Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Deadwood: The rug really tied the room together

It was the best of "Deadwood" (Al being Al again), it was the worst of "Deadwood" (every scene with Langrishe). It was the age of wisdom (Al figuring out Hearst's game), it was the epoch of foolishness (Hearst sending a henchman alone into Al's lair). It was... ahh, before I do my umpteenth hackneyed riff on "Tale of Two Cities," let's go to the jump for the real observations, shall we?

It's amazing to me how one episode of "Deadwood" can seem so tight and yet contain so much filler. So let's get the latter out of the way as quickly as possible so we can tend to the chocolatey goodness.

First, I never want to see any of the theater people again, and I think that may include Langrishe. Brian Cox is a great, great actor and has been a fun foil for Al, but by God what was the point of the scene with Jack's two women? I'm assuming the dancer is his daughter and the painter is a former lover... or maybe they're both daughters... or they're his sisters... his daughters... his sisters... Whatever the bleep they are, I could not give a good damn about any of it, or about Con's blood flow problem with Claudia, or whatever the hell Bellegarde's going to be doing when we see him next (and here I thought Dennis Christopher had a lifetime pass with me thanks to "Breaking Away"). David Milch is a grand, grand thinker, but sometimes his eyes are bigger than his stomach, you know? I can rattle off a half-dozen "NYPD Blue" story arcs off the top of my head that began with great promise -- or, at least, sounded great when Milch described them -- and then never went anywhere because he got distracted by other things. (In a couple of cases, the stories never even happened at all outside of some interviews Milch gave.)

At first, I was willing to indulge the arrival of the theater company, even though it meant less time for characters like Sol and Adams, because of Cox. Then I was willing to indulge them some more because of all the talks Milch has had with Matt about the nature of drama as a mirror for life and how the theater company's arrival would be the culmination of that theory. Then I was willing to indulge them just a bit more because I made myself forget about all those other Milch digressions to nowhere. But no more. I'm not saying there isn't a point to the theater stuff. There just isn't enough of one to justify this much screen time devoted to them, especially at the expense of an ensemble that was already too full by at least a third.

More randomness: Cy bitching out Janine from Cincinatti, which has to be one of the weirdest in-jokey plugs I've ever seen (assuming it was even meant that way, as opposed to Milch -- or W. Earl Brown, who's the credited writer of the script, even though I'm sure it went through several dozen Milch polishes -- having Cincy on the brain when the scene was being written). I get that Cy has been cut off from most of his usual punching bags (Eddie and Andy are long gone, Joanie's on the side of the angels, Leon's high all the time and Con's too stupid to bother with) and has been reduced to mocking the new whore's name, but still -- too long.

There was some good randomness, however, notably the whores at The Gem (and Jewel) all developing girl-crushes on Alma. Those fit in not only with the episode's depiction of her as heroic for being willing to make the second walk solo, but with what I imagine her real image in the camp would be. She's not a whore, not a schoolmarm, not a vulgar cross-dressing drunk. She's a beautiful, impeccably dressed, well-mannered independent woman who happens to be the second-wealthiest person in town. Of course the whores are going to be impressed by her -- especially since they don't know about the drug problem, or the general haughtiness, or the infamous gift basket scene from season two.

And those bits were only a tiny bit of the genius in "A Constant Throb." Howzabout Al leaping off the freaking balcony to rescue Alma? Or that entire final scene at the Bullock dinner table, with everyone trying very hard not to provoke Seth? (Though, if this episode takes place the day after the Amateur Night, as Jack suggested, how does Bullock make the close to 30-mile round trip ride to and from Sturgis in less than a day? Or am I underestimating horsepower?) Or Adams standing up to Al on the Hawkeye issue? Or Jarry, having just been accused of being gay by Hearst, kneeling down in front of Hearst's crotch to beg forgiveness? Or Dan explaining the facts of life to a trussed-up, raging Ellsworth? Or Alma talking Ellsworth down off the ledge (and, at the same time, maybe realizing that she feels more than affection for him)? Or, hell, even Jane's dream monologue to Joanie, one of those moments where I didn't quite get all the words but understood the melody?

But, obviously, the highlight was Al getting the upper hand on both Barrett and Hearst. If ever a character on this show has been in need of a prolonged beat-down, followed by a throat slash, it's the head brick. In addition to all the sins Al recited, he's also the one who shattered the foot of the salesman -- who, as Doc explained in passing to Cy, is going to lose his leg for the simple sin of calling "No cutsies." (At least, I think that was Barrett; if not, he was the one who orchestrated crap like that, and still deserved the beating.) I loved Al turning the tables on Hearst, who had played on Al's overconfidence with the whole smashed finger incident early in the season and now felt so secure in his position that he sent his top gun into the lion's den with no protection and no witness. Al's taunting of Hearst on the balcony -- particularly the "How's your back?" -- was just an aria of smack talk.

As I've said in the past, I'm going to be damn curious to see how Milch resolves this without turning the finale into Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (minus the departed and pointless Earps).
I just hope like hell that there is a resolution -- at least to the Hearst situation, if not to every story and character thread -- and that Milch didn't just leave everything hanging in the belief that he'd actually get to do the promised fourth season.

Sorry for the multiple delays yesterday. What did everybody else think?


Alan Sepinwall said...

"John from Cincinatti," Milch's next project and, allegedly (even though I don't quite believe it), The Show That Killed "Deadwood."

Louis said...

Hey, sorry to nitpick, but it's "Cincinnati" -- three n's, one t.

Your friend,
Louis from Cincinnati

Anonymous said...

I'm still puzzled about something else... Alan, do you understand what the whole Hearst/Odell plot was about? I mean the mechanics of it? What was Odell's play? Was he running a game on Hearst? If so, what was the game, and how was it supposed to work? (Was there gold in Liberia?) Also, what was Hearst's play? Why was Odell killed? I defy you to explain any of it to me, based on what we saw.

But then again, as I've said before, I watch for the magic moments, and the lyrical dialogue... not for a tightly constructed, commandingly told story. Because there's no way to be in command of a story when you're making it up as you go, one scene at a time.

On the upcoming season of "The Wire," those writers knew what was going to happen with each of those junior-high-school kids before the first ep. was written, and they plotted out all the turns in advance. Based on your rave review, I think there's no doubt: that's a better method of series storytelling.

Anonymous said...

Alan, what are you hearing about the two movies that are to close out the series? McShane said in a recent interview (and W. Earl Brown has said as much on HBO forums) that deals are being worked out with the actors.

McShane hinted that they'd start filming next spring if I remember exactly.

Brown isn't so sure, always saying "if" the movies get made, etc.

Do you get the sense that these 2 movies will indeed happen?

And to stay on-topic, I'm with you on the theatre storyline. Zzzzzzzzz, and I could have done without any discussion of Con's constant throb.

McRaney has been on fire this season. He was only in one episode last season, and I don't remember him being anywhere near this evil. I guess that has progressed over the course of this season, but still.

Anonymous said...

I have to believe that the Odell story line was one of those that seemed like a good idea at the time but got pushed to the back burner when something more interesting came along.

One the list of puzzlements: what I have never understood is why, in a camp situated in the middle of the Lakota version of Jerusalem, we have only seen one live Native American and then of course, Chief's head.

Todd said...

The Army had all but chased off the Native Americans at this point. They were fighting against the Army in other locations and not the Black Hills.

Wounded Knee still sits about 13 years post-Deadwood, but at this point, the Native Americans were essentially ceding the Black Hills to the U.S. (not willingly either).

Anonymous said...

I have a very hard time believing that all of the bands followed Red Cloud et. al. in, or that there weren't stragglers roaming around. Still, I suppose it was a creative choice on Milch's part.

Anonymous said...

The sense I got about Hearst/Odell was that Odell was running a con on Hearst and that Hearst figured it out and had him killed at the first convenient opportunity. Aunt Lou sensed Hearst knew it was a scam (and I think she knew it as well) because she tried so hard to get Odell to take her money and leave town forever.

As for how it would have worked had Odell made it to Liberia with Hearst's rep: I'm guessing he had a fake claim set up--he'd have to have partners to pull it off--and that they'd show the rep the fake vein they found (I'm sure they could have set something up that would look good on the surface and as long as the rep didn't dig deeper, he'd be none the wiser). The rep would then report to Hearst that the claim was real, Hearst would pay Odell, and Odell would take the money and run.

Or I could just be fan-wanking the hell out of it.

Todd said...

There almost certainly were Native Americans in the Black Hills proper (perhaps fighting guerrilla style), but the cities were relatively safe, as were the big mining interests.

Don't know if you've been, but the Black Hills is a pretty large region, and Deadwood is sort of on the edge of it.

Louis said...

Loved most of the episode, but I didn't get what was happening with Langrishe and the two new women. Anyone?

Nobody's commented on what Doc Cochran referred to as Tolliver's "self-mutilation." Cy really seems to hate himself more with every episode.

Anonymous said...

I think Alan's right that there's some sort of love/familial relationship between Langrishe and the women.

Cy can hurt himself all he wants. As much as I love Powers Boothe, I could do without Cy on the show, especially with Hearst out-psycho-ing him.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Re: the movies, I'll believe they're happening when I hear that cameras have started rolling on them. Too many logistical hurdles to overcome (getting the necessary actors resigned, Milch figuring out how to tell the story, etc.), and if it doesn't work out, Albrecht no longer looks like the bad guy. You know, "Hey, we tried."

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Alan but Albrecht will ALWAYS be the guy who cancelled this show (Carnivale, too). Not that matters at al lbecause blame HBO, not some f'n exec. It is also why so many of my friends and I are cancelling are subscriptions to HBO in two weeks. Sorry, but you burn the public and they will bite you in the ass. From now on, when i hear the critics hail some great new HBO show, I will wait for the show to finish it's run and then consider watching it on DVD, IF the f'n show gets some sense of closure.

Who knows what Milch had in store for the troupe. we'll never know because the show will never be finished. Milch takes part of the blame for that as well.

And BTW, John from Cincinatti, without a frame being yet shot, does not get a 2nd season. You heard it here first, boys and girls.