Okay, I am officially scared of Gerald McRaney. Here's a guy I always thought of as a meat-and-potatoes actor, someone who got the job done and not much more. When Milch cast him as Hearst, I assumed there was more to the man than I had seen, but I never imagined him being this bloody good. When Hearst leaned in and told Alma, "You are reckless, madame. You indulge yourself," I don't think I've been as frightened by a fictional character as I was with Gene Hackman's "I'm gonna hurt you. And not gentle like before... but bad" scene from "Unforgiven." If this was a feature, I have no doubt Hackman would be playing Hearst, and I doubt he could play him much better. Sometimes, an actor just needs the right material to show his stuff.
(Hands up, anyone who already knew what a capon is. I had no clue, but upon looking it up, that's exactly how Hearst would view his role in Alma's proposed deal.)
Though he shows no interest in the town beyond its gold, Hearst is a good fit for Deadwood. The town is filled with people incapable of functioning in more polite society, and as Hearst admits to Aunt Lou (who, not surprisingly, is only faking the whole mammy act), he shouldn't be around regular people. The problem is, where Swearengen or Bullock recognizes his need for others, Hearst views himself as the God of The Color, answerable to no one. (Who says evil corporate barons first sprang up in the 1980s?)
As I said last week, the bonds of history are going to prevent any kind of definitive victory for Al in this fight, and as the episode begins, it looks like Al is already waving the red flag, despite Trixie's protest that "the last shot ain't been fired." It isn't until the arrival of Jack Langrishe, of all people. I don't know whether the real Langrishe had met Al years before he arrived in the camp, but my mind is swirling with visions of how these two men became friends.
In a way, it felt like this was the season premiere, what with the arrival of new characters like Jack and Aunt Lou, the return of others like Wu and Blazinov, plus Al's tour of the camp. (When he told Jack, "This is new," it was like Milch was showing off the additional sets they had built during the hiatus.) Brian Cox is one of those actors I'll watch in anything, and he finds the right balance between flamboyant and tough.
On the other end of the capon scene was Alma, who finally appears to be recognizing the limits of her sham marriage, especially now that she no longer needs Ellsworth to pose as her baby daddy. And unfortunately for Ellsworth, he sometimes forgets his place and tries to assert himself like a real husband. Not that Alma would have listened to anybody once she gets her mind set on something, but her "You hardly need explain yourself to me, your wife, in the thoroughfare, having laid down the law…" line was some cold sarcasm. Also interesting that, when Ellsworth later says he was trying to protect her, she barks, "You. Can't." So who can? Bullock? He got his lunch stolen by Hearst, who finally revealed the purpose of letting Al kill two of his guys while two other witnessed: now he has a Mutually Assured Destruction option should Al's ally Bullock ever come up with real evidence of his wrongdoing.
Some other random thoughts:
- While each episode usually takes place the day after the previous one ended, there are occasional exceptions, like the 10-day gap between last week and this one, which was necessary if for no other reason than to avoid having Alma bedridden for most of the season. Oddly, there's a reference in one of the next two episodes to six weeks having passed since William got trampled by the horse, and since a week elapsed between that episode and the season two finale, does that mean only four weeks elapsed between seasons? Or maybe I should just repeat the line one of the "Deadwood" writers once gave me after attempting to explain the season one chronology: "Now my brain hurts."
- At what point did Farnum turn into Renfield from the Dracula movies? His lurching and shuffling almost distracted me from the comedy of Hearst talking over E.B.'s "haughty cunt" line. Almost.
- Not sure which was funnier: Mr. Wu's new look or Blasinov demonstrating his new telegraph equipment to Merrick. Funniest of all was Al's pantomime routine: "'Hello, hello, hello.' The many Chinks."
- What the hell is wrong with Doc Cochran? It's never good when you cough up blood.
- Al giving some meta-critique: "Ever wonder if you expressed yourself more directly, Merrick, you might fucking weigh less?" (Followed by Merrick's meta-rebuttal: "I see no logic in that whatsoever.")
- Al exaggerating his resume to Wu: "Swidgen must act as translator, as he is the only one in camp versed in both languages."
- Al irritated by Jack sucking up to Merrick: "Shit blizzard's early today."
- Farnum the unsubtle bigot to Hearst: "What depraved creature of exotic origin have you engaged to take my place?"
- Al on the local bacon: "Might have a human aftertaste."
- Al on Bullock: "Insane fucking person."
- Cy kissing Hearst's ass: "If you hadn't met me to wag it, sir, why would the Lord give me a tail?"