Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Deadwood, Season Two.

The perfect subtitle for season two of Deadwood is 'Shakespeare and Blowjobs'. There is mostly a literal meaning to that subtitle.

I think there is a blowjob scene in every episode, and occasionally more than one. Likewise, the second season sees the writers kick up the stage play writing of the series, and at times, the dialogue feels as if it is trying to catch that monologuing that Shakespeare loved so much*, allowing it to give voice to the tragedy, humour, and violence that takes place. There is something iconic about watching saloon owner Al Swearengen step out onto his balcony on the Gem Saloon, holding a brown paper wrapped box that holds the decapitated head of an Indian and listen to him speak and narrate about his plans to "Chief".

Season two concerns itself with Deadwood's slow recognition as a legitimate town and the interest that the outside world has with it. The arrival of telegraph poles that will bring in communication through morse code hint at the real threat that will arrive in the town, even as Sheriff Seth Bullock, caught in an affair with wealthy widow Mrs. Garret, sets of a path of self destructive behaviour with Swearengen. The resulting fight will see the pair fall over the Gem Saloon balcony, landing in the mud, bloody, cut, broken, gunshots bursting around them as, up the muddy road, Bullock's wife and stepson arrive. But it is the arrival of Francis Wolcott, forward agent of the millionaire George Hurst, that will be the real threat. Aided by Cy Tolliver and E.B. Farnum, the three of them will spread rumours that will allow Hurst's agent to begin buying gold claims, and slowly, piece by piece of dirty land, taking control of the goldfields outside the claim of Mrs. Garret.

Around this centre, the storylines of other characters interlock, bounce, and spin: Jodie Stubbs, a whore who plans to open her own high class brothel, will ultimately prove the fall of France Wolcott. Calamity Jane's arrival, near dead through alcoholism, will find her place beside Stubbs, while Wild Bill Hickok's final letter to his wife will find its way into the hands of Wolcott and, shortly after, into the hands of his old friend and now deputy, Charlie Udder. Wu, the owner of the pigs that devour bodies, will find his territory in the Asian quarter threatened by Mr. Lee, brought in by Wolcott to help Hearst fill up in his mines with cheap labour. The Nigger General and his livery own Holsted will, in nothing short of utter tragedy, cause sadness that touches everyone throughout the camp. Even the arrival of a bicycle, itself a symbol of the new, of the changing world taking place outside Deadwood, will have its part in this tragedy.

The first six episodes of season two are the strongest. For much of the events in Deadwood to take seed, Swearengen, who has an iron grip on the town, must be rendered indisposed, and this is done brilliantly. His ailment allows the camp to spiral out of control briefly, and it is during this that Wolcott is able to get a solid hold on the camp. It is in these episodes as well that we see Doc Cochran use the skills and implements of his profession, brutal tools heated for sterility on the most part. At the mid way point of the series, the show slows down, and at its climax, there is, sadly, a certain anti-climax to events. I couldn't help but wish that things had taken on a more confrontational element with the arrival of George Hearst and his knowledge of Wolcott's actions finally revealed to him.

However, that said, Deadwood remains one of the fullest and complete television experiences that you can find at the moment, I believe. Each of the characters are shaded in moral ambiguities, each of them given a space to develop, to find a narrative thread and follow it. It is true that at the centre of the show is Bullock, Swearengen, and Garret, but in no way should you believe that they are not surrounded by superbly characterised and acted out figures. You'll be hard pressed to find a better written show anywhere, and perhaps, even, a better written thing, fullstop.

* Or, y'know, a less obvious playwrite choice. I don't know much on playwrites, being that going to the threatre has never been a thing for me, so fill in your own choice.

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