Season One, Episode Two: “Deep Water”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen isn’t having a good day.
Having awakened to the news that a road agent was shot down by infamous Wild Bill Hickok and ex-marshal Seth Bullock, both newcomers to camp, Al knows that a reckoning must happen. It’s a reckoning that will deal with the two former lawmen, the surviving road agents, the little girl who escaped the massacre, or all. That’s a lot for one man to handle.
It wasn’t the Sioux who murdered the white family on the road to Spearfish. It was road agents, plundering for money and gold. What’s revealed in this episode, though, is that Al keeps such a firm tab on the goings-on of things in and around Deadwood that Persimmon Phil and compadre Tom Mason, brother to the recently shot Ned, see fit to apologize to Al for not getting the okay from him before acting on their murderous desires, all of which cost their fellow thief his life by the hands of Wild Bill and disrupted the camp.
It’s not in Al’s best interest to let the trail lead back to him. The first solution he concocts is to convince Tom Mason to seek revenge for his brother’s death by “putting one in the ear” of Bill Hickok before Hickok can even know what hit him. Though even the most amateur of historians know Hickok’s fate in Deadwood (143-year-old spoiler alert!), this isn’t Hickok’s demise. Instead, Tom is shot down by an astute Hickok long before he even has time to reach for his gun. Of note is that Hickok feels so much at ease with new friend Seth Bullock that he asks Bullock to watch out for Persimmon Phil, who awaits the planned murder in the corner of the bar.
With that plan going to shit, the next step is for Al to kill the little girl who survived. After checking the child’s status and bringing a tough-talking Calamity Jane to tears with just a few words, Al sends right-hand-man Dan Dority to the do the job. It’s a killing Dan can’t live with. Never mind that Dan just murdered Tim Driscoll the night before for overstepping in the bidding of a piece of land. Dan can’t kill a small child. And he doesn’t. Instead, he brings Doc Cochran back to the Gem to explain that the foul-mouth Jane absconded with the girl. Al doesn’t seem too surprised nor angry.
The only choice left is for Al to kill one of the last people involved: he stabs Persimmon Phil after getting Phil to think everything will blow over. You have to do what you have to do in order to keep business running smoothly.
It is all of these intangibles that drive Al the crazy, which aren’t limited to unchecked road agents. Bullock and partner Sol Star want to get their hardware store on lasting ground, so they approach Al in order to buy their lot rather than continuing to rent it from him. Al, thinking that they could put up a rival saloon or, perhaps worse, are in cahoots with Wild Bill Hickok, shuns them twice. This sticks in Bullock’s craw. He and Al do not like each other, and it’s no wonder: two hotheads rarely do. Every one of their conversations simply do little but build distrust and tension.
These things are all beyond Al Swearengen’s control until he reigns some of them in with his necessary means, like, you know, murder. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to see a man so determined to regulate his surroundings in a place like the Dakota Territory, at the time a lawless region where anything goes and the wilderness, both internal and external, makes up for the law.
The camerawork and direction does wonders in “Deep Water” to explore these motifs of control and lack thereof. Many scenes are shot with close ups meant to box in the character in a world where no control can truly be had. Ian McShane carries more weight, once again, with a single look (note the eye twitch he gets when Persimmon Phil lies repeatedly) than most can do with multiple lines.
Anyway, it all amounts to too many factors stymieing Al’s ability to turn a dollar. And for a man like Swearengen, who thrives on complete control of every facet of his environment, this is no good at all.
- Per Al’s instructions, Dan’s to make the New York dude, Brom Garrett, believe his claim is pinched out. Brom is on to something when he thinks of selling his claim to E.B. Farnum for Farnum’s original bid; the weasel Farnum, lying that he was full of spirits, wants none of it.
- Jack McCall keeps antagonizing Wild Bill to the point that he’s “won the jackpoint” of annoyance. Does Jack do nothing but play poker? Seems like it.
- It’s tough to tell, but that’s Nick Offerman of Parks and Rec fame playing brother Tom Mason, the one who tries to kill Will Bill and gets shot in the process. R.I.P. Tom.
- Charlie wants Seth to be friendly with Bill in order to convince Bill to stop wasting his life away at cards and drinking.
- Al is pretty chilling when he confronts Calamity Jane. “If I take a knife to you, you’ll be scared worse and a long time dying.”
- Jane’s fear of Al seems to resurrect some previous traumas, doesn’t it? It’s kind of sad.
Quote of the episode:
Doc Cochran: “I see as much misery outta them movin’ to justify theirselves as them that set out to do harm.”