Season One, Episode Seven: “Bullock Returns to the Camp”
Note: each writing will spoil the episode in review but will not discuss any future episodes.
In a ruthless and lawless time of 1876 Deadwood, what were the choices of the women who happened to be there? Unless shielded by husbands, as was Alma Garrett for a short period, the outlook could be bleak. “Bullock Returns to Camp” puts the ladies of Deadwood circa 1876 into focus.
The episode opens with a short set of scenes that have Bullock coming up behind Jack McCall in a distant camp, threatening to kill him, knocking him cold with a gun, and eventually riding him to officials in Yankton for a more proper trial. The rest is history, sort of. The actual Seth Bullock did not take Jack McCall into Yankton for a trial. (Nor did he meet the actual Wild Bill, likely. They would’ve only been in camp for one day that overlapped.) The officials of Yankton decided that double jeopardy did not apply to McCall since his first “trial” was in Deadwood, which was not a legal court. These scenes, even more than the last episode, feel tacked on and not a part of the whole, but it beats only hearing about it when Charlie and Seth return to camp.
After Bullock’s capture of McCall, the episode turns to a pair of new characters: Miles and Flora Anderson, barely teens, ostensibly in town to seek out their father, though as the episode reveals, they’re more duplicitous than that. They have designs to rob one, if not both, of their employers. They exemplify the harshness of the times in such camps. Flora accepts a job as a whore at the fancier Bella Union (also, perhaps due to the care of Joanie Stubbs, care she would not have received in a rougher Gem Saloon) while brother Miles takes to sweeping the floor for Al Swearengen. It’s a funny role for Al, as (almost) a father figure to Miles. His notes on the “tit licker” are especially funny as he muses to Miles that the stranger “lines ’em up at two-foot intervals, smock-tops down, and all but sprints past ’em, giving their titties a lick. And if he misses a titty, he does not let himself retrace his steps.”
The arrival of the kids also allows Powers Booth to put Cy Tolliver into a new level of sinister. He wants Flora as a whore and not just to be good-natured and give a poor girl a job. Joanie, though, uncovers more about herself and her relationship with Cy — a relationship that’s getting more and more strained — when she convinces young Flora to at least try to look happy for the customers.
Elsewhere, Alma comes through the withdrawals and sees to her husband’s body, where, once again pressed by Al, E.B. Farnum confronts her in the most socially unacceptable place about her gold claim. Though Al tells him to do so, E.B. still doesn’t offer the full price as he tries to pocket an extra $500. He cannot stop himself from his weaselly ways. It’s also in this scene and in the following that Seth Bullock and Alma have some awkward moments where Alma tries to relieve Seth of his duties yet he all but refuses. Though that’s the conversation, the subtext is that both find comfort in the other, although their encounters have been brief.
Doc, Jane, and the Reverend Smith are all tending to the sick, where Jane officially gets her nickname from the fully recovered Andy (“Hereafter, in calamity, I’ll be sure to call for Jane.“) Here, the poor reverend’s symptoms may be worsening — or at least becoming more frequent — as the has he once more has a spell in the sick tent. Doc thinks that he may have a lesion in his head, and the two debate on whether or not that’s by God’s design. It’s a sad moment as the reverend gracefully accepts that he is ill but will continue to do what he believes to be right for the camp’s small pox outbreak.
In perhaps an even more depressing scene, Trixie lashes out at Alma just before she leaves to go back to Al for good. Her most recent conversation with Al had him planting the idea that she’s not close to the class of person to even be in the same room as a lady as Alma Garrett and that strikes a nerve (“Don’t kid yourself, Trixie”). He lets her know that she’s just a whore and always will be and not just in his eyes. Of course, he does it so that she’ll come running back to him for support and help with life in Deadwood. life that’s near impossible for a woman without means. When Alma offers Trixie a chance to escape it all, Trixie, with beautiful melachony from Paula Malcolmson, makes it clear that she has no one in the world. The unspoken part of that is that except Al Swearengen, she has no one, which makes her scenes with Sol Star all the more tender.
Equally as wistful and somehow full of nostalgia is Charlie’s visit to see the resting place of Wild Bill. There, he sees Jane giving the tombstone a full account of her activities of late. Charlie barely gets through what he and Bullock have done for Bill’s justice before he breaks down. The undercurrent of loss, the idea that we never go backward, and the acting from Dayton Callie, creates that blanket of remorse that covers the night scene in the cemetery.
For this episode, each of the ladies attempt to use what they can here to better themselves, or just stay alive, in Deadwood. Sadly for some, it’s just not enough.
- What a fun note that newspaper man Merrick’s quote from a previous episode where he notes that being killed in Deadwood would be fortunate is taken almost word for word from a editorial of the actual Black Hills Pioneer. (“Should it ever be our misfortune to kill a man…we would simply ask that our trial may take place in some of the mining camps of these hills,” per the paper itself.) Just another great addition by Milch and co.
- Speaking of Merrick, that absolutely is Jeffrey Jones, perhaps more famous from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, playing the newspaper man, though he makes no appearance in this episode. I haven’t had the space to say enough about his performance, but I’m all about it.
- And speaking of actors you may recognize: yep, that’s Eleanor Shellstrop herself, Kristen Bell (so young!), as newly minted Bella Union whore Flora.
- Sol Star has really taken to Trixie, even taking an air of anger to E.B. Farnum for treating her like an object when he comes to get her from his store. Sol sweetly offers Trixie anything she wants from the store for free and even asks her to get the accounts to add up.
- I didn’t have room above for it, but Dan’s so taken with the young Flora that he stabs the annoying asshole who berated Wild Bill and helped clear Jack McCall for staring at Flora. Al bemuses that it’s all due to women, though in a more crass way.
- Lost in all the action, the poor little girl, who is the only survivor of an awful murder, has been tossed from Jane to the widow to Trixie back to Alma. Trixie notes in anger that she’s about to say her name. The more I think about how rough she’s had it, the sadder I get.
Quote of the episode:
Al to Seth’s threat of not giving Alma an honest shake on the land: “So here you come, in all nobility, threatening me with a dire result, if the property that widow’s husband thought worthless and wanted sold, turns out not to be pinched out.”
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