Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Deadwood recap - “Suffer the Little Children” (S1E8)

Whoa nelly! Take a break from Deadwood for a couple weeks and it’ll getcha with a vengeance when you come back to it! This one’s pretty violent: I’m not usually uncomfortable with violence - "Reservoir Dogs" being in my DVD library and all - but I was squirming a bit near the end here.

The dropping: Bullock finds a solid-gold reason for Alma to stay in camp, much to Trixie’s sorrow. The camp’s smallpox epidemic goes the way of the dodo. Al not only never loses his temper, he also does his best Lady MacBeth impersonation. And Flora and Miles take the Orient Express out of Deadwood – Cy punches their tickets for them.

The “gimp” is scrubbing the floor of the Gem, trying to eradicate the bloodstain left when Dan murdered the hooplehead who was after Flora. Dan apologizes to Al for all the free drinks he had to hand out to restore order after the knifing. EB is on a tear and, in a very Shakespearean speech, vehemently suggests that Al murder Bullock and the widow to take over that scrumptious gold claim. He then accuses Al of backing off from the claim when Al hesitates to jump on that excellent idea. As the saloonkeeper looks at his flunky consideringly, the scouts ride back into town with the smallpox vaccine and rumor of a treaty with the Sioux. Al is delighted with both pieces of news and tells EB that the only way they are going to not be swimming in money now is to engage in open bloodshed with Bullock. The gold claim is gravy on the steak and they just don’t need the gravy anymore. EB is disappointed but sees Al’s point, just like he usually does.

Flora returns to the Bella Union in the aftermath of the stabbing at the Gem. She seems shaken and stays the night with Joanie, who nuzzles her but doesn’t try anything, despite Flora having provocatively unbuttoned her chemise. People hoping for a glimpse of actual Kristen Bell boobage will be unrequited. Flora has a very cold and calculating look on her face as they fall asleep together.

The next morning, folks are lined up around the block for the smallpox vaccine, which Doc is dispensing from Bullock and Star’s hardware store, away from the “horseshit and flies.” Charlie takes a small faint from the needle prick: “It wasn’t the pinprick - I ain’t et!” he protests when Jane gives him a hard time about it. Bullock and Alma flirt as she stands in line to get Sophia vaccinated. I’ve decided she’s too breathy for my taste and it’s annoying that she can’t make up her mind about anything. In fact, she goes back and forth between returning to New York or staying in camp about eighteen times in this one episode, getting poor Trixie’s hopes up and then dashing them … I’m not even going to bother to recap it all. Even Bullock points out how changeable the widow's mind is, although he doesn’t seem quite so put off by it. In fact, Bullock goes to the Gem where Dan takes him to meet Ellsworth, who will be assaying Alma’s gold claim.

The gimp maid pours Al some more coffee and he quizzes her about Trixie’s whereabouts: apparently no one knows where she went. Al and the gimp have this very interesting relationship. He’s brusque with her, but not as nasty as he is to most people; he actually scrubs the floor himself when she isn’t quite able to take care of it; he holds lengthy conversations with her that seem strange for discourse between a saloonkeeper and a handicapped maid. I wonder if she is a former whore who got injured in the - ahem - line of duty. Perhaps she was his mistress before Trixie, or maybe she’s his sister. Very peculiar.

Doc heads home and discovers Trixie passed out on the floor of his hut, having failed in a suicide-by-laudanum-overdose attempt. He is very cross with her but it’s clearly due to affection and chagrin; he rouses her a little and puts her to bed. In a bed on the other side of camp, Flora gets up, gets dressed and gets some lunch (such late risers!) to take to her brother. Behind closed doors with the other Bella Union whores, she is as nasty-talking as the rest of the local folk, and Cy decides he is no longer sure she is who she says she is.

Alma proves how very awkward she is around children. Also, her hair is big. She has pretty clothes, however. On the gold claim, Ellsworth – after receiving assurances from Dan that he won’t be killed for witnessing Brom’s murder – “discovers” the big old vein of gold in the cliff wall for Bullock. Flora and Miles plot over their lunch at the Gem: Flora wants to hurry up and do the job, saying that Cy is on to her. Miles thinks she just wants to “do it fast and dirty so [she has] to cut someone’s throat.” She doesn’t dispute it, but won’t be dissuaded – “I can move the dyke” – and they plan to take the Bella Union right away. I’m a little unconvinced with Kristen Bell’s acting choices as Flora: she is so very angry and the writers haven’t given us enough backstory to explain such wrath. I believe Miles, but Flora just seems too hard.

Bullock tells Alma definitely not to sell and they flirt some more in the hotel’s “absurd restaurant.” When EB asks how the assay turned out, Alma cutely asks Bullock, “Is the technical term ‘bonanza’?” EB looks as though he just swallowed a razor. When Miles asks to take the afternoon off to go look after a rumored sighting of his father, Al not only allows him the time, but also offers to pay for the rental of a horse. Al’s been taken in by these kids too – it’s amazing. Bullock stops by the saloon to tell Al that the widow won’t be selling and Al, feeling magnanimous, suggests that Bullock sit and “drink with [his] vanquished foe.” Which Bullock does, and they appear to reach a truce between the two of them. We’ll just see how long that lasts. As Bullock indulges in a shave at the back of the saloon, Al stalks over to the bar and mutters, for the umpteenth time so far this episode, “where’s that fucking whore?”

The whore in question is getting a visit from Alma and Sophia. Feeling guilty about not being able to offer Trixie a means out of the camp, Alma gives her a chunk of gold. Trixie looks pensive after they leave, clutching the big nugget. Miles has found his way to the Bella Union and has bought himself a poke. A testy Flora tells Joanie she’s quitting and then flounces up to Joanie’s room to look for “a pin” she lost. Cy is wicked suspicious now. Joanie catches Flora stealing her jewelry but doesn’t try to stop her; Flora is really snotty and, pulling a knife, hustles downstairs where Cy confronts her. She sticks him in the knee with her knife and rushes back upstairs screeching. She and Miles escape out over the balcony but Cy’s men catch them in the street and beat them really badly, Flora getting repeatedly punched on the head. Cy’s men drag them back into the saloon as the campfolk watch, slightly horrified.

Cy, Eddie and Joanie are all in Joanie’s room with the young grifters. Flora looks as though her skull has been broken in at least one place; Miles’s face is battered and swollen. It’s horrible. Cy taunts them and smacks them about some more, before shooting Miles and then forcing Joanie to shoot Flora. She does so, sorrow and pity flooding her face, and then tries to put the gun to her own head. Cy snatches the gun away and tells her she’s not going anywhere. Later, Cy finds Joanie on the balcony. He tells her that he didn’t enjoy doing what he did (I think that’s pretty much a lie) but he did it to prove that thieves can’t get away with trying to rob his place. He then offers to set Joanie up in her own business, outside of the saloon, to give her some more independence and maybe a little happiness. She is struggling, desperate, so sad: “Kill me too, Cy, or let me go … if you don’t kill me or let me go, I’m gonna kill you.”

Down in the street, Trixie walks back into the Gem as Doc and Alma watch, dismayed. Nice job, Alma – you blew it. Trixie goes upstairs to Al’s room. Wordlessly, she hands him the gold nugget from Alma, slaps him sharply across the face when he grabs her arm to look at the new track marks, then strips. The whole time, he says nothing, just watches her, and folds the covers back so she can climb into bed. Now, there's another interesting and complicated relationship for our Al!

I love this show. I love how it is clearly manipulating me into loving Al Swearengen and hating Cy Tolliver. They’re both reprehensible and yet Al seems, not redeemable, but understandable. We have seen nothing positive come from Cy yet, but Al has demonstrated loyalty to his people, the willingness to do some good deeds (albeit small and certainly not from any sense of altruism), and has even approached something near to tenderness or at least empathy a couple of times. I must be a sucker for antiheroes.

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