Season One, Episode Four: “Here Was a Man”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
Al Swearengen wants Brom Garrett’s claim back in his control. Ellsworth isn’t looking for any kind of compensation, just a warning, if need be. Alma Garrett is on the verge of seeking vengeance for her husband’s untimely death or at least the truth about it. And Wild Bill gets a repayment he never asked for. All the spotlighted characters on “Here Was a Man” are in search of some form of reparation, either in the form of money, gold, or justice.
Shortly after the episode begins, Dan returns to camp with a dead Brom Garrett. Alma demands that Dan seek out the doctor so that she can know the exact nature of her husband’s death. She immediately believes it was no accident, likely due to her husband’s revelation of Al guiding the original purchase of the claim. The problem now is that the claim isn’t just an ordinary piece of land — it’s worth more than that, and thanks to Dan, Al knows it.
So not only does Alma have to face the demise of her husband, but she now has to negotiate repeated (and bothersome) solicitations from E.B. Farnum, out to do Al’s bidding and reclaim the land. She knows something is amiss; much like her husband before her, she recruits Wild Bill for help, and Wild Bill, in turn, asks a trustworthy Seth Bullock to assess the claim.
By the way, it’s such a great bit of acting from Keith Carradine and Ian McShane in their only encounter. Both of them hold their own. Carradine, playing Bill with stately decorum, never tips Hickok’s hand like the true gambler he is. He even lets Al think that he could be involved for less than noble intentions and he does this all with no smirk or smile. Other the other hand, McShane’s friendly way of handling Al’s responses — particularly his pause before replying, “Why, Wild Bill” — is shock and threat all in one.
Of course, it all leads up to Jack McCall and what he feels is disrespect from Wild Bill at the poker table in the Bella Union Saloon. Giving a dollar to a broken Jack cost Will Bill more than repayment. It ends up costing him his life. Garret Dillahunt stinks through the screen with his grime and petulance, even repeating some of Bill’s insults from a previous episode to a poker player in another saloon. He always wanted his, and he takes the chance to shoot Wild Bill as Hickok is abnormally seated with his back to the door. (Carradine offers a slight hesitation, a nice choice of direction, before sitting in that position.)
The episode ends with not only well played reactions to Bill’s murder but also the slow-motion image of a rider returning to town with the head of a native, per Al’s request the night of the Scandinavian family’s massacre, hauntingly scored. It’s a fitting metaphor: when you ask for some recompense, you really don’t know what you’ll get.
- Alma finds a friend in Jane as the widow Garrett alludes to her father, basically revealing that he sold her off in some form of arranged marriage to the rich Brom Garrett in order to pay his debts. Something definitely seemed loveless in their encounters. This could say a lot about her drug abuse.
- Cy Tolliver and Joanie Stubbs’ grifter friend, Andy Cramed, is sick as hell. Doc said to watch for boils. Well, he’s got boils.
- I could listen to Ian McShane — as Al Swearengen or otherwise — explain just about anything as he does when he recounts the sale and fallout of the Eastern dude’s land dispute.
- No true view of the hand that Wild Bill was holding before he was shot, but legend has it that it’s the “dead man’s hand”: aces and eights.
- R.I.P. Wild Bill. Poor Charlie wasn’t even around gripe about your last poker playing.
- While not a lot happened as far as plot is concerned and for the episode to do justice for the death of Wild Bill, there are some wonderful moments: Bullock’s reaction to Bill’s visit, McShane’s anger toward not having Hickok killed previously, Dan and Ellsworth talking in circles on if Dan needs to kill him.
Quote of the episode:
Wild Bill to friend Charlie Utter about his continuing to waste time with poker: “Some goddamn time, a man’s due to stop arguin’ with hisself. Feeling he’s twice
the goddamn fool he knows he is, because he can’t be something he tries to be every
goddamn day without once getting to dinner time and not fucking it up. I don’t wanna
fight it no more. Understand me, Charlie? And I don’t want you pissing in my ear about
it. Can you let me go to hell the way I want to?”