DEADWOOD 1×08: "SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN"

The back-to-back episodes "Bullock Returns to Camp" and "Suffer the Little Children" are unusual, if not unique, in the entire run of Deadwood. Certainly, it is hard to think of many other episodes pairings in the series that are such a unit, in both subject and approach. Primarily concerned with the subplot of newcomers Flora and Miles, and foregrounding the interestingly parallel struggles of main characters Trixie and Joanie, these two episodes form a sort of self-contained story arc that is rare in David Milch's wonderfully sprawling, free-form series.

This also helps explain why these two episodes have always felt like a bit of an imperfect aberration. Even here, halfway through the first season, Deadwood is already a show of cumulative effect, of watching tiny events indefinitely ripple through this community until they become waves and tsunamis. In terms of character development, the import and impact of each scene is built upon layers of understanding and nuance that have been laid before, and which in turn form the foundation for further change and illumination. Self-contained storylines with new characters—and a few more will happen over the course of the series—will always seem out of place and tangential.

But watching these episodes again after so many years, I am struck by how they're not really tangential at all, but essential. Thus far, Deadwood has been about the disparate members of a makeshift camp coming together—in the face of various adversities—to begin forming a real community. But "Suffer the Little Children"—written by Elizabeth Sarnoff, and directed by Daniel Minahan—takes that nascent cooperation and shifts the stakes onto more personal ground. It's becoming clear that Deadwood is no longer just a show about the founding of a community: It's also a show about the formation of family.

"Why can't you look after her here?"

Alma and Sofia in DEADWOOD 1X08 - Suffer the Little Children

So let's start with the storyline that makes this theme most explicit: Alma and Sofia.

Last episode, Trixie angrily confronted Alma about her seemingly inexplicable desire to stay in Deadwood, suggesting it was entirely due to Alma's desire for Bullock:

Trixie: What the fuck? What would keep you here? You wanna fuck this man? Fuck him. Then think about the child.
Alma: 
Don’t use that language with me, Trixie. Or that tone.
Trixie: Don’t you want to say, to remember my place? I do, you rich cunt. And I’m goin’ back to it. [Looks at Sofia.] She's about to say her name, you know. She named her sisters, and her folks. Think of sellin'. If you took her away, you could hear her say it.

There must have been at least a little truth in Trixie's argument, because it works: As "Suffer the Little Children" begins, Alma has decided to sell her late husband's gold claim and take Sofia back to New York.  "I was made to understand that my reasons for wanting to stay have been completely selfish," she tells Bullock now. “I wished to stay here unencumbered, when I should be caring for the child."

Bullock and Alma in DEADWOOD 1X08 - Suffer the Little Children

It is Bullock who asks her the question that actually powers this episode. "Why can't you look after her here?"

On the surface, it's a preposterous question. After all, in the very first episode of Deadwood, Sofia's entire family was slaughtered by road agents in Al Swearengen's employ. (The only reason Sofia herself wasn't killed is that they missed her in all the mayhem.) This innocent orphan girl, subsequently, was nearly eaten by wolves, nearly had her throat slit by Dan Dority, and was exposed to an epidemic of smallpox. Alma's husband—as she and everyone else knows—was pushed off a cliff, and Alma herself has every reason to believe she and the child could be murdered where they sleep at any moment. (E.B., in fact, suggests exactly that very course of action to Al in this episode.) Deadwood is a brutal, lawless place of drunks and whores and thieves and murderers. By any conceivable standard, it would seem to be no place for a child.

And yet Sofia's continued survival is also testimony to the town's extraordinary capacity for kindness. People as diverse as Jane, Charlie, Doc Cochran, Dan Dority, Wild Bill Hickok, Trixie, Bullock, and even Al have gone out of their way to protect this foundling, when the easiest course of action would have been to do nothing. Alma herself, remember, has no connection to Sofia: The child was just left in her rooms, three episodes ago, when Jane went off drunk. And yet Alma already thinks of herself as Sofia's mother, and is willing to rearrange her entire life—and forego her own desires—just to keep her safe.

I've observed since the beginning that Sofia is one of the most important plot-catalysts in the formation of Deadwood's community. But I think she also speaks to a larger, deeper theme that runs throughout the entire series: the idea that everyone is family.

To some extent this is, of course, just Reverend Smith's theme, viewed from a different angle. At Wild Bill's funeral in Episode Five, Smith drew on 1 Corinthians to deliver what is perhaps Milch's key message in Deadwood:

"Saint Paul tells us: By one’s spirit are we all baptized in the one body […] For the body is not one member but many […] He tells us, The eye cannot say unto the hand, 'I have no need of thee.' Nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of thee.' Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, and those members of the body which we think of as less honorable, are all necessary. He says that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care, one to another. And where the one member suffers, all the members suffer with it."

But the way this message plays out is more personal than universal brotherhood or simple communal goodwill. In "Bullock Returns to Camp" we discussed how the entire episode was structured around people recognizing themselves in others. Now here, in its partner episode, we realize this associative path to empathy is larger and more complex than simply looking at someone and seeing yourself reflected back. It is about the ability to form familial relationships where none exist: to find brothers, sisters, children, parents, among people who either have no family or have been betrayed by the families they once had. It is about forming a home out of a makeshift mining camp, a place where the innocent and wounded and orphaned can not only survive, but thrive.

At the end of this episode Alma sings Sofia to sleep with "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," calling back to the second episode, when Jane and Charlie sang her this same song, after they—and a lot of other people—conspired to save her from certain doom. At that time they felt they had to take her away from the camp to keep her safe, but it turns out that perhaps Deadwood can be a place for family.

"Who am I? Your little baby? Your little sister? You?"

Joanie (Kim Dickens) and Flora (Kristen Bell) in DEADWOOD 1X08 - SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN

All of which actually makes Flora and Miles an interesting counterpoint to the regular denizens of Deadwood. Flora and Miles pretend to be innocent, when in fact they are just couple of cutthroat con-artists. They come to town pretending to be family (for they are almost certainly not really brother and sister); and they come pretending to seek family (for their cover story involves the search for their missing father). Most everyone else who came to Deadwood was openly amoral and opportunistic, and yet somehow found a family they never even wanted. These two, feigning goodness and the desire for connection, end up rejecting the families they are offered, and so end up destroyed.

It is actually a wonderfully poignant storyline to play out so quickly, and a remarkable performance from Kristen Bell. Early in "Suffer the Little Children," she comes to Joanie—supposedly traumatized after witnessing the disembowelment of her admirer in The Gem last episode—and asks to take solace in Joanie's bed. The innocent waif act, of course, is just a seduction, and not a terribly sophisticated one. Flora flashes her stockings, and removes her dress, and opens her bodice as far as she can while still preserving the illusion of innocence.

But who is really getting played? Watch Flora's face as she settles into Joanie's arms: first furtive and scheming, but then relaxing into the solace. Watch her when she awakens in the morning, disoriented, from what we suspect might be the most peaceful night's sleep she's had in years. She is the one who was seduced—by herself, first and foremost—into feeling safe and secure, into accepting the calming embrace of a mother, a sister, a friend. Flora takes a moment to process it, and then we see, quite clearly, that it makes her angry, at herself and at the world. She goes quickly to the mirror, and puts on the defensive disguise that she had accidentally let slip.

Kristen Bell in DEADWOOD 1X08 - SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN

And Joanie watches her do it. Flora, after all, is a clumsy little grifter, and Joanie is a sophisticated, experienced prostitute: Joanie knew exactly what Flora was doing in coming to her bed—and chose to comfort her anyway. (Later in the episode, watch how Joanie reacts when Flora reveals her true nature: She doesn't even bother to pretend to be surprised.) Joanie was never fooled, but was willing to love Flora anyway, to accept her into the family. Because the reality is, Flora is an innocent child. Miles is an innocent child. Whatever else has happened to them, and whatever else their lives have done to them, they are lost little waifs in a hostile world, needing protection, needing comfort, needing to find a family. They are exactly what they pretended to be: They just don't know it.

And here's the thing, the one point I want to make in this discussion, even if I succeed in making no others: No one in Deadwood is any different. We do not know all their stories yet, and many of them we will never learn. But eventually we will learn about Joanie's childhood, and how it led her to where she is. We will learn a few things about Al's childhood, and they will illuminate the man he has become. In Episode Two, from Jane's panicked, almost hysterical reaction to Swearengen, we already understand something about her traumatic background, without ever needing to know the details. Everyone is damaged in some way; everyone has trauma; and most everyone has done terrible things to survive. Flora believes she's some sort of monster disguised as a little girl: She thinks she's fooling people. But Joanie looks at her and sees exactly what she really is: a scared little girl desperately, defensively, pretending to be a monster.

(Throughout the episode, we hear and see fleeting reminders that everyone in Deadwood—in life, really—is just an overgrown child. Al sits Farnum down for a stern talk by calling him "young man," and pats his cheek affectionately when they're done. Cochran calls Trixie "young lady" while cradling her like a child, and has to slap Merrick sternly to stop his babbling. Johnny is wandering around town whispering because he has a sore throat. Charlie faints when he has to get a shot from the doctor. Bullock and Alma are—every time they're together—little more than a couple of horny teenagers. The child is father to the man, and no one ever really grows up. As we have seen throughout, Deadwood is actually a place where that universal truth is understood: It's an Island of Misfit Toys, the sort of place where E.B. Farnum—surely a ridiculous, neglected toddler dressed in his father's clothes—can somehow be an important person. "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto me," Jesus said, "for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Of such: In God's grace—which, as we've discussed, Milch sees as manifesting itself through human beings—everyone is as a child.)

EB Farnum in DEADWOOD 1X08 - SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN

So the mistake Flora and Miles make is to reject the kindness they are offered. They didn't fool Joanie, but she accepted Flora anyway, and tries to help her right up until the moment that she dies. It is doubtful that they fooled Al, either, but he is remarkably kind to them. (As I've said before—and as we will discuss much more later—Al has a curious nurturing side, and something of a weakness for orphans, misfits, and outcasts.) Deadwood is a place without laws, and to some extent a place without judgement: If Flora and Miles had come to camp as themselves, without pretense, it is doubtful they would have ended up as they do.

But Flora can't accept kindness: Whatever has happened to her in her life has taught her to distrust it, to lash out at it before it lashes out at her. "You wanna do it fast and dirty so you have to cut somebody’s throat," Miles observes, of their ill-conceived plan to rob the Bella Union. "I can move the dyke," Flora says, of Joanie. "Held me in her arms all night like I was a little fucking kid." And her voice almost breaks on the line.

It is their bad luck to come up against almost the only person in Deadwood who does not—and never will—share the unspoken understanding that is forming in this community: Cy Tolliver. Cy is as close to a true, unredeemable villain as Deadwood has. He, too, is a child of God, I suppose: We can certainly look at him and say someone must have done something terrible to his soul in its formative years, and there will be fleeting moments in the series later when it is almost possible for us to feel sorry for him. But Cy has no empathy, no capacity for selflessness, no love. Even when he pitches in on community problems—as he did with the smallpox epidemic—he is motivated entirely by self-interest. Cy's entire function in Deadwood seems to be to provide a dark mirror in whose reflection the rest of the town—even at its worst—seems a little brighter.

Cy Tolliver in DEADWOOD 1X08 - SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN
And so Flora and Miles are doomed. When their perfidy is revealed, Joanie makes one last helpless bid to save them, by offering to let Flora leave with her jewels. "Why don’t you let me go with your things and shut your fucking mouth?" Flora asks her. "Because I remind you of whoever the fuck I remind you of…Who am I? Your little baby? Your little sister? You?" Yes, in that moment Flora is all of those things, but Joanie knows that she can't save this child. "You're not gonna get away," she says sadly. "You're gonna die here." And once the girl stabs Cy in the leg, that fate is certain. "You little cunt, you're gonna die here," Cy bellows, repeating Joanie's words with all the certainty of a final verdict. (The music in this moment calls back to the dark moment when Jack McCall killed Wild Bill Hickok.)

It is one of the key arcs of this first season that, at this point, there is no law in Deadwood except the unwritten customs of frontier law. There is no one—yet—willing to come forward and stand for a more merciful ideal of justice. As Flora and Miles are viciously, brutally beaten in the mud of the main fairway, everyone is horrified, but no one interferes. Doc is watching; Jane is watching; the newly reformed Andy Cramed is watching; but no one does a thing. Only Sol Star speaks out—one of the most decent men in Deadwood—and the best he can offer is the admonishment that the children do not need to be beaten in public.

Flora in DEADWOOD 1X08 - Suffer the Little Children

The scene of their torture and murder is one of the ugliest in Deadwood's entire, frequently unpleasant run. Cy is pure evil in this scene: He cracks them on their broken skulls, and he mocks their now mismatched eyes, and—what's worse—he makes Joanie and Eddie watch. He passes verdict on Miles first—he uses that word—and rules him guilty of letting Flora push him around, and of failure to be a man. He finds him guilty—of being weak, of being less than brutal, of being the child he actually is—and shoots him in the head. And then he brings his real sadism to bear on Flora, with all the hatred he harbors for women. (We'll discuss Cy more a little further down, but I wonder if the rage he feels for her here is in part anger that she fooled him, at least a little: that he was, at the very least, attracted to her, and so missed the signs. Ironically, he and Flora are much the same: Their reaction to any softness in their lives—any appeal to their emotions—is to destroy it.)

"Don't hurt her, Cy," Joanie pleads. "Don't hurt her before I kill her, you mean?" Cy asks, and yes, that is what Joanie means: All Joanie can do—her last act of kindness towards this child—is to put Flora out of her misery when Cy hands her the gun. And then she tries to put herself out of her own misery.

This will prove to be the key moment for all of Joanie's future character development, her departure point towards a different path. And in many ways it will prove to be the defining moment of Cy's existence in the series as well. So let's talk about Cy and Joanie a little.

"You’ve gotta figure out a way to mean it."

Cy and Joanie in DEADWOOD 1X08 - Suffer the Little Children

As with the last episode, "Suffer the Little Children" deliberately parallels Trixie and Joanie, the head prostitutes of their respective brothels, The Gem and the Bella Union. And in this episode, their storylines echo each other in interesting ways that relate to our main theme. Each has assumed a protective role as a sort of surrogate mother: Trixie to Sofia, and Joanie to Flora. But they are both surrogate daughters as well: Trixie to Al, and Joanie to Cy. Both will fail their charges, albeit to very different extents. And both will end the episode in confrontation with their respective pimps and father figures.

The night after the torture and murder of Flora and Miles, we next see Joanie standing on the balcony of the Bella Union. (Emphasizing her role as a commodity—and as Cy's property—the camera pans up past a banner reading "Chicago Style Girls" and finds her there.) And then Cy joins her, and his manner is all paternal concern and condolence:

"Don’t think I enjoyed that bullshit, Joanie. Certain things you have to do to impress upon people what you're willing to do. Do you like it? No. Do you enjoy it? No. Do you have to look like you do? Yes…When people come to rob you, Joanie, you gotta get rough. It looks like an act, it's not gonna work. And then I grab your hand, I think My god, this poor fucking girl. But I did what I had to do in that room. And now I'm out here. And I'm telling you, your happiness is important to me. And whatever the fuck I gotta do, if you're too much in my shadow, if I make things too tough on you, then we're gonna stop it, we're gonna do something else…You bring warmth into my life.  I can’t bear to see you unhappy like this…"

He offers to set her up in her own business. He tells her she'll be independent, and free to send him away when she doesn't want to see him. We hear in this speech the manipulations of a pimp and an abuser, turning all sweetness and light between bouts of brutality. But I honestly believe Cy believes it is a father's speech, and a father's role: He had to teach her a hard lesson, for her own good; and now he wants to help establish her in the world.

Joanie (Kim Dickens) in DEADWOOD 1X08 - SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN

It is not until the season finale that we will get Joanie's backstory, but I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to mention here that Cy took her directly from her own biological father, and that neither of them were exactly loving, nurturing figures. That story, when we hear it, will shine even more light on the events of this episode, but what's important for now I think is that these are the only two "fathers"—the only two families—Joanie has ever known.

But Joanie is changing: She has been ever since she got to Deadwood. It began with her horrified reaction to Cy's treatment of Andy Cramed, whom Cy had taken off into the woods to die alone from smallpox. In reaction to that—"Conscience-struck, needs to sing a hymn," Cy observed—she went to the funeral for Wild Bill Hickok, whom she barely even knew. And so she was there to hear Reverend Smith's speech about how all members of the body are necessary, and should have the same care. We later saw her—defying Cy's wishes—attempt to save Ellsworth (whom she also barely knows) from getting fleeced at the Bella Union's crap tables. And finally, she tried to be a mother, a sister, to Flora, believing in the possibility of new found families in a place like this. Unlike Cy—but like nearly everyone else in camp—she has been responding (consciously or not) to the feeling of community that is taking root in Deadwood, and seeing there might be a better way to live.

But first she needs to break away from Cy. "Kill me too, Cy," she tells him now. "Or let me go." That's just what he's been saying, Cy says. "You’ve gotta figure out a way to mean it," Joanie tells him. "And if you don’t kill me or let me go, I’m gonna kill you."

And at this moment she looks down and sees Trixie crossing the thoroughfare to return to her own pimp and father figure, Al Swearengen. I do not believe these two women have ever even spokenand yet we know that they are such spiritual counterparts, they may as well be sisters.

"Tell her she's welcome. Tell her she's necessary."

Doc and Trixie in DEADWOOD 1X08 - Suffer the Little Children

For Trixie's situation parallels Joanie's in many ways, right down to the fact that they both attempt to kill themselves this episode to escape the trap of their lives.

"What's wrong with a fresh start?" Cy asked Joanie recently. "How it feels when there isn't one," she responded. Trixie, too, had seen the possibility of a fresh start, but had ended up feeling more trapped than ever. In "Bullock Returns to Camp" Alma had offered to send Trixie and the child to New York. In effect, she had offered to give Trixie an entirely new life: She could get away from Al, away from Deadwood, away from whoring, and be a mother, with means, to a beloved child. Trixie had already had a glimpse of what a different life might be, serving as Sofia's unofficial nanny—but then Al had crudely and brutally reminded her who she really was, tortuously seizing her by the crotch. "That little one needs someone to care for her, and maybe get her the fuck out of here," she told Al, explaining herself and pleading for her life. "And I knew it wasn't gonna be me." It was after this that she rejected Alma's offer, and quit her employ, saying she was going back to "her place."

But Trixie did not return to The Gem. Instead, she broke into Doc Cochran's office, and deliberately overdosed on laudanum. She did not want to continue being an abused whore; she could not envisage living in New York society; and she "had no people anywhere," as she told Alma. So what is left but to die?

It is Doc Cochran—another father figure—who finds her dying, and cradles her like a child, calling her "young lady." Doc is not a man for sentimentality, and he is not a man with a lot of illusions: He offers to help her do the job properly, if that's what she really wants. "But what I don’t know is, if you wanted to die period, or ‘cause you thought you didn’t have a way outta here?" he asks her. "'Cause you do have a way out.” Alma, he tells her, is leaving, and will take Trixie with her if she wants to go.

Alma and Doc Cochran in DEADWOOD 1X08 - SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN

This, as it turns out, is a bit of a bluff: Doc makes the promise without knowing if it's true. And so he goes to explain things to Alma, pointing out to her that her earlier offer to send Trixie away with the child was terribly misguided. "Is it possible, Mrs. Garrett," he asks her, "that leaving this camp and heading to New York City, in service to you and the child, might, to a girl like Trixie, appear a more realistic proposition than being dispatched on some cruel masquerade?" I don't want to hammer the point home, but what he does, effectively, is make Alma see that Trixie too is, in many ways, a child. (Note he says "girl" and not "woman.") However jaded and worldly Trixie appears, she is broken, and innocent of the larger world, and she would be incapable of functioning alone in New York City. Alma, to her credit, grasps this, and her reaction to this somewhat avuncular scolding from Doc is to instantly agree to adopt Trixie—like she did Sofia—into her newly formed family. "Tell her she's welcome," Alma says. "Tell her she's necessary." (The word is no accident. It is a deliberate call-back—on Sarnoff and Milch's part, if not on Alma's—to Reverend Smith's speech about Saint Paul: those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, and those members of the body which we think of as less honorable, are all necessary.)

As it turns out, the escape plan will not come to fruition. Alma has discovered that her gold claim is "a bonanza," and Bullock has talked her out of both selling and leaving: She will make her home here in Deadwood. And yet strangely, what should come across as a cruel backtracking on her promise to Trixie doesn't land that way. Alma goes to see her in her sickbed, and gives her two choices: Trixie can stay with them, as before, or else Trixie can have whatever gold she needs to go away on her own. But then Sofia, who has been listening silently, approaches Trixie's bed, and says her name for the very first time. "Sofia," she says, pointing to herself.

"She's about to say her name, you know," Trixie had told Alma. "If you took her away, you could hear her say it." That was when Trixie had decided that, as she told Al, whoever looked after this child, "I knew it wasn't gonna be me." And yet it is to Trixie that Sofia gives her name: She gets to hear her say it. This is such a delicate, lovely moment, affirming Trixie's place in this strange, indefinable community, making her realize that she does have "people," and telling her that things are possible for her that she never imagined she would have. As much as Joanie's experiences this episode mark the turning point of her life, so too will Trixie's path never be the same again.

“Sofia,” Trixie says, smiling. “It’s so beautiful, I shoulda guessed it.”

"Wheres that fucking whore?"

Al Swearengen in Deadwood 1x08 - Suffer the Little Children

Finally, we can read Trixie's return to Al at the end of "Suffer the Little Children" as a sad sort of relapse, a defeated return to the life was willing to kill herself to escape. But I don't actually read it that way at all.

Al, first of all, is not Cy. As I've already suggested, Al is, in fact, a strange sort of family man himself, surrounding himself with odd, mismatched, misfit children over whom—in his own way—he broods, and worries, and stands ferocious guard. Throughout "Suffer the Little Children," Al has been dealing with a lot of shit: the arrival of the smallpox vaccinations, the news of peace with the "dirt-worshippers," the assaying of the widow's claim, the ironing out of his relationship with Bullock, the unceasing swindling of E.B. Farnum, etc. He has, as he says, a lot on his mind, "fifty other fucking things I should be paying attention to."

But all he's really been doing is worrying about Trixie. "Where's that fucking whore?" he asks several times, of himself and many other people. Every conversation he has, we see him distracted by his preoccupation with Trixie's absence. "I'd rather try touching the moon than take on a whore's thinking," he said a few episodes ago, but now all he's trying to do is figure out what's going on in Trixie's mind. We see him interrogate Jewel about what Trixie might have said to said to her. ("She said her pussy hurt where you grabbed it," Jewel reports. "That has a ring of fucking truth," Al admits.) And, extraordinarily, we see him interrogate himself, reconsidering and reevaluating his own actions and crimes. ("She making a point? No grabbing at the cunt?…Point's made with the snatch grabs, okay.") And throughout the episode, he is scrubbing a stubborn blood stain on the bar's floor, as though trying—and failing—to erase the stain on his conscience, like a foulmouthed Lady Macbeth. For him, this is all startling evidence of empathy, and self-reflection, and even of a conscience. And it is evidence that—much to his own surprise, I think—he actually cares about her, and he actually needs her.

Trixie and Al in DEADWOOD 1X08 - Suffer the Little Children

When she finally returns to him, it is not in defeat, and it is not to receive the beating she once would have expected as her due. She gives him the gold Alma gave her—as she gave him the pistol at the end of Episode One—but she also slaps him, hard, across the face. He, for his part, sees the place on her arm where she tried to kill herself, and understands exactly what happened, and how close he came to losing her. In contrast to all Cy Tolliver's phony, elaborate promises to Joanie, Al's acceptance of their new dynamic is silent and sincere: He says not a word as she undresses and crawls into bed beside him.

Their relationship is so complicated, and will remain so throughout Deadwood. They have been—we should never forget or romanticize it—pimp and whore, abuser and abused. But they are also father and daughter. They are also husband and wife. They are—though neither would ever, or will ever, say it—friends. After this they will be more equal, for they have both recognized that Trixie is not simply property: She has a life, and she is choosing to make it here, in this odd, hard, misfit community where people are learning—against all odds—to care for each other, even at their worst.

Flora and Miles might have been part of that community, but they couldn't accept what Alma, and Joanie, and Trixie are all coming to understand. Between death and escape, there is a third alternative: to make a home, and a strange sort of family, in Deadwood.

Additional Thoughts and Favorite Bits

  • Welcome back to Deadwood. (It can be combative.) I wrote about the first seven episodes of this show nearly 10 years ago, and then—through one thing and another—I never finished my reviews. But, as I recently announced, I'm planning to finish writing about the entire series this year, one episode a week, from now through the summer. I hope this new journey through my favorite show proves worthwhile, and hope some of you will join me for the trip, whether you're watching for the first time or (like me) for the third or fourth or fifth or tenth time. (You're safe either way: Though I expect to occasionally gesture vaguely forward as I did in this piece, I'm going to try to keep these pieces spoiler-free.) I'm shooting for Friday to be the day these pieces appear: You can follow me on Twitter, or sign up in the "Stay Unaffiliated" box below to receive email notifications of new posts.
  • As one of my readers pointed out in the comments of my last review, the oddly condensed Flora/Miles arc may have been an accident of production. Several years ago, a few Deadwood actors—primarily Jim Beaver (Ellsworth), but also Keone Young (Wu) and W. Earl Brown (Dan)—entered the comments section of critic Alan Sepinwall's Deadwood reviews, and shared their memories of working on the showSepinwall's reviews are now hosted on Uproxx, and those illuminating comments seem frustratingly to be lost to posterity. However, if memory serves, Beaver did suggest that this subplot was originally supposed to be longer than it turned out to be: One of the actors—presumably Kristen Bell—was not available for as long as Milch had hoped, and so the storyline ended up a little rushed.
  • It's a very minor quibble, but the money on this show rarely makes any sense. (Flora buys an apple and a piece of cheese off one of her fellow prostitutes for $2.00, which I think in the 1870s was the equivalent of about $75.)
  • And finally, traditionally, I always like to end these posts with a few of my favorite quotes:
  • Ellsworth, when Dan tells him Al isn't going to have him killed. "I know you spoke for me hard." Dan: "Well, I didn't speak against you."
  • Al to Dan: “You might, Dan, want to learn how to indicate interest in a girl other than murdering another person.”
  • Al, when E.B. argues for murdering Alma and Bullock in their beds: "Dan, loan E.B. your knife."
  • Bullock coerces a vow from Al about Alma's safety: “My oath on this: Every day that the widow sits on her ass in New York City, looks west at sunset and thinks to herself, 'God bless you ignorant cocksuckers in Deadwood, who strive mightily and at little money to add to my ever-increasing fortune,' she’ll be safe from the wiles of Al Swearengen.” (When Bullock tells him she's staying, Al says the vow still holds. And—as we will see—he actually means it.)
  • E.B., asked by Al if he went to the limit on their offer to buy Alma's gold claim. "Well, I went to the limit’s precipice." ("I wouldn't trust a man who didn't try to steal a little," Al tells Bullock.)
  • Al tells Dan Dority to find out how much Tolliver payed Wu to feed Flora and Miles to his pigs: "We don’t want to be suckin’ hind-tit on disposal fees," he explains.

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