Sunday, June 24, 2007

Deadwood - first episode

After watching this very first episode, I am close-but-not-quite hooked by this show (it will be by the end of the third episode that I am well and truly smitten). The Al Swearingen character however, immediately fascinates me and I think that Ian McShane may be brilliant in his portrayal of him. Al is a bad, bad man. He is the anti-hero to Bullock’s hero and, like most anti-heroes, he is very compelling. Even when I am horrified at what Al is saying or doing, I think I love him. Please note: the swearing in Deadwood is epic. It is positively beyond anything I've ever watched (and I own Reservoir Dogs) and yet it feels organic: I believe that these filthy, raunchy, hard-bitten, flea-bitten people really might have talked like this. In these recaps, therefore, I’m going to have to use some salty terms. To my gentler readers, I apologize. Final note: these Deadwood recaps were moved up the queue by request of my friend, Glenn G., who is so not over the cancellation yet.

Montana, May 1876. A pretty young Marshal writes in his journal as his prisoner, a horse thief, yaps at him from the jail cell. “No law at all in Deadwood, is that true?” asks the thief. It seems that the Marshal and his partner are heading to Deadwood, a gold-mining camp, to start a hardware business. At about 2:54, we get the very first “fuck” – and that is including the credits. The Marshal is polite and only slightly sarcastic, friendly enough to his prisoner, who was also intending on heading to Deadwood. The horse thief offers Marshal Bullock a deal to partner together en route to Deadwood. Bullock says “It don’t appeal to me,” largely because it would entail letting the horse thief go free and he, Bullock, is a righteous man. Sol Star, Bullock’s partner, pops in to let them know that a lynch mob is headed for the jail. The thief is upset at the interruption: “Sir, would you please get the fuck out of here until we have finished our previous conversation?” The mob gathers outside, drunk, unruly and armed. At around 5:54 we hear our first “cocksucker,” from Bullock; this will prove to be Deadwood’s characters’ favorite noun-expletive, seemingly second in frequency only to the many permutations of “fuck.” Bullock announces to the mob that he’ll hang the horse thief himself, “under color of law,” so as not to let the mob lynch the prisoner. The thief seems resigned enough to his fate, but worries that the drop off the stool is not far enough to snap his neck. Bullock promises to help him die quickly. The thief speaks his last words, to which Bullock pays close attention, and then jumps off the stool. He struggles for a little while until Bullock grabs his legs, gives a sharp tug, and breaks the guy’s neck. Lynch mob: “Whoa – this marshal’s a bad ass. Glad he’s leaving for Deadwood.” Bullock looks a little shaken by his assist but recovers enough to write down the thief’s last words. Sol is incredulous that he’s taking the time to do this. Bullock gives the record of the thief’s last words, along with his badge, to a mob member for delivery to the thief's sister. Then, with a final glare at the mob, he climbs up on Sol’s wagon and they leave Montana.

The Black Hills July 1876. A scruffy (oh heck, I need a better adjective: everyone on this show is scruffy) and scowling woman stomps alongside a wagon train to report that a wagon is stuck up ahead. She is reporting to Wild Bill Hickok who is lying hung over in his own wagon. This charming damsel is Calamity Jane and she gives us “ignorant fucking c---s” at 10:05. As the drovers struggle to free their wagon, Jane looks out over the valley into Deadwood. Down in the valley, the valley below, Bullock is driving his wagon into camp. It is disgusting: muddy, filled with nasty looking characters, animals being butchered alongside goods being sold, raggedy tents popping up alongside wooden buildings. Bullock finds Sol, who has rented a lot in a prime location for $20 a day. Their new landlord is Al Swearingen, owner of the Gem Saloon and with a finger in pretty much every pie in Deadwood. We are going to enjoy Al – he is so scary. Al is currently tending bar for a prospector, Ellsworth. I love Ellsworth – he gets some of the best lines: “First one today with this hand,” he says of his drink. (I may have to use that one.). The two of them have some exposition about Al’s “Limey damn accent” (which I don’t think he has) as a way of possibly explaining if McShane’s accent does slip. A gunshot is heard from upstairs: Trixie, a whore, shot a john because he was beating on her. She’s pretty badly bruised and swollen. Doc Cochran is summoned and is impressed that the john managed to live for twenty minutes after being shot in the head. Is Trixie’s gun a derringer (.22 perhaps? the gun is tiny)? Al spins the situation, ensuring that the doc won’t talk, and hauling the whore off to hear her side of it. The doc is Brad Dourif – he’s great. Wild Bill and Charlie Utter head into camp ahead of the wagon trail, leaving Jane to oversee things. Charlie and the volatile Jane butt heads until Bill effortlessly calms her down - she’s clearly got a huge case of hero worship and/or a big crush on him; Charlie wonders what he’d done to get on that woman’s wrong side. They leave, and Jane asks a family of Norwegians who are leaving Deadwood if they know a back way into camp. The family does not – they are getting the heck out of there.

In Deadwood, as Bill and Charlie look on, Bullock and Sol are getting hassled while they unload their wagon. Sol is clearly the customer service guy – Bullock is just too hot-tempered. In Al’s office at the Gem, Trixie tries to justify her shooting of the john. Al is almost tender as he surveys her bruises, then suddenly he throws her across the room and tromps on her throat as he asks her what it’s going to be. She chokes out that she’ll be good. Bill and Charlie come into E.B. Farnum’s hotel (Larry of the brothers Darryl); E.B. fawns over Bill, asking many questions, but Bill won’t be drawn out. After they check in, E.B. scurries over to Al make his report about Wild Bill. Al is less than pleased to hear a famous ex-Marshal is in town; he prefers Deadwood without the law in any form. Dan pokes his head in to let Al know that the “New York dude” is sippin’ his whiskey downstairs. Al sends E.B. off to fetch one Tim Driscoll, who is to be drunk and ready to sell his claim when he arrives. By evening Bullock and Sol have their tent set up and their wares ready to sell. Bullock says “bidness” and doesn’t move his arms when he walks. The boys get their first customers. The Gem Saloon is packed. Al chats up the New York dude, Brom Garrett. Garrett is far too clean and refined for Deadwood, and far too na├»ve – Al prepares Garrett to be scammed into buying Driscoll’s “pinched-out” gold claim. Garrett is such an easy mark. Tim Driscoll shows up, drunk, Irish and barely intelligible. Wild Bill and Charlie enter a smaller and quieter bar, and Bill perks up at the poker game in the back. A dismayed Charlie talks with the barkeep and it comes out that Bill is not so good a poker player anymore, but the barkeep is willing to pay Charlie a little fee if Bill will play in his bar exclusively. Principal Rooney (plus several extra pounds) is the camp’s newspaperman; he is effusive over Bill’s arrival in camp. Back at the Gem, Trixie gives the maid a piece of jewelry to trade for another gun. Al, Tim Driscoll and, later, E.B. swindle Garrett into buying the gold claim for $20,000; Al seems unhappy that the price went that high instead of the original plan of $14,000. There is much spitting into hands – it is amazingly gross, especially given the level of dental hygiene for all involved.

Alma Garrett, as clean as her husband but not nearly so flighty-seeming, is taking a “headache remedy” of laudanum (I believe that’s addictive, Mrs. Garrett). Her husband is beside himself with excitement about his new gold claim. He even demonstrates the hand-spitting. Alma is resigned (but seemingly not too surprised) that Garrett spent all of their money to buy the claim. Al meets with Tim and expresses his displeasure with Tim’s ad-libbing to $20,000. Tim has a really bad accent. He ends up getting a measly $20 and “a piece of fookin’ pussy” out of his percentage; it seems he owes Al some markers already. At the hardware tent, Sol and Bullock have hired an extremely earnest preacher to watch over their goods while they take a break. This introduction offers up some exposition on how Sol and Bullock met each other. The preacher is nice, but I find him annoying almost immediately. On the street, Sol and Bullock meet a shady looking character who tells them that he just saw a white family all hacked and murdered on the road to Spearfish. The preacher guesses that it was the Norwegian family (who Jane saw on their way out of town). Bullock looks at the shady character from under his eyebrows and suggests that he might need a drink. At the quieter saloon, Wild Bill is losing to a disgusting dumbass weasel in the poker game, while Principal Rooney is holding forth about something political. Wild Bill: “Does 'bosom' mean 'tit'?” One of the other poker players confirms, “Same thing.” Bullock, Sol and the shady character come into Bill’s saloon and Sol loudly announces the massacre to the patrons. Wild Bill offers to ride out with Bullock et al. to the kill site, as does Principal Rooney, his “infirmities permitting.” Bullock and Bill do some former-Marshal bonding as they walk to their horses, agreeing that Shady Character’s story does not add up. Al instructs Dan to fool Garrett into believing his claim has some gold, plus Dan needs to “see to” Tim Driscoll. Dan is not happy about that since he’s sort of buddies with Dan. Johnny brings up another informant who lets Al know about the posse from the other bar. Al is irate that Johnny let the informant chatter amongst the saloon patrons before bringing him up to the office: “Nobody’s drinkin’, nobody’s gamblin’, nobody’s chasin’ tail … I have to DEAL with that!” The informant would like some drugs as payment for the information and we learn that Al is a dealer as well as a thug and a whoremonger. Downstairs, Al recommends to the Gem patrons that their posse should perhaps use this evening to get organized, riding out in the morning, not “in darkest night.” He offers a $50 bounty for each Sioux head brought in, starting tomorrow, and then buys a round for the house, offers a prayer for the souls of the family, and announces that “pussy’s half-price for the next fifteen minutes.” Needless to say, none of the patrons seem at all interested in joining the posse, even when Calamity Jane comes into the saloon to recruit folks. Al tells his cronies that he thinks it is road agents killing the white folks on the road, not Sioux. Johnny identifies Jane for Al: “That’s the sewer mouth that follows Hickok around.” That’s just funny, given the vocabulary of who’s talking, whom he’s talking to, and pretty much every other person in camp.

The posse finds the family’s bodies and chases the scavenging wolves away. It’s pretty grisly. Bullock notices two more wolves snuffling around a bush. When he investigates, he finds a little girl, slightly gnawed on and unconscious, but still alive. Wild Bill observes Shady Character looking discomfited at finding the girl alive. On the road back to camp in the morning, the posse meets Jane. Bullock hands her the unconscious girl – because Jane’s a nurturing woman? – under Bill and Charlie’s approving gazes. Back at the hotel, Garrett dons his spiffy new prospecting duds and Alma pretends to still be asleep so she doesn’t have to admire him. I think they’re newly married. Ellsworth is drinking with Trixie at the Gem – her bruises looks worse in the morning light– and offers to pay her a dollar a minute to listen if she needs to talk. What a sweetie. Trixie, watching Al go up to his room, ain’t interested in talking. At the hotel E.B. lets Dan into Tim Driscoll’s room and Dan stabs Tim to death. Luckily, for both the viewers and for Tim, it's quick. Alma watches her husband nearly get trampled in the street as the posse pulls up to Doc’s house with the little girl. Doc seems hung over; given the quantity of whiskey everyone in town drinks and the speed with which they drink it, I am not surprised. Jane draws her pistol as she warns him not take the girl without her; Charlie reassures Doc by saying she doesn’t mean anything, she’s just excitable. Bullock dismounts and walks over to Shady Character who’s looking twitchy. Bill asks Sol how good Bullock is with his gun but Sol does not feel qualified to answer. Bullock suggests to Shady Character that he stick around to see if the little girl lives. Shady Character insists that it was Indians; Bullock replies that there was too much ransacking for it to be Indians – whoever killed those folks was looking for money. Bill joins Bullock and offers his theory that Shady Character came into camp to get a little nookie after such a kill. Feeling cornered, Shady Character goes for his gun. Bullock and Bill both fire, and Shady Character goes down with a bullet in his eye. Bill asks Bullock whose shot it was and Bullock says his money is on Bill. I think we have a little mutual admiration society beginning here. Alma doses herself with more laudanum as Garrett and Dan head for the hills to prospect Garrett’s claim. Al, who was also watching from his room, gets into bed. Trixie comes into his room, puts her tiny new gun on his dresser, takes off her nightgown and gets into bed with him, laying her head on his chest. Al has absolutely no expression on his face whatsoever.

Next episode


  1. I'd classify Al's final expression as "bemused indifference" as in "Lord help me understand c***." which he subsequently utters not infrequently. With regard to the language, while with out a doubt the most vulgar I've ever heard from the small box or the big screen, I find it all rather Shakespearian; the syntax and rhythm of the lettered having been emulated and vulgarized by the hoi polloi. Can't wait for the movies.

  2. Rats - I hate it when the comments is smarter than I is. (Are there going to be movies? I have some catching up to do first.)