Wild men who disagree will knock each other's brains out. "Civilized" men who disagree send representatives to beat each other up.
That was Sunday's lessonAltes Ding, which culminated in the most brutal singles match on television since Tony Soprano and Ralphie Cifaretto had their last tango on The Sopranos season four: a street fight between Al Swearengen's (Ian McShane) muscle-bound boss Dan Dority (W. Earl Brown) and burly Captain Turner (Allan Graf), Man Friday and designated legbreaker George Hearst (Gerald McRaney). The confrontation ended with Dan beaten, bloodied and clearly beaten in the mud under Turner, sticking his thumb into Turner's left eye socket, digging into his eyeball a la Little Jack Horner, digging up a Christmas cake, then getting to his feet. He grabbed a piece of twig and silenced Turner's screams with a caveman-style jab.
It's hard to say which paid cable match was weirdest; The "Sopranos" weapons included cooking utensils and a bug spray, and the breakup was a bathtub gutting with an unsubstantiated wig joke. But in the end heAltes DingThe fight was dramatically richer. It had a much more complicated motivation than "it took too long", and the fact that it took place in broad daylight on the city's main thoroughfare meant that it had ramifications beyond who was going to kill whom.
Like so many public events inAltes Ding, the Dority Turner fight was political theater performed to a horrified live audience, an event intended to send viewers the message that the direction of the city would be irrevocably changed once the drama ended. I suspect that when the show ends its regular run, the Dority-Turner fight will earn a spot on any list of the show's biggest public events, equal to and slightly higher than the Wild Bill Hickok shootout in season one. (signalling the death of the Old West's mythic self-image and the embrace of a more mechanized, commercialized and safer age) and Alma's wedding at the end of Season 2 (which brought the town together in spirit while, behind closed doors, Swearengen was legally united and closed the charter party with Yankton). The fight between Dority and Turner was really a fight between Swearengen and Hearst. It was a clash between the lesser and greater of two evils, the first of which, in its clumsy and often disgusting way, has the welfare of the countryside in mind.
Gradually, subtly, and almost against himself, Swearengen, who initially looked like a putrid goblin weaving evil schemes by torchlight, realized that if Deadwood became a functional (if certainly less interesting) community, he would make more money. This, along with his near-death experience in season two, has softened him up (although he sometimes complains about his inability to personally kill so many people). And over time, their raw and often violent self-interest becomes almost indistinguishable from community spirit. Now he's less of a villain and more of an antihero, a man doing the right thing for the wrong reasons (and sometimes for the right reasons). He's the town's most important political figure, tough as a civilizing force, electing the ill-tempered but fair Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) as sheriff and the vacillating loudmouth E.B. recognize the provisional government of the countryside and promote legitimate elections.
Swearengen has spent the last few episodes wondering what exactly Hearst wants: to investigate the man's supposedly inscrutable intentions. But I wonder if Swearengen isn't misinterpreting Hearst and mistakenly assuming that Hearst is a kindred spirit, a mischievous but subtle strategist. From here, it looks like Hearst is just plain mean: an Old West version of a Third World strongman. He thwarts the organizing efforts of his disaffected Cornish workers, killing them and leaving their bodies in the streets. He tries to intimidate Alma into selling her gold claim by threatening her with unspecified rape. And he lets Swearengen know that he doesn't appreciate his interference by cutting off a finger. In any case, you don't need a degree in cryptography to decipher the message.
The unbridled cruelty of Hearst's latest anti-union murder was brought home in one of the most chilling images of the show's three seasons. A low angle close-up of Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) looking at the corpse, which is angled towards street level so that the knife is in the foreground and Bullock's light body looking at the gun in the background shadows . The implication was clear: if the sheriff didn't stand up to Hearst, the town would assume that law and government were lies conspired and that Deadwood was still a place ruled by violence and fear.
Hearst is a disruptive force who drives Deadwood back with money and violence when he threatens to step forward. Hearst, a mining millionaire, doesn't want Deadwood to become more civilized because that would make it harder for him to run his brutal business. He even admitted to the latest episode on a conference call with Swearengen and owner/gangster Cy Tolliver, saying that between the upcoming election and the recent opening of a bank owned by farmer Alma Garrett Ellsworth (Molly Parker), Deadwood is just getting started. it started to look a lot less attractive to him, and he might not spend much time there in the future.
Director Daniel Minahan's brilliant staging of the fight had Swearengen and Hearst looking down from their respective balconies like football team owners watching the Super Bowl from their luxury skyboxes. When the fight was over and Dan emerged victorious, Swearengen entered without another word; A deft approach diverted our attention from Swearengen's stealthy departure in the background to Hearst's face in the foreground, shock and fear showing in his eyes for the first time since we first met him at the end of last season.
This was a public show of strength; Hearst's man lost and Hearst lost face. Now the veil has been lifted and thoughtful citizens will realize that he is not an evil god, just a wealthy crook whose interests run counter to Deadwood's. Swearengen should understand this by now; Her crisis of confidence, triggered by the arrival of a man she couldn't intimidate, should soon be over, unless series creator David Milch gets into more trouble.
Bullock's own journey mirrored Swearengen's. Both men found their peaks again. Bullock, who once pursued Hearst in hopes of getting his confirmation, stood his ground last week and "watched" Hearst. At the end of Sunday's episode, he asserted his authority by confronting the drunken, grieving know-it-all Hearst, arresting him for threatening a peace officer (good thing the City Council decided to legislate, right?). (another significant public event: an assertion of police power and a public shaming of a bad man).
Other news and highlights:
Alma's relapse into laudanum addiction after her miscarriage is captivatingly and exquisitely portrayed by Parker and Beaver. (Alma, who doped herself up to sleep with her husband, and that her husband saw through the ruse was heartbreaking; anyone who has ever known an addict can relate.) Overall, it seems less obligatory and obvious than the recent Chris Moltisanti's throwback to The Sopranos because, like the fight between Dority and Turner, it's not just about the personal struggles of one or two characters. In a way, Alma's relapse mirrors the city's own relapse, thanks to Hearst's intimidation; it's an example of falling back into old bad habits, and feeds into one of the show's recurring themes, the inevitability, even necessity, of intoxicating substances (from drugs to fear). That said, I'm still disappointed because I wanted to see Alma become stronger and more focused to grow in stature rather than being left behind.
The subplot with Bullock overseeing the transfer of Hostetler's (Richard Gant) rented stable to Drunken Steve (Michael Harney) built into an ending I just didn't buy. Hostetler's suicide seemed arbitrary and unsatisfactory. He would have believed it if he had attacked Steve in a rage and been killed by either Steve or Bullock, or if he had left town to escape that fate. But if he had enough willpower and focus to track down the horse that trampled Bullock's son William, and then bring him back to camp knowing he could be lynched for his troubles, why should a drunk's bile take him? it? ? I realize that Hostetler impulsively considered killing himself after William's death last season, but those were very different circumstances. This was probably the least convincing twist since the beginning of the series.
Gerald McRaney gives an awfully great performance as Hearst, the culmination of a long career that has often centered on mild-mannered, feisty types, and his scenes are written as smartly and sometimes bravely as anything else on the show. It was the best thing this week. Just like I listed Hearst as someone elseAltes DingThe sociopath, a heartless tycoon who treats people like cattle, has revealed his heart. His deep grief over Turner's death deepened both the character and my already formidable appreciation for McRaney's abilities. He deserves every award that comes his way.
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This article originally appeared on the Star-Ledger and was published on The House Next Door.