When you cross paths with Al Swearengen, it’s best not to make threats if you don’t plan to follow through. Brom Garrett (Timothy Omundson) underestimated his opponent from the start and failed to realize that he was playing for high stakes. My notes for the pilot included “this guy is doomed” next to Garrett’s name. Everyone sees that his goose is cooked, including his wife Alma (Molly Parker). She may be addicted to drugs, but a partial cause is her husband’s cluelessness. When he promises to contact the Pinkertons after receiving a false claim, Swearengen doesn’t hesitate. The brutality of being thrown from a cliff and smashed into the rocks shows the dangers of messing with the main man. With all the distractions, Swearengen has no time to deal with a nuisance. The body count just keeps rising, and I expect this is just the beginning. By my count, Swearengen has been connected to four deaths in three episodes, and that doesn’t count the family that his guys murdered in the pilot. It’s best not to get too close to him, and being an enemy is fatal.
“Reconnoitering the Rim”
Season 1, Episode 3
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Written by Jody Worth
The big story this time is the arrival of Bella Union, a major gambling operation that should be a serious rival to Swearengen. They’re led by Cy Tolliver, who’s played by the great Powers Boothe. Awesome! I have a feeling we’ll see nearly every grizzled character actor in existence on this show. Boothe is recognizable in the Old West because of his role as Curly Bill on Tombstone. Tolliver seems more refined, but I’m hoping that he’ll be a formidable enemy for Swearengen. If Boothe wasn’t enough, we also have the incomparable Ricky Jay as Tolliver’s associate Eddie Sawyer. Kim Dickens also joins the cast as Joanie Stubbs to lead the brothel. This is quite an operation, and its presence spurs Swearengen into serious action. Ian McShane reveals so much without saying a word. The mix of desperation and determination while he moves to ensure his survival is fascinating.
What’s interesting is the way that the Bella Union’s arrival spurs Swearengen to finalize the deal with Bullock and Sol Star. He’s essentially feeling them out to make sure they aren’t in league with Tolliver, though. That scene is interesting because it’s another reminder that Bullock has little patience. When a drunk bugs them at their shop, he gives up and throws the guy in the mud. It takes all of his patience to accept Swearengen’s terms, even if they aren’t too ridiculous. I’m starting the clock on how long he sticks with the business and doesn’t get embroiled in a local dispute. My guess is that he’ll be more than ready to investigate Garrett’s murder once the body is found. I’m still adjusting to seeing Timothy Olyphant in a less certain role. Raylan Givens made mistakes, but he typically had self-control. This guy has some similarities yet can’t go an episode without losing his cool.
Ian McShane may be the star, but Deadwood's secret weapon is Keith Carradine. Hidden behind serious facial hair, he brings such loneliness to a guy with a recognizable name. Everyone wants a piece of him, but he essentially has no friends. He keeps his distance from Calamity Jane, and his manager means well but isn’t really a pal. Bullock is a kindred spirit, and Hickok wants desperately to connect with him. Instead, he deals with irritating grunts like Jack McCall and must constantly watch his back. He’s reduced to sleeping on the floor in the hallway, and even that spot only gives him momentary peace. It’s only a matter of time before an ambitious guy tries to shoot him down. I don’t get the impression Hickok gets much sleep, and Carradine plays that weariness so well.
This episode moves the story forward and seems to set the stage for so much craziness. I’ve found that some HBO shows take a long time to get rolling. Episodes move at a glacial pace at the start of the season and take a slow burn towards a chaotic finish. There’s nothing like that approach with Deadwood. I can barely scratch the surface of all the characters and subplots within these posts. It’s refreshing to watch a show that goes for it each week and isn’t holding back to the big events until the finish. I’m really looking forward to see where the story goes in the future. Very few characters are safe, and I expect the body count will continue to pile up as we go along. Swearengen will not let Bella Union stand without doing everything in his power to become the only show in town.