"Innocence" isn't the first word that usually comes to mind when thinking of this town and its inhabitants. Hell, it's probably not in the top 100. But in two beautiful sequences, "Amateur Hour" powerfully demonstrated that, while the show focuses on the cutthroat action taking place behind the scenes, the camp at large has plenty worth saving from Hearst and his Pinkerton goons.
The first was the children's walk from their old school to the new one, which incorporated just about every living character on the show at some point. Swearengen, Cy, Hearst, the Pinkertons and the rest were all forced to stop , even for a few moments, and consider a world that isn't ruled by violent self-interest. And folded in there were some lovely small moments, like Alma and Seth sharing a friendly greeting absent any kind of sexual undertone and Jane putting aside her latest bout of self-loathing and whatever fear she may have about her relationship with Joanie so she could be there for the kids.
The second was the event that gave the episode its title. As the camp approaches some very dark times, Langrishe not only found a way to ingratiate himself into the community (as Matt wrote, what better way to flatter your audience than to treat them like the stars for a night?), but to offer almost everyone a distraction from the trouble that Hearst and the Pinkertons are clearly planning. The "almost" couldn't include everyone, of course. Cy had no place at such a positive, wholesome gathering, and with the Bella Union no doubt empty (lot of whores in that audience), he went off to try to make trouble for Joanie. Al, as we learned, has a fine singing voice, but his reputation in the camp wouldn't abide him performing for anyone but the moose's head. (Though, since he already had the severed head thing going, why not bring out his pal the chief? Two heads are better than one, you know.) The suddenly level-headed Bullock, having made one concession in walking Martha and the kids, had to plan for whatever's coming. And Farnum was there in body, if not in spirit, ruining the evening's highlight because he was jealous of the applause his punching-bag Richardson was getting for his juggling act.
If so much of this season has been about people sticking to the rules they or others have written for them, then this episode also featured some exceptions to that. Farnum has treated Richardson as barely a step above a monkey, yet Aunt Lou is kind to him and not only is making a passable kitchen staffer of him, but used him as a crucial shoulder to cry on after getting the awful news about Odell. (Gerald McRaney was just ambiguous enough in the scenes with Lou that, while I'm pretty sure Hearst did Odell in, I'm not positive.) And in spite of Cy's attempts to convince Joanie that she'll never be suited to anything but prostitution, she's doing a fine job as, I suppose you could call her the first superintendent of the Deadwood schools, finding an interesting new location and taking the lead in the big walk. Kim Dickens about breaks my heart in how hard Joanie is on herself, but she's doing good.
Some other thoughts:
- So, was that really it for the Earps? If so, I'm not sure why Milch even bothered, since all they contributed was an excuse for Bullock to show off his new-found stability. Not sure we needed an episode and a half's build-up (including too many references to Wyatt's "plan" that we never found out about, which reminds me a lot of Danny Sorensen's deep dark secret that Milch never bothered to explain before leaving "NYPD Blue") just for that. Or maybe I'm wrong and the brothers have more to do in the final three episodes. (Only three episodes... sigh...)
- How funny was Al's outrage at someone -- especially, Johnny -- being able to translate for Wu better then he could?
- Not only is Doc taking Al's advice to quit feeling sorry for himself and do his job, but he didn't cough once that I noticed in the episode. Does Al's voice carry some kind of mystical healing power?
- Nice deadpan reaction by Langrishe after witnessing the Pinkerton stomp on the man's foot at the Grand Central. And the way he casually flicked out the switchblade put fantasies in my head of him making good use of it during one of his massage sessions with Hearst. Stupid recorded history, always getting in the way of what I want...
- God help us, but Yankton is back in play. Look, I love Stephen Tobolowsky and his random bird calls, but if anyone can translate Jarry's conversation with Adams, I'd appreciate it. I at least got the gist of his chat with Hearst and how they'll try to use the soldiers to rig the election. This does bring a couple of questions, though. First, are there any candidates save Farnum and Sol for mayor and Seth and Harry for sheriff? Because while E.B. would be enough of a boot-licker to suit Hearst, I don't see Harry being a yes-man. Second, am I right in assuming that the Chinese couldn't vote back then? Because Wu does have his whole bunch massing nearby, too.
- What exactly is the purpose of The Woman in Red? She's been featured prominently in a few scenes at the Grand Central, and she showed up but did not perform at Amateur Night, and there's even a picture of the actress up on HBO's press-only website, which would ordinarily imply someone who's going to play a significant role.
- The General paying for Steve's stint at the No. 10 was a nice touch, as was his decision to take him out to see the show at night.
- While there was a 10-day gap after Alma's surgery, every episode since has followed the consecutive day format, so how exactly did she sober up so quickly and thoroughly? I had forgotten about her father's trick with the coins in the first season finale until Sophia mentioned it. Turns out the old bastard was useful for something, eh?
So what did everybody else think?