self-loathing was very touching.
- On the flip side of the humanity spectrum is Cy, whose initial response to Joanie's suicide talk was, "What the hell were you doing at Shaughnessy's?," then complains to himself about having to listen to such a story. Then he goes and uses his alleged spiritual awakening as a ruse to pull a gun on Andy -- a scene that Leon thankfully ruined.
- The monologue the drunk delivers before falling and breaking his neck (which inspired the episode's title, "I Am Not the Fine Man You Take Me For") sure sounded like the kind of thing Milch read in a letter and transcribed.
- Watching the Doc use Trixie as his vagina model to test the angle of the mirror reminded me how handy her lack of self-consciousness can be sometimes. Almost makes me willing to give her a pass for all the times she yells at poor Sol. (Also liked the oblivious Sol doing his "I bought the house!" pantomime while Trixie is tending to Alma.)
- During Deadweek, Andrew Dignan wrote an essay comparing "Deadwood" to the "Godfather" films, and watching Adams and Dan constantly jockey for favor with Al reinforced the parallel for me. Al is Don Vito, the stately power broker. Dan is Sonny, the hotheaded eldest son who's good at muscle work but doesn't have the brains to succeed the old man. Adams is Michael, whose savvy and sophistication is sometimes held against him by the other brothers. And Johnny is, of course, Fredo. Not sure it's intentional, but if fits.
And some Milch-isms of the Week:
- Mose hearing that Jane is taking a bath: "Camp get up a petition?"
- The Farnum 'n Richardson Smiletime Hour: "I'd like to use your ointment to suffocate you."
- Charlie walking into The Gem seconds after the two killings: "I'll drink after I vet."
- Dan explaining things to Johnny: "It was his preliminary signaling that he was gonna show Al his ass."
- A fart fills the air at The Gem: "That'd knock the buzzard off a shitwagon."
- Farnum the unsubtle race-baiter: "Farnum, twice-measured; Starr, once cut" and "Farnum! CHRIST knows he's earned it!"
Matt's review is already up on NJ.com. So what did everybody else think?