I know Dan said that "Fixin' toward a bloody outcome" line back in the season premiere, but rarely has it felt as prophetic as it did in episode four. Everywhere you turned, there were people ready to rip each other's heads off. Al and Hearst. Dan and the Captain. And, of course, Hostetler and Steve the drunken horse molester (aka Steve Fields).
Richard Gant and especially Michael Harney spent most of the episode bottling so much rage that it looked on several occasions like Milch was going to pull a "Scanners" and feature some exploding heads. And that's on top of Tim Olyphant, who always plays Bullock as one bad tech support voicemail session away from turning spree killer, and who got to amp that up even more as Seth tried and failed to stay calm while negotiating peace between the man whose horse killed his son and the most hateful man in the camp. (And in a place that includes Cy Tolliver, George Hearst and E.B. Farnum, that's saying something.) The fact that Steve's presence is tolerated anywhere in camp, even at a dive like the No. 10, and that someone like Harry Manning seems to consider him a friend suggests that we may actually be spending most of our time visiting the camp's classier individuals.
(Then again, there's always Con Stapleton -- not to mention his "identical twin.")
It's odd how Bullock went from being the show's main character to a tight-assed joke most of the time, but this felt like the most Bullock-heavy episode we've had since the show's early days. I do think he's a more limited character than Swearengen (and, much as I like Olyphant, he ain't in Ian McShane's league), but I like seeing Seth struggle to fit in and do the right thing all the time, even though he's about as much a wild animal as Dan Dority.
Speaking of Al, we get the return of his preferred method of thinking: while getting serviced by one of the Gem girls. McShane just about broke my heart with the look he gave the whore when she said she wanted to vote for Harry because "Bullock yells at you." I could do without the soliloquies about his abusive childhood, however; McShane's so good that we understand Al's emotional scars without him having to explain them to us.
Now what do you suppose Hearst's playing at? Clearly, Cy is his man on the street, and after that bit with the pickaxe he knows he can never trust Al, so why bother pretending to split the pie? Why not just arm up Cy with some of his muscle and wipe out Al and his bunch. Al and Dan are tough, but Hearst could hire an army to wipe 'em all out under cover of darkness if he wanted.
And in the other key development of the evening, the bank opens and Alma gets right back on the dope. At first, when Leon was lurking so oddly at the bank, I couldn't figure out what his play was. Then I remembered that he's in charge of Cy's drug operations, and when he nodded to Alma from the street that night, I knew. Poor, oblivious Ellsworth's now gonna have him a junkie fake wife.
Some other random thoughts:
- Franklin Ajaye's delivery of "Nigger, nigger, nigger" when Hostetler wouldn't sign was a thing of beauty. Glad to have the General back in town, though it's odd that he would bother sending Jane the telegram if he and Hostetler were just gonna ride in without waiting for a reply.
- When Ellsworth said, "As far as the conjugal enterprise, I'll admit feeling like a schoolboy," I was taken aback, since I had assumed he and Alma didn't even kiss, much less make the beast with two backs. Then I looked up "conjugal" and was reminded that all it means is "of or relating to marriage or to the relationship between a wife and husband." Too many prison movies have corrupted the definition for me, I guess.
- Last week gave us Al's complaint about how long it takes Merrick to ask a question, and this time we get Seth doing the same with Charlie ("Is that your goddamn idea of quick, Charlie?") and Al with Hearst ("Can you say it straight out before I have a fuckin' birthday?"). But even though Milch is aware of how contorted his dialogue has become, don't expect it to change. (At least, I hope not.) Late in his run on "NYPD Blue," when all the characters were beginning to talk like 19th century dandies, there were several occasions where a guest character would make similar meta-complaints, but the lingo didn't get any clearer until after Milch left.
- Cute little moment where Joanie and Jane contemplate the future of the Chez Amie and can't figure out where Jack is going to put his stage. Felt a little like a wink at the audience (Joanie's never been funny in quite that way), but I'm okay with it.
- Dan responding to Hearst's greeting: "Morning. Best time of day to go fuck yourself!"
- Joanie responding to Jack's offer about renting (and continuing the theme): "Perhaps you'd consider fucking yourself."
- Al on Hearst's invitation: "Fuckin' Hearst, must take me for an optimist."
- The General being sarcastic: "That's why I came back with you, Hostetler. To worsen my chances when it's time to flee!"
- Jane on Steve: "Tars every fuckin' drunk with his brush."
- EB to himself: "When will I raise courage to search that woman's room?"